Throughout the depths of my wife’s addiction, and then into her early recovery, I talked to almost no one about it. I know that part of my silence was because of my own shame, part of it was because of my inability to adequately articulate the quiet madness that was consuming me, and part was rooted in the misguided notion that involving others would somehow make the problem even worse. So I closed myself off, opting for implosion instead of explosion.
Don’t get me wrong. There were opportunities for help. I could have done more to reach out, get therapy, or participate in support groups. I could have more actively (and honestly) responded when friends and family voiced their concerns. I could have been more open, less guarded, less militant about my “privacy.” But I didn’t and I wasn’t. Although I’ve never been a person to have a large circle of confidants, there were certainly people around me who sensed — I imagine it was far more obvious than I would have been comfortable believing — that I was in some sort of emotional distress. And yet, I failed to seize any of those opportunities. Instead, I fell apart in an undignified isolation of my own design.
My solitude became a self-imposed prison sentence, the only right and just punishment for someone who had been willing to look the other way when destruction was all around. There was a price to be paid for such blatant disregard, I concluded, and maybe this was it. This was deserved. Earned, perhaps. Just.
My wife took the opposite approach. She talked, she therapied, she grouped. She went to meetings, she had sponsors. She sought help wherever and whenever it was offered. And I resented it. I resented that she would air her (our?!) problems to complete strangers, that she could care so little about this need of mine for privacy, that she’d found help elsewhere when it couldn’t be found in me. Mostly, though, I resented the fact that she was willing and able when I was ill-equipped and obstinate.
As a result, I think it took me far longer to dig my way back out. I’m still digging, even now, years later. I’d like to be able to say that I’d do it differently given another (please dear god, no) opportunity, but I’m not sure that I really would. Maybe that’s my continued stubbornness more than anything else, but I wonder how much of the bottomless darkness was necessary in order for me to be able to see light again.
“If you’re in pitch blackness,
all you can do is sit tight
until your eyes get used to the dark.”
When I first decided to start this blog, I knew that I would write about my wife being an addict. My first post on the subject — Lottery. — was full of thoughts that had been ruminating in my head for some time, thoughts that somehow now needed to take shape as actual words. I thought I would post it, freak out, and then it would end there and I’d move on. It would be cathartic and a wonderful experiment in unflinching revelation, sure, but then I would return to a strict diet of politics and snark, my normal wheelhouse of blather.
Then something unexpected happened. While the act of revealing a portion of my soul was affirming, it was in the response and conversation that would follow where I began to find some measure of healing. I guess, after all these years, I’ve started to learn the value of community. And so I thank you for that, for this grand and unexpected lesson taught by each of you who have taken the time to respond.
You’ve made a difference.
3 thoughts on “Darkness.”
I’m intrigued by the idea of isolation as punishment for your wrongdoing. Were you aware so early of your role in her addiction? I’m not sure that’s how I mean the question. Was your solitude an intentional self-imposed prison at the time or is that an understanding in hindsight?
It’s the whole issue of denial and “enabling,” much as I hate that word. And no, I wasn’t aware that either was contributing to her addiction. At the time — and I am sure this is what most deniers/enablers tell themselves — I thought I was helping, being supportive, protecting her, and minimizing the problem. I even would have told you that I was honoring the “for better or worse” thing. God, commitment, vows… it was all wrapped up in it somehow.
When I finally began to be honest about her problem, and then, later honest about my role in it, the guilt associated made me feel like the incredible aloneness I was experiencing was somehow an earned consequence (punishment). Guilt and shame can do that.
Wow. You tell your story so beautifully. You have so much depth and wisdom into yourself and that’s an amazing gift$ I love you and I’m so grateful you stayed around the darkness so we could emerge together into the light. Love u!