Last week, we had a chat about how it was important for us to have more conversations about the hard parts of relationships: about divorce, calling off a wedding, infidelity, rough patches, and loss. I think it’s important to have these conversations without judgment, because we learn something when we hear about other women’s experiences, and because sharing experiences shields us a bit from isolation and shame. So today’s anonymous post is about loving and marrying an addict, and it’s wise and wonderful.
I married an addict.
My husband and I have been together since high school. We’ve been together for over a decade, and married for about a year. My husband has been an addict for all of this. And I married him anyway.
When we were younger, there were always signs (aren’t there always?). Everyone helping someone fight addiction has their own stories, but they sound so similar. For years, we experienced the warning signs, the forced ignorance, the repetitive fights. Our fighting and stress wasn’t always out in the open, but it wasn’t completely invisible. Our close friends knew how his addiction strained our relationship. How it wore on me– my frustration, tears, ultimatums.
My husband has dealt with this issue for years. Initially his response was to give in, to ignore problems, to gloss over it all. We were in college, young and impetuous and as long as we kept moving, we thought it wouldn’t be a problem. As long as he didn’t drink and drive, as long as it never got “out of hand,” it would be okay. After we were engaged, he began thinking of our forthcoming marriage, and he chose to confront his addiction head on. His struggle isn’t easy, of course. The addiction, while a problem on its own, was a symptom of harder problems, more personal issues. Depression, anger, frustration, self-doubt. So he struggles. He’s been sober, he’s fallen off the wagon, and gotten back on again. He fights every day.
And I’m here, through it all. Because he’s not just fighting, he’s fighting for us.
It’s not pretty, it’s not easy, but it’s worth it. But it’s hard for me. It’s hard for him, of course—but sometimes I am upset because it’s hard for ME. It can be a selfish emotion, but I am frustrated with this struggle and the pain. I think of how unfair it is to be “saddled” with this. How other people have it easy, how their partners may be difficult but they don’t have this burden constantly hindering their relationship, and how I need to deal with it.
But I don’t have to deal with it. I could leave, walk away from our relationship, and find a “better man.” In the darkest moments of our relationship, in the times when he was most consumed by the addiction, I thought about it, wept over it, threatened to leave.
But I can’t leave, and I won’t, because I love him.
He is fighting his addiction, seeking help, and making himself a better person. That’s part of our vows—we promised to support one another and challenge each other to be the best person we can be. My selfish frustration is nothing compared to what he goes through, and as long as we are both fighting together, then it isn’t quite so bad. He is, without question, worth whatever struggle I endure. He is working to create the future we envision together, and I admire his strength, his discipline, his self awareness. I have loved this man for over a decade. Who would I be if I abandoned him when he needed me most?
Don’t get me wrong– There are people you need to leave and relationships that wear out their ultimatums; I would never doubt those who have left a relationship because of addiction. This is about the truly singular nature of relationships— no one can understand a relationship unless they are experiencing it, knowing what is intensely hard or truly wonderful. Addiction is a mighty and fearful force that is horrible to deal with. We each find a path that is right for us– leaving because of the addiction, staying in spite of it.
It is a tough road for both my husband and I. We each need to throw off our insecurities, our fears, our self-doubt. So we fight for our future. We do what we need to – therapy for us together, therapy for each of us on our own. We share goals and hopes. We turn to each other for strength and for love. Our baby family is what we turn to in our hardest moments. Lao Tse says that “being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” We give that to one another. We are both fighting for our future.
I knew what I was getting myself into, and I married him anyway.
And, because her writing so often speaks to the fears and hopes and beatings of my heart, the words of Mary Oliver (“Wild Geese”):
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Because we are not on our knees repenting anymore. We turn to one another instead and tell each other that you are the thing I love. We tell each other our despairs, and listen closely. If we have each other, we can get through anything. His addiction is not the end of our relationship, or what defines him the most. We are stronger than that. Through the pain and frustration of addiction, we realize exactly where we fit in the family of things, and it is side by side, with each other.