A Day in the Life {Addiction from the other side}

One thing I want to do on my blog is to post from time to time about addiction. It was very hard for me to find personal stories about it and I hope to share some of our story as a way to help others. Anything I write about this topic is written with permission by my husband, as I am committed to speaking our truth while protecting what is his to decide if and when to share.

There’s a post I’ve seen making the rounds on Facebook recently. You may have seen it, liked it, shared it.

It says:
     2 twin boys were raised by an alcoholic father. 1 grew up to be an alcoholic & when asked what happened he said “I watched my father”… The other grew up and never drank in his life. When he was asked what happened he said “I watched my father”… 2 boys, same dad, 2 different perspectives. Your perspective in life will determine your destination. Today’s a new day. Go.

I’m going to make an assumption here but I think the original author of this post probably doesn’t know a whole lot about alcoholism. While I understand the attempt here (you choose and control your destiny through your outlook on life), the use of addiction as the teaching point is unfortunate.

Over the past 5 years, I have learned a lot about addiction. I’m married to a recovering addict. It has stolen many, many things from my family and if I’m honest – I’m not actually keen on “defending” addiction. I’m still fairly angry about the place it has in my life and what it’s done to my family and my marriage. The moments it has stolen from me, the celebrations it has ruined, the trust it has betrayed. And while I believe in the disease model of addiction, it still angers me. It still feels unfair and cruel and let’s be honest, most addicts act unfairly and cruelly. So let me say right off the bat, I am *not* in a place to defend an addict. I’ve been way too hurt by one to do that at this point.

BUT.

As I’ve learned about addiction and its patterns – this much I know. It is not as simple as choosing to be an alcoholic or choosing not to be.

I know this is hard to understand. I struggled with it for a long time. I would think – why doesn’t he see? Doesn’t he hear what I’m saying? Doesn’t he love me/us enough to want to make things better? How can he make those choices or act in those ways and say he loves us?


I didn’t have my ‘aha!’ moment until around March of this past year. We had been separated since January. Our marriage was in a horrible place, we were barely speaking to one another, and when we did speak it was tense and anxiety inducing for me. 

I’ve decided not to share the details, but I can say that it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks that NO ONE – no one – would choose this life for themselves. There is no one who would enjoy living that way. To be so dependent on the substance that is wrecking their life – it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. 

Things did not miraculously get better after that point. I am not yet in a place of peace about what’s happened. I am working hard every day to forgive the things that have taken place in my marriage and to gain some understanding about how alcoholism and addiction affects my husband. I still am fearful of relapse. I am fearful of being hurt and betrayed again. I am fearful of the effects on my children. I am sad that I will have to talk to my children about this disease and the power it may have on their own lives as they grow older, I am sad that I will have to watch them closely for the signs of addiction in themselves. 

Addiction sucks. It sucks for the addict and it sucks for anyone in his or her path. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 5 years, and the last year in particular, it’s the exact opposite of what the above post proclaims. Most addicts cannot simply wake up one day and choose another path.  In fact, that kind of assumption contributes to the shame and guilt addicts feel about not being able to just ‘stop’.

If you’ve been hurt by an addict in your life – this is a critical point of knowledge for you. It doesn’t take away the pain, it doesn’t invalidate your anger and feelings, it doesn’t make you wrong for feeling how you feel. But it was, in many ways, like a weight off my shoulders when I realized what a hold this disease or illness had on my husband. It finally allowed me to see a glimpse of him for who he is – a child of God who is broken and sinful like each and every one of us. A man who I vowed to love in sickness and in health.

Many days that knowledge and realization seems grossly unfair if I’m honest. I struggle with feeling angry that this is the path I unknowingly walked down. And it doesn’t – not for one second – excuse past behavior. But it does offer an explanation, even one that is hard to swallow.

I don’t know why I am here, in the middle of this. Substance abuse is a subject I knew absolutely nothing about 5 years ago. And I am still learning – still struggling to understand something that makes zero sense. And my heart hurts for those of you who are on the other side of addiction like I am. For those of you who are confused and alone and trying to make sense of the insanity. I wouldn’t wish this path on anyone. But as I learn and grow in this, I hope to share what I’m learning with you.
I realize that sharing my story so openly like this opens me up to a lot of judgment, criticism and opinions about how I live my life. I have heard some pretty hard things over the past stretch and am learning to toughen up a little bit. My journey is not the journey everyone will or should take. 

I am not saying that everyone should forgive willy nilly and could never advocate that every person continue doing life with someone in active addiction. If you are currently in a relationship that makes you feel unsafe emotionally, mentally or physically – get out. Get space. Protect yourself.

But in my life, his journey of sobriety and the choices he has made along with being very prayerful about going forward, have led me to this place. 

It’s my hope and prayer that from our trauma and pain, we can bring a message of hope and understanding to other people about this topic. Today, he is 228 days sober and he moved back home 2 weeks ago. It is an interesting place I am in, having to be so vulnerable and out of control in so many areas of my life and simply choosing to throw my open hands up into the air and trust that God is in control. 

