Living With an Addict
Susan’s been married to John for seven years. John, who was addicted to ice and amphetamines, undertook the residential addiction treatment program at the Hader Clinic Queensland.
To reach the point where John could undertake rehabilitation, Susan had to learn about how addiction “works”. A book written by Jackson Oppy of the The Hader Clinic did just that.
Susan has agreed to share her story about John’s addition and her involvement in his recovery.
Living With An Addict
John’s had an addiction for years – on and off, on and off, on and off. I didn’t understand anything about addiction at that time, so every time he had a bout of using drugs, it would never be addressed. Instead, it would be swept under the carpet and he’d get clean for a few months and I’d accept that.
His choice of drugs were amphetamines and ice. He started with amphetamines and progressed to ice.
John’s my second husband and his addiction started way before he met me.
When I met John, I was aware he’d use drugs every now and again.
I thought that taking drugs was something people did when they went out – I didn’t understand that it gets to you eventually. It’s an addiction that leaves you wanting more and more.
I never understood that until we separated for 18 months (as a result of John’s drug use escalating).
As John’s addiction grew, I was admittedly in the dark as to what was going on.
Then I discovered that John was using behind my back. I just didn’t see it.
When I did, it all came to a head and resulted in a big family argument. John left the home and his addiction spiralled from there.
John’s mum is a big enabler. She put John into her rental property and did a lot of things enablers do, which just made the problem worse and allowed the drug taking behaviours to continue.
We were both terribly upset by our separation. I was in a world of hurt. At that time, I still didn’t understand addiction.
Learning about addiction
A chance request for help by a family member opened the door to some much needed education about addiction.
I had my nephew come and stay with me.
He’d just gotten out of rehab for ice addiction and asked if he could stay with me awhile. I said, “yes, he could,” and I went to an NA meeting with him.
I was sitting there, listening to these people speak about addiction and their struggles, and I thought, “this is my husband”.
And that’s where I started my journey – about learning about addiction, learning about myself.
I was suffering with anxiety and depression as a result of the issue and I ended up seeking counselling.
I started to go to Al Anon meetings and I read Jackson Oppy’s book, “When Hell Freezes Over”. I fell upon it one day and couldn’t put it down.
I learned where I could set boundaries because John would come over, use me for a few days then rack off when he got paid or ask me to keep his key-card.
Then he’d start an argument to trigger something else, so that I’d throw his key-card back at him.
I had to learn things to help him. Because in my way, I was enabling him too – keeping his keycard and allowing him to come over for a few days before pay day just wasn’t helping.
I also spent a lot of time in counselling unravelling the connection between my self-esteem and John’s drug use.
I beat myself up for a lot of years because I wasn’t good enough.
John said it wasn’t about me, but that’s all he ever said. He didn’t tell me WHY so I never understood.
I continued to beat myself up about his addiction; I’m not a good enough wife, not good enough for this or that because before John, the father of my children died of a heroin overdose, so I was still with someone that had an addiction.
He’s been gone 13 years now and back then I thought “what a selfish person” and I beat myself up that I wasn’t good enough for them to want to give up the drugs.
I finally realised it’s not about that.
Getting into rehab
It was Jackson Oppy’s book, that prompted us to seek treatment with The Hader Clinic Queensland.
I ended up telling John’s mother to read the book.
She was driving me insane with her enabling. I got her to read the book and she finally understood.
She said to John, “I’m not going to help you in your addiction anymore, I’m going to help you in your recovery. And if you want to go into rehab then we will pay for it.”
However, John was in denial and not having a bar of it.
This went on for a couple of months but eventually John agreed to go to rehab.
He said, “I’m ready. Yes I’m an addict and I need some help.”
Plus, he was in a lot of trouble. The police wanted him and stuff like that.
Maybe it wouldn’t have taken that long to get John into rehab if it hadn’t been for John’s mother enabling him. I love her to bits, but she couldn’t see what she was doing at the time.
Once my mother in law recognised she was an enabler, we were able to work together to set appropriate boundaries for John.
It wasn’t easy going and even now I’m a bit scared of his mum – sometimes I fear that she will enable John without really realising it.
Sometimes I have to pull her up and say “maybe you shouldn’t have done that”.
While John was undergoing his rehab program I participated in the regular online live family counselling sessions that the Hader Clinic Queensland provided. I spoke to John weekly while he was in the rehab. The online meetings were fantastic.
Since John’s admission to the 90-day residential addiction treatment program there have been changes that we have made as a family.
I go to meetings with John twice a week. The rest he attends on his own.
I can see that he’s finally getting it.
He’s kinder and we communicate better.
We’ve learned during this time to actually talk to each other, whereas back in the heyday of addiction we’d continually argue, slam doors, walk away and harbour this anger.
Now we don’t – we talk to each other and we both call each other out on issues.
It’s been a tough journey and occasionally I will slip back into thinking I’m not good enough, especially when John relapsed.
I’d have to gently remind myself, “it’s not about you Susan” because I’d bashed myself up for so many years about it.
But we’ve come a long way and our communication has improved out of sight.
We treat each other as equals.
Before, the simplest argument would have spiralled out of control. It was so unpleasant. We just don’t do that anymore.
John unfortunately relapsed when he tried to help someone else who was struggling with an addiction. But he realised that he’s not in a position to do that. So he’s been focusing on helping himself.
I said to him “when you come home, we’re going to concentrate on the future, not the past. Every time you relapse you bring the past back into our lives. That’s not fair – get up, brush yourself off and get to a meeting.”
A new way of life
We’re doing OK.
At the moment I’m the main breadwinner. John is doing a forklift and warehouse management course and community service. I’d rather that John focus on his recovery for now, instead of going back to work. That’s the most important thing.
He really continues to grow and understand the program.
And we’ve made new friends.
The biggest benefit has been being around people who get it. You don’t have to hide or be ashamed.
We go out for dinner with them on a Saturday night. We’re surrounded by people who are supporting each other in recovery.
Previously I’d go to work and nobody there would have an inkling of that side of my life. Now, I can be with people who are just the same. I can be just be me. I can swear if I want to, do what I want to.
I go to NA meetings with John to support him. He initially let the meetings slide but he’s realised he needs them.
He’s now got a fellowship of friends. He calls them every day. He got himself a sponsor.
Not long ago John went to a Men’s Retreat with a whole group from NA. That was a great thing for him.
We went to a fundraising convention last weekend. It was fantastic. John did five meetings that day.
The books used at NA are amazing.
I have my own copy of “Just for today” even though I’m not an addict.
I might do a reading, and something may happen in that day that flicks my mind back to that reading. And I find it helps me put things into perspective.
Somebody said to me a long time ago when I started my own journey way before John did, “Susan, keep on your journey because you can lead by example”.
John used to call the NA books my “God” books. Now he no longer thinks that way.
He understands that it’s not about religion but rather a blueprint for living.
The fellowship provided by the couples local NA chapter has allowed us to create a blueprint for the future.
We take every day as it comes.
We are looking forward to going camping at Christmas with the family. Plus, we’re going on a couple’s retreat with NA in March.
I’d give people that book, I mean, REALLY give them that book.
And tell them to start helping themselves.
Because I knew that if I couldn’t help myself, I couldn’t help John. Two sick people can’t help each other.
Our journey together started when John texted me and said “please don’t give up on me”. And I never have.
But I had to find myself first.
And I would advise attending an NA meeting because it will show you that you are good enough and that your loved one’s addiction is not your fault.
It’s not that they would rather use drugs because you’re no fun or not good enough. It’s not about that.
Do not blame yourself.
I blamed myself for the disease of addiction. I just felt so ugly with this burden.
Sometimes I wanted to cut my face up. That’s how bad I felt. I had suicidal thoughts. I wouldn’t have acted on it but the thoughts scared me.
I recommend counselling to help too. It was not until I received counselling that it helped me process everything.
If you don’t set boundaries, your addict loved one will suck the life out of you.
People need a plan. We’d be both so hurt and fractured. We didn’t want to see each other.
You just have to learn the tools to manage addiction and you can come out on top in the end. We’re living proof of that.
I’m so proud of him.
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