I have been the wife of an addict.
I have been the addict.
Married to an Addict
I would sit in the living room at night in a chair pulled up to the window facing the driveway. I would pray for those headlights to come. All I wanted was for my husband to be home.
I was a young mom and I desperately wanted my family to be okay. Keyword here is “desperately.” In my mind I always felt like I was racing against some internal clock. If he would just get clean and “be okay” before my kids were old enough to know what was going on, we’d be fine. Everything would be fine.
Unfortunately, everything wasn’t fine.
I learned about the intricacies of the disease of addiction first hand, and at the time, I understood very little. I thought my husband was choosing the drugs over being a father. I thought he was choosing the drugs over being a husband. At the time, I couldn’t see what I see now.
Being The Addict
After my father died, my own life spiraled into active addiction. It started with a few drinks and a prescription of Xanax, but soon turned into a decade of binging to numb the pain that seemed to flood my life daily. Suddenly I didn’t know how to deal with anything. I felt lost continuously. The more I used, the more confused I became. Sometimes I wondered if I had lost my mind for good.
By this time, the memories of being married to my children’s father were long behind me. They were young adults. I had raised them on my own and I never did understand what it was like from his perspective —until I lived it.
“Walk a mile in my shoes,” is what they say. This is probably the understatement of the century. Now that I’ve lived both sides of addiction I see the sickness of the family just as clearly as I understand, first hand, the sickness of the disease. There’s no better way to relate to the addicted brain than to become trapped in one.
Now that I’ve been in both places, what do I want to say when I talk to the family of the addict? I guess if I could write a letter from “the addict” to their family, my message would look like this:
I know you’ve been reeling with emotion while I’ve been gone. I understand you have dreams and hopes for a life with me. When I come home from my latest binge you’ll probably do two things. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief that I’m alive and you’ll also want to talk to me about my plans for the days and months ahead.
The truth is, I have no idea. You see, I don’t understand how to do life. I’ve lost a lot of tools along the way and some of them were never actually developed. I feel a huge amount of shame right now and confusing thoughts flood my mind continuously. I know you don’t understand what I’m going through, and you’re dealing with your own pain. You might want me to “just be okay” so I’ll attempt to walk that out for you, at least on the surface, at least for now, because honestly, I’m too exhausted from my last binge to think straight.
During the days and weeks ahead, if I don’t make a plan for my recovery, I’ll be dealing with my raw emotions and obsession to use again. I’ll deal with it all by myself. When I try to talk about it with you, I am often met with a blank look or worry. You don’t understand. I don’t understand. It’s frustrating and I feel like giving up every time I face something that seems ordinary to you.
I don’t want to go away and get help. Honestly, I don’t want to do anything. Everything feels hopeless and my life looks like a million dead ends. There is wreckage to clean up with people, finances, and with my physical state of well being. It’s all too much. Can I just go to sleep?
Okay, let me rethink this. I want to give you a glimmer of hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I just can’t see it right now and you certainly can’t see it for me. Here’s what I need you to do. First, tell me you believe in me. Second, don’t just plug me back into my daily routine and expect me to get it right this time. I’ve repeated this cycle a thousand times. It always ends exactly the same. Can’t you see that?
I’m scared and I don’t want you to tell me what to do, or give me an ultimatum…but that may be the best thing for me. The worst thing you can do is to get comfortable with my addiction. The worst way you can react is to let me come back and respond as if nothing has happened. I know you’re busy. You have a life, a job, and responsibilities…but please don’t pretend we’re not in crisis. We are.
I may tell you we’re not, but I’m bleeding. Every time I go out and use I’m dying a little bit more. I’m getting a little bit closer to our whole lives and future being stolen.
You don’t have to do the work for me. You don’t have to turn your back on me, but please…don’t plug me right back into the same merry-go-round I just got off of. It didn’t work then. It won’t work now.
I need help.
If I could have screamed these words to my family, I would have. I didn’t know how. My own addiction ended when I started sleeping with a loaded gun in my bed. At some juncture I decided suicide might be a good thing. I could no longer face the pain of disappointing everyone and I couldn’t escape the bondage I was in. If this was life, I didn’t want to live it anymore.
I was tired.
I was convinced that no one understood me, and honestly…no one probably did.
Finally, it occurred to me that if things were going to change, I would have to do something different. Very different.
I had to realize that the enemy of my soul wanted me to simply fall into this pattern of try-and-fail, try-and-fail. It’s easy to do, especially when we have responsibilities, a job, a home, a career, kids. We get a moment of clarity and become charged with some sense of false determination or willpower. “I can do this….I can be okay.”
The truth is, I wasn’t okay. I couldn’t be okay.
I had to be willing to put all my thoughts, fears, and solutions aside and commit to one solid truth, “My life was unmanageable and I needed help from a power greater than myself.”
Three days after that I was in treatment at a place I had never heard of with a group of counselors, pastors, therapists and professionals who had two amazing qualities. Number one, they were just like me. Most of them were living in long term sobriety, so they were fully aware of who and where I was. From the moment I walked in the door I felt loved, understood and overwhelmed with a strange sense of trust. Second, these people had the tools I so desperately needed to walk out my recovery…and they were willing to share them with me every day.
So many addicts are afraid of going to treatment. “I can’t leave my family for that long….Things will fall apart at home…My children need me.” The truth of the matter is, when we’re in active addiction, we’re gone anyway. Even when we’re sober our thoughts are all over the map and we’re certainly not the best version of ourselves.
This morning I talked to a young mom whose husband just came home from a week long drug binge. She doesn’t know what to do. Her husband doesn’t want to call anyone that has to do with a treatment center because “he doesn’t want to go away.”
I understand those thoughts. I had them.
They are as wrong as a hungry man saying he doesn’t want to talk to a restaurant owner because they might offer him food.
Whether you are a person in need of help or the family member of an addict, the best advice I can give you today is to pray for discernment to know when “the disease” is talking. It is cunning and baffling. Sometimes it seems to make sense.
The fear of “going away to treatment” is very real. It’s also very dangerous. When I checked into rehab, I was terrified and crying. By day 78 (the day I went home) I was sad to leave. Treatment in a loving, faith based facility was exactly what I needed. I was surrounded by people who God used to love me back to life.
Saying yes to recovery is not the end. It is a glorious beginning.
Whether your journey involves checking into a drug addiction treatment facility or committing to working the 12 steps with a sponsor, please do something. Just agree to start.
One good decision will support the next good decision and you will get better.
Recovery is real…but it has to have a starting point.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, give us a call today. 239-440-6856