It was a hellish decade. That’s the only way to describe living in a godless marriage, being in deep denial of my own multitude of issues, and watching my husband’s life unravel at the seams from addiction. Oh, and being in denial about that too. I didn’t know anything about recovery, boundaries, or self-care. I had been taught to shake it off, endure, and live in secrecy. I had no idea what feelings were or how to feel them. I was about to embark on a long journey with no equipment, no guide, and no emotional strength to survive it.
It took thirty years of tribulations to get to this point. I grew up in an alcoholic, broken, and “Christian” home. Alcoholic, I would find out, because my parents grew up in alcoholic homes and had no recovery for themselves. Broken because of infidelity, lack of love and heart, and eventually divorce. “Christian” because we were at church every time the doors opened but never talked about God and were not taught about a relationship with Jesus. I was the victim of verbal and emotional abuse and knew all about abandonment.
Addiction was widespread on both sides of my family and would later lead to the truths about this way of life. Some would die, others would spend time in jail, and the crazy ones are still at it today. My female role models endured mental, physical, and sexual abuse. They medicated with alcohol and drugs, gossip, and a sense of status in their communities. They thought that the right cars, clothes, and houses would hide the truth about what was behind their front doors. These women would hang on for dear life to the things that were ruining theirs. The men they had vowed to love, honor, and cherish would be the objects of their own addiction, and they would sacrifice everything to stay with them. This was it! This was how marriage was done. Endurance worked. I had seen it my whole life.
I made many vows during my life, the first one being that I would never be the one to break up my own family. I would never put my children through what I’d experienced and would never be responsible for inflicting on them the pain of loss and abandonment. How could I have been so naive to think I had this power? I was that naive and believed I was that powerful, and so started thinking that I could control my world. I could manipulate others, alter myself, and endure anything to create the fairy-tale life that I wanted and deserved.
There were other vows. The most impactful vow was to marry a certain boy who had captured my heart in my early teens. I would go on to suffer through high school and eventually go to college, where depression and anxiety became major players in my life. I dated several guys, one seriously, but my heart belonged to someone else. He was a wild-at-heart rebel who was always ready for the next risky adventure. He was crazy smart, so handsome, and just plain charming. We started dating in our early twenties and married a few years later.
Dating for us was volatile. We had moved to a different city. We were far from home, family, and friends. We were angry and scared and running from our pain. We were playing house and using the only tools and methods that we knew existed. We didn’t choose God but made each other God and were constantly disappointed. We drank hard, fought hard, and never considered there was a better way to live this life.
Marriage was going to fix everything. We had a fairy-tale wedding with warning signs of trouble to come. I have always believed that my husband got high outside the church “and didn’t have a chance” to read the two-page letter I had written to him. I made the mistake of asking him if he read it while we were standing at the altar and quickly received the message that other things were more important than me.
As my husband continued to climb the corporate ladder, I became lonelier and more fearful of what the future would bring. He started traveling quite a bit and eventually did a three-month stint in a foreign country. I was pregnant with our second child and struggling to keep it together. He was a mess when he got back and started his love affair with cocaine shortly after our second child was born. He lost his job, and the terrible decade began.
My faith was at an all-time low. How was I going to fix my life? How was I going to fix my husband’s drug problem? I wasn’t! The God I had rejected for so long had gone before me. He had appointed people to love and care for me, my husband, and my kids. He had written a story that only I would be able to tell.
As my life fell apart, God had a plan to pick up the pieces and put me back together with a new heart for him. My unraveling would include an eating disorder, filing for divorce, two visits to my gynecologist for STD/ AIDS testing, and enough tears to fill a large bucket.
My husband’s addiction was spiraling out of control. Life was filled with daily fears and disappointments. While cocaine was his drug of choice for a couple of years, he also used gambling, pills, and women to fill the bottomless hole in his heart. He missed performances at school, acted crazy at sporting events, and spent almost all the money we had. I constantly reminded myself that addiction was a disease and that he wasn’t intentionally trying to ruin my life. I also clung to that vow that I wouldn’t be the one to destroy our family even though I knew in my heart that only an insane person would stay in this situation. I wasn’t crazy. I was tough, and I had been taught how to endure this marriage. It would take many years and lots of hard work to break down the tough-girl facade I had created and to bust up the wall I had built around my broken heart.
My recovery continued to progress as I attended Al-Anon, joined grief and process groups, went to individual therapy, and dug into books and literature about recovery and how to live in a new and authentic way. I also opened my heart to new friends and became vulnerable with my story and the secrets I had kept for so long. My husband’s recovery ebbed and flowed, and his arrest finally landed him in a program that literally saved his life.
My husband’s recovery program was miraculous. The program was led by men who loved God. They had dedicated their lives to helping men uncover the pain that had opened the door to addiction. They taught men how to live an authentic and honorable life. They taught them how to start living life fully. Over the next few months, I would learn many truths about my husband’s life. I would sit for hours and talk with him, cry with him, and slowly start to forgive him. Our recovery as a family was starting, and it wasn’t my vow that caused me to stay but a change of heart that could come only from the amazing grace of God.
I am full of gratitude today. As crazy as it sounds, I’m grateful for my story. At times it was not a story but a nightmare, but without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’m a devoted wife of more than two decades, a good enough mother, a faithful friend, a loving daughter and sister, and a woman in recovery. A year and a half after my husband got sober, I fell apart. The boulder I had been carrying finally broke my back. God blessed me with a new therapist who helped me define every broken piece of my heart and accompanied God with the rebuild. I had no choice but to continue to dig deep, trust others, and keep talking. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung said, “Who looks inside, awakes.” My husband’s addiction put me in a place where I had to look inside, and today I am grateful to be awake.