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.