Wendy and Tommy
Please note that names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
Wendy remembers that day as the single most wonderful day of her life. She also remembers it being the hardest.
Two weeks past her due date, a heavily pregnant Wendy was, despite her physical state, in good spirits. As she was nearing the completion of her nesting phase – setting up the nursery, beginning to baby-proof every inch of the house, deep-cleaning every room in her infamous, meticulous way – Wendy thought she’d take on her husband Tommy’s basement getaway.
“His man-cave, if you will,” Wendy explains. “I’m not ever in that room, really – it’s a lot of hunting gear, cigar collections, posters of old movies. It’s where Tom goes to decompress.”
But Wendy, eager to deliver, thought the extra work would help encourage the baby to come out. So she tackled Tommy’s room, organizing bottles of aged Scotch against the mirrored bar and piling together magazines onto a single neat stack. But behind the bar, she came across a devastating discovery: a small bag, filled with a powdery substance. Immediately, a disturbing epiphany washed over Wendy.
Their marriage had been quick. Wed after only four months of dating, Wendy was overwhelmed by Tommy’s romantic gestures and passionate pronouncements of love. He was endlessly adoring, and always wanted to be around her. He grumbled and had tantrums when they couldn’t be together, which Wendy considered sweet at the time. “It was like he was addicted to me,” she says wistfully.
But as their relationship continued, and their married life began, Wendy began to note that some of Tommy’s behavior was troubling. He was either constantly glued to her or would fly into a defensive rage, disappearing for hours at a time. He rarely slept, which he told Wendy at the beginning of their relationship was “normal” for him. He neglected his duties at home. But because Wendy became pregnant almost immediately after their wedding, she convinced herself it was him giving her leave to take care of the household as she wished. He refused to go out with her friends, although he seemed to have buddies who never came around to the house. The one thing he did control was their finances – Wendy was permitted an allowance for the week to shop for groceries and gas, but she never saw their bank statements. And while Tommy had been amorous at the beginning of the pregnancy, over the weeks he’d become increasingly distant and apathetic. Wendy had actually wondered, on one or two occasions, if he was having an affair. Worse, she thought to herself, what if she’d made a huge mistake?
The “bag with the powdery substance,” as Wendy described it, was foreign to her. She’d grown up in a stable, safe environment where her overprotective parents tried to entirely shield her from the dangers of the world. And yet it explained everything that had been going on in their relationship – and now, she didn’t know what to do.
Wendy delivered their baby boy, Wyatt, that evening.
The steps to recovery
The devastation of discovering your spouse is an addict is overwhelming. It can be frightening, and the toughest thing you’ll ever have to do in your whole life – and you’re not the addict. Here are some tips you can take when supporting your loved one in recovery.
- Seek help. You’re not in this alone. Find a support group, like Nar-Anon, which is a 12-step system designed for friends and families of addicts or recovering addicts. You may also want to enroll in therapy, either as an individual, as a couple, as a family, or a combination of all. Talking to a professional, or with those who have walked the path before you, helps you, as the hurting spouse, try to support – not enable – your addicted partner.
- Set clear boundaries. Sometimes, as the spouse of an addict, your love blinds you to the reality and gravity of your spouse’s illness. You may see warning signs and yet choose to ignore them because they’re promising with all their heart that they’re better. Set clear expectations and put your foot down on consequences. It’s important you come from a place of love and grace, as opposed to threatening your spouse. He or she needs to know they are loved, not reprimanded, but consequences are consequences. Let them know you’re supporting them in recovery – not in active addiction.
- Do your research. When trying to help your spouse, it’s of great benefit to both you and your spouse to learn as much as you can about addiction. Arm yourself with information. Without bias or judgment, understand that addiction is a disease and your spouse is not a bad person. And you are not a bad person for having chosen them, having enabled them unknowingly in the past, or being clear today about what they need to do to get on the road to recovery.
- If you’ve ever enabled – stop now. Have you ever lied to a police officer or a person of authority about their behaviors and wrongdoings? Have you ever bought alcohol or drugs for them? Have you ever given them money knowing full-well what they would buy with it? You may be making excuses for them in your mind (i.e. saying to yourself, “They’re not that bad,” or “It could be worse,”) but the truth is, for as long as you’re enabling them, you’re not giving them the motivation or opportunity to get well.
- Take care of yourself. As the spouse of an addict, you’ll find it easy to become obsessive over the addiction and your spouse’s behavior. You may find yourself rummaging through drawers, going through emails, or even following your spouse every time he or she leaves the house. But policing doesn’t help – not you, and not your partner. It’s best to ensure you’re taking care of yourself instead, by eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, spending time with healthy members of your family and friends.
- Line up the necessary treatment for your spouse. The unfortunate thing about addicts is that rarely will they seek treatment on their own. You can help them here. It may be a matter of staging an intervention, or physically driving them to a rehabilitation facility. But before you do so, look around for the best place for your spouse to receive treatment. Consider asking various facilities if they specialize in specific addictions, if insurance is accepted, or if they offer in-patient or out-patient treatment services.
- Be ready with a relapse plan. It’s unfortunate and can be another debilitating blow, but relapses do happen. Should a relapse occur, it’s best to be ready with a plan. This may include having a temporary space lined up where you can move so you can have space, an emergency bank account, and a phone list with the names and numbers of family members, friends, and mental health professionals who can assist you and your spouse in that time of need.
It might seem impossible to balance compassion and a firm hand when supporting your spouse who is in recovery. But the mere fact that your spouse has begun a recovery plan is a reason to celebrate. You are not alone. Most importantly, supporting your spouse does not mean neglecting yourself – if you are unhealthy, you cannot be there fully for your partner. Yes, this time can be chaotic, but with assistance, patience and time, recovery for your partner – and for you – is possible.