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I saw a similar letter written to you by a woman in a relationship with a heroin addict. I’m also writing for some insight and advice because of my own experience. I don’t understand drug addiction or how to heal and move past the damage it can do. I thought you could offer some advice and wisdom from your own experience.
I was in a relationship with a man for over four years. