Her Story: Love in Addiction

You imagine you will be reborn in the sky, but it took descent back to the earth. On earth, balancing upon rocky terrain, our feet planted in fertile soil, beside majestic green pines, and sea battered cliffs. Soaked hair and eyelashes, salty spray from turbulent tide’s whirlpools traveling between boulders. The mysterious, violent, and deep ocean waters surrounding. It is here, at the bottom, below sky and sun where we sense belonging. Connected to the chaotic, imperfect, divine, living, dying, wet, pine, muddy, salty, treacherous, grieving, wild, animal, rocky earth. Ours is not a journey in flight to heaven. It is not exaltation to sky. It is a labor—trekking upon treacherous terrain. It is kneeling, muddy knees in the dirt, palms of hands and heart down to granite earth.

This is my story about love and addiction. My husband is a recovering heroin addict. He has been clean for 451 days.

My husband is a brilliant salesman, and with this comes an ability to 1) influence others (the kinder version), 2) manipulate others (the let’s get real and call a spade a spade version). This skill was an asset to his demon; he could continue to use without me knowing and even when I did.

When we met, he was clean. About 2 years later, when we got married, he was using again, but I didn’t really realize the extent of his habit. I say “really” because I think deep down, buried below the denial, I probably knew more than I was willing to face at the time. He may have been manipulative and he may have lied to me, but my own twisted heart and unconditional love was also responsible for feeding the denial. I rationalized and told my own lies, “he is functioning, it’s not that bad, no one is perfect, it could be worse, every marriage has problems, he only does it once in a while, at least he has a job, he will get clean when we have kids, he just has the flu, I must use a lot of tinfoil, therapy once a week is enough, he is not using.” So the denial conspired, connived, and deceived, and our marriage developed into a co-dependent union as my enabling behaviors grew. Looking back, I realize how crazy this was because it was that bad, and then it got exponentially worse. We couldn’t survive in active addiction, and as long as he continued using we would not be able to build a healthy and happy life together. What was at stake? His life. Yes, in retrospect, it was that bad, it was life or death bad.

I imagine almost every person who has loved an addict understands denial’s coping mechanism. So, we eloped in September of 2014, had a wedding in July of 2015, somewhere in this time my husband was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder type II by a psychiatrist he was playing for a fool, see-sawing between Suboxone and heroin, and by February of 2016, after we moved from California to Massachusetts, he really started to spiral. Very soon after, he hit that really ugly place we know as rock bottom. No longer “functioning”, he was snorting heroin and fentanyl, speed-balling with crack, unemployed, stealing from Wal-Mart, and was arrested for the first (and only) time in our new city. Then, a 7-day inpatient stay in the hospital with detox, release to outpatient (and home) despite my pleas to the medical staff for rehab, relapse paired with a delusional episode within a week of discharge, and dope sick most of the time after that. I worked and kept naloxone in the house. Death was just a flat lined heart-beat away.

Living with an individual who was actively using meant living in survival mode.  I was in survival mode and he was out of his mind. To cope, I remained relatively numb; there was no space in my heart to hold the emotions and no time in my brain for processing. I worked, paid bills, coveted money, cleaned, cooked, monitored my husband’s safety, and did my best to ignore intense states of anxiety, fear, loneliness, and sadness. I hid behind the mask of a professional, married, happy woman in her thirties as I teetered between compassion and anger, hopelessness and optimism. I was a broken woman living in an isolated no-mans-land that was my husband’s addiction, all the while showing a brave face to the world. It was an out of body experience; we were both robots in the addiction machine, going through the motions and living in parallel states of survival.  

To each her own.

So this is my story about love and addiction. Every person and every story is different, and everybody must make choices that are right for them. Sometimes, in the recovery community, the right way to get clean seems rigid and prescribed. This experience is similar for the addict’s loved ones and we may feel ostracized for following a different plan. But I am not about that life. I am not here to preach or even to teach; to tell another about what is right and what is wrong.  I am most definitely not here to judge. At rock bottom, I could have left my husband and that would have been okay. It would not have made me a bad person, and may have helped him to get clean eventually.

