Addiction: The Spouse's Perspective

Yearley Soliloquy

Addiction: The Spouse's Perspective

*Trigger Warning: this piece is a raw and honest discussion on addiction. This is not something I take lightly and I mention drug use frequently.* 

When society discusses addiction, there is a specific focus on the addict, the addiction of choice, and how they need to go about "getting better." Rarely do we discuss the behind the scenes of the addict and their addiction. The families that they are hurting in the process, the friends that they are either bringing down with them or leaving behind after spending their lives growing up together, the employers they are stealing from and screwing over - the people who are dealing with the addiction on a daily basis all the while remaining clean themselves. Watching someone's life go up in flames is one of the most difficult experiences to go through and we're often made to take a backseat to the addict. While it's immeasurably apparent to me that the addict is of GREAT importance, those of us that are in the trenches (or even those that are battling from the sidelines so as to maintain some sense of sanity) that are trying to keep the world from completely falling apart around them (and ourselves) need a reminder that we're doing something worth while.

When my husband and I first started talking, he had been clean for a few months. A short time later he relapsed and found himself quickly drowning in an addiction that was eager to take his life. I was caught between my moral standing against drug use and my inconceivable and ever-growing love for this man that I was on the verge of losing completely. I didn't feel like I had anyone to turn to directly, as most of my family thought I was completely crazy. I, in turn, reached out to the internet thinking that I would surely find at least a small corner of the internet that understood what I was going through. Boy was I wrong. I found so many online forums of people asking for help and guidance in their journey with an addicted partner/family member/friend, but nearly every response was people bashing those of us that stuck by our addicts. My hopes for a small corner of light was quickly darkened by a large quantity of people who think they had any idea what we were going through.

"Why would you stay with someone like that?"

"Don't you know that they'll never change?"

"If you think that they're going to get better, you're wrong."

"You're stupid for even thinking that they'll change."

"They don't love you."

"Once an addict, always an addict." (That one is true. But not every addict is active in their addiction - and that is a key difference.)

I felt even more isolated and alone than I had prior to finding these forums. Was I as crazy as my family thought? Did he not love me? Would he always choose the drugs over me? Was I... stupid? I didn't know what the right answer was, but I knew what I felt when we had first become close, I knew what I felt the day he relapsed, and I knew what I felt the day I hugged his thin and drugged body for the first time since the relapse. There was something specific about the connection that I felt with this man and I knew that I would be doing he and myself a disservice if I didn't at least try.

By try, I do not mean try to save. A lesson that becomes immediately apparent with addicts and their addiction is that there is no "saving" them. You don't swoop in like some Recovery Superhero. There is no ultimatum that can coerce an addict away from the addiction they so desperately cling to (no matter how serious of an ultimatum it may sound like to you). The best way I can describe it, is that the active addict has a View Master glued to their eyes and the only discs they have contain images of the addiction they are battling.  At the end of the day, whether the addict is active or inactive in their addiction, they will always have the View Master on. Let me repeat that, they will always have the View Master on and if your intention is to remove the View Master, you're in it for the wrong reasons. What eventually changes when an addict finds solace in an inactive lifestyle, is that they obtain new discs to view in their View Master. The addiction discs do not vanish. They will forever be a part of the mix, but can eventually be used less and less in rotation. Addiction cannot be cured. (Sorry Passages, did I blow your secret?)

I spent a lot of time having my feelings hurt when this man that I so desperately cared for chose to use drugs over spending time with me. In a brutally honest conversation, I asked if he wanted me to come over and he said, "I do, but I'm going to get high later and that's not something I want you to see." I spent hours in my car in the middle of the night, waiting for him to come back from selling drugs. I sat on the couch and watched as he obsessively weighed out and inspected his drugs on the kitchen counter and then proceeded to cut lines on a plate. I watched him (and all of the people he was using with) fall out in the middle of the day after having been awake for days, even weeks, at a time. And all the while, I stayed. I understand how it sounds, I understand how it looks, and I understand better than anyone can imagine, how it felt to be there and have a drug dealer banging on the door in the early hours of the morning demanding money. There is nothing sugarcoated about being with an active addict. Nothing. It is not rainbows and daisies. It is not a beautifully misunderstood time. It. Is. Awful. 

"Well then, why would you stay?"

Good question. The best answer I can give is instinct and I know to many of you that is going to mean very little.

"Really, your instincts encouraged you to stay with an active addict?"

The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes. There is very little that is more terrifying than watching someone you love battle with something as aggressive as addiction. I know that I had more than one reason to leave, but I had one reason specifically to stay and had I not acted on that, I believe that my life wouldn't have blossomed the way that it has. I stayed for Jesse. I stayed because he needed me. In whatever fucked up capacity, he needed me. I know that that is a common tale of those that battle with addiction, but the difference with Jesse is that he was always brutally honest. He never lied to me, or made me believe that he wasn't an active drug user, because we both knew he was just that. I made it a point to just be a part of his world, to the extent that I could without compromising my own integrity and safety (and even that is debatable - note aforementioned early morning drug dealers), because I knew that he needed something other than the addiction and everything that went along with it. He needed somebody to talk to that wasn't using. He needed somebody to remind him that regardless of where he was or what he had done he was (and had the capability of being) a good person. He needed to see that there was life on the other side of the addiction. In essence, I just tried to give a sense of stability to the uneven and shaky lifestyle that he was so desperately clinging to, all in hopes that eventually he would make the decision to walk away from it all.

