Just a few days ago, I had a wake up call. I was sitting in a small classroom setting with eighteen local business professionals, ranging in age from late twenties to early sixties, a mix of men and women. We were asked to go around the room and talk about an accomplishment of which we were most proud. Each person had exactly two minutes to describe their feat. Several people talked about big business ventures that paid off, others spoke about passing a class with which they had struggled in order to obtain their diploma. One man spoke about the joy he experienced when his wife gave birth to their son after years of miscarriages and complications. I spoke about working extra jobs and budgeting to pay off my student loans. While the talks all centered around hardship that lead to great triumphs, one thing stuck out that lingered with me: Two women spoke about leaving a drug or alcohol addicted spouse. Two out of only eighteen people in a room of business professionals felt that a part of their greatest accomplishment stemmed from moving on from the heartache, emotional and/or physical use, and financial woes that plagued them in an addicted marriage. Two out of eighteen – but so many more in that room nodded in full understanding. Addiction is tearing through our nation, devastating families and individuals from all backgrounds, economic status, job levels, race, orientation, and ethnicity. As a professional in the addiction industry, I know this is the reality. I speak with families everyday about their hardships, worries, angst and anger towards or stemming from addiction. But sitting in a room full of my peers, I saw the pain of people who had been holding those feelings in; people who had had to walk away from it; people who would never have imagined that so many years later, addiction would be a part of their story. People who found healing after taking action.
When you’re married to someone who becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, your entire life is turned upside down.
Addiction is a disease that spawns symptoms such as lying, manipulating, stealing and cheating. Naturally, chaos enters the scene. While most people never choose to enter a marriage with these types of factors at play, addiction is a progressive disease that can slowly build these conditions into the relationship. What used to be a happy marriage or a happy home can evolve into the appearance of something totally different. When you love someone who is addicted to a substance, you know how terrible the disease of addiction is. When you’re married to someone who is addicted, not only do you suffer from watching the person you love become affected – you are directly affected, yourself. You deal with the man or woman you love behaving in ways you could have never imagined: becoming irritable and irrational, getting sick, losing a job, draining the savings account, lying, and cheating. On top of all of that, as you are married – you’re legally bound to your spouse. You bear the brunt of the consequences of their actions. You’re on the hook for the damages that they cause. Your money is their money – and their lack of money, is your financial burden. For the two women in my class who spoke about leaving their addicted husbands, they found a shared bond; A tragic bond in knowing they weren’t alone; A bond that they had lived through some of the worst that life could throw at them, and came out on top. There is power in knowing that you aren’t alone. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll recently found that most Americans – 62 percent – said that at least one type of substance use was a serious problem in their community. Those substances include alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, meth and prescription pills. Additionally, 43 percent said they have a relative or close friend with substance use issues. Given the estimated numbers of people who are addicted, millions of spouses are suffering as their partner battles with substance use.
While there is a lot of suffering, there is also a lot of healing.
There are nearly 23 million people in recovery in the US. That means there are also millions of spouses (and ex-spouses) who have also found – or are finding healing of their own. If you’re in an addicted relationship and you’re not sure where the marriage is headed, where your spouse is headed, or where YOU are headed – it’s crucial that you seek professional guidance. There are 12-step programs for families, including Al-anon, Nar-anon, and CoDA (Codependents Anonymous). If you’re looking for professional advice, find a local therapist or counselor in your area who specializes in addiction, codependency and recovery. If you’ve exhausted all measures trying to address your addictive family system, you may also consider speaking with a treatment specialist from an addiction treatment program. A treatment specialist will have insight to educate you – as well as the rest of your family on how to approach your partner about rehab programs for the entire family – not just your spouse. Not every relationship that is suffering due to addiction has to end. However, in order for the relationship to work – the addiction has to end. Like the two women in my course, know that healing starts with a change. If your spouse is addicted, you must take some sort of action – because their addiction is telling them they don’t have a problem. Whether that action is talking with a therapist, attending and actively participating in meetings, speaking with a treatment specialist about rehab programs, coordinating an intervention with a professional – or even divorce – action must be taken in order to make a change, for you. Your freedom starts with the first step.