Editor’s note: This story has descriptive, detailed use of painkillers. Please be aware if this is a trigger for you.
I never thought I would be the type of wife who would write about our very personal, private experience of addiction and recovery. It was a long journey; it was stressful, frustrating, overwhelming, and downright debilitating some days. Being the wife of a husband who was struggling with addiction was one of the greatest personal challenges I’ve ever experienced.
But we made it. I look back now, eight years later, and I am incredulous at what our lives have become despite that incredibly trying period.
Oxycodon was the drug of choice after a back injury my husband sustained at work. At first, the drugs were taken just as prescribed and they made my husband feel invincible, he had told me. Rather than laying in bed resting, as he was instructed, he popped his medication, downed a Monster Energy, and headed out to work as per his usual routine. We were incredibly busy and focused on finances. Anytime we weren’t at our full-time jobs, we were fixing up an apartment building we’d bought recently, finding renters for each unit, and saving money for a house.
Today, I can admit that I didn’t know he was struggling. We’d been through so much, even though we were young and still in our early twenties. We were looking forward to building a life together as newlyweds, eventually buying a home and becoming parents. Our future was so bright and we expected a lot from each other to make these dreams happen. I don’t place blame on either one of us for when my husband became addicted to Oxycodon. We were both under a lot of pressure and wanted the best for each other; that’s not something I will ever look back on and regret.
Today, I can admit that I didn’t know he was struggling. We’d been through so much, even though we were young and still in our early twenties.
I saw the signs. My husband had become a machine who didn’t require sleep or even much food; he was just on around the clock. We both managed our own bank accounts so I never noticed any withdrawals, but I did notice that his food intake was cut back and he was always trying to stave me away from spending money. I assumed he was taking our desire to buy a house seriously and was proud, doing the same with my own expenses and banking more and more in our savings. I watched him pawn everything he could find, even valuables he’d had for many years that were prized possessions. I started feeling guilty that maybe I was putting too much pressure on him to bank extra money for a house.
One afternoon while we were both at work and texting during our breaks, the subject of home buying came up. I was telling him how perfect our credit now was and what I’d saved for a house. Since he had a higher paying job, I asked how much he had ready to go. That’s when he was honest and upfront with me, saying there was just no way he could stand in person in front of me to say this. And so, he laid it all out via text message
“It’s become a vicious circle. I’m sorry but there isn’t going to be a house for us anytime soon. I need help.”
“I don’t have money saved. In fact, if you look at my credit cards, they’re all maxed. You may have perfect credit but I don’t, not anymore. And I can’t do anything about it. I’ve gotten hooked on the Oxycodon I got prescribed for my back injury. It takes away all my muscle pain and exhaustion and I can just GO. It started out feeling great when I could work so many hours in a day and barely feel tired, but now I’m working those long hours to fund this habit. It’s become a vicious circle. I’m sorry but there isn’t going to be a house for us anytime soon. I need help. I’ve done a lot of things I’m extremely ashamed about to continue down this path but I promise you it was all for you and our son.”
I wish I could say the recovery was simple from there on out, once he was open and honest about his struggles and admitting he had a problem. However, as most recovery programs would tell you, admitting you have a problem is just the first step. A huge accomplishment as far as recovery is concerned but, nonetheless, only the very first step in the process. We had many slips and bumps along the way, many arguments, many sleepless nights and worries of if he could really overcome this monster that had taken over his mind and body. Here are some tips on how we managed to stay strong and connected through the addiction recovery process.
Communication is one of the most critical components of a healthy marriage, whether addiction plays a role or not. Communication was particularly difficult following my husband opening up about his addiction, however, as I poked and prodded and nagged my way through his hard shell and encouraged him to talk. Of course, he didn’t want to talk about this “failure” as he saw it. He didn’t want to talk more about how he “let me down”, “jeopardized our future”, “broke trust and so many bonds.” But the more we talked, the more I noticed a physical difference in my husband. After a week or two of prodding for more conversation, he didn’t see me as “the enemy” anymore. I could tell he saw me as an ally, and he leaned on me for support, encouragement, and advice. This was a very central part of his recovery throughout the journey.
Communication was also highly encouraged and then carried out with his ADHD therapist. She had been a part of the picture since he was diagnosed with adult ADHD at the age of eighteen and oversaw his ADHD medication and struggles with sleep. Once he was able to open up to her about the addiction, she was able to explain to him which areas of ADHD disorder research has showed to accompany addictive behaviors and then figure out a plan to curb those behaviors in ways other than indulging in Oxycodon. His therapist stayed a very key person throughout his recovery and for many years afterward.
As the weeks went on and we talked more, I learned what my husband was really struggling with and took charge of how I could best help. For example, our finances. Where we’d had separate bank accounts, we talked about and eventually solidified joining them together. I would do the budgeting and bill paying so he could focus on his recovery and not stress about money.
Even today, over eight years later, I still handle the finances and bill paying. He just does better when he’s told what there is available to spend and I know where every dime goes. This may sound controlling but we continue to talk about it and if he ever wants to change this system, I’d be open to it. However, at the start of recovery, my husband needed to focus on himself and so I tried to eliminate all the obstacles that might otherwise be standing in his way. Taking over the finances was the way I could best contribute, aside from being openly communicative, in helping my husband.
It may sound patronizing but rewards were particularly helpful throughout the recovery process. My husband has adult ADHD, diagnosed at the age of eighteen, and so motivation for a person with this disorder is often found through rewards. We started small. Every week he didn’t pop an Oxycodon, we ordered takeout from wherever he chose that Friday night. Each time he substituted an urge for an Oxycodon pill with something like hard candy or gum, he bought himself a new game for his Xbox (max $25 or we would have gone broke, quickly!). Each month he stayed away from popping Oxycodon pills, he bought himself a $60 Xbox game.
The distractions and rewards were a great way to calm his mind down, as the video games kept him busy and not focused on the withdrawal symptoms of not having several Oxycodon pills per day.
This one was definitely difficult. My husband had broken trust with several highly respected accomplices and family members, and was extremely ashamed of the behavior. It took several months but, eventually, he took the advice from his therapist and me to apologize and make amends.
This very visibly knocked him down several pegs and he struggled for several days afterward, clearly letting the embarrassment and shame of his behaviors wash over him. This was another time that communication became critical, as he was extremely tempted to pop an Oxycodon once again to give his body the ability to work long hours in our apartments downstairs and distract himself from feeling.
Nobody is perfect, I had to remind myself several times. Recovery wasn’t a nicely paved road; it was bumpy, with many potholes, sharp curves, and “do not enter” signs. It was hard. And there were mistakes because my husband, like any other human (including myself), is not perfect nor will he ever be. And so he did have weeks where he snuck an Oxycodon from a friend while at work (since I’d emptied the house and car of them). I knew it right away because he’d come home giddily happy after working a typical eight hour day (he never went for long hours because he knew I’d be highly suspicious at that point), full of energy and ready to cook, clean, and return to working in the apartments for the duration of the evening. I knew immediately what that excess energy meant.
Though I was highly disappointed and angry even, I had to step back and remind myself that this would likely happen. It’s not easy to be ok with your husband having slipped up, lied to your face, and then having to be gracious and helpful towards him. I continued to remind myself how much we’d been through, how much I loved him, and how I knew we could work through this together. I kept faith in him and our relationship to get us through.
I can’t say this was easy for me at any point. But I can tell you that I was proud of my husband for admitting he had a problem and desperately wanting to overcome this and return to life as normal. I absolutely was. However, I was also extremely disappointed, frustrated, overwhelmed, and sad that this had happened in the first place. I loved my husband; we’d been together since junior year in high school and had an otherwise amazingly strong, healthy relationship. This is why I was as shocked as I was when finding out about the addiction to Oxycodon. However, through many years, we overcame this and it became just a memory in our story as a couple.
My husband overcoming his addiction was just more proof of what we could get through, together, no matter the odds. We share our story to encourage others to keep their faith in each other alive and know that addiction isn’t a reflection of each other, your marriage, or implication that you aren’t meant to be together forever.