Now, I am no fool. I am very aware that there are addicts that do not change. I have seen firsthand, people that I love and care about, choose addiction over their family and friends. And it sucks. I wish that every addict had a success story to share and that addiction could be cured magically (still doesn't work that way Passages...). At the end of the day, the success stories come from the people who wanted to change. Sticking around for someone who shows no interest in bettering themselves is something that will 9 times out of 10 end in heartbreak and disappointment. Not every addict will make it through their addiction and that is not your fault. My husband has a success story right now (recovery is an everyday process) and that is simply because he chose recovery.

The day that Jesse realized enough was enough, was a really hard day. On his side, he used enough to put himself into a (non-diagnosed) drug induced coma for almost 18 hours. On my side, he used enough to put me into complete and total fear that he wouldn't make it out alive. I was an emotionally heartbroken train wreck. I couldn't imagine what would have happened if he had overdosed and I was fearful that I may not ever know what was truly going on. It was one of the most difficult days of my life. When he woke up 18 hours later, he contacted me and you could hear the sadness and difference in his voice. He told me that he needed to change and that he couldn't live like that anymore. He asked me to come spend the day with him and I never went home. I ended up moving in and did what I could to support his journey through recovery. It was a journey that I wasn't prepared for at the time, that is for sure.

This is the part of the story where again, the focus is typically on the addict. And again, I am not ignorant as to why that is. Recovery, especially in the beginning, is a treacherous journey that takes a LOT out of the addict. Withdrawal is by far one of the saddest and most difficult things to watch someone go through because there is nothing that you can do. The pain they feel - the culmination of the feelings that had long been subdued come to the forefront and everything from mind, to body, to soul begins to ache. It is a process unlike anything I've seen and I understand completely why recovery is focused primarily on the addict. However, there is nothing that can take away the fear I felt watching my husband have night terrors so fierce it appeared he was having a seizure. Nothing can take away the defeat and sadness in his eyes when he felt every bit of exhaustion and pain he had endured over the duration of time he spent using. Nothing can take away the panic I felt when his heart would skip beats because of extended drug use. Nothing can bring back the infinite number of hours I spent cleaning the apartment, section by section, ridding each space of the paraphernalia that littered the floors, the counters, the closets, cabinets, the storage room, and the laundry room. Nothing can take away the difficulty of trying to grow and develop in a relationship with someone who has to sleep 20/24 hours a day. Nothing can take away from the moments of silence that I spent by myself listening to the tears stream down my husband's face knowing that there was nothing I could say or do to make it all go away. Very little can compare to being a partner of an addict in recovery. 

Recovery is a journey unlike any other and until you experience it, you have no idea what it feels like or how it works. The difficult thing for many to understand is that recovery is different for everyone. Recovery is like a snowflake. It is a unique experience for each person and it often takes a while for it to become fine tuned for the addict and their partners. Navigating recovery for the partner is hard because you have to reevaluate the things you say, the places you go, the people you see, the things you talk about, and the memories you relive. And more often than not, that is just the tip of the iceberg. At any given time, something can be a trigger to a recovering addict and it's important to be completely and totally cautious of that as you assist your partner in navigating recovery. I found myself cutting people out of my life, whether they were friends or even family, because of their toxicity to Jesse and his recovery. I found myself traveling further in opposite directions to go to stores that would be less of a trigger. I had to make a lot of changes to my own life, in order to support the direction Jesse was heading with recovery. It was is really hard. It's not easy to cut people and places that are familiar out of your life. It's not easy to separate yourself from everything you knew before in order to assist in someone else's recovery. But I did all of those things without hesitation to accommodate the man I loved desperately.

As time goes on, recovery becomes an easier process to understand, triggers become less frequent and the difficult obstacles begin to grow smaller. We learned what Jesse could and could not handle with recovery and we shaped our lives to make that work. There are still times when triggers present themselves and we come to a crossroads where we have to reevaluate a situation, but we've become really good at compromising and accommodating whatever we need to to ensure the success of his recovery.

Similarly to an addict having to choose recovery every day, I choose to be a part of that recovery every day. I choose to be an active part of his journey every day. I choose to evolve as an individual, a wife, a mother, a friend, a sibling, a niece, a granddaughter and a daughter through recovery. The two are not parallel, but are one in the same. I adapt to the struggles that my husband faces on a daily basis and I become more educated and in tune with what he may need at that time in his life. I then educate those around me through example and explanation. To this day, I still have family and friends that don't understand my journey, and that's okay. They don't have to understand why I did what I did, why I am where I am, or how I am willing to adapt my life to the recovery process. It is my journey and I am damn proud to be a part of it, because I have learned and grown more in the last 2 years than I have in my entire life prior.

Being with an addict isn't a journey for the fainthearted. It isn't a journey for those desperate to be a superhero. It isn't for those trying to remove the View Master. It's for those willing to see the person behind it all. My husband was in the depths of his addiction and regardless, I saw him. I knew that there was a beautiful, sensitive and gentle heart beating below the tattered and broken shell. I knew that there was a man with determination, strength and incredible courage beyond the manipulative and strung out exterior. Being with an addict takes boundary work, a clear head, and an open mind, heart and soul. It takes patience unlike anything you've ever had to give before. But most importantly (and easily the most difficult), is that it takes the ability to realize that while there are some addicts that can change, there are some addicts who never change. There are some success stories that don't last. There are some stories that end in tragedy. Regardless of the story you find yourself in, these lessons are key to successfully battling in the trenches (or from the sidelines):

It is okay to love someone who is battling addiction.

You are not alone.

This is not your fault.

The outcome (however positive or negative) will make you stronger, smarter and more aware of this chaotic world that we live in. 

You are brave.

From one partner to another, keep your head up, your eyes open, and your faith in Jesus.

1 Corinthians 10:13 💙

Published by Alexandra Yearley

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