It is funny how things work out in life. When I finally decided I needed to change something, that I couldn’t do it anymore, and that it had to start with me (since I couldn’t control his actions), I thought that meant I was going to leave him.  I didn’t. So what did I do? I educated myself, I engaged in self-love, I started a blog (click here to visit), and I started talking.

“For a hundred years we have been singing war songs about addicts. All along we should have been singing love songs to them.” 

-from Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari

I went to a therapist and I went to support groups. I learned in support groups about detachment.  As I said before, it’s strange how life unfolds, because instead of detachment I ended up doing the opposite. By chance or fate, or maybe a mix of the two, I stumbled upon a something that made more sense for me: connection. First connection to myself, then to my husband; a connection birthed in addiction grew into connection in recovery. I didn’t end up leaving my husband. I kept attending the groups. I think the point is that recovery, no matter how you get there, is the goal.

A lot happened in between then and later and now, but I am going to fast forward to this one day in our recent past. At the beginning September 2016 I told my husband, “at the end of the month we will either have to separate or you need to go away into rehab.” Then on  September 29, 2016, I asked him, free from expectation (because why open myself up to more disappointment), but all the same grasping onto a sliver of hope, “wouldn’t it just be easier to go away and get help, wouldn’t it just be a relief?” And finally on that blessed day, from his cracked, chapped lips, and the deep recesses of a misfiring fight-or-flight brain, he looked at me with vacant, hollow eyes, and pinned pupils, and….HE SAID, “YES."

This began the frustrating search for treatment, but that is a topic for another post. About 3 weeks later and detox at home, aka, hell, he went into treatment for 45 days. So he said yes, he went away, and now here we are, 451 days clean one-second-minute-hour-day-at-a-time. Recovery is possible for anyone struggling with a loved one who suffers from substance abuse. I have been to that dark and seemingly hopeless place. I wish that you don’t let go of what little hope you have left. I wish that you can hold on to that hope, even if it is just a sliver; most likely you will have to hold it close and really fucking tight. Recovery is possible.

Now infinite snow angels cover the earth, laid to rest all around us. We flap legs and arms through snow, birds without flight.

My husband is a recovering dope addict. His story is a common one. Started with Percocet in college, (him: “I had no idea it was dope”, me: “neither did I”), then to OxyContin, (him: “must not be that bad, doctors prescribe them like Percocet”, Big Pharma: “it’s not habit forming”), then Roxy (“shit I think I am addicted to these things”), and then down to the block to get heroin (“this is not happening, this is happening”). Like many, the disease runs in his family. His  father suffers from addiction to painkillers to this day, his sister is a long term recovering addict, and his uncle died from AIDS because he used heroin intravenously. About fifteen years later, after my husband’s first Percocet shake (a yellow painkiller pill dissolved in water), here we ALL are, in the midst of an opioid crisis of far-reaching and deadly proportions.

My husband is just one beautiful man caught in the crossfire and he is a lucky one at that; not just because he is sober, but because he is still alive. Not all are so lucky.  Living in this epidemic means being surrounded by death. Overdoses dropping bodies to ground, souls scattered around my feet, there is not a day that passes that I do not count my blessings. And then there is the pervasive grief for those that have not made it. For those that are still out there. But there’s this: recovery is possible.

How do i tell you my husband is a dope fiend?

Do I say it face to face or in the dark masked confessional with the shadows? Do I avert my gaze or do I look unflinching into your eyes?

How do i tell you my husband is a dope fiend?

Do I serenade an audience? Shall I do it in song or do I recite it in poetry’s rhyme? Or shall I talk to the wall in windowless institutional rooms? 

How do i tell you my husband is a dope fiend?

With choppy staccato notes or with the longing of a continuous melody that is legato? With a solitary tear or in bellowing lung-wracked sobs?

How do i tell you my husband is a dope fiend?

Shall I release it like the gunpowder shot from cold hollow barrel or do I take my time like an orchid’s wild bloom? Do I speak in rushed execution or narrate serving a life sentence? 

How do i tell you my husband is a dope fiend?

How will you listen when i tell you my husband is a dope fiend?

Will you listen?

