Several years ago, when my wife’s addiction was nearing its breaking point, she made a trip to visit her extended family in New Mexico. She wasn’t really used to traveling solo — she’d be the first to tell you that she’s not a great traveler, even in the best of circumstances — so this was a relatively new experience for us both. I really don’t remember why I didn’t accompany her on that particular trip out west — maybe I had a work obligation or maybe it was intended to be a “girl’s weekend” sort of thing — but we decided that she would make the trip alone. This was a big deal.
I won’t describe the details of her rather harrowing return trip home now (the experience is one of those areas of still-sensitive emotional shrapnel that has yet to fully heal) other than to say it was an enormous final straw moment that helped to push me out of the denial that had become so miserably comfortable. Without that frightening and painful experience, I’m sure we would have just continued on with our clumsy two-left-feet dance with denial and justification. Her addiction, however, decided that it was no longer willing to be ignored. Something had to change.
The weeks and months following that ill-fated trip were just the beginning of this strange journey for us both. Early on, when it was clear that neither of us had any control over the addiction and the havoc that inevitably accompanied it, we opted to instead try to control the environment around us. I think most addicts go through a stage like this early in recovery, as part of an effort to find organization and accountability in a strict routine. Having a routine becomes a safety net, offering much needed structure to the addict and a sense of containment (if not calm) for the ones on the sidelines worrying. The routine trumps everything.
Over time, though, the routine that has been a safety net can become a shackle that confines and limits. And so, in tiny bits and pieces at first, you begin to let it go. For my wife, this means venturing outside of her comfort zone, allowing the unpredictability of life to happen without feeling as though her sobriety is immediately at risk as a result. For me, it means giving up my reliance on an almost parental level of environmental control… and more importantly, not losing myself to obsessive worry in the process. For both of us, it means learning to trust in the strength and wonder of a hard-fought recovery.
On Friday, my wife is making a solo trip to visit her parents in Oklahoma for a few days. This will be the first time she’s done this sort of thing since the New Mexico debacle all those years ago. I know that we’re in a different place now — she’s in a different place, certainly — but I’d be lying if I said that some of that old fear and trepidation hasn’t returned. And that’s okay. It’s just part of the continued journey, I realize, this learning to let go.