“To love is to recognize yourself in another.”
When I arrived back home after dropping my husband off at rehab, his absence in our 6th floor apartment was palpable. His toothbrush missing from the cup in the bathroom, his sweatshirts no longer hanging on the coat rack, a flat space where his pillow was, leaving a haphazard pyramid of decorative throw pillows on our carefully made bed. His absence a presence, a hole that fills, a blank conundrum. Back alone in our home I took an opportunity to canvass my new single surroundings. Usually a false image of order, the place was in disarray. Laundry filled the hamper, dishes in the sink, towels irregular heaps of terry cloth strewn on the racks. The shades of our immense windows uneven, allowing for zig zagged beams of sunlight to dance on the polished grey concrete floors, reflections and shadows entering and filling the space. As I began picking up the mess, my life felt like a strange dream I inhabit, my once acute senses morphed into blurred outlines, my heart softened, my soul muted. It felt like rest.
This weekend was my birthday. This weekend was my husband’s first weekend in rehab. That may sound tragic, but it isn’t. Last year on my birthday, my husband detoxed on the couch because he couldn’t get a fix, his addiction padlocked in a steel prison of denial. This year he has taken a real step towards honesty with me and with himself. That honesty has opened him up to recovery. No, this is not a disappointing birthday, this is progress. This is a gift. Although it isn’t tragic, it is still sad.
We both have healing to do, my husband and I. Me here in my home, him there in the weathered white house on a lake. This weekend, I went to the gym, watched overdue HBO shows, wrote in my blog, went to therapy, took my dog on a fall hike, and went to visit my parents. My parents live 2 hours west of me. On the way there, pretty much exactly at the halfway mark, is my husband, tucked away in the woods, at the end of a winding road, surrounded by the burning foliage of changing trees. I passed his exit as I traveled to see my parents. My birthday was low key, exactly what I need right now. And it was delicious. We traveled out in the rain, ate dinner at the bar of one of our favorite restaurants, a dim and rustic setting of wood beams and stained glass windows. We feasted on decadent and flavorful meals, and engaged in delightful conversation about anything and everything intellectual. They showered me with love, filled my stomach, kept it light, and put me to bed with my beloved Sky (my Chihuahua) in the cozy guest bedroom, me wrapped in a soft feather filled comforter.
The next day was Sunday. The rain stopped and the sky was a fierce blue, the weather chilly, and the winds gusty. My husband is allowed to have visitors on Sunday as they have a light schedule on the weekends with no groups between 12pm and 4pm. So after filling a shopping bag at the local co-op, and packing up half of the dense chocolate hazelnut birthday cake (my parents INSISTED), my dog and I said goodbye to my loving parents, waving to them as they stood in the doorway of my childhood home, not closing the door until I was out of sight. We began the drive back home; this time we would not pass my husband’s exit. Instead we would take it.
Once again, I pulled into the gravelly parking lot. This felt different. From the car, I could see my husband on the gazebo, no longer a stranger in this place but now a part of the group. I felt like an outsider. I watched him walk towards the car, the cold wind blowing colorful cyclones of leaves around him, his cheeks rosy, his eyes clear, my dog’s tail wagging as she stood up on her hind legs to greet him. He took the birthday cake inside for everyone to share and then checked himself out for an hour. We drove down to the local town to find a place to eat. He told me he wasn’t hungry, “all we do is eat”. “Well I am hungry,” I told him. And so off we went, to the only restaurant in that tiny town, a tavern that smelled a bit like a locker room and had a fully stocked bar. Good thing my husband can take or leave alcohol. Seated in the large booth, surrounded by darkness and football sounds, a huge pile of nachos and Rueben sandwich between us, he told me about his rehab experiences as we sipped watered down diet cokes that I normally would have complained about (but is SO trivial right now). Words like meditation, sleep, yoga, and meetings came from his lips. The tears filled his eyes as he thanked me for getting him there, told me how he didn’t want to lose me, how good he felt, how he knew he needed to stay, how he had started to share his story.
When he got sober, about two weeks before he went to rehab, I found out he was using Fentanyl, the killer that’s taking lives. The fear I felt when he told me was suffocating, but when you are in survival mode, suffocation and death are NOT AN OPTION. Now that he is in rehab, and I am no longer in survival mode, I have started to process everything. It is a lot to process. My husband’s life is so precious to me and I carry it gently in my heart. I am not willing to let it go without a fight. He is now fighting next to me, but as I start to see my husband again, I can also see his vulnerability. How fragile he is. When I first started this blog, I put a caption below the title “One Wife’s Journey Back from Addiction and Rediscovery of Self”. I wrote that because I planned to leave addiction behind me either way, with or without my husband. I planned to do that with detachment. This journey has taken me away from detachment and to a place of connection. Cultivating connection to my husband, connection to self, and connection to others. As I sat across from my husband at that table, his eyes brimming with tears, his hands in mine, I could see how desperately he wants to leave the addiction behind him too, how broken it has left him. And I also see us picking up the pieces, I see us picking them up together. Don’t get me wrong I am plagued by doubt, worry, and what ifs, but I am also hopeful.
This weekend was my birthday. I left my husband in rehab today. I left him with two Styrofoam boxes full of greasy food and, I hope, with a full heart. On my drive home I thought of the weight that my husband has carried alone. We so often want to do this, to carry life’s burden alone, but I am reminded we don’t have to. We can help each other. We can carry life together. When needed, we can even carry each other.
My husband loves this song. So do I.