I married an addict.
I didn’t know that unfortunate fact when we exchanged vows nearly two decades ago, but it’s a fact nonetheless.
What began as a prescribed treatment for physical pain after an accident eventually became an emotional and psychological crutch that my husband relied upon for several years, for far longer than I ever could have realized. Looking back, I should have seen the signs. I should have done something to steer him back on course. I certainly should have paid more attention to our finances because it would have signaled a problem when his behavior did not.
Instead, life continued onward. He paid the bills (or didn’t, as time would later tell). He did his thing and I did mine: trusting that all was well in our little world, maintaining the household, getting the children to school, keeping everyone clothed and fed, and occasionally pursuing my dream of being an artist and writer and failing at both because of my devotion to my family.
If I had truly been devoted, perhaps I could have stopped the inevitable destruction of life as we knew it. The beautiful tragedy of hindsight is seeing everything you ever knew with sudden and unhindered clarity. It wraps a coarse blanket of renewed perception around your shoulders, the weight of its futile knowledge grounding you into the earth until the past threatens to swallow you whole.
That’s the tricky thing about the past; you can never go back, but you can choose to move forward. Sink or swim, as it were.
When the truth finally came out about my husband’s addiction, we were broken. Our relationship shattered but we had far bigger problems to solve: his health, our family, our finances, and eventually, saving our marriage. Refusing to seek treatment at a center due to the cost and the stigma, my husband rode the withdrawal and detoxification process at home.
In addition to my duties as a stay-at-home mom, I became a full-time nurse, waiting on my husband hand-and-foot through the initial weeks of intense withdrawal. We womenfolk often make jokes about the “man flu,” but withdrawal from painkillers is like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before. Constant chills, seething pain, muscle aches, anxiety, nausea, diarrhea. For weeks. There were so many days when I thought he might give up because it was just too hard.
But my husband was determined. And he made it.
More than a year after living through that dark eternity, I can say with absolute certainty that this is not the method I would recommend. From what I’ve read after the fact, it’s not only dangerous given the amount of oxycontin his body was accustomed to, but without continuous support an addict will likely relapse.
But it can be done. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was much farther than it seemed, however. As the symptoms of physical withdrawal dissolved, an unfathomable depression emerged in their stead, arising from shame, embarrassment, and a grave self-awareness of what he had done to our family.
I was beyond angry. My trust was broken. Our finances were decimated. My heart was fractured. I wrestled daily with the notion of taking the kids and leaving but I knew with absolute certainty that my husband would never survive it. And I… well, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I chose to let him fall.
In sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.
In the midst of helping my husband battle his demons, I was forced to take on the role of the breadwinner, writing for anyone and everyone who would pay me because we desperately needed the money. Like my husband, a fierce and unwavering determination burned through my veins and I refused to let us sink any further into hell. Our family had gone from having everything we’d ever wanted to barely affording the things we needed.
My life became a three-ring shit-circus and I, its disgruntled ringmaster. Between work, childcare, housekeeping, and spouse nurturing, I don’t know how I held our lives together. The days came and went and by the grace of some miracle, there was food on the table, electricity to keep the lights on, and a roof over our heads. I’ve come to discover that the universe doesn’t always give us everything we’d like to have, but if we submit to the current and finally let go of our expectations, we get what we need. And it’s enough because it has to be.
These days, my husband is healthier than he’s ever been in his entire life. His new addiction is nutrition, exercise, and an acute focus on getting things done around the house. His recovery has given him a new lease on life and a dizzying view of everything he would have lost if he’d succumbed to his dependency on opiates. We’re catching up on our debts, slowly, but it’s a process that’s moving in the right direction.
Our relationship is stronger than ever.
If there is one thing I have learned, it is this: the unbreakable bonds of marriage depend upon our absolute acceptance of one another, and that includes the very best and very worst parts of ourselves. Our deepest, nastiest secrets. Our most deplorable crimes.
Healing begins and ends with forgiveness, the delicate thread that binds us together.
I refuse to let it unravel.
This author has chosen to publish anonymously.