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By Diana C.
My husband of 17 years is cleaning the kitchen. Intently scrubbing the same spot on the faux-granite countertop one minute, unloading the dishwasher the next. This would seem quite normal and even be considered a treat to most women. If I watch him closer, every so often the activity ceases and his eyes shut, his form frozen in place, as if he is suspended in mid-air. The dishes that he unloads into the cupboards are not clean, and he has reloaded these same dishes twice already. If I don’t watch him, he will do something legitimately insane. Just last night I just stopped him before he tried to drink mayonnaise.
He is high on methadone. And Norco, and muscle relaxers with a little medical marijuana sprinkled in and some beer to wash it all down. Corey is so out of it that when I say his name to wake him from his mini-trance, his red eyes fly open and he gets a startled -- and somewhat guilty -- look on his face. When I suggest that he go to bed, in my mind the safest place for him right now, he becomes angry and resentful. He accuses me of wanting to get rid of him for the night, and this is true. It is an exhausting chore being charged with babysitting a drunken toddler night after night.
The guy I married was not a drug addict. In our wedding picture we both look happy and hopeful, me about 20 pounds lighter and him with 20 percent more hair on his head. I was 21 when we married, leaving behind me an abusive previous relationship and some bad years doing crystal meth. Corey was six years older than me and liked to party, had kind blue eyes and a sly, smart sense of humor. More than anything, I trusted him and I believed that he would be the man to take care of me. Apparently I needed to be taken care of. We had a big, tacky wedding with a poufy dress and a DJ.
This is who the real Corey is: kind and sweet and nurturing and big-hearted. He is loving and fun, and that's who I still see every time he looks into my eyes, or talks about our 15-year-old daughter.
Our first years of marriage were typical. We enjoyed each other’s company and even though I was really too young to know what it meant to be a good wife, after a couple of years we had our daughter. It was a good life, until Corey started getting sick.
He was ill almost constantly, with bronchitis, sinusitis, and pneumonia once a year. During a doctor’s visit a growth was discovered on one of his lymph nodes, and they feared possible lymphoma. Biopsies were inconclusive, with the only remaining option a highly invasive procedure called a thoracotomy. The results of the surgery revealed that the growths were benign (good news); however Corey had an auto-immune disease called sarcoidosis. This condition could be managed over time and with regular check-ups.
What we didn’t know was that the pain from the surgery would never go away. After treating the pain with various narcotics and muscle relaxers for several years, he was given a referral to Pain Management, a specialized department of our Big Box HMO. The solution was to administer methadone therapy, putting Corey in a whole new kind of hell, even if it was one with relief from constant pain.
Since Corey has been on the methadone, he has so many doctor appointments from month to month that it is overwhelming to keep track of. We are at the pharmacy so often that they often greet us by name. From month to month we cycle: see doctor, refill meds, give Big Box HMO our money, and occasionally experience frustration with the doctors when prescriptions don’t get refilled in time.
Near daily trips are made to the weed store, the liquor store, all in the name of pain relief. In addition to post-thoracotomy syndrome, he suffers from pain due to severe headaches and flat feet, has gout and high blood pressure and has endured two other surgeries in the past five years.
On a good day, I would take these semi-psychotic episodes that he goes into when he overmedicates, over the withdrawals that he experiences when he runs out of methadone. Withdrawals are pretty bad, the equivalent of having a dreadful stomach flu for several days, resulting in missed time at work and lost wages. Withdrawals are what every addict fears and dreads. But at least when he’s sick, I know he won’t be up to any shenanigans in the kitchen. The spells of heavy usage are typically followed by several days of depression. I know he feels beaten down, and I have sympathy for him, but it is so hard to live this way. The threat of an overdose is so real to me that I've left work before just so I could come home and make sure that he is still breathing.
Now he throws a tantrum as I try to steer him toward the bedroom. He puts on his jacket, car keys in hand.
“Where are you going,” I ask, “you’re not driving.”
“For a walk.”
“Then you don’t need the keys.” holding my hand out. “Give me the keys.”
Our negotiations are interrupted by our daughter’s entrance and my husband is all of a sudden pretending things are normal.
Such is the fragile house of lies that we struggle to keep built from day to day. When she asks why I am crying I say that I “have a headache.” When Corey has withdrawals he “has a stomach virus.” I lie to him about how I am really feeling because I don’t want to push him too far over one edge or another. I lie to protect our daughter, to protect Corey, all the while wondering if I am doing the right thing, if there is ever a right choice for any mom to make in this position.
Ironically, we have both been to AA and I had a month in a treatment facility a couple of years back. I am familiar the language of this disease, of codepency, addiction and recovery. I want to get active in meetings again but I am afraid to leave him alone at night.
Right now the only one day at a time that I know is the one where I am making it through my day and getting into my bed every night. Knowing full well that something has certainly got to give as the rope pulls tighter -- either he will overdose or I will leave. I don’t know which one it’s going to be but I’m not in a place to entertain the possibility of either one.