For so long, I lived in the shadows of addiction. It was a beast that destroyed and thieved; that took and took and took until it felt like I had nothing left to take. And then it took some more. I was lied to, abused, stolen from, and disappointed. Oh, the broken promises and the shattered hope coupled with overwhelming, infinite, never ending disappointment. Sleepless late nights into early mornings, awake and fearing the worst. Appreciative mornings when daylight came and I picked my husband up in jail instead of the morgue. Infuriation melting into gratitude when he returned home in the middle of night after hundreds of unanswered phone calls and text messages. Dope sick mornings, watching the rise and fall of his chest to make sure he was still breathing, and lonely days lying and making excuses to friends and family when we couldn’t make it to parties and holiday gatherings. I lived in fear, and I lived, like so many individuals and families who suffer from substance abuse, in isolation. Isolated by shame and stigma.

Stigma cripples. I mean like amputates limbs, cripples. Stigma kept me from asking for help for a long time; I was an amputee, my chest a gaping hole where my heart was. Then, holding my bleeding heart in my hands and practically paralyzed, I took the first step. Perhaps it was more like crawling. I began to communicate with others. First, through pain and sobs, I confessed EVERYTHING to my best friend in California in a phone call. And she listened. Then I told my story through writing, blogging in the recovery community, and finally, speaking to family and friends. From paralysis to flight, my healing began and my husband eventually followed. And then later, he embarked on his own journey to recovery. Recovery is possible.

Empathy breeds proper judgment. Empathy says that is me.

So my husband’s dope addiction is something that took life away from me. And recovery has given life back. But there is no recovery without addiction and for this reason, addiction has been abundant. This sounds fucking nuts, right? What could I have possibly gained? Addiction, or more accurately witnessing and then battling addiction, has taught me strength, compassion, generosity, resilience, and love. I have gained a deepened capacity for empathy. This is a weapon that can defeat stigma. Empathy, along with resources and access to treatment, is my most prized asset in the fight for my husband’s life.

Today my husband has 451 days clean. In 2017, he didn’t pick up. He is working again and earned employee of the year. We get to enjoy the little things that I think many couples take for granted, like getting coffee on Saturday mornings, walking the dog, going to the movies, and food shopping together on Sundays. We have money in our checking AND savings accounts (and insane medical bills, but screw it). Most importantly my husband has returned to me, to us, to life. As for the journey, I know this is just the beginning, and we are not immune from relapse. I can’t tell you definitively what we did right and what we did wrong. I am not sure that I will do the next right thing, or that he will. Gulp. We are doing our best and doing it one-day-at-a-time. As so many are, whether clean or still picking up.

In a sea of millions of stories, this is my story of love and addiction. It is a story about connection. It is a labor of love, and it is a fight for life. We are doing our best and doing it one-day-at-a-time. As so many are, whether clean or still picking up.

In recovery there are these moments when the little things and the big things crash into each other in the most earth shattering ways.  A reminder of what we have and what we must fight for, endlessly. A fight for ourselves and for others. The work started long before recovery, and while I’m unsure of exactly what went right, I do know this, the work, while it may change, it never ends.

Dedicated to my loved ones and strangers lost to overdose.  R.I.P

END THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC

In love and in hope,

M&J

 

 Mara lives in Massachusetts with her husband, dog, and two cats. She began writing about her personal experiences living with and loving someone with an opioid addiction while her husband was still actively using. Today, after 12 years battling substance abuse, Mara’s husband has over one year of clean time. She hopes that by sharing her story she can be a positive force in breaking down the stigma that isolates people facing addiction and empower the many individuals and families who are suffering the devastating impacts of the opioid epidemic and substance abuse. You can read more on her blog   Real Life:   One Wife's Journey Back from Addiction and Rediscovery of Self

Mara lives in Massachusetts with her husband, dog, and two cats. She began writing about her personal experiences living with and loving someone with an opioid addiction while her husband was still actively using. Today, after 12 years battling substance abuse, Mara’s husband has over one year of clean time. She hopes that by sharing her story she can be a positive force in breaking down the stigma that isolates people facing addiction and empower the many individuals and families who are suffering the devastating impacts of the opioid epidemic and substance abuse. You can read more on her blog Real Life: One Wife's Journey Back from Addiction and Rediscovery of Self