There I was, one month into my marriage. I’d had a gorgeous wedding, a perfect dress, a stunning ring, and an amazing honeymoon in Europe. I was married to George* — the man I loved. The man who was secretly addicted to drugs.
During the first year of our marriage, when I was 28 years old, I watched our savings dwindle week by week, with no clear explanation as to where all that money was going. Arguments over our finances became constant. He’s just not himself, I would think. I attributed our struggles to first-year jitters. The first year of marriage is always the hardest, isn’t it? But it was extreme, and it wasn’t just the missing money: there was also the disappearing acts, the sneaky behavior, the new password on his phone, and the nasty attitude.
It was about a year into our marriage when the lightbulb really went off for me. We were at my niece’s third birthday when suddenly, George started to fall asleep at the table. I’ll never forget the look exchanged between my sister and brother. I knew what they were thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. What the fuck is going on? George claimed that he was just tired.
The next week was the Fourth of July. We had plans to spend time together, but George kept coming up with transparent excuses to leave to the house. “Just go,” I eventually said. And off he went. Disappointed and frustrated, I went on a cleaning frenzy. While vacuuming between the couch cushions, I heard a clicking noise. Lo and behold, wedged between the cushions was a prescription bottle filled with Xanax. Where the fuck did these come from? I asked myself. The blood drained from my face.
In that instant, my entire life changed. Every missing dollar, every excuse, every slurred word, every date night George had spent texting suspiciously instead of paying attention to me — it all flashed in front of me. My husband is a drug addict.
This realization thrust me into action. I immediately called a therapist, who was able to see us the next day. He asked me if I could handle being married to an addict. The very word put a knot in my stomach. I said yes, but only if George did everything in his power to get better. This meant counseling, NA meetings, and honesty.
I thought my enthusiasm could make up for his lack of any.
But as I learned, “honesty” is not in the vocabulary of an active drug addict. George went to meetings, but left early. He tried counseling, but stopped showing up. Still, I was determined to make it work. I would text him success stories about addicts, pray with him, read with him from his NA book, play basketball with him, and praise him for doing good, healthy things. I guess I thought my enthusiasm could make up for his lack of any.
Another year passed, and there was no improvement. I didn’t want a divorce, but I couldn’t live like this — finding pills wrapped in paper towels, in the couch, in shoes, the cut-up straws behind my dresser, fights with my in-laws, and lie after lie.
I didn’t even want to clean our apartment, for fear of what else I might find. Every time his phone went off, I became nauseous. Our shared savings were basically gone, and I was becoming more desperate with each day. I just kept trying to see the light at the end of this fucked-up tunnel. It felt like a sign from God when I found out I was pregnant, but I started bleeding three days later.
One day soon after that, as George slept, I went into his backpack. There, I found Xanax and a variety of other drugs. All the effort I had put in hadn’t been enough. I was doing everything I could to save him, and it seemed like he wouldn’t even try. I know now that addiction is a disease, that George was physically dependent on these drugs — and in retrospect, I truly believe that my husband would have stopped if he could have. But at the time, I was just plain livid. I called my mother. I was done.
I stayed with my parents for the next five weeks, hoping against hope that George would do anything in his power to win me back. Rehab? Counseling? Nothing. He obviously wasn’t ready to get clean. The next time I saw him was a warm August morning, and he was wearing a sweatshirt. Was that because he was on drugs and trying to cover his track marks? That I was even asking myself that question told me all I needed to know. I couldn’t continue trying to “save” George while sacrificing myself. I wasn’t saving him anyway.
I told George I wanted a divorce. Finally, I felt a sense of relief. My parents were completely supportive. “We will get through this,” my dad insisted. Still, I felt guilty about leaving and was haunted by visions of George dying. I regretted the terrible things I’d said out of anger. I’m an awful person for abandoning him, I thought. I knew I had done my best, but the guilt was inescapable.
Addiction steals what’s normal.
Slowly, I started a new life. Our divorce was finalized (though it took me six months just to work up the courage to file the paperwork). I was starting to feel like I had my life back. Then, one beautiful early-summer day, I got a call from an unknown number.
“Is this Andrea Lynn?” asked an unfamiliar voice.
“This is Detective Roberts. Do you know a George Jones?”
“Yes, that’s my ex-husband.”
Oh, God, I thought. He got himself arrested.
“Well, ma’am, he was found dead this morning.”
I was stunned and not-stunned, all at once.
George had overdosed. One of his family members had found his body. Lights out.
I was angry. Angry at him, at his family, and at myself. All my fears had come true. All my guilt rushed back. I went to the wake, and as I stood by George's casket, waiting to kneel, surrounded by people who loved him, I was stone-cold. I couldn't react. When it was over, I got in the car and burst into tears.
In addiction-recovery groups, they talk about partners who enable their loved ones' addictions. While I had tried my hardest not to enable George, I know that in some ways, I did. I also know I was far from a perfect wife: I yelled, cursed, and threw things. I snooped, and I pushed him. But I did try to be honest. The news of his death shook me to my core, but I also know that on some level, he died the minute he started taking drugs.
One of my favorite memories of George is actually a memory of us fighting. I remember us arguing over the dishwasher one afternoon, and all of a sudden, we both burst into laughter. It was just such a normal argument; it wasn’t about lies or pills or stolen money — just a dishwasher. In the midst of addiction, sometimes the most normal things can be welcome and hilarious. And it’s comforting somehow to know that we really did laugh a lot, even through the heartache. But addiction steals what’s normal. And it stole my husband long before it killed him.
Andrea Lynn is the pseudonym of a writer living in the United States.