Addiction crept into my relationship five years ago and turmoil accompanied it. Confronted with stress, anguish and obstacle, I was in a difficult situation that I stayed with for one simple reason – LOVE.
Six years ago he arrived in my life. I remember thinking to myself – “this is it”. He was motivated, driven, funny and handsome. Unbeknownst to me, in entering this relationship I was committing myself to a life that I was completely unprepared for. I had lived a rather sheltered existence and when I met him at the age of 38, I had not been exposed to anyone that used or struggled with opiates.
He had been upfront with me about his past use of drugs and assured me that is was behind him. Shortly after we met he was injured at work. It was a career threatening injury that pushed him down into the depths of negative thoughts and uncertainty. As we neared the end of our first year together I began to realize that he had been turning to more than simply Dr. prescribed pain relief. But by then, my heart was already his and I decided to remain in the relationship. After all, he had kicked these habits before and would do so again.
Or so I thought …
Thus began four very tumultuous and heartbreaking years.
When you are in a relationship with a person in active addiction you face chaos on a daily basis. Their mood and demeanor changes on a dime and your life is carefully lived on eggshells when they are around, and worry and doubt abound when they are out of sight or communication.
But I loved him. I kept going back in my memories to the man I first fell in love with. Remembering how he would hold me tightly against his strong chest and stroke my hair, giving me a genuine feeling of safety and love. I remembered the good times we had, just laughing together over a game of cards or creating an amazing meal together. Even though the man I fell in love with was rarely present, I was confident that I could help him get on track and from there we would have an incredible future.
My position as an equal partner quickly shifted to the role of caretaker. He had not yet found regular employment and after another year I bought a new house and invited him to move in with me. I was convinced beyond doubt that if the stress in his life was alleviated he would be able to focus on getting himself clean.
The three years that we lived together were turbulent. I lived with an unrelenting fear that his next score would be the fatal one. At this point he had admitted that Fentanyl had been thrown into the mix, and it was the Fentanyl that he could not beat. With his own finances tied up in the constant pursuit of drugs I held sole financial responsibility for all of our household expenses. I had online access to his bank account and when he was working I would watch the account with dismay as the daily unexplained withdrawals of $40-$60 came out. $40-$60 per day gone in a snort of heroin while I struggled each month to pay our bills. Yet I felt guilty if I bought myself a bottle of wine without bringing beer for him. I felt guilty eating out without inviting him to accompany. I withheld all of the little pleasures I had indulged in prior to meeting him, because I simply could not afford to treat the both of us to them.
So why did I stay? Family and friends can’t understand nor can I explain it. It is as difficult for me to explain WHY I stayed as it was for him to explain why he continued to use. My sense of peace and confidence was so compromised yet I refused to believe that THIS would be the rest of my life if I stayed with him. I clung to the hope that there would be light at the end of this very dark tunnel and we would have a future with sobriety, happiness and love.
This unimaginable disease transforms the host into two people, much like Jeckyl & Hyde. I learned to recognize the two personas. I lived for the moments that he spoke clearly and optimistically and his laughter was like music. But then there were the days when he was unavailable. He would spend hours upon hours laying on the couch watching TV. He would have to go on unexplained errands. He had no energy to participate in household chores and he didn’t have any interest in getting out of the house with me to experience life.
But he didn’t deserve the life that this path was leading him to! I knew it and believed that he just needed me to stay by his side and he would find his way to success and happiness with my support. Early in our relationship he had shared his demons with me … fear of abandonment was a big one for him. I was determined that I would be the ONE person in his life that would not abandon him. But he lacked coping skills and even with me at his side, his triggers were always too strong to fight.
I knew the drill. I knew that nobody could save him but himself. I knew that until he was ready to get clean he would not. I knew that he had not hit “rock bottom” and I wasn’t forcing him to. I knew that I should be focusing on my own self-care and happiness rather than obsessing about saving him. But what if? What if OUR situation was different than statistics dictated? What if I stood by him and we actually got through it and found a life on the other side of addiction?
These dreamlike thoughts of how he would finally get sober permanently led me to lose a major part of myself. I obsessed about things I could do to derail his efforts to obtain drugs. It became a battle of wills and as smart as I am, the addiction was always too clever for me. I knew I was in denial, but my ability to move on was paralyzed. I needed to WIN!
As we approached the end of 2016 I was insisting to myself that I could not let another year pass like this. I had come to understand how ugly addiction was and was struggling with how to move on. Then on New Years’ Day 2017 he admitted how dire his situation was. The addiction had taken control but he understood what he had to lose (me) and was utterly committed to getting clean.
But of course he “did not need to go to rehab, and could do it on his own”. I knew the reality but allowed myself to be convinced again, and we entered into what would be the most exhausting and devastating year of my life.
He had moments of clarity and made promises that he would be accountable. The first few months of the year I had optimism, but it was quickly chiseled away by the time we reached the summer. He was put on the Suboxone program which he vowed was the golden ticket … but it only became a band-aid that allowed him to better manage his addiction.
In this year he was taken away from our local superstore by ambulance due to overdose. One of my family members witnessed it so my terrible secret could no longer be hidden from them. On his birthday he left the house and a few hours later I heard the vehicle in the driveway and ultimately found him passed out behind the wheel. I shudder when I recall the times I was in the vehicle with him and realized by how erratically he was driving that he was blitzed. But to speak up would have infuriated him so I would hold my breath and count down the blocks remaining to get safely home.
By the time we were approaching the end of 2017 I was again telling myself not to drag this into another year. We had “broken up” in October when he told me he would not “live like this” when I asked him to show me his bank account. I spent Christmas with my family and found him sick from drug use when I came home to change for dinner. I entered 2018 with a weight of depression and anxiety sitting on my shoulders and I felt imprisoned.
He left in March 2018 when his close friend facilitated a move and admission to detox then rehab, followed by a new job and new life. He was given the golden ticket to walk away from all his problems and start anew while I was left to pick up the pieces of our shattered life. Addiction stripped me of so many things – financial stability, self-confidence, the ability to focus on my work, happiness, trust, and emotional strength. All this while the man who I knew would do anything to protect me from this loss of self was in the shadows helplessly chained by his need for the drugs.
I realize I was a classic enabler. I knew it all along truth be told, but convinced myself if I wasn’t GIVING him money and I wasn’t enabling. But he had a warm bed, a TV to watch, food and drink, a vehicle and a phone … I provided everything he needed which allowed him to constantly pursue his drug with little to no consequences.
It has been a long and difficult year since he left. I understand now how I had spiraled into severe co-dependent behavior. I found myself lost after he left because I no longer had HIM to focus my energy on. I had foolishly believed I would spring back to life be back my old self right away. It has now been just over one year since he left and I am beginning to feel that flow of energy and optimism about the future that I used to embody. . .