Surviving a Loved One's Addiction
I am incredibly honest. It is my best and worst character trait, all in one. My face says it all, gives me away every time. You cannot see my face as I type this blog; I suppose I could lie to you through words. But the guilt of steering you wrong would weigh on me. So, here’s the honest truth. Living with someone as they battle addiction is a choice; it is a commitment and it is painfully exhausting. One day you may be reaching for the sky, bright blue bouncing around you—smiles and laughter. The next day you may be reaching through darkness, cradling tears while you pull someone up by the mere grasp of your fingertips. None of it is ever easy, so it is up to you to decide what is best for you and your family.
When I first met my husband, I could see a wonderful man. He was incredibly intelligent, handsome, funny and ambitious. We connected over our love for education; at the time we were both English teachers teaching in two of the most impoverished schools in Nashville. Our connection was rooted in the passion to fight for what was best for students. We had only been dating for two weeks when one night I sat with him at a friend’s house and he (after many drinks) said “I’m going to marry you.”
“You don’t even know me,” I retorted. See, so ambitious.
But when he wants something, there’s no stopping him and I saw this trait in him. I even saw this when he couldn’t see it, and he could never seem to see it when he let himself drink. Unlike me, he couldn’t just drink a few beers here and there and be just fine. There was a blurred line for where the appropriate limit was and because of this we often argued. Most arguments ended with me just leaving; I didn’t want to argue with a person who was impaired. But on that one fateful night, when my husband reached his lowest point, I was about to leave but this time I had had enough—my mind was set. I couldn’t continue riding this rollercoaster with him; I am a person that values stability and there was nothing stable about us.
Something pulled me to stay with him that night; maybe it was how low he had fallen, maybe it was the shame and confusion in his face, maybe it was just how vulnerable he seemed. The next morning, we did something we had never done before—we made a plan. Here are the steps we took towards healing.
- Faith- I’m talking about having faith in many ways. First, I had to have faith in Ryan being able to change. His dedication and just sheer stubborn will to be the master of his fate made me confident that he could do this. But I had to make sure that I was transparent when I told him how much faith I had in him. Lastly, we had a spiritual faith. I prayed and asked God for guidance and when I received multiple signs, I knew which directions I needed to take to be the best support I could be for Ryan. From there I placed my faith in God’s hands, knowing He would lead us the rest of the way. Because we had faith in the process, we knew that there would be times that we would struggle but we did not let it stop us. We worked through the barriers hindering Ryan’s transition, one step at a time. Ryan and I were honest, and we knew it was hard work; we just kept pushing because we trusted that we could do this together.
- Habits- An addiction is a disease that deals with reward systems. The addiction is rewarding the brain in some way and every time a person feeds their addiction their body feels as if it has been rewarded, regardless of the turmoil it causes in the person’s life everywhere else. Everyone’s addiction is different. In Ryan’s case I could see he needed to first switch his addiction to alcohol to another habit. Though I must first say that addiction is not a habit; it is far more complex, but in our case, we chose to adapt habits that would combat the addiction. Ryan began his exercise routine devoting his time to bettering himself, instead of weakening himself. He knew that every time he hit the gym he was forming a positive habit to fight his addiction. Exercise wasn’t the only thing Ryan picked up, though. Whenever he felt an urge to have a tasty beverage in hand, he began drinking tea. Again, replacing one thing for a healthier option. Lastly, Ryan has avoided outings that could trigger his desire to drink. It was a sacrifice we both made; we stopped going out with many of our friends because everyone wanted to unwind with drinks. I absolutely refused to be an enabler. Anytime I wanted to grab a beverage I would normally do a quick happy hour with friends after work and still be home in time to spend time with Ryan at home. It was our compromise.
- Connection-Human's brains are wired with the need to connect socially; it is so powerful that it is as significant as the need for food and shelter. Simply put, we need each other to survive. I once told Ryan that “when you succeed, we succeed.” It was the truth; a couple cannot succeed if one person is failing and if you love someone you must be committed to help them succeed. I made a choice that I would do my best to help him succeed. As long as he made the effort to change himself, I would be there to cheer him on, guide the transition and support him when he felt low.
It has been six years of sobriety for Ryan—six! That is a celebration that we don’t take lightly. We have been together for almost nine years now and I look back and think about everything we have been through and it feels like I have known my husband for decades. I would never wish addiction on anyone but for us, we have become greater. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger; we all know the saying. I am grateful that Ryan put his faith in me being the light he needed to see through the darkness; I never even knew I had it in me. That means he saw a strength in me that I had never seen myself. Our connection and dedication to one another has only grown deeper and our habits to improve our health have only improved. Ryan’s transitions have led us to reevaluate the things we love most. Now, we better ourselves so that we can provide our best selves for others.