Lean in and pray.

The summer of 2017, M relapsed. And by relapse, I mean he went full force back into using regularly and lying to me about it. After a weeks’ long stay in rehab that past December, months of intensive outpatient and nearly a half a year of clean, hopeful progress – we were back to locked doors, missing money, refusal to open up and be fully transparent, suspicions, fights, tears.

I had coffee with my friend S that summer, someone from my old food blogging days. Although we were not the closest of friends, we could always open up to each other so easily about the deep stuff that had us wondering about the everyday world and the relationships we keep. She had moved out of state but we still got together for coffee now and then when she came back in town.Her faith in God was something that I once ignored about her. Not because it turned me off, but I realized we might never be the friends that I thought, or hoped, we might be because of this difference in values. I didn’t believe in anything. I didn’t believe that God didn’t exist, but I didn’t welcome him into my life, either. I didn’t think I needed him.

So we had coffee and caught up on writing life, motherhood, navigating adulthood. Before we started saying our goodbyes, I opened up to her about my current struggle. I had been thinking about it during the entire date, wondering how to say it – just blurt it out? My husband is a recovering addict and our marriage is hanging on by threads and I feel very alone and confused and scared and the everyday that I once celebrated so much has now become my own struggle. There is no good time in a conversation to bring it up.

But I said it briefly – M had been in rehab, and it brought me to searching for something higher. I told her I admired her own strong faith, that she could just put her life in the hands of God and knew it would be OK. I had had one brief feeling of spirituality, of believing in something larger than me, in Japan, standing before a giant sitting Buddha. Was that what I was looking for? Does God exist in different forms? Is he the image of a man, or is he the energy all around me? I didn’t know. I felt like I was chasing something and I didn’t even know what it was or if it existed.

Lean into those questions, she said. Ask him for a sign.

I hadn’t prayed in a long time. I decided to try.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. // Al-Anon Step 3

I liked the idea of praying, but a part of me felt like I didn’t have a right to do so. Because I’d rejected God for so long, how could just ask him for help now that everything is falling apart? Because I’d always judged people who found God this way – who couldn’t figure out a way to solve their problems themselves, so they just relied on God to fix it, and tell them what to do, and answer all the questions that they didn’t know how to face themselves. And if I did ask him for a sign, how would I know? Would I just be looking at everything after and thinking, is that it? Is that Him? If I did believe in God, did he have to be in the form of a man, and Jesus, or could I continue to believe that he is everything around me, that he is the energy flowing through me and my breath going in and out? Could it be what I wanted to believe, or is it another way? Is that what he would show me?

Lean into those questions. Ask him for a sign.

I didn’t know how to pray. So I wrote a letter.

Dear God,

I’ve been avoiding your name. I’ve been asking lots of questions, and searching, and buying books and not reading them, and meditating, and feeling like I’m forcing spirituality onto myself while also remaining doubtful and pushing away for fear of being a phony and a hypocrite and weak.

I want you. And I’ve been avoiding talking to you because a part of me does not want to be a person who prays. But a part of me wants to embrace prayer.

I need help.

Life is hard, and if I believe that we are all connected somehow, that the breath of life that flows through that tree that I’m looking at through the window also flows through me, that you are that life, that you are everywhere, not just some man looking down at me from the heavens above, listening to me, but that you’re wind blowing through the leaves and birds chirping and the blue, blue sky, and my son’s laughter, and the light shining through the window – then I have to be able to look to you for help.

Because you are life.

And I don’t know what it is you do – make things better? Tell me the answers? Give me a sign in the form of thunder and lightning, some clear vision that floats out of the sky, or maybe something smaller that falls into my path and just works somehow?

I realized that the one thing I haven’t done is let go.

Surrender.

To finally put my faith in you.

To stop trying to answer the questions myself and to let you tell me.

To be completely vulnerable, and to talk to you, and ask you for help, and admit that I don’t know the answers, and that if you’re everywhere and everything, then it will all be okay.

Please give me a sign. And I will be yours truly.

To the wife of a heroin addict.

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To the wife of an heroin addict: You are not alone.

I know you may feel alone in many, many ways. Like when you’re alone with your child on a weeknight, and your husband is supposed to be home but he’s not. He’s at work late, but by now you know that he’s driving into the city for heroin, and you’ve been trying to get a hold of him for hours, and his responses are misspelled texts filled with excuses and lies, if there is any response at all. You feed and bathe your little one, and your husband arrives just as you’re putting him down to bed.

He’s there, but not really there.

You eat dinner with him in front of the TV, and you watch as his head nods off into his plate. “Are you okay?” you ask him. “Yeah,” he says, “Just tired.” But you know it’s more than that. The way his knees bend slightly when he’s standing, his body swaying up and down, side to side, and you’ve even seen the entire upper half of his body droop in front of him, so he’s nearly at a right angle, his fingers practically touch his toes, and he just sways there for several minutes. He’s there, but not really there.

