I believe in a thing called love.

Do you trust him? she asked.

We were at the lake house, sitting around the fire, and M had been gone for a short time. His cousin asked where he was and then, the trust question. I smiled and nodded, “Yes. Oh yeah. He’s doing good.”

That what I said aloud. In my head, a million thoughts. The answer is so much more than yes or no. It’s so much more than trust in one person. What does that even mean? Do I trust that he won’t use again? Do I trust that he’ll never hurt me again? Do I trust the person he is when he’s in recovery? Do I trust the addiction? Do I trust his love for me and my love for him? The answer, then, is not just yes. It’s no, no, yes, no, yes. If a good marriage is built on trust, then what the fuck am I doing?

I used to think that building a marriage on trust meant handing over my whole heart to my husband and knowing that it would be safe from harm, betrayal, judgment, lies. There is a part of me still hanging on to this way of thinking. The part that wants to answer her question confidently: “Yes, of course!” Proving that our marriage is normal, that I’m not weak for staying with a husband who lies, that we’re doing great, just like everyone else.

But… it’s complicated. I’m learning that trust in a marriage, in any relationship, is more about trust in myself and something greater. Trusting that my heart will be okay when I open it up to someone else because I take care of it myself – not simply handing it over and relying on another person to make it whole and happy. We are all human. Most of us don’t even know how to take care of our own hearts, so how can we promise not to hurt another’s, even if our intentions are good?

This doesn’t mean that I just take the hurt, tend to my wounds, and get ready for more. This does not give him an excuse to lie to me because it’s human nature to make mistakes, to get distracted by dark tunnels, to hurt other people without intending to. Honestly, this is where I’m stuck right now. I’ve learned to separate my husband from his addiction. I trust my husband, I don’t trust his addiction. But his addiction is a disease from which he will always suffer. It’s a part of our marriage, our family. A family disease. Sometimes the separation is not so clear.

“I cannot know what the future will bring. My best hope is every bit as likely to occur as my worst fear, so I have no reason to give more weight to my negative assumption. All I can do is make the most of this day. Today I choose to trust my recovery, the tools of the program, and my Higher Power, and to recognize how very far I have come.” // Al-Anon’s Courage to Change p. 169

I have to trust the process. The recovery. The work we are both doing. I have to trust that my Higher Power will reveal the truth to me when the time is right. Above all, I trust in love. The love in me and the love in him. I’ve seen that love in action and I see it every day. I’ve seen him work so hard to make changes in his life. And I’ve seen the progress.

I’ve made a habit of reflecting back each month, each year, in my journal. I write it out with colorful pens and doodles and lines and shapes, all the things that went right, the books I read, the crystals I carried, the places we went, the things little m said, the things I struggled with, my fears. 2019 was a two page spread, each item bordered by a different- colored box, and when I looked at it, the joy could not be ignored. Two boxes in the corner, one containing “two known slips” and the other read “at-home drug tests.” The rest of the pages were filled with so much good. It’s hard not to be grateful, to not see the progress, when it’s staring me in the face like that. The good outweighs the bad. Light washes away the dark.

So what do I trust? I trust that my husband is human. I trust that as a human, he will lie again. He will do things that hurt me. He will do things that hurt himself. Just as I do things to hurt him and myself. I trust that we are not perfect, and we will have challenges and fears and struggles. And I trust that he loves his family. I trust love – the love within me and within him and within the universe. Love will heal us, no matter what happens.

Relapse, recovery, resilience.

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A week ago, M used again.

As the weekend approached, I had a bad feeling. M had plans to be gone most of the weekend, hanging out with friends as their favorite band played at a local venue three days in a row. I was feeling anxious about solo parenting. I took Friday off to have time to myself, clean the house, run errands, so I could focus my attention on little m the rest of the weekend without feeling overwhelmed with house work.

I was not worried about M using.

His absence all weekend, coming home only to sleep and wake up late, was triggering. Reminded me of a worse time, years ago, before we began the healing process. When the darkness was hovering in every corner of our home, in the air between us, hanging over words said and unsaid.

I tried to wake him up to share my feelings. We had a horrible fight. He said things that were unlike him and looked at me with eyes of disgust. His energy scared me. I couldn’t believe the words he was saying.

We tried to put it behind us. We hugged, said our apologies, and he headed out. I knew as soon as his phone location was acting up – saying he was home, not out – that something was wrong. I spent the rest of the evening on my yoga mat, breathing. Feeling my inhale and exhale as powerful as waves crashing against rocks. I welcomed the universe in.

The universe answered. When M stumbled in the house at 5:00 the next morning, I immediately checked his phone and saw that he had been searching for addresses on the west side, where he gets drugs. He tried to lie, cover it up, but it was too late.

“Did you use?” I asked.

Pause. “Just last night,” he answered.

Truth brings me hope. I hold on to the truth. I grasp it tightly, knuckles white, clinging on for the life of our family. I hold on to the truth. It brings me hope.

Relapse is a part of recovery. It’s a controversial statement, and most people see it as either true or bullshit. It seems contradictory – how can someone be recovering if they’re still sick? It provides addicts with an excuse to use, because they can tell themselves they’re still in recovery even if they keep relapsing. And probably most of all – it can be extremely frustrating for family and friends of addicts who just want to the downward spiral of drugs, lies and darkness to go away forever.

But then take a look at the definitions of relapse and recovery. According to Merriam-Webster:

Relapse is a recurrence of symptoms of a disease after a period of improvement

Recovery is the process of combating a disorder (such as alcoholism) or a real or perceived problem

A recurrence of symptoms. For me, that means going back to the cycle of lies, denial, pain. A return to the darkness. When he uses and gets back into recovery right away, I don’t even call it a relapse. A lapse, a slip, a whatever. I try not to focus on it at all.

Relapse as a part of recovery takes away the belief that a relapse is a failure. It accepts that people are human, that we all make mistakes, that recovery is hard work. Recovery is not just an outcome. It is not just about sobriety. Recovery is about healing, finding a way back to one’s true self by diving into the depths of one’s soul and making it back out alive and reconnected to light. Recovery is about living life as a celebration of that light every day. 

M does not have a sobriety date. We do not measure the quality of his recovery with how many days he’s stayed clean. Instead, we focus on growth. We practice gratitude for the small, happy moments that did not exist when he was using – weekend breakfasts together, weekday evenings flowing through the bedtime grind together, cleaning up after dinner together, long chats about what it means to be a human and a spirit. Together.

What about me? How am I doing? How do I recover?

This week has been hard. Anxiety starts to take over small moments, making it difficult to focus. My chest begins to tighten, heart heavy and sinking to the pit of my stomach, a rumbling, a churning, and I find myself heading for the bathroom, my body literally telling me to release this negative energy. I went to my first Nar-Anon meeting (I have tried several other meetings in the area over the years – a few Al-Anon, a few non-12-step programs) and it didn’t quite fit. I plan to go back to my Tuesday night Al-Anon, which is structured to share the strength and hope of our stories rather than getting sucked into the hopelessness that can sometimes enter the room when we are simply sharing the back and forth of our addicts, the constant relapses and rehabs and disappointments. I joined a yoga therapy group,  practice yoga in a light filled room every other Saturday with a small group of women, then sharing our feelings after. I write. I read. I take pictures. I try not to let fear swallow me up.

My mantra this past week: resilience. I do not see his slips as failures, as long as he gets back up. As long as he stays committed to his recovery – to living the best way he can and giving his family the best version of himself. We deserve that. He deserves that.

And I continue to take each struggle as an opportunity for growth. I prayed and the universe answered. Now I must trust this process. Now I must keep going.

do not break
to break down

break
to break open.

– danielle doby, I AM HER TRIBE