I often hesitate to write about my personal experiences. I’m finally on the other side of this one though. I think there is value in sharing my lessons learned for any of you readers who may see yourselves in my story of having been in love with a drug addict.
He will always be with me in my heart. I still sometimes wonder if I failed, if I gave up too soon, if we could have worked it out, and if it was my fault that he used and suffered so much. But, when I shut off my mind and listen to my heart, I know there couldn’t have been any other outcome expect for us being apart. I won’t share much about him, except to say that he is, like any other addict I’ve known, a sensitive man who wears his heart on his sleeve and lives his life in complete fear of letting people fully get close to him. I feel fortunate that he let me in cause the moments of love that we had touched my soul. What I do want to share is the normalcy of what we lived given the inevitable devastation that drug addiction has on any couple, relationship, or family.
Everything about being in a relationship with someone who struggles with a drug addiction feels like a catch 22. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. When you get to a point in a relationship where you realize the only solution for yourself is to leave a person that you love, that’s when the devastation really sets in. If you really hold a special place in your heart for the person, leaving them almost feels like you’re on the edge of a 90 story building holding their hand and faced with one of two choices: 1) you either let go and watch them fall, or 2) you hang on tight and go down with them. Somewhere in between kinda looks like this and it’s what I struggled with: they are hanging on by their finger tips and you’re on the edge, not holding their hand, but instead trying to coach them into pulling themselves up on their own. And when they don’t and they just keep giving up on themselves and slipping further toward their death, you either reach your hand down and give in to pull them up or you become angry and resentful cause you’re tired of them pretending that they don’t have their own strength. Sometimes, they even yell at you and abuse you emotionally as they send you mixed messages “don’t walk away, but don’t help me”. You didn’t want option 1 or 2, so you try to create an option 3. Problem is, you walk away but the image of them hanging there stays with you. So, you come back up to that rooftop to check in. Sometimes, you find them strolling along the edge. Sometimes, you find them hanging again by their fingertips. Sometimes, they’re smiling and sitting there peaceful, but still refusing to come off the roof, pretending they’re perfectly fine. There is inevitably another stress around the corner that sends him back over that edge and you’re just back to scare one.
What I always wanted was for us to walk down the staircase of that 90 story building together and just stay on the ground floor where there is a world to be experienced, people, and safety from that edge. But in my case, he wanted to stay up there cause it’s where he felt safe. So, I walked down the staircase on my own, kicking and cursing and crying and struggling to accept. And the struggle didn’t end there. I still wish he’d walk down that staircase and I can only now hope and trust that he will on his own time one day.
It’s cliche to say, but I truly believe that anyone who struggles with addictions doesn’t mean to hurt the people they love. It took me a while to really understand that and to not take personally the heartbreaking things that happened. And yet, it doesn’t mean it’s helpful to the person to tolerate the behaviours that do ultimately hurt. And it doesn’t mean that you’re giving up if you decide to walk away because you know that any of the other options aren’t really options that will result in anything good. It’s ok to feel hurt. You need to feel it to heal it. In my experience, when the hurt and the sadness became too much, I’d shove it down, justify his behaviours, resort to compassion for his suffering, and coach myself into being stronger and take full responsibility for my part. The problem was, he still didn’t want to come away from the edge, no matter what I did. I woke up one day realizing I was only creating my own suffering by hoping and expecting that he’d want to join me in living a life of love and happiness on the ground floor – both feet rooted and safe from the constant fear of a devastating fall.
There is a somatic memory stored in my body still. Those nights lying awake knowing something was wrong, off. The experiences of checking my bank statements and seeing the evidence of money stolen. The conversations where I would genuinely ask and check in and his response would be abusive, defensive, and mean. The requests he made for me to send him more money. The loneliness. The times he stood me up. The ghosting – for all kinds of reasons since avoidance was his go-to. When he was ashamed, I was ignored and avoided. When he was angry at himself.. When he was under any stress at all. When the memories of his own trauma would arise. When he was craving. When he wanted to crawl into a dark hole and die. When he feared I would leave him. When he felt stupid and beat himself up. There’s nothing more shattering than seeing a beautiful grown man who you love and adore live so unhappily.