There I was searching for my wedding dress. “I’m actually getting married!” I thought. It still hadn’t quite sunk in. As a young woman the girlish dreams of white weddings had been a reality; but after countless co-dependent relationships of all shapes and sizes, and several years of living alone (not to mention witnessing friends promising to honour and obey in the archaic hierarchy) – I knew marriage was not for me. Yet here I was! It had taken some convincing. Poor guy! But he’d done it.
I never thought a relationship could feel this right. We’d known each other for years, he was like my big brother – so much so that I was quite taken aback when he started flirting with me. Well, thank God he did – I felt happier than I ever have before. Marrying him made so much sense – an old friend I’d fallen madly in love with, we knew each other well, we respected each other – no need to prove anything, to bring out the dogs and ponies, to be likeable, loveable or anything else you think your new partner expects or needs. He loves me and knows me. And I him. ‘A match made in Heaven’.
Five days to go.
I’ve arranged to meet my husband-to-be at the office. We’re going to the lawyer to sign the contract, to the priest for a last visit and then he’s off to his bachelor party. I’m on the phone when he walks in and still have a few calls to make. He looks terrible and is clutching his stomach. I finish the call and he tells me he needs to lie down – so I tell him to go and lie down in the boardroom while I finish the calls. I do this and then go through to the boardroom. He is shaking and crying with pain. I ask what the matter is and he says he’s not sure; he needs to get to town to get some medicine. I’ve seen him like this twice before in the year we’ve been living together, I’m sure it’s diabetes. I get him into the car, call the lawyer to say we’re running late and then start with the maternal twenty questions: “When did it start? Is it a sharp pain or an aching pain? What have you eaten today? …”
Then the bombshell. “There’s something I have to tell you…I’ve been wanting to tell you but haven’t known how to … I’ve got a problem … I am doing something about it but I have to tell you … I’ve got a Heroin problem”. Shock, Horror, Confusion, Anger. “I’m seeing a psychiatrist who has prescribed methadone which is what they administer legally in some countries to wean you off Heroin; I need to get to the pharmacy to buy some methadone.” “We’re going to the lawyer first!”
I drag him (support him) into the lawyers office and we’re seen quickly and sign the contract. Back into the car – I’ve told him I will take him to the pharmacy to get the methadone once we’ve been to the priest. Lots of questions all the way. How long? How much? When? With whom? By the time we get to the priest he’s really bad and I leave him in the car. Off to the pharmacy. Buy the methadone. He stops shaking. We discuss going home so he can change for the stag party and drive back to town. I decide its best that he just goes straight to his best man and I drop him and the methadone off. I don’t remember what I did after that. Probably went home and pretended everything was fine.
I considered calling off the wedding. How dare he drop this on me now? I’m his friend, why didn’t he tell me he had a problem?
In the process of considering marriage and finally being able to commit I had worked through an enormous amount of emotions, attitudes and expectations. I loved him, I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life and I knew he felt the same. Knowing that he was addicted to Heroin didn’t change this. Our Friendship and our Love could not be sacrificed to Heroin.
Despite this overwhelming revelation that overshadowed one of the momentous events of our lives, it took almost a year for either of us to do anything about it. I had sourced and read everything I could lay my hands on about Heroin addiction and methadone treatment – from the US of A to Japan. My husband continued on his methadone maintenance and reduction programme that he’d started before we’d got married. I didn’t interfere, I trusted that he would do the right thing. Other than seeing him down a bottle or two of methadone every few days, and experiencing the odd effect of withdrawal when he unexpectedly ran out of it, we lived our first 6 months of marriage in relative bliss and ‘normality’.
Then slowly, subversively, things started getting a bit wobbly. His passion for his work started getting more intense, his mood swings more frequent, there was an outburst of rage or two. I started demanding to know how his reduction programme worked. We’d have arguments and he’d storm off and then come back hours later full of the joys of life. I only started acknowledging the problem during a telephone conversation with a girlfriend. She asked how I was and as usual I said “Fine” and she said “You know that when you say you’re fine I know you’re not. What is going on?” And it all came pouring out. What was going on? He was using again.
