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Cutting someone out of your life is like screaming at the top of your lungs and then holding your breath for a painfully long time. Everyone stops and stares, waiting on eggshells for you to exhale. And, in that moment, the judgmental eyes upon you, you want to let out the breath, to restore the equilibrium that you had disrupted. But you can’t. Something pushed you to that limit.

If you’re like me, the limit takes a long, long time to reach. The slack I allowed people was far fairer than they likely deserved. Some people would call this enabling, or codependency, but I just know it as family.

I have tried to find other ways to describe it, gentler, kinder words, but nothing really encompasses it the way that “addict” does. I grew up in a family of addicts. Our issues weren’t always centered around alcohol, but they certainly weren’t helped by it. There were definitely moments ruined by alcohol, things that should have been innocent, untainted or normal, that just weren’t.

When you live with an addict, and you are stuck in the role as an enabler, as I was, every day is a game of “no flinching.” You might recall this from the playground or something. A game of punches where the “loser” is the one who flinches. It’s somehow a test of strength, to toughen you up.

Flinching seems to have a purpose, as far as I can tell. Biologically, the tensing up should ready the body for the impact it’s about to receive, perhaps to lessen it or at least allow for evasive maneuver. But, with the addict, you certainly can’t draw attention to the blow you’re about to absorb, as the entire relationship is based around the collective ignoring of the underlying issues. If you flinch, you cause the other party to recognize their an addict, and the abuse they hurl at you is that much worse.

You learn early to never flinch, not one muscle, and absorb the blows as they come. Perhaps the day comes when you don’t even know you’re being hit, because you bury your conscious thought so deep down that it doesn’t even recognize the abuse anymore. You find ways to numb yourself, maybe becoming an addict yourself, and continuing the cycle to those you care about. Or you simply seek out ways to destroy yourself, slowly without anyone noticing. That one day, you just give up, and can roll over and die in peace.

If I had never sought help, realizing that something was wrong with me, and done what I could to heal, I would have died. It might have been another month, another year, or ten, but I would not have been able to cope. And, as Anais Nin is so often quoted, “the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in the bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom.”

The flower analogy while nice for Facebook statuses and inspirational poster comes with real pain should you choose to really live it. Even though you love the people around you, they are still addicts, and they are still abusive to you, and their behavior causes you harm. And, you hate yourself for doing it, but you turn them away. You cut them down with your screaming, you hold your breath so hard that you think you’ll pass out if you don’t let go.

So you stand there, looking foolish, with everyone staring. Quietly, very, very quietly, you slowly let out the breath you’ve been holding. And, very quietly, but firmly, you say, “No, you don’t get to do that anymore.”