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If I had known he was an addict when I met him, I wouldn’t have entertained the possibility of being anything other than co-workers. I wouldn’t have thought twice about whether we could be something together. I wouldn’t have picked up the phone and called him after he gave me his number. I didn’t know he was an addict then.
When I found out he was an addict, I probably should have turned and ran right then, but I didn’t. I stuck by his side and saw him through rehab. I was young and naive. I had faith in him even when I had no faith in anything else. I had faith that he could come out of rehab a changed person — a new and improved version of himself. I also felt like a complete and utter fool for not realizing it sooner. I had known him for eight months, and we’d been seeing each other seriously for five and I didn’t even know he was an addict. If you know addicts, you know that they’re clever. You know that they hide their habit, and you know that they lie. I didn’t know all of that then. I fell in love with an addict and didn’t even know it, so I held onto my hope that he’d recover.
And he did. For a little while.
For a few years, actually, he was clean.
And we were happy. It was almost as if his addiction were this small part of his past that we could forget. I was still naive.
And then he relapsed.
And then he stayed clean for another year or so.And then he relapsed again. And this time it was big.
He got into a lot of trouble with some very bad people — the kind who threaten you with guns. He owed them lots of money. I literally paid off his debts because I was a fool in love. We screamed. We fought. We cried. We pushed each other away and then pulled each other back again.
It was months of living in stress, fear, and dread. It was half a year riding a rollercoaster of emotions. Think about what that phrase means: rollercoaster of emotions. It means a sinking feeling in your stomach as you approach a low. It means relief when that’s over, along with mounting tension as you approach the next peak. It’s that moment of suspense, excitement, and fear as you peer over the edge, waiting. And then, that horrible sinking feeling all over again. It was driving to a drug dealer’s house to get that one last fix before he quit, that one last fix to delay the withdrawal. It was telling him we were done, it was taking him back, it was crying in the car or alone on the beach. It was holding each other close out of shared grief. It was the lowest low of our relationship. I hope it was our rock bottom, because I can’t imagine something lower than that.
He’s been clean for over fifteen months now, and he’s made some huge changes in his life, some that surprised even me. Like any couple, we talk about our future together. We talk about getting married and having kids. I think he’d be a great father, but the idea of marriage and kids with an addict (or recovered-addict, if there’s every truly a thing) scares me to death and he knows that. We’re in limbo, at a point where we’re just waiting to see what the future holds, if he can manage to keep his shit together.
People wonder why I’ve stayed with him through everything. My friends and family look at me with pity. They’re always asking questions that express their concern without coming straight out and saying what they really want to say. His friends and family think I’m a savior. They think I’ve helped turn his life around. I hope they’re right.
People say you can’t help who you fall in love with. Well, I fell in love with an addict, so I tend to believe that expression is true. There have been so many times I was on the verge of walking away, but I haven’t because as much as he needs me, I need him, too. There’s a term for this: co-dependency. Nar-Anon will talk about co-dependency like it’s just as terrible as addiction, but I don’t think it’s so bad. I’ve picked him up from his lows and he’s picked me up from mine. We’re both working on self-improvement and that’s all I think we can ask of each other. Every person comes with baggage and flaws. In every relationship, you choose whether you want to accept those flaws. I’ve chosen to accept his, for today. Tomorrow may be different, but it’s my choice to make.
I can accept responsibility for my own choices and actions and accept what I’ve chosen to tolerate in my own life, but I’ll say this to anyone who thinks they have a choice to make about who they invest their love in:
Don’t fall in love with an addict unless you’re ready to experience the most heart-aching pain you can imagine, and then heal from it, and then subject yourself to it all over again.
Don’t fall in love with an addict unless you understand that rehab is not a cure, there’s no quick solution, sobriety will always be a struggle.
Don’t fall in love with an addict unless you’re okay with living in doubt, with questioning where they are or where the money went.
Don’t fall in love with an addict unless you’re okay with making excuses, explaining why he isn’t there, pretending people don’t notice.
Don’t fall in love with an addict unless you can accept not knowing what the future holds, not being able to make plans, not being able to fully commit.
Don’t fall in love with an addict unless you’re ready to watch his life crumble and then be there to help glue it back together.
Don’t fall in love with an addict unless you believe people can change.
Don’t fall in love with an addict unless you can hold onto your faith that he’ll one day soon find recovery, and he’ll make it work, and he won’t give up, and if he does fall again, he’ll get back up and keep trying.
Being in a relationship with an addict, even one in recovery, is a careful balancing act between being blind hope and having a firm grip on reality. It’s a balance between being a helping hand when he has no other hands, and being a crutch, a tool, a puppet. It’s choosing to put yourself second most of the time, but realizing that there are moments — the really awful moments — where you need to put yourself first, even if it hurts. It’s understanding that an addict doesn’t need to be defined by his addiction. It can take over, it can control, but you both can let it go. You both can overcome it.
Honestly, though, try not to fall in love with an addict.
Reprinted with permission from Human Parts.