Anger, tears, remorse and a new resolve. Back on the methadone for a bit; then a patch of excessive drinking, then Heroin again. Anger, tears, remorse and a new resolve … and so it went on. After a while I instinctively knew when he was using. I could hear it in his voice and see it in his face. He in his denial would do just that – deny that he was using. I was getting neurotic and constantly suspicious. I would “know” that he was using and try to get him to admit it. He wouldn’t; and then I’d catch him out – money unaccounted for, tinfoil pipes, rolled up pieces of paper – and he’d still deny it. Eventually he’d admit it and we’d try something else. He felt that the methadone was far more toxic than the heroin, so we decided to do a dose reduction with Heroin. I kept the heroin and would dish out the doses. It didn’t work.
This spiral, which I now know is typical of any addiction, can destroy you. As the co-dependent in the relationship you become as sick as the user. You start lying – to friends and family, you suppress all your anger and resentment starts eating your heart away; you have to deal with almost all the practicalities of your life and the users – you become an embodiment of the word stress. Your self-esteem nosedives and you don’t trust yourself anymore. It feels like he’s having an affair. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and gave him an ultimatum – Heroin or me. I called clinics, treatment centres and Narcotics Anonymous to see what options were available. I told him what the options were. He felt that he could crack this himself and we didn’t really have the money for a clinic so we started going to meetings – he to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and me to Nar-Anon (For families and friends of addicts).
What a relief!!! I wasn’t alone – there were people – all different types of people who had been or were going through what I was going through. There were people who understood – truly understood. I remember feeling the anger and resentment almost fizz up and out in my first meeting. This was a disease – like cancer or diabetes – nothing caused it, it cannot be controlled and it cannot be cured. It is a life-long life-threatening disease – if it is not arrested it will result in death. It cannot be cured – it can only be arrested. That was a shock – so much so that despite knowing it I have to work every day at accepting it.
You can know things and you can understand things; but you still have to accept them; and you have to accept them before you can live them. And this all takes time – and effort. Three stints in the clinic, many relapses and a couple of years later and my husband has still not been clean for any considerable length of time. The longest stretch has been 5 months. Each time he tries to stay clean it is for longer and each time he uses it’s not for as long as the time before. Through the ups and down, the clean time and the using bouts, life goes on. We now have 3 children, our lives have changed considerably – we live in a small town, I am the primary breadwinner and we live off ¼ of what we used to. The glamorous world of film and advertising seems a million miles away. Life is hard, there are still moments of self-doubt, anger, frustration, mistrust, resentment; but there is also a lot of joy and love which seems to pull us through. Then of course, there are the Nar-Anon and NA meetings, without which we would never be where we are.
I am grateful that I am married to an addict. It is common knowledge that one of the last things that human beings explore in their lives (if they ever do) is their spirituality. Being married to an addict has given me the opportunity to do this far earlier than I would’ve. Being married to an addict has forced me to move out of my comfort zones and take a good look at who I am, what I want and where I’m going. I have had to face my past, my faults, my fears … myself. I am learning and growing into a better person, a happier person, a more serene person. It is a relief to know that I am slowly but surely learning not to suppress emotions and fears, but to release them and grow. It’s exciting to be moving out of these comfort zones that have housed my heart and soul from childhood and stunted my growth.
I am grateful that we live with a disease every day that keeps us from settling into complacency, a disease that forces us to keep looking at ourselves and our marriage and every facet of our lives.
Through the Nar-Anon programme I have learnt a phenomenal amount. Who would ever have thought that I would find solace in group meetings. Being such an individual I’ve always shied away from anything group-like – from aerobic classes to church. The Nar-Anon group is vital to my survival and growth. Through it I have discovered an enormous amount about myself, about the disease of addiction, about prejudice, about people, about life. I have learnt that serenity doesn’t mean that you don’t go through the ups and downs. You just handle them better.