Miraculously, my husband Matt and I have been married for 26 years. We are raising the last of our four kids together and our marriage has survived some significant hits through the years.
In our early years, there was a physical injury that resulted in the loss of Matt’s career and financial calamity; we lost a baby due to a second trimester miscarriage; we have both lost our fathers in their old age; and we have faced the disease of addiction as it insidiously wound its way through our family unit.
Dealing with our daughter’s addiction was by far the most difficult and the most painful thing we have had to navigate together as a couple. In our early years, we were both sort of shell-shocked and in my mind I can see the two of us just standing there with our mouths open, asking each other, “What just happened?” It was not good. Neither one of us could believe that one of our kids, to whom we had devoted our adult lives, would have, or could have, headed off in this direction. We lived in denial for a long time.
There was a lot of frantic hand-wringing and many tears as we tried to figure out what to do. What was normal experimentation and what was really a problem? Our biggest obstacle was that we were not in agreement on how to handle anything. I was devastated and showed it through my endless crying and obsessing. Matt was trying to calm me down so I wasn’t a hindrance to the process of trying to figure out how big of a problem this really was and how we should proceed.
Eventually, after several years and many Al-Anon meetings, we were able to build a cohesive team who can now face — at least, on most days — the challenges that life brings to us in a healthier and more constructive fashion.
We had to learn how to accept each other as we are. This meant understanding that we are doing the very best we know how to do, and most of all, that our goals are the same and we have different ways of coping — to keep our daughter alive long enough to find a healthy recovery. This set us both free to process our thoughts with each other without fear of criticism or verbal attack. After we accepted each other, we began to acknowledge that we are a team, and that no one on earth has our child’s best interest at heart the way the two of us do.
Being able to speak freely and honestly about our fears, our questions and our joys helped us balance each other out when one of us went too far in one direction or another. We didn’t keep information from each other.This was crucial in saving our marriage. Each of us is entitled to know the full situation we are dealing with so we can make appropriate decisions. Hiding information and not sharing the full story chips away at the very foundation of what we are building together…and we needed our foundation to be strong in order to weather this storm.
It is important to try to understand where your partner is coming from before responding. Ask questions, touch, listen and know that it’s okay not to have an answer. We could not have fixed this without each other, so we walked together and we were not alone. We listened without judgment and without formulating a plan in our heads, as one of us poured out their heartbreak and fear to the other.
Life goes on at full speed ahead, no matter what. Choosing to spend time together, even if it was just a cup of coffee shared in the backyard with conversation that wasn’t centered on solving a problem, is important. Sometimes we are so tired, we can only sit and be together — and that is enough.
Sometimes, things come up that are just too much to handle alone. Get help! Find someone who can help you develop a plan of survival. Know that your marriage is a priority. If it falls apart, your child has just lost what may be one of the last sturdy things that they can plant their feet on. Take good care of yourselves and don’t try to do everything alone. Counseling and Al-Anon were indispensable to my life. On the other hand, Matt participated as much as he was comfortable with, and I had to let that be enough. He applied what he learned beautifully, but his comfort was not in Al-Anon or in seeing our counselor the way it was for me. We each did things differently, and that was okay.
Neither one of us is perfect. We needed to understand that mistakes would be made, that words would be said that we wish we could take back, that we might try to control uncontrollable things. When those things happened, we both tried to ask, “Where are those actions coming from?” In our case, they were usually fear-driven.
Be gentle with each other. Know that you are both doing the best you can in a really difficult situation. Let go of resentments and choose to forgive. Allowing bitterness to take root poisons our spirits and hinders us from making the progress we need to make as an individuals and as a team.
We pray for each other everyday, and we put each of our children, especially our daughter who struggles in life so much, into our Higher Power’s hands and we trust that He can do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.
Dealing with the addiction of one of our children has been one of the hardest and saddest things we have ever had to make our way through, but it also has forced us to work together in a healthier manner than we have ever done before. Good can come from heartbreak. I do not want our lives together to be defined by our struggle with addiction.