I always assumed I would be a mom “someday,” but I never thought about what the circumstances would be when that time came. I guess I figured I would be married and living in my first home. That’s how it works, right? But I chose to marry someone with a drug problem. That’s right-I knew he had a drug problem, but married him anyway. I couldn’t have imagined how it would turn out. In my naïve mind I believed that if I loved someone enough, they would change. The harsh reality was something I was neither prepared for nor equipped to deal with. However, as hard as this story is to tell, it undoubtedly helped shape me into the person I am today.
I met my ex-husband shortly before graduating high school and we dated on and off while I was in college. He didn’t become an addict until I was in my senior year of college. I didn’t realize this at the time because I only saw him on breaks. Occasionally he would make the trip from MA to NY to visit. Our visits were brief so it was easy enough for him to hide his addiction. But when we moved in together soon after I graduated, I started to notice some odd behavior. He would spend long periods of time in the bathroom and every once in a while, I could hear the flick of his lighter. At first, I didn’t think too much of it. But I noticed that he had become very moody and easily agitated. Very rarely did he seem happy. At this point I still didn’t have a clue what was going on, but I knew things were “off.”
But then, it seemed that each time he got paid there was an issue. There was a problem with payroll or “they” lost his check. I still wasn’t fully grasping what was happening. I just knew that when it came time to pay the bills it was all falling on me. It wasn’t until I found my own money missing that things started to click. But I didn’t want to believe it. Soon a ring my father gave me for my 21st birthday went missing. Then my camera, also a gift, went missing. I confronted him many times and he would fly into a rage. I didn’t know what to do. It was all so surreal and scary. I no longer had a sense of security.
I had known this man for 4 years as a kind, loving person. Where was that man? The person I was living with was a stranger. But the relationship continued and I became more co-dependent with every passing day. I even agreed to get married thinking that would make him happy. Things went from bad to worse. He stole checks and forged my name. We had mounds of debt. I was desperate and too ashamed to let my family know what was going on. I still thought that I could “fix” him and somehow control this uncontrollable situation before anyone else could figure out how dysfunctional it was. I distinctly remember thinking that if we had a baby, that would give him a reason to get better. Through my co-dependent haze, I saw this as a loving way to help him. In truth it was pure manipulation. But I honestly didn’t recognize this at the time. I thought I was being kind and compassionate and even had a twisted sense of pride about it.
When I did get pregnant, he was excited and happy (he loved babies) but nothing changed. It only got worse. We ended up losing our apartment and I went to live with his sister. His addiction was so bad that he was living (squatting) in various drug houses around the city. What should have been a time of great joy and hope for us as a couple ended up being anything but. Thankfully, the pregnancy was actually very easy and uneventful. But my own sickness of obsessing over him, where he was and what he was doing, escalated. Those were very dark days.
It was the summer of 1991 and I was 24. Each day I would go to work and before I could go back to his sister’s apartment, I would go looking for him in the drug houses. Can you imagine? Here I was, 7 months, 8 months, and yes, almost 9 months pregnant, wearing my cute maternity dresses traipsing around the worst part of the city, on a mission to make sure he was alive. What I was doing was dangerous and I didn’t even see it. I just knew that I couldn’t rest until I knew he was ok. After a time, the other addicts began to recognize me. Before I could even knock on the door, a nameless man or woman would come out onto the porch and say, with sadness in their eyes, some variation of: “You shouldn’t be here. You should go home and rest. Don’t worry about him.”
This would happen over and over. These people were incredibly sick, emaciated, dirty, didn’t have the proverbial pot to piss in and they were concerned about me. What they lacked in material possessions they made up for in pure compassion. But of course, I didn’t recognize that at the time. I silently blamed all of them for “keeping him from me” or “being a bad influence.” I would become agitated and instruct them to “go get him please and tell him I need to talk to him.” Sometimes they would plead with me a little longer to go home and other times, knowing that I wouldn’t leave, would oblige.
Twenty-eight years later, the summer of ‘91 seems like a bad dream—a dream that happened to someone else or a character in a movie. I have a beautiful daughter who is now a grown woman, thriving and happy. I am thriving and happy. Occasionally I think about that crazy, awful summer and how I played a part in the chaos and drama. Was I to blame for my ex-husband’s addiction? No, but I was responsible for my own behavior. It took years to forgive my ex-husband and to forgive myself for what happened that summer. I had to dig deep to find compassion, something that these strangers had so generously bestowed on me. Who could have imagined that it was possible to get a lesson in compassion from a group of strangers who I had held in such contempt? Each one was a Divine Breadcrumb, disguised in human form, steering me back to the light.
Today I strive to be an open, kind, and compassionate person and I also actively look for these traits in others. Sometimes it’s like digging for gold and not so easy to find. But I try to remember that the people we encounter are our mirrors. If I’m having trouble seeing the good in someone, that’s more about me than it is about them. That can be hard to swallow sometimes. But I’m a work in progress and I’ve learned that having compassion for myself is the foundation for everything else.