It’s especially lonely when you can’t tell anyone about it. What are you supposed to say? “My husband is addicted to heroin, he chooses to head out to the west side after work for drugs instead of spend time with his family, he’s draining our bank account and lying to me every day and I don’t even know who he is anymore?” Maybe you have a close childhood friend or a sister who won’t judge you, who will listen to you and be a shoulder to cry on, except maybe her shoulder is on the other side of the country, and all you can do is cry into the phone while you sit in your car in a random parking lot, alone.

And you don’t want to tell your parents, because they live out of state also, and what will they think? What will they say? They’ll hate him, tell you to leave him, never look at him the same way again. They’ll see his addiction as a choice, not a disease. And even though he’s there, but not there, he’s still there. In there, somewhere, the man you married. There is just a demon taking hold of him, and he’s struggling. And you see him with your son and despite the drugs, he’s still a good father. When they’re spending time together, there is so much love. There is still laughter, and playtime, and endless love. You still love the man you married, and you don’t want to give up on him.

Eventually, perhaps you tell his family, because you can’t handle the weight of it by yourself anymore. They live nearby, and they’re able to watch your little one when your husband finally agrees to get help. They pick up your son from daycare and pack an overnight bag for him while you sit in the ER with their son, who is still high, and you are pulling needles out of his pocket and wondering if he’ll even be taken in if he’s not experiencing withdrawals yet, but they have to. “If he comes home, he’ll use again,” you tell the doctor, your voice wavering with desperation. The doctor looks at you and maybe you see sadness and even empathy in his eyes. He is moved to a rehab facility, and as you’re leaving, the withdrawals are starting to kick in, and he’s threatening to leave, but the nurse is able to calm him down with one his own prescriptions, maybe a Xanax? You can’t remember anymore, you just remember that he stayed, and you went home, alone.

His parents are there for you, but their struggle is different. You check out local support groups for families, and you notice that you’re mostly surrounded by parents of opiate addicts. Because the parents, of course, are the ones who will never leave. Even if they have kicked their kid out of the house and broke off all communication, there is still that tie to their children that will never break.

There are some wives in your Al Anon group, but their husbands are alcoholics, which is a different struggle, as well. You find there are far more spouses who stay with husbands addicted to alcohol, and you’re starting to wonder where all the wives of opiate addicts are. Did they leave? Did they lose the fight? Were they forced to let go and move on? You start to think that maybe that’s your future, too. You turn to Google and search for phrases like “wives of addicts” and “I’m married to a heroin addict.” Looking for a support group, a community, a blog, an article – anything from another wife who shares your story. Who has to live every day with this horrible disease and watch it eat away at the man she fell in love with, at her family, her marriage, herself. Who empties tiny little baggies of powder down the toilet, and finds nearby dumpsters to throw away needles. Who frantically searches for more, because hard evidence is the only way she can get him to admit he’s using, any speculations or gut feelings met only with excuses, lies, defenses, disgust. Who wakes up in the middle of the night, night after night, to an empty bed, and wonders if he’s overdosed in the garage. Who is constantly looking for her husband at family gatherings and finding him in the bathroom, door locked, or else not finding him at all. Who wonders what it looks like to other people. Who wonders how much longer she can live with the lies and the pain.

You find a few articles on rehab websites with advice for spouses, and even a few articles from women who eventually left their husbands. But where is the article telling you there is hope for your marriage?

A former therapist of mine once told me, “There is always hope.”

This story is mine. Maybe it’s yours, too. If it is, then we’ve found each other. There’s some hope, right there. And I have more to tell you. I am writing and rewriting my story every moment, every day.

It’s been 20 months since my husband returned home from rehab. He came back the first time just before Christmas, and he was back in days later – just as the year was ending. He was five months clean before he relapsed again. By that time I was going to Al Anon every day, praying to a Higher Power that I had never known before, learning how to take care of myself because it was the only thing I could do. The only things I have control over are my own health and sanity, which were slowly slipping as I lived in a home filled with lies and mistrust. I had to remove myself and my son from the situation, so we went to Las Vegas to stay with my sister. My husband got clean while we were gone, on his own terms this time, and he stayed clean for another 10 months before he used again.

This time, it was only a week before he told me about it and stopped. We wondered how it could have happened – we were going to couples therapy, he was going to a support group once a week, we were communicating better, he had found healthy hobbies and made new friends, we were doing good. How could it happen?

Addiction is a scary and powerful disease. It can take hold of someone, no matter how strong or how far in recovery, and it will stick him in a dark tunnel with a light shining on nothing but one thing – heroin. And that’s all he can see, and it’s all he can move toward, and all reason and love is silenced in the darkness, and there is just that. One. Thing.

Somehow, after he told me, I found peace. A trust in the power that was in me, in him, in us – in everything. A sense of relief, because it wasn’t going to be another cycle of lies this time. The truth had revealed itself quickly, and he was back on track to recovery once again. Perhaps this last relapse meant there was more work to do, and with that, he made an appointment with an individual therapist and looked deeper inside himself and the universe for the strength needed to quit.

Progress. It’s all I can ask for, and all I can hope for, because relapses will happen. Is this my life now? I used to ask myself when I feared another relapse. Yes, it is. But it’s not about worrying about the next relapse, wondering if and when it will happen, fearing the pain it will bring. It’s about finding peace in the now, and celebrating how far we have come in just under two years. Despite all of it, I can tell you that right now, in this moment, I am happy.

I’m not going to leave my husband because he suffers from addiction. It’s a family disease from which we are both struggling. It will always be a part of our lives. But it doesn’t have to control our lives. We’ll work together to keep darkness out and shine a light on the good things. And as long as there is love and trust, ‘til death do us part.

Here’s to love. Here’s to hope. Here’s to you and to us. We are not alone.

A journal entry from June 13, 2017.

Your behavior is bordering on codependency.

Do you feel defeated? Frustrated?

I don’t believe a word that comes out of your mouth.

I feel like you’re my mom.

I feel like your mom.

That’s a problem.

If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck…

You’re smothering me.

Are you using again?

I’m sorry.

I love you.

At the end of the day, say I love you. Because it is true.

Recovery homework: a letter.

Dear M,

During the time that you were using, I felt a lot of things. I’d feel alone when I woke up in the middle of the night to an empty bed. Only to get up and find you passed out – standing up in the kitchen, in your car, in the garage. Or in the garage with the door locked. Your sleeping habits made me worried, concerned for your health and the health of our family. I felt resentful because you would stay up all night and sleep in the mornings, leaving me alone with our son for a good part of the day.

On days when I didn’t know where you were after work, I was worried out of my mind. Hysterical, almost. Angry because I knew you were going to the city for drugs when your wife and your child were at home, missing you and wanting to be with you. You’d make it home with barely enough time to even see your son.

Our son. I was scared for our son and what kind of life was ahead of him if you didn’t stop. I was worried about the disappointment and the hurt he would feel if he were old enough to understand.

I felt betrayed when you would lie to my face or text me things like – My phone’s about to die. It was across the room so I didn’t answer. I lost my phone! I’m going to the mall to get your Xmas present. I don’t know who that contact is in my phone. His texts are all gibberish.

Confused. Who was this person who would lie to me like this? Who thought I was dumb enough to believe him?

I was angry when you got high the night before Thanksgiving. At one point you had your face in a piece of raw steak in the kitchen, swaying back and forth. What are you doing? I asked. Smelling the steak, you replied.

I was scared when you didn’t come home that night. I thought it was all my fault – that I handled it all wrong.

I was devastated when you had to go back to rehab – not because you used again, but because I hated seeing you so broken. I was scared.

I am scared. I am worried. I’m confused. I’m still all these things. But I am hopeful.

I love you.

The light.

“The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure.” Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

It was a week or so before Christmas, and I was at the bookstore. Lights twinkling, couples bundled up and headed to their cars, coffee cups in hand. They were Christmas shopping, worried only about the items on their list, wrapping gifts, going home to Christmas trees and family dinners and everyday life.

I was buying books for my husband to take to rehab with him. We weren’t sure if there would be a bed available for him, or what the night or the next day or the next week would bring. Forget Christmas. Forget wrapping presents. I didn’t even know if we would be spending the holiday together. Even taking it one day at a time, at this point, was too much. I was taking it moment by moment. In that moment, the task at hand: Buy books for M. The next task, get him in the car. The next, get him to the hospital. The goal: Detox. We had to get the poison out. “It’s the first step,” I told him. “The only first step. The only way back to yourself. To me, to us.”

I bought “A Wrinkle in Time,” not knowing the impact it would have on him. Not remembering that quote about light, and the fight between light and darkness. I didn’t realize then, and neither did he, that light and dark would become such huge metaphors in our everyday lives. After all that – a year and a half of falling apart, the last two and a half months of everything crashing down around us, and now, sitting in my kitchen, my son m. sleeping upstairs, my husband M. back at the hospital taking classes as a part of his recovery program, “The Wrinkle in Time” boxed set sitting on the table across from me – it’s become that simple. Light versus dark. The light shines on. There is hope. We are broken, but we are still us, and we are still together, and the light shines on as we slowly pick up the pieces.

But. I’m so fucking scared.