By Michelle Horton
I could hear my husband open our front door as I prepped dinner in the kitchen. Except I knew it wasn’t really my husband, not the same guy I married 68 months ago. Not the same man who held my sobbing body as a positive pregnancy test sat on our bathroom sink, 74 months ago. Not the man who promised we’d be okay. That we could do this. That he would always stay by my side.
And, technically, he did stay by my side. Technically.
He limps into the room: skinnier, snifflier, dead in the eyes. We had a few good weeks going as husband and wife. I actually thought he might be coming back to me after a near-death scare, a promise to get clean, a few sessions on a therapist’s couch—but it’s all back again. The consecutive ATM withdrawals and sneaky deception. The coldness in his words, the preoccupation behind his eyes, the sound of his struggling lungs whistling as I try to sleep next to him. All back.
Today it’s Vicodin, before that it was Methadone, before that it was Heroin, before that it was an OxyContin prescription from his doctor, hoping to ease a gnawing pain in his leg. The doctor didn’t ask if he had a deeper pain, an emotional pain that this prescription might temporarily patch. The doctor didn’t ask if he had a history of addiction in his family or at what age, exactly, he started self-medicating the anxiety that plagued his childhood. That age was 9.
Not like my husband would have been honest, of course, because addicts aren’t honest with anyone, especially themselves.
When signs of my husband’s dependence became obvious to the doctor—and to several doctors afterward—there was no acknowledgment, no understanding, no effort to help a man struggling with a coping strategy that turned self-destructive. There was simply a phone call from a receptionist: “We can’t see you anymore.” Dropped from care.
So he went to the streets, which is where so many addicts go when their prescription is yanked from their hands. He wasn’t looking for a high; he needed to feel normal, to not be in constant pain. And so the cycle starts: Disappearing money. Lies. Falling asleep at the dinner table. Denial. ER visits. Broken promises. His life is chaotic, consuming, no matter how or why it is.
He shuffles past me; I hold my breath. Everything in me wants to scream.
Being a drug addict’s wife is lonely and painful. It’s a life of justifications, covering up, pretending. It’s a life of inconsistency.
Being a drug addict’s wife means understanding the whys and seeing the humanity behind the label. He’s not a drug addict; he’s a good man suffering through an addiction. Not because I’m in denial, but because I know the full story. It’s trying to love away the hate he feels toward himself, to ease the self-inflicted shame and guilt he carries around, as if it’s my duty. It’s faithfully being there for someone who repeatedly hurts me, even if it’s not with his hands or his words. It’s upholding my promise to love him through sickness — except this particular sickness is one of denial, deception, and manipulation. This sickness changes the people we love into strangers. Is that the vow I made?
Being a drug addict’s wife is erupting into tears when a doctor asks, “So how are you?” It’s searching the self-help bookshelves for some kind of insight or support, wondering why no one saw the “strong” wife quickly deteriorating.
Being a drug addict’s wife means having my quality of life depend on someone else. It’s believing I’ll only be okay once he changes. It’s waiting, worrying, crying.
It’s googling, “When is it time to leave a marriage?” It’s living with uncertainty. It’s mentally preparing his funeral and how I’ll explain his death to our son.
It’s finally reaching out to a few close friends, then his family, and feeling a cathartic release. (And then wondering what the hell took me so long.)
Being a drug addict’s wife means enduring more pain and lies than any healthy person should ever put up with, and one day realizing that the most loving thing I can do—for myself, my child, and also my husband—is to leave. Because if I keep making it easy for him to spin this cycle, I’ll die. We’ll die.
It’s been six months since I discovered my codependency issues and started therapy. Six months since I took control of my life. I wish I had answers for other wives of addicts, or some sort of timeline to offer, but some days are still really hard.
Even though my husband started his recovery, I still have looming issues: trust, respect, honesty, and a backlog of pent-up anger. And yet I can finally see some value in our pain.
On good days, I have a deeper compassion for the human spirit and the human struggle. On good days, I have a better understanding of all the reasons we put on blinders, escape reality, and numb the pain. And yet my own pain led me to a profound understanding of myself, my fears, my hang-ups, my codependent patterns. Because of this experience, I understand forgiveness. I understand boundaries. I understand love, including self-love.
On bad days, I can still be gripped with anxiety, anger, fear of what might happen, a fear that’s temporary, but powerful.
As of today, I hope that we make it through, but I just can’t be sure. Yet I know without a shred of doubt, that I’ll be a better, stronger, smarter woman because I once loved a man who had an addiction, and my life unraveled.