There’s the story, a story that seems to be constantly shifting and changing, and yet, somehow, feels consistent. It delivers its familiar body blow. They’re not really addicted, dontcha know. Or they weren’t really using. Or using “that” much (whatever that means). They had things completely under control. And now they’re onto recovery.
Just when I start to relax, just when I start to feel as if maybe I have them back, I get deluged with texts and emails: awful, destructive, lengthy messages full of blame. It takes me more than a day to realize that it is likely a relapse, although I don’t know for sure. I feel like I can almost see the truth — except it’s not the truth I want to see, not the outcome I was hoping for.
And then I get a message of farewell and an order to not contact them again. This seems easy enough to do since I had had no idea what to do, what to say, how to respond to any of the earlier messages. But the messages keep coming until, by the next day, there is the first message of apology.
I still don’t know what to do. And the threat of relapse and death hangs over it all like the sleet and fog that hung in the air when I woke up this morning.
Moving forward, moving on
Today, I feel determined to move forward with my life. Which maybe sounds brave and strong and wise but, actually, I don’t know what else to do. If I let those substances — because there’s likely more than one — invade my life, I’ve allowed the damage to grow and spread beyond my loved one and do more than just threaten me with the loss of the life of someone I love. Those substances threaten me with the loss of my life.
I get up at the same time I usually get up. I make tea and drink it, answer emails and plan my day. Habits take over — I actually don’t know what lets me keep going. I remember when this first began, years ago: I would swing my legs out of bed and when my feet hit the floor I felt as if I had lead boots on. I’d stand up and sway a bit, my heavy feet planted, holding me in place. It seemed as if gravity was heavier where I happened to be. Now there is the thinnest thread of fierceness to my actions, as if I am defying… something. But there isn’t so much fierceness that I don’t also notice that moving on with my life makes me feel as if I don’t care, as if I am horribly crass and unfeeling. A friend tells me I’m numb, that all this has made me tired, drained my emotional energy. Another friend asks me when I’m going to allow myself to feel the grief that I must — obviously — be feeling.
I don’t know if my friends are right or not, but what I know for sure is that I feel flat. The world around me feels flat. It’s almost as if a certain amount of color and depth has somehow been taken from the world — taken from me.
Talking about this and finding the support I need seems like a reflection of my loved one’s addiction and struggle with recovery.
I can tell a few friends, a few family members, what is happening for me but I find myself distributing the pain, telling this awful detail to one person, this other awful detail to another. I feel like I have to scour my thoughts, my words, of the full truth — as well as, with some people, any identifying characteristics, anything that exposes the private struggle of it all. Because I continue to respect this person and want to honor their privacy.
I sometimes wonder how many other people are going through this with someone they love. If there is an opioid epidemic — or whatever the substance — then there is an even larger epidemic of those of us who love the ones effected. We are largely silent because it’s not only our story. It belongs to someone we love.
But as I watch them lay waste to their own life, and attempt to destroy their important relationships, including ours, I know I need to share the story and seek support. Which goes against my old pattern — keeping their suffering and mine close — where it largely remains a secret and can do the most harm.
The real problem
And that’s another problem — and maybe it’s the real problem: that the most basic thing that is happening, whether the person is using or not, in recovery or not, is that they are suffering. They are in the gravest of pain, the most awful misery. They orbit my ordinary life being so miserable that they must make every attempt to share their misery.
Their thoughts and emotions, what happened and why and who did what and when, the sequence changing, the reasons, bending, all of it going around and around like laundry in some dryer that processes misery, blame, shame, guilt, anguish, rationalizations. Around and around.
I listen or I read for some accountability and, so far, do not find it
So I will move forward. Write this. Take the laundry out and fold it. And feel flat. Until things get better or things get much, much worse.