I Was Addicted to an Addict

By Kelly Clay 02/01/17

I hoped, in every heated moment, that if love could prevail, then our battles—those between us and within us—would one day ultimately cease.

A couple sitting on a couch, arguing.
As much as he was an addict, so was I—but not to drugs. To him.

As we were driving away from the rehab facility in summer 2015, I couldn't help but burst with elation. He was, for the first time in eight months, finally clean and sober; I was, for the first time in exactly one month, finally happy. I thought we had beaten the odds and escaped the statistics, and instead emerged a powerful couple who could speak about addiction, love, recovery, and triumph. I thought we had a platform, something to stand for. Something to fight against.

Instead, we had a six-hour drive filled with tears, anecdotes and brutal honesty, followed by another six months of real fights—fights that upended triumph, recovery, love, and revealed what real addiction looked like. The kind of addiction that doesn't simply stop with willpower, AA meetings, and a month in a house with ten other men whose brains are wired to not just want, but need a chemical escape from pain.

Pain I processed that month with journaling, tears, and time. Without even a sip of wine, I managed to cope with the loneliness caused by my husband's addiction, an illness I would come to learn forever grips the soul of its keeper—and entangles everyone they come near.

Addiction is a misunderstood concept, both heartbreaking and life shattering. Complete sections of bookstores are devoted to shelves of books filled with pages of studies, thoughts and analysis of how addiction starts, how to stop it, and whose fault it is. We look inside the brain, at childhood abuse, and at socioeconomics. We try to break down barriers between communities, across national boundaries, and intersect demographics to understand why—why addicts use, recover, and for some, repeat the cycle indefinitely. But instead of ultimately looking for a cure, we place blame. We stigmatize. We shun those with a real illness as if they were a psych patient in the 1950s, confined to an institution away from the rest of modern society instead of treating them with medicine and therapy proven by western medicine to be effective.

While I spent months trying to explain this to friends, family, and anyone who would read my blog, I ended up becoming that psych patient myself, though in a much more modern facility than this stigma would like the rest of the world to think. (As is the same with rehab facilities, any addict would attest, the inside is often much nicer than the outside world.)

It was the end of 2015, and my unresolved anger at my husband's drug abuse earlier in the year, the financial ruin we were in as a result of current addict-like behavior, and our continued lack of an honest, passionate relationship caused me to seriously consider the worthiness of my life.

While we were both fighting the good fight on the outside, our subconsciouses were each battling demons beneath our surfaces—demons that were only brought to light when our bank account was running on empty, or our patience, or our luck. As our verbal fights escalated in intensity and frequency, I kept asking for more chances to reconcile, to see that everything could and would be okay. As if our life would be normal. I hoped, in every heated moment, that if love could prevail, then our battles—those between us and within us—would one day ultimately cease.

As that week in the hospital went by, though, I ignored the obvious reason I landed in the hospital and turned to my own physical health as the answer. The nurses pointed to my obvious gluten and egg allergens and helped me set up appointments with my naturopath to get my diet back on track. I was enlightened by the concept of perimenopause and how, at barely 30 years old, my hormones could easily be the root cause of my seemingly unexplainable anger. It was also December—so perhaps it was (and I was) just SAD.

At the end of every day, my suicidal thoughts were attributed to everything but distress at home, especially since my husband visited me daily. When I was released a week later, I had a simple new plan: focus on my health, and my marriage as much as I could contribute to the relationship. I took a step back from my freelance work and my husband quit his job to help with both my health and us. As angry as I was that we were now in more financial dire straits than ever, with medical bills piling up and virtually no income, I was happy to have a sense of home and family.

And then, for the first time since we were married, I found peace in my heart… a very lonely heart.

Though I had my husband—albeit temporarily—I now had no friends. When he entered rehab, the stigma of his addiction tore apart all connections I had to my personal network in the city… a city full of rich millennials in the tech industry who had easy access to drugs much harder than what my husband used. Often, I wondered, did my husband's stint in rehab cause a twinge of guilt? Was that platform I so desperately wanted to stand on to create connection and community actually alienate me from my friends who didn't want to admit that they, too, had a drug problem?

Or were they judging me for knowingly marrying an addict? Judging me for choosing to love someone who, on our first date, told me about his history of alcoholism and painkillers while I ate grilled cheese, drank Diet Coke, and told him I'd been sober for a year?

In that moment, on our first date, I didn't even blink. I live the stigma of mental health every day, and as he recounted his past issues and recent years of recovery, vivid images of my past suicide attempts flitted through my consciousness while I was captivated by his ice blue eyes. He was gorgeous, dark, and handsome—but I could tell there was an old soul behind eyes that sparkled under the dive bar light. My one mistake in our relationship was getting lost in those eyes, as I desperately wanted to know his story; looking back, I just needed to listen better. Instead, I fell in love not just with someone who was willing to share secrets nearly as dark as mine, but with a heart that hurt as much as I wouldn't admit mine did as well.

Loving him came easy, and not just for the darkness we shared. Together, we found laughter and light, and I found hope. For the first time in a relationship, I saw a future. Getting married was an easy choice, but loving my husband the past six months was a struggle that affected me socially and professionally. I fought to keep up with my expanding career while we fought throughout the day via text messages. I fought to keep my family close while we fought about the way my parents handled my sister's own health issues. We danced every week, pushing and pulling to accept and love each other, filing for divorce more times than all the Kardashians combined.

But we kept pulling each other back in. I realized, then, as much as he was an addict, so was I—but not to drugs. To him.

As our first wedding anniversary passed, I started to see my own life fly out the window; long gone were my friends, coffee dates, happy hours, and networking events. I couldn't remember the last time I had been invited to anything that wasn't a mass Facebook invite with an entry fee. I had completely lost myself in my attempt to save our marriage and keep my husband clean—the only two things I believed in at the time, primarily out of fear of losing everything I had left, and also from total failure.

When I began to focus on my health and our marriage looked like it might not become a statistic, my husband started a new job. It was then that the red flags I finally could associate with drug use became apparent—stress, pain, anger, low sex drive, and constant fighting.

But I had already re-established a life of my own, a diet of my own, friends of my own.

I had quit my addiction to my husband.

And then I found the evidence, an empty pill packet tucked between extra bedding in our linen closet.

He hadn't quit his.

I believed in marriage for the sake of ultimate friendship, unrelenting love, and to live life together in the best possible way—including to make each other better everyday. This didn't mean I owed it to my husband to give up my own self, my passions, or my identity for his needs or wants.

But being addicted to an addict means I did just that. I absolutely set myself aside for his addiction—and whatever it is he needed to be an addict. During that six-hour drive home, I realized I wanted that platform we were going to stand on, to fight for, to underscore the fact that he will always be an addict—but addicts have a range of desire that includes what most of us know as normal (such as my Starbucks habit). If we could have both stayed in that range of normal—his recovery and my addiction to him—we would have been okay.

But we didn't, and filed for divorce… one last time.

I'll still keep my Starbucks habit, but always remember that choosing an addict is not a death sentence when it comes to life, or marriage, or even a relationship. Knowing that we can't choose our addictions, either, means that if I fall in love with another, I'll just try to keep in that range of normal.

And then hope he does, too.

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