Everyone knows addiction destroys the person using drugs, but it is not an individual disease. Addiction also impacts and can destroy the user’s family as well.
Can you envision what it’s like to hide your wallet under your pillow? To check your bank account fifty times a day to make sure that money wasn’t taken out? To have your own secret bank account so that you know the bills can be paid? To go to the grocery store as soon as your paycheck clears, because if you don’t, then the money will be gone? Can you picture all of this and then fathom having to ask for help? To reach out to community organizations that help with food, clothing, and bills, and then have them ask you, “You work and your husband works, so why aren’t you meeting your bills? Let us help see where your money is going. Use one of our financial counselors and maybe they can help.”
Imagine knowing that you can never go to their counselors, because you know where the money is going. You know what is causing you to come up in the negative, but you can never tell them, because if you do, your kids won’t get into a good school/yeshiva/seminary. They won’t make a good shidduch. Your husband could lose his standing in the community. You could lose your standing in the community. But most of all, because you just don’t want it to be like this. ‘Maybe, just maybe,’ you think, ‘If I bury my head deep enough, I can will it away. Maybe if I become more frum/less frum/more involved/less involved, things won’t be this way.’
Now picture a person you love. This person is in so much pain. The only solution he can see is to use drugs. Driving to his drug dealer, he starts bargaining with G-d. If only the dealer was arrested, shot, moved, something, anything, so that he doesn’t have a means to buy drugs. He arrives. The dealer is there with enough junk to sink a ship. He buys, he leaves. Sitting in the car, tying off, he cries, screaming to a G-d that he isn’t sure is listening anymore. But the pain is too much, so he uses. This repeats itself until one of two things occur: he dies or he recovers.
This person could be your husband, daughter, son, father, mother, anyone you might know. But this person could also be you.
No matter how much we stick our heads in the sand, it will not make the situation go away. We cannot change the addict any more than we can stop the sun from rising. The only thing we can change is ourselves. We can make a decision–we can decide to become free. Free of trying to control, trying to manipulate, trying to get the outcome we want. It is a long and painful process.
Letting go isn’t easy.
We have experienced an upswing in deaths in the Jewish community due to drugs. This still isn’t enough to wake people up to the reality of the prevalence of drug use in our communities. After a drug-related tragedy, we are bombarded with articles (yes, maybe like this one) about how horrible the disease is, how we need to stop the stigma, etc.,etc.,etc…, but then the buzz dies down. No one says anything until the next time a death occurs.
I am here to share my story, because those living with a drug addict cannot treat this problem like a passing news story; it is our harsh reality.
I am married to an addict, I have a child who is an addict, and I come from a family who struggles with addiction. When I married my husband, I thought that it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t something I had really thought about before. My husband was in recovery; it wasn’t a problem. Reality hit pretty quickly though. My life became a series of ups and downs, in ways that the average marriage doesn’t have. I wanted us to go to couples counseling, but we couldn’t. Not much therapy can occur when your spouse is nodded out. I wanted us to have a “real” relationship, so I completely took over all aspects of his life. As time progressed and I saw his drug use increase, I began to fall into my disease: that of insanity, the need to control, to dictate, to know everything that he did, where he went, what he did, why he did it… nothing was safe. He could have no secrets, because G-d forbid, I might reveal his drug use. I traced his phone. I read his text messages. I even hacked into his Facebook account, just to make sure that he wasn’t using. But he was. Each time I found out, I fell apart all over again.
During this saga I got pregnant, I miscarried, then I got pregnant again. The whole time, he was on drugs. At first it was just pot, but then he returned to his old standby: crack, heroin, and Xanax. He struggled with getting clean, and I struggled with getting sane. Neither of us was able to reach an equilibrium. He went to inpatient, outpatient, came back home, out of the home, you name it, he did it. Throughout all of this, I felt trapped. I couldn’t tell my family and they didn’t know. I couldn’t ask my friends, since they thought we were fine. I couldn’t ask anyone for help. I struggled. Thank G-d for Al Anon (a support group for family members and friends of addicts). I had started going when he and I were dating, but now it was my lifeline. I learned that I was the cause of only my problems. I couldn’t change him, I couldn’t cure him, and I didn’t cause it, but I could be contributing to the issue. My contribution was my insanity–my desire to control, manipulate, and create the situations that I felt needed to happen. I had to let go, even though it was scary.
So I did let go, and it was terrifying. I realized that I couldn’t rely on him for emotional support while he was so sick. I reached out to my friends. I told them what was going on, and I was finally able to get the support I needed. While he was away at rehab, I didn’t know what to do. I called the local Bikur Cholim and asked for help, but I was told they couldn’t help me, as they were only able to help families of people in the hospital (with cancer and such, not addiction). I realized that the community wasn’t equipped to help people like me. So, I reached out to my friends again and they rose to the challenge.
Thankfully, my husband is home now. He has been sober for a number of years, but the pain of that time in our lives hasn’t left me. I don’t hold onto it with resentment or to use it against him. I hold on to it to help others. When a lady from our community is brave enough to come to an Al Anon meeting, I see her. Sometimes, I will go over and introduce myself. Sometimes, I wait. Not everyone wants to see that there are others from the community there. But one thing I do is show her that I am able to help. Does she want to go to a meeting, but can’t find a babysitter? I offer to find one, assist in paying for one, or babysit myself, so she can go. Does she need help with a meal? I make one, or get a few people together to help do so. I go out for coffee with these people a lot. I find that everyone who is struggling with addiction in their family needs to just not think about it for a little bit. Coffee is easy—it is no big commitment. I can buy them a cup and we can sit and talk about nothing for a little. I’m there. They know it.
Am I shattering worlds? Creating new organizations? Offering miracles? No. All I’m doing is one little thing, one day at a time. Hopefully, it will eventually lead up to all that, but for right now, I just want to make a difference in one life, one action at a time.
**To reach out to the writer of this article, please email Rochel@nashimmagazine.com with the subject line “contact living with addiction” and your message will be forwarded.