“Reid” remembers the morning of April 8 this past spring like it was yesterday. She was at work that morning when the phone rang. Her partner, “Hope” (also an alias), was on the other line frantically screaming. The police were at their house unannounced, Hope was exclaiming. And they were throwing all of the family’s possessions out on the front yard and not letting Hope into her own house. In shock and disbelief, still unaware that a darker explanation lay behind the unfolding crisis, Reid quickly left work to race home on the grounds of a “family emergency.” When she arrived at the house, she found the police there, a U-Haul truck in their driveway, and a front lawn strewn with their first-floor furnishings. They were being evicted and their house, foreclosed upon in December of the previous year, was now in the bank’s ownership. Reid was about to discover why ….
Opioids — Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Pain Patches (Fentanyl), Roxicodone
“It’s all a mistake!” Hope protested. But the police told Reid another story. They said the bank had made several unsuccessful attempts to collect mortgage payments (which had been Hope’s responsibility), before finally notifying the police that the family had refused to vacate the house. The police also produced evidence of all of the times they had been by the house posting eviction notices, as well as past correspondence between Hope and the court and new owners. Turning to her partner of 13 years, Reid demanded to know if all this was true. Hope flatly denied it. Meanwhile, the police were there to finish their job. “I asked the officer if I could go in and grab our valuables,” Reid recalled. “He asked me if I was going to act out in any way. I said ‘no,’ that I just wanted to get our computers, cameras, laptops, TVs, all of that stuff.” That’s when the reality of what was happening hit home: “As I’m running through the house, I start crying because there are strangers in my house ripping beds apart and throwing things out with no care in the world. That was their job … I watched as the kids’ toys, clothes, books and everything they knew was crammed into trash bags. I watched as they pulled our wedding clothes from the closet and tossed them. A life that took years and years to build I lost in one day — my kids lost in one day. And the whole time [Hope] knew what was happening and that it was real.” What Hope knew (and Reid soon would find out) was that the money meant for the mortgage had been feeding Hope’s prescription drug abuse problem. Hope had managed to keep her escalating addiction to opioids a secret, and, as Reid is the first to admit, Reid had “missed the signs but saw them.” Two days later, Hope boarded a plane for a substance abuse treatment center in Florida, while Reid stayed to pick up the pieces (literally, too, in the form of a whole house’s disgorged contents now on their front yard). During the weeks and months ahead, she would be the single parent to her and Hope’s three boys. Her responsibilities would include managing a move to a new neighborhood, pulling the boys out of their school and transferring them to a new one, maintaining some level of “normalcy” for her children, (in the way of familiar sports and other extracurricular activities), and holding on to her full-time managerial position.
How Substance Abuse Hurts Spouses and Children
Today, a little over one year later, Reid is separated from Hope, though they live in the same house. They trade off parenting responsibilities. Hope now regularly attends recovery support groups, and Reid is turning the corner in her own recovery, as the spouse of someone with a drug addiction. That said, Reid is the first to admit she doesn’t think she’ll ever “truly recover from such a devastating blow.” When I first met Reid, we chatted at a kids’ pool party on a warm August day. Her sons were happily and obliviously embroiled in squirt gun battles and poolside football, like any other kid there. Reid, in a T-shirt, baseball hat and shorts, with a beer in hand, sat dipping her calves in the water. She exuded a straight-talking strength and calm transparency about the events of the past year. These had brought her to her knees but now seemed distant enough to talk about. I found it hard to believe, for example, that this tough, resilient mother to three boys had been hospitalized for a nervous breakdown in the previous months; but the stress of Hope’s rock-bottom moment had been Reid’s to share. And Reid still worried about the traumatic fallout for her boys: “I would have to say that it took an emotional toll on them that I will never understand.” The boys were there on that fateful day when the police arrived and “watched a portion of our items being thrown out and their mom drop to her knees and beg the police not to do this.” Reid and Hope’s oldest son (now 8) seems most affected. “He is like a little adult,” Reid said. “He tried to stay strong for his brothers and for me. That is a lot of pressure for an 8-year-old to have.” Such coping mechanisms are common, according to studies cited by the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Children often will act in non-age-appropriate ways to compensate for the parental deficiency of a drug-abusing parent. In hindsight, Reid wishes she had gotten her oldest son and his siblings into therapy. But for much of this year, she herself was in survival mode, and saw her biggest priority as giving her children a sense of normalcy. To that end she kept them as occupied as she could in their various activities and with friends. Like other partners affected by their spouse’s drug abuse and in early recovery, Reid voices a seemingly endless list of “should haves.” She feels like she “failed” her oldest son, because she did not get him into therapy. She wishes she had not in episodes of anger told her sons “too much,” blaming Hope for the loss of their house and their challenging family circumstances. And Reid faces similar regrets about her relationship with Hope. During her own hospitalization, Reid says she realized she “should have listened” to Hope more and “should have tried harder to find out what was going on.” She believes that “she should have remained involved in the finances” and “should have been [Hope’s] go-to person.” “I should have made it easier for her to tell me she had a problem,” Reid says now.
Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery — Benefits to Spouses and Families
But Reid is also able to find multiple silver linings in her family’s ordeal, even if the reality is she will “never fully recover.” The friends who came around her and supported her, letting her and her children bounce from house to house during those first shell-shocked weeks after their family’s eviction, are one. Another is the tremendous strength and untapped resilience she was able to discover in herself and her children in the midst of a genuine crisis. There are also the lessons related to substance abuse prevention and recovery that Reid has culled over the last year and a half. They are lessons she hopes will, in the spirit of Substance Abuse Prevention Month this month, encourage anyone, LGBTQ or straight, whose partner or spouse has a substance use disorder. For those walking similar paths, she offers the following tips:
- Don’t be afraid to see and acknowledge the signs that your spouse has an addiction.
- Always keep a positive outlook on life, no matter what.
- The way of recovery is a new beginning.
- Believe in your inner strength, and “that you have the power to overcome … and move forward.”
- “Don’t let this define you.”
- Once you are stronger, your experience can help others — so don’t be afraid to share it. In the sharing, you’ll be furthering your own recovery.
In the end, Reid believes walking with her partner through recovery from prescription painkiller abuse has taught her to listen better and to be more patient and more involved (staying more engaged with Hope relationally, through more regular check-ins and date nights). The end result has been a deeper capacity to offer Hope unconditional love. In the midst of these silver linings, navigating a trial separation these days has proven challenging and complex. “It is difficult when you live in the same house,” Reid says. “We still end up doing things together because of our boys.” And she adds: “I still have so much anger, sadness and the betrayal to deal with that I don’t know how much longer we will be in the same dwelling. However, my heart misses the woman I fell in love with so many years ago. I dream of the day when I will find her again. My biggest fear is that I will not, as trust has been broken on so many levels.” Sources:
- “Impact of Substance Abuse on Families,” Treatment Improvement Protocols, SAMHSA
- “October Is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month,” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
By Kristina Robb-Dover, M.Div. Follow Kristina at her Beliefnet blog “Fellowship of Saints and Sinners,” or on Twitter at @saintplussinner.