I didn’t know. What I mean by that is that I had no idea. None.
Sure, he mentioned that he drank a lot in high school. Didn’t everyone?
He spent up to six hours per day in the gym throughout his college career and was, at one point, enhancing his workouts with a delightful cocktail of steroids. Again, this is not unheard of.
Law school was stressful. He did some lines of cocaine. So did half of my friends. The fact that I have lived a drug-free life doesn’t mean I’m completely naïve. Most of the folks I know have tried cocaine, even though I have never even seen it in real life. I am the exception rather than the rule.
In his early twenties, he invested what little money he had in what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme/ gambling clusterfuck and lost it all overnight. This struck me as strange, but it seemed to me that he had learned a great deal from the situation and had come away deciding never to repeat that particular mistake.
Let me say again: I. Did. Not. Know.
We were newly married and I was already pregnant when it started coming together for me. I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a stupid woman. So how does one miss what is staring one right in the face?
I have asked myself this question every day for years. I have put the query out to the universe and have heard back from my most trusted friends and family. No two people agree. At the end of the day I have to be satisfied with the fact that it doesn’t truly matter HOW I missed it as much as it matters that I DID.
Like every other addict on earth, my husband “didn’t have a problem.” He could “stop whenever he wanted.” As it turns out, denial is not just a river in Egypt. His own therapist doubted he had an addiction, saying that he was suffering from anxiety and a compulsive behavior disorder. Fast forward a few years and it turns out that this is the very definition of addiction. Who knew? Not me.
I have learned so much…about addiction, about love, about my husband, about myself, about forgiveness and acceptance and everything in between. I have learned that the brand of the addiction actually doesn’t matter: whether it’s heroin or alcohol or sex or gambling, addicts all share a very specific set of personality traits and emotional issues. I have learned that addicts are actually some of the kindest, smartest, most well-intentioned folks on earth. Most I have met are more sensitive than your average bear, suffer terribly from generalized anxiety disorder, have a difficult time not becoming overwhelmed in social situations, and struggle to self-regulate. The common thread among their stories is astounding. Most of them really, truly, genuinely want to get well.
I have learned about the neuropathy of addiction and have seen for myself the way that the addiction releases opioids into the brain, lighting up the pleasure centers and teaching the addict to repeat the behavior. There is a pattern to it all; it is as if there is an unwritten program that they all end up unwittingly following. There is an overture, a first act, an intermission, a second act, and so forth. They are all following the same script. The loved ones of an addict are just along for the ride and we, too, tell the same story, albeit with slightly different details. The parallels are remarkable.
My husband has lied to me more times than I can count. He has been a master manipulator and has managed to make ME doubt MY sanity. This is the hallmark of an addict, who will do or say whatever it takes to protect their deep-seeded need for the behavior of their choice. The thought of not having access to the magic is enough to drive an addict insane.
I have screamed, I have cried, I have thrown and broken things; I have begged, I have pleaded, I have threatened. I have taken every last one of his possessions, packed them up, and thrown them into his car. I have physically removed him from our home. I have been a crazy person. I have lost myself in his addiction.
We are still married, but WHY? Why would ANYONE sign up for this and refuse to drop out? Am I some kind of masochist? Perhaps I am codependent? Have I lost my ever-loving mind? What reasonable person would still be standing in a marriage so clearly marred?
I am still married because I am in love with my husband. He did not choose to be an addict any more than I chose to marry an addict. But I chose him and I chose well. I am still standing by his side because he is a good man. More to the point, he is the best man I know. He is loving, kind, considerate, hysterically funny, romantic, intelligent, sexy, interesting, successful, thoughtful, loyal, gentle, and soft. To know him is to love him. This is a GOOD MAN we’re talking about. He makes me happy, except when he doesn’t. If I had to assign percentages I would say that 92% of the time we are blissfully happy and 8% of the time we are miserable. These are good odds. How many married couples you know have percentages this high?
Also, he finally decided to stop denying his addiction and face it head on. He sees an addiction therapist, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction medications, goes to two to three meetings per week, joins me in couples counseling, journals daily, and reads all the books he can get his hands on. He even highlights them and writes notes in the margins. This good man is actively trying to be well. He has made his recovery the centerpiece of his life. Yet addiction recovery is a non- linear process, no matter how much we all wish it were otherwise. He stumbles, he falls, he relapses. It feels as if the same tired nightmare has been recorded and set on repeat. I beg the universe to make it stop, for both our sakes.
It’s so tempting and so easy to look from the outside in at another person’s marriage and make a snap judgement. “You should leave his sorry ass.” “You deserve better.” “Just get a divorce and move on with your life.” I know how tempting and easy this is because I was the person saying these things to the women and men in my own life whose partners were addicts. I lacked understanding and perspective. It reminds me of when I was in my early twenties and was the world’s perfect parent. Then I had kids.
There may well come a day when I must leave. At any point I could wake up and look at this man whom I love and say, “I am so sorry. I have had enough. I simply cannot take it anymore.” I recognize that there comes a time when one must cut one’s losses, thank one’s love for time well-spent, and walk out the door. That day has not yet come and it isn’t because I am weak or co-dependent or afraid. It isn’t for the kids. It is because my good-man husband is unwell and is doing everything within his power not to be sick anymore.
Call me old-fashioned but I take that vow about “for better or for worse” pretty seriously. It is true that I did not know I was marrying an addict. It is also true that my husband did not know, himself, that he had an addiction. He didn’t know what was happening with him…only that he became flooded with an anxiety so palpable he felt he would implode and burst into a million tiny pieces.
I cannot offer him carte blanche simply because he is sick- that would hurt us both. I have to draw the proverbial line in the stand and stick to my guns when he crosses it, no matter how much my heart aches and breaks for him when I see the sadness and regret in his eyes.
Yet I stay. I stay because that’s what you do when the person you love is trying to get well. You stay.