Welcome to the next installment of RELATABLE: LOVE, ACTUALLY. In this series, guest authors* share about all the challenging realities of marriage.
Marriage today is rarely presented realistically or positively. Hollywood and the media promote Disney fairytales where couples “live happily ever after.” Or marriage is demonized as an unnecessary complication when hooking up and cohabitation will do just as well.
But what about the Catholic who still believes in the sanctity of marriage, including its permanence? Is it even possible for couples to remain connected to one another through all of life’s struggles and suffering? YES. In RELATABLE: LOVE, ACTUALLY, we will feature authentic, honest, and hopeful stories by real Catholic women about the journey of marriage. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage, after all, and we want to give a voice to those couples struggling with infertility, infidelity, miscarriage, mental illness, addiction, and financial stress. We want to give hope by sharing stories of those who have weathered those crosses and come out stronger for them. These stories will reassure strugglings wives that you are not alone. And that with God’s help, there is a way forward, even if you just take baby steps, one day at a time.
*While some authors may post anonymously for privacy reasons, we assure you that each story is authentic and reflects the journey of a real person.
Most marital advice comes with the caveat “unless he’s addicted.” Share the deepest secrets of your heart … unless he’s addicted. Be joint owners of all your possessions … unless he’s addicted. Stay together forever … unless he’s addicted. So, what do you do when normal rules don’t apply? I can’t give you the answer. But I can tell you what happened to me and what I did about it.
For ten years, I had a model husband and a model marriage. We barely fought over anything. We talked things through reasonably, we prayed together, and we stayed together. Then he found a drug he loved more than me. That drug became the center of his universe, more important than his wife, his kids, his job, or his career.
He started disappearing for hours at a time, with flimsy excuses as to where he had been. Money flew out of our joint bank account as he made ridiculously unnecessary purchases we couldn’t afford. He left one job under a cloud and the next one because they told him to resign or be fired. He overdosed once, twice, three times. The hospital staff told me, “Your husband is an addict.” I responded, “I know.” When I begged, pleaded, demanded to know why, my husband said, “Because it feels f**king awesome.” My life and my marriage would never be the same.
When the reality of my husband’s addiction finally sunk in, I collapsed into a sobbing mess. Over the ten good years of our marriage, we had become so interdependent, so united, so “one” that I had no protection against the menacing invasion of addiction. My emotional and financial health was completely intertwined with his.
Relying on the relationship as it used to be, I peppered him with questions whose answers left me raw and shaking. “Don’t you love me any more?” “If you’re searching for happiness and pleasure, wouldn’t you rather have sex with me than get high?” His bald-faced response to both: “No.” Every rejection hurt me, but it also hardened me and made me stronger. I had to block out what he said. I had to start building walls around my heart.
His moods grew more and more erratic. Seemingly simple things enraged him. I became adept at keeping my tone of voice steady and calm, as if I was approaching a wild animal. I deflected by changing the subject, using gentle humor, and sometimes apologizing and backing down. I learned not to provoke him. My home had become a lion’s den, and survival demanded that I become a lion tamer.
The kids started noticing that he was no longer their carefree, happy-go-lucky dad. They asked me what to do. I explained that in life, we can behave passively, assertively, or aggressively. In most situations, assertiveness is best. But with their dad, they had to be more passive. Depending on their basic personalities, this came more or less naturally to my kids. My strong-willed child had a harder time with it. “Passivity is not weakness when you choose it deliberately,” I told her.
The biggest problem with addiction, though, is it almost always gets worse. Strategies that worked before start failing. A soft voice may turn away anger, but it won’t evade the catastrophe looming on the horizon.
Seeking support, not a “savior”
I started looking for ways out, and there weren’t many. I was in my 40s, frumpy, and out of the workplace for fifteen years. I wanted someone to save me, preferably another husband. For a while, I poured out my troubles to a male friend of mine. The daily phone calls and texts made me feel better, but they also made me fall a little bit in love. I wasn’t fixing the problem. I was just creating a new one. I broke off that friendship, and the next time an attractive male friend offered to be my sounding board I refused.
I also realized that I had very little to offer a man except an ego-boosting neediness. So I joined yoga classes, dyed and straightened my hair, bought a new wardrobe, and got a job.
At the first job I accepted, they paid me one quarter of the salary I had earned more than a decade ago, barely enough to cover child care. I was over the moon with happiness anyway, because they provided excellent re-training. Within nine months, another company offered to double my salary if I jumped ship.
In the meantime, I tried therapy, but it cost a lot and didn’t help much. What I needed was the affection and emotional intimacy that I had lost when my husband went off the rails. Al-Anon, the support group for family members of addicts, helped me far more. Collectively, the people at Al-Anon knew a vast amount about what I was suffering and how to endure it. Their main goal was appealingly simple: to be happy whether or not your loved one is using.
One of Al-Anon’s credos is that addiction feeds on silence. For months (more like years, to be honest), I was afraid to tell my parents anything about my husband’s problem. I felt humiliated and sure they would shame me. I never dreamed they would help, because I assumed they would consider any assistance to be “enabling.” I was shocked at how much they supported me once they knew.
With the knowing support of Al-Anon and my parents and the unknowing support of my new employer, I realized I didn’t need a man to save me. And I began to accept deep down what I already knew on an intellectual level — that the only person capable of saving me was God himself.
I had always given God credit for bringing my wonderful husband into my life. Incomprehensibly, God was now taking my husband away again. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” said my mother. So why was God doing this to me? Even worse, how could he be doing this to my children?
I yelled at God. I prayed that he let me die. Then I prayed that he make my husband die. My husband had so many close calls that his staying alive appeared utterly miraculous. God clearly did not want my husband to die, but it seemed that God didn’t want my husband to get better either. Stuck in a nightmare, I stopped praying at all.
I never abandoned the angels, though. St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael became my constant companions. I imagined them flying over the roof of my car and snuggling with me in a heap of heavenly goodness while I slept. When I walked around the block to clear my head, one of them held my hand.
I haven’t stopped going to Sunday Mass, but it is still hard for me to pray. I can’t shake the feeling that God has betrayed me and let me down. And praying for the husband who has hurt me so much seems like a task for a saintlier and more compassionate person than I. A friend from Al-Anon has encouraged me to keep praying anyway, not because it might please God or help my husband, but for my own sake. “Keep praying, because prayer will help you,” he said. So, clumsily and awkwardly, I try.
I can finally recognize that God has sent blessings into my life. My children are stupendously fabulous and dealing so much better with this horror than anyone has a right to expect. My job keeps me sane (when it’s not driving me crazy). As my husband spins faster and faster out of control, I can hold on to the hope that God has a plan even if I can’t see it. I can rebuild my trust in God whether my marriage survives or not.
Let’s dig deeper. Did this witness resonate with you? If so, we invite you to continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts.
- What was my spiritual life like before the experience?
- How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
- How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
- Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
- How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
- How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
- If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
- What would I say to someone else in this situation to give him/her hope?
SPIRITUAL RESOURCES AND HEALING
WHERE TO START?
RETROUVAILLE – A Lifeline for Married Couples
THE ALEXANDER HOUSE – Offering Hope & Healing for Marriage, Family & Relationships
BELOVED: FINDING HAPPINESS IN MARRIAGE – offered through FORMED.ORG (ask your parish for the code to access this program for free)
In the privacy of your own home, you can begin to heal your marriage. CLICK HERE to start the process.