Surviving a Loved One’s Addiction
The serenity prayer is a crucial part of recovery meetings. It is of equal importance to those of us that love someone who is an addict. To watch a loved one destroy themselves and their life is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever experienced. My husband, Matt, bravely shared his story about addiction on my blog. It is important to understand that addiction doesn’t just affect the life of an addict; it affects the ones who love the addict just as much.
My husband always liked to drink. I was never a big drinker, and I’m a lightweight. One drink for me, and I get tipsy. It was amazing to see how much my husband was capable of drinking at one time. I love to dance, and when we were dating, we would go to clubs (ah, the memories of once being young). I knew Matt was part of a fraternity in college, so when my friends noticed how much he drank and inquired about it, I just chalked it up to him having a high tolerance for it. He got drunk on our wedding day, but so did most of the guests there. It was a celebration, after all.
Coping with a Loved One’s Addiction
Fast forward to us finding out I was pregnant. We were on cloud nine. I knew Matt was afraid of me having a miscarriage (we knew many couples who sadly went through that), but I reassured him that I was okay, and the baby was okay. I thought everything was fine until one day I saw him pouring alcohol into an iced tea bottle. Warning bells started going off in my head. I was three months pregnant and knew that behavior like that wasn’t okay. I told him that he needed to stop. He said he would stop, and then a few weeks later he got drunk again. He wandered to my father’s house, and my dad had to take him home. This time I put my foot down. I said if I ever caught him drinking again, he would have to leave. There was a child being brought into the world, and it wasn’t safe for a baby to be around that. I thought that was the end of the story. Little did I know, it was just the beginning.
I have severe insomnia, and I take medication to help me sleep. There was only one prescription I could take that wouldn’t hurt the baby. All of a sudden, I noticed those pills were missing. I asked my husband about it. The first time I asked he said he accidentally dropped the pills in a sewer on the way home. Once he said the pharmacy must have not given me enough pills. My favorite lie was when we flew to New York; he told me that airport security must have taken them, and it is quite common for them to do so. I knew nothing about addiction besides what I had seen on TV, and we had a baby on the way. I wanted more than anything to believe that he was telling the truth.
lies and deception are the hallmarks of addiction
On August 3, 2012 we gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. It should have been a magical time in our lives. It was anything but. Matt was always sleeping through Brielle’s cries, he was not hands-on with her, and I was taking care of our baby all on my own. By this point I had actually caught him with pills, and I knew that he had a problem. Here I was, a new mom with a little baby, and my husband was getting high. Each time he would say he would stop, but it always started up again.
This went on for more years than I care to admit. When he stopped taking my pills, he started using others that he obtained on his own. I tried to reach out to loved ones for help, but nobody wanted to see him as an addict. Their denial made me feel helpless and completely alone. He was so convincing that sometimes I questioned if I was losing my mind, and the problem was me. I had no support and I prayed there was something I could do to make him see the light. I tried talking, I tired yelling, I tried crying, I tried pleading. Nothing I said or did made a difference, and I was the only one fighting for him to get well.
My husband had seen several therapists during this time, at my request, and he convinced each therapist that there was nothing wrong. I remember one time that some pills went missing, and Matt swore up, down, and sideways that he had nothing to do with it. I requested Matt’s permission to accompany him to his next session, and I was shocked that his therapist said that he believed him. My husband was a great manipulator (as most addicts are), and he was incredibly convincing. Years later, he admitted that of course he had taken those pills, and he lied to me and the therapist. He was able to fool almost everyone, but he couldn’t fool me.
acceptance and ending codependency
My daughter was getting older, and I didn’t want her exposed to this. I had two choices: (1)- I could accept that this was what he was going to do, and I had to find a way to live with that (2)- I couldn’t accept that and I had to walk away. As much as I loved my husband, I knew this wasn’t the kind of life I could accept for my child. I made an appointment with a marriage counselor who specialized in addiction. Since he wasn’t listening to me, and nobody else had backed me up, I hoped that a stranger could make him see that he needed help. I made it clear to her that I was prepared to leave him if speaking to her didn’t work.
That fateful day we met with this therapist, and for the first time, someone backed me up. I felt a combination of relief and fear. Relief that I wasn’t crazy to believe that he had a problem, and terrified that it was actually the truth. The therapist did something only I had done. She listened to him tell his story, told him that he was full of baloney, and that I was prepared to leave him if he didn’t get help. I’ll never forget the look on Matt’s face. It was the first time that someone besides me had told him that he needed help. He had everyone else convinced that he was fine, including himself. Now he had two people holding up mirrors in front of his face, and there was nowhere for him to hide.
The Journey to recovery
My husband agreed to go to an outpatient center. He went three evenings a week for three hours each time for four months. Matt hadn’t been active at all in my daughter’s life because of his addiction, and now he was not physically there as well. My then three-year-old daughter kept asking me where her Daddy was. I told her that he was sick, and he was going somewhere to get better.
There were nights that the outpatient program allowed family members to attend. I went to those meetings and took notes. There was so much about addiction that I didn’t know. I learned that the brain of an addict sends signals that their addiction is necessary for survival. Just as he needed food and water, his brain made him think he needed those pills. I had never understood why he wasn’t able to just stop. I now understood that addiction was a disease, and one that couldn’t just be turned on and off.
My daughter and I were there the day he graduated from his outpatient program. She didn’t know any specifics, but I told her that her Daddy was trying really hard to get well. She and I both applauded for him as he got his completion certificate. My dad accompanied us there so he could take Brielle out of the room when Matt gave his speech. I couldn’t be prouder of his hard work and determination to stay sober.
I don’t know what it feels like to have an addiction, but I have tried to educate myself about it as much as possible so that I could support Matt on his journey to stay sober. The biggest lesson I learned was that you can’t force someone to get clean. You also can’t force someone to stay clean. This is a choice that my husband makes every single day, and it’s a choice that I never take for granted.
Sobriety is a choice
I am so proud of my husband for accepting that he is an addict, but I am not responsible for his sobriety. It is incredibly difficult to not try to “help” someone stay clean. There have been times where time has lapsed between him attending meetings, and as much as I want to tell him to go to one, I know that it needs to come from him. An addict can’t stay sober because you want them to. They have to do that for themselves.
Loving an addict means that sobriety is never a certainty. Matt knows that I am always here to listen and support him, but I can’t make him stay clean. Only he can do that. It is a scary road for a loved one of an addict. The harsh reality is that at any point the rug can be pulled out from under me. It is very terrifying and heartbreaking to not have control over that.
The biggest piece of advice I can give to someone who loves an addict is that as much as the addict loves you, he or she will always choose their addiction over you until they reach rock bottom. Addiction is a disease that messes with an addict’s mind. You can’t make choices for an addict, but you do have the power to make your own choice; you can choose to stay with that person as they are or you can choose to walk away. As much as you love that person, you can’t make them stop their addiction. Sometimes walking away will be the rock bottom necessary to get help. Sometimes it isn’t.
I can’t control the choices Matt makes, but I can control what I expose to my child and to myself. Take care of yourself and your children. Give love and encouragement to the person who is trying to stay sober, but don’t try to force sobriety. You will never win that battle.
Loving an addict is not easy, and we often don’t get recognition or support. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Just as there are support groups for addiction, there are support groups for loved ones of addicts (Al-Anon). Speak to a therapist, educate yourself, and work on yourself. Use the serenity prayer to help you on your journey through loving an addict.