Because if I am being honest, I hate it. I hate feeling afraid of the unknown and of being hurt again. Grace is given to me daily by my Savior and it is grace that I will keep trying to extend to others. I fail at that a lot, but I keep going every day, because I believe that God IS bigger than my circumstances and that no matter what happens in the future, His ways are better than mine. 



Why?

We’ve been in our new house in Pinehurst for almost 2 weeks now. Moving and unpacking is the worst – I feel like things are under control and then stumble across another couple of boxes which unearths stuff I have to find a home for and pretty soon the whole house is in shambles again. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that never ends!

But other than that, we are settling in nicely. The kids and I love the house, we love the area, and I can’t wait to get involved in things once I have this baby.

So…why Pinehurst?

This is a tough post for me to write, mostly because I don’t know what to say or how to say it or even if I’m ready to talk about it. But with Harper coming soon, it feels like I should address it.

With his permission to share everything below, I think most people know Todd and I have been separated. Some really hard things led to our separation and while I have battled hurt, sadness, betrayal and fear he has been battling an addiction.

For the last 9 mos, as I’ve prayed for direction, I’ve heard a lot of “be still.”  I knew that separation was the right choice, without a doubt. I knew that Todd needed to get healthy, and that in small ways I was enabling him to stay sick. I am not, by nature, codependent – but it’s almost impossible not to adapt codependent tendencies when you are married to an addict.

The good news is that Todd has completed an inpatient treatment stay and moved on to a recovery program where he’s been since April. He’s pursuing sobriety hard and with intention and commitment and I’ve seen him change significantly. I’ve seen the Todd I knew when we dated, the one I married and committed my life to. I’ve seen a vibrance in him that has been missing for a long time.

His recovery program is in the Sandhills area, not far from where we are now living. It was a hard decision for me, but one guided by the most loving and caring Heavenly Father who has taught me so much during this process. He has taught me about unconditional love, forgiveness, grace and even empathy.

I am a work in progress on all of those fronts by the way – I am also battling a lot of other feelings: fear, anger, resentment, betrayal, abandonment, embarrassment, sadness…

And I’ve had to let myself sit right there in those feelings occasionally, because they show up when I least expect it. They’re real and they’re valid feelings and I have learned at this point in my life that stuffing them does no one any good. And you know? It sucks. It sucks to be looking back over the last year at pictures and have them trigger memories or moments that are hard and painful. I want to delete everything about the past year and fast forward to the better stuff. I hold on to hope that there will be better stuff.

So what does this all mean, really?

I don’t know.

My personal experience with shared custody of my oldest son has been a painful one in its own right. It’s a painful situation to share your child across state lines and over holidays and summers. When Todd began to take the correct steps to get well, and continued to maintain his sobriety I felt the gentle nudge that reminded me my children need to be near their father, as long as he was healthy. And I knew that with a newborn coming, I would not only need help, but that I deserved help.

So the slow process began – one of starting the healing process as a family. A process of understanding, forgiveness, grace and learning – really learning – about addiction. It hasn’t been easy. But it’s been so good to see the boys happy and excited and truly enjoying things they have missed out on for a long time.

I don’t know what this means for my marriage just yet. Todd and I are living in separate residences still. He is spending a lot of time with the family, helping out, just being with the kids, and we are slowly seeing where things go. It’s been a time of rest for me, just having him healthy and well and here to help. I know that as long as he works on sobriety, our family has a chance at surviving this. I am hopeful for him and for my children.

But I am scared. Addiction is…almost impossible to describe. It’s hell. It’s insanity. It’s indescribable. It’s baffling and mind boggling and twisted and just really, really sad.

There are parts of our story that will be painful for a long time to come. Things that will take me probably years to get over. But in all my time on my knees, searching for the peace to officially leave my marriage, I never got it. All I ever felt was that my job was to be still. To continue on the path I was on, but to wait. And I got angry many, many times. I had so many reasons to be angry, and I knew that I had every biblical reason in my back pocket to sign divorce papers and move on.

But God’s message to me was to be still. So I am practicing that as often as I can, and learning the
very complicated art of grace. For a long time, I thought grace meant blindly accepting and forgiving and ignoring what my inner self was screaming, but I have learned that sometimes before we can extend true grace, we have to be able to put up boundaries.

I hope to dig into the topic of addiction more on this blog. It’s an extraordinarily confusing issue which is often misdiagnosed as a host of other mental illnesses or problems and statistics tell us that twenty-three million Americans age 12 or older suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. 23 million is a staggering number. It’s a prevalent problem but one that very few truly understand. A problem that has directly affected my life, my marriage and my family and one that I am still working hard to understand every day. 

I remain cautious and unsure on this journey. How could I not? I know that a happy outcome is not guaranteed. I know that recovery statistics are grim. But I also know that I follow and trust an amazing God who wants healing and recovery and wholeness. And for Him, I take a giant step forward.