Being the Toxic Person, Part 2
So it turns out that Jill does have a breaking point.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been struggling in a marriage that has been held hostage by PAIN MEDICATION.
Let’s see if I can explain how I got here without too much bitterness and hostility. No promises, though.
My husband has had three back surgeries. The first was when he was 22 (lifting weights) and years before we met. His second surgery happened about four years into our marriage and the third was nearly three years ago. He used to be a baseball coach and in fact, his life dream was to make it to the Division 1 level. And throughout the first 15 years of being together (13 of them married), I supported this life dream. He coached nonstop, and while we never moved for a job, he did do summer ball away from us often. After his second surgery, the doctors told him plainly that he needed to take it easier; once you have damaged your back (twice now!), it is only going to get worse, simply from normal wear and tear as you age. He continued to coach.
If you’ve never had back problems or lived with someone who does, you’d be shocked at how much your back is the literal backbone of your daily life. So things that sound innocuous, like riding a bus with the team, are actually killers. Things like being on your feet for hours at a time. Sleeping in hotel beds or a dorm bed for an entire summer. Not to mention that whole swinging a bat thing.
In other words, he continued to harm his back by continuing to aim for the life dream. And while there were plenty of times we talked and argued over it, in general, I always caved because he was still able to function. I look back on it and think “what an idiot you were” and sometimes I let the “what ifs” dominate my mind, thinking of where we might be right now had I been able to rein him in back then. But honestly, I know that had I put my foot down back then, we might be in an equally awful place today because he would have always had the “what if she hadn’t put an end to it” thoughts. I guess I do know, in my heart, that nothing I did was going to change his line of thinking back then.
It was a few years after the second surgery that he began to get pain medication. It was that mild stuff, the bottom of the tiers of narcotics; in fact, the first one isn’t even a narcotic but it’s classified as one. And it helped keep him moving on the field and at home.
But slowly it stopped working, both because he built up a tolerance for it as well as continued to do things beyond normal wear and tear of daily life. So he graduated up to the next level (Lortabs), and it was on these that he began using them faster than he should.
Oh, it wasn’t a big deal at first. He’d run out of pills the day before he went to the doctor. As the months went by, it began to be two, three days before his appointment. I look back on that with a bitter nostalgia – remember when it was ONLY two days without medicine, ahh, that was the life, good times.
Somewhere around there, he was referred to his first pain management doctor. It’s a bit fuzzy because he went through six pain doctors total. But as we moved through the months and years, he’d build up a tolerance to one, to have it increased, then put on the next level up, and so forth. Until about a year ago (post third surgery), where he was up to taking two of the 12-hour Oxycontins a day (because those are meant to offer a stabilizing factor) and up to four of the Oxycodones a day (supposedly breakthrough, for when things get tough). Mind you, this is on top of a slew of other medications to help with the various pains – he had nerve pain meds (two of them!), and an antidepressant that also acts as pain relief. And I feel like there were more, but maybe there were meds that he tried and didn’t like and so switched here and there. Oh, and he did injections too.
Whatever. All I know is that pain management requires once a month appointments and you’d get a month supply of all your meds. That’s for the doctor’s safety as well as the patient’s. But once a month, I’d trudge with him to the doctor, whichever doctor it was, and sit by as they adjusted the meds or told him to keep on with what he had. We’d redo MRIs as needed and basically, jump hoops.
It was about two years before the third surgery that he really began fudging on his meds. Instead of being a day short, it morphed into a week short. Now, I do have to say, I don’t think he was ever a pill gobbler; he wouldn’t toss five of them in his mouth or anything. No, it was more like taking them three hours apart instead of four. But it doesn’t really matter because regardless of how he was going through them, he still ended up with a week without them.
Let me tell you what living with someone detoxing is like. Each month. For years. First of all, the pain comes back; it’s an escalated pain because there are no meds to rein it in AND the mental freakout about said pain. Then, the headaches slam in. And then, there’s the body craving the meds but willingness to substitute food instead (interestingly enough, he wasn’t a drinker, even though we have a decent liquor cabinet). Binge eating is fabulous for the mood swings, I tell you. And then there’s the day when he’d get his meds and he’s giddy and pure joy just for that day. Rinse and repeat for years.
Not that I’ve ever told this like this in one fell swoop, but I imagine this is the point where you’re thinking “um, you should have stopped him right there, put your foot down, taken control.” And to that I just smile my plastic empty smile and think “you just don’t know.”
You don’t know what it’s like to deal with detoxing once a month for years. How unnerving it is. How, some months, you look at him with disgust and think “your problem” and other months to feel so awful for him. You don’t know how hard it is to determine how much of his pain is legitimate (three back surgeries) and how much is psychological. And to hear each month that he’ll do better this month. And to believe it because it’s the easiest thing to do at the time because you have little kids and life can be so fucking hard as it is. And to watch a person you love hurting, even if it is their own doing.
And truth? You don’t know what it’s like to have to even consider making that decision. To look the person you love in the eyes and say “you have a choice and I mean it, if you can’t straighten out, then leave.” Just thinking about having to say those words gave me heartache. So I just held on that maybe the next shot, the next treatment, the next doctor would make things better.
And some things did work. Temporarily, but that was all I needed back then.
Oh, I could tell you other stories, how I found that he and the neighbor were sharing meds or how many times I looked doctors in the eye and said “no really, he’s not got a problem.” But you know, it can all be summed up by that ugly word, “enabler.” It’s quite the humiliating word, when it’s you. No, really. It’s humiliating to be that person, when you begin to see what feels like condescension, but is really pity, in your friends’ eyes.
Almost a year ago, I found a bottle of pills empty after 12 days. Hell, it could have been sooner but I hadn’t been checking. And that day was the first day I sat him down and looked him in the eye and gave him 3 months to clean up his act. I laid it out – he had to take his meds properly, he needed to go to counseling to deal with this problem, he had to work on his whole health and aim at being a functioning member of our family. He cried, I cried, he said he would. I had said he had until January 1 (because holidays, kids, it made more sense).
Then he lost his job and yes, it was connected to the medication, but not in a drug testing way. It was a stupid situation, a stupid decision that cost him his job. Was I supposed to kick him out, when he had been trying to do what I asked and now he had no means of supporting himself if I did so?
Lol, right? Yes, of course the answer is yes. But I didn’t. Instead, he checked into a rehab for five days and I extended the deadline.
And that deadline came and went. And I had other reasons why it was okay that he wasn’t working and I could justify it all around the kids and blah blah blah. And of course, yes, he went back on the meds. Not to the extent of before, but still…when he’d be given a 14-day supply of Percocet and he was supposed to make them last 14 days…
The only good thing I can say for myself here is that I did go get a full time job to take care of myself and the kids if needed. Go me.
But again, I cannot stress to you how hard it is to make that decision. To say “this is it.” I worried about the kids’ feelings if I kicked him out, I worried about both our families and how I’d deal with it, I worried about him. Yes, I worried about him. Where would he go, how would it pan out?
And in the middle of that was the huge weight of “in sickness and health.” He’s not an addict to be an addict; there is a genuine health issue here, several in fact. How horrible am I to even think about kicking out my husband who has health problems?
Oh, I hear you and what you’re saying. I hear it now, I guess I should say. But don’t underestimate the power of guilt.
And then there’s the fact that he’s not abusive toward us. He’s not a bad guy. That makes it so much harder because you have no valid (what feels valid, I should say) reasons to say “we’re done.”
And did I want it to be permanently done?
Unless you’ve been there, you don’t know. You just don’t know how hard this decision is.
And then one day, I was standing in my closet, waiting on a text from a friend. And as I realized what kind of horrible person I was turning into, I was able to connect the dots of my actions to my anger and my anger to his addiction and his addiction to our family dynamics.
He happened, unfortunately, to walk into the closet as I was finishing with the tears and letting it all truly sink in. He made the mistake of asking what was wrong. And I told him, quietly at first but then it escalated.
He had to go away for a while. I couldn’t do this anymore. I was not a good person inside anymore. I’m doing terrible things to people and it’s because I’m so very angry inside. Years of anger. And this was no longer his issues that we were dealing with. We were now dealing with my issues too. And one of us had to be okay for the kids and I was deciding, right then, that it needed to be me. I had to work on myself and he had to leave.
It took about a week and a half after that day. There were teary talks, there were rational talks. There was a doctor visit. There were two talks with his mom, as I decided that was where he needed to go; at least there, I knew he’d be safe and not a burden on a friend. There was the buying of the plane ticket and the decision to make it round-trip, but for seven weeks. There were more tears. There was the pleading for me to accompany him to the doctor again to beg for enough meds to get him to his parent’s house. And more rational talks. There was the telling to the kids (only that dad was going to see some new doctors in another place) and the packing of the suitcase. The dropping off at the airport.
And then there was the flat-out relief. The relief of having made the right decision for me and the kids and following through with it.
I’m in control for the first time in years. I don’t have to come home each day filled with worry and anger mixed together. I did what needed to happen and now, for once, it is truly up to him alone to figure out if that return flight will have him on it with a changed attitude and a genuine plan to deal with his pain in a healthy way. I have no idea, seriously, what will happen in a few weeks.
But I’m in control.
So it turns out that my breaking point was that realization that deep inside, I have become an awful human being. That’s what finally drove me to the point of saying “enough.”
And by extension, when you are so awful inside, as a person, you aren’t the parent you need to be. That day, I saw parenting decisions that had been shoved aside for months, if not years, because I was so exhausted by him and my anger, that I just pushed off the one responsibility that is imperative to my family – raising my kids right. It’s become clearer and clearer each day that he’s gone that, when I’m not ruled by this anger and bitterness, I’m a better parent.
No, the anger isn’t gone. I’m working on it. And hopefully, I can soon say that I’m a decent person inside again. Because I’m done with being the toxic person who people are getting rid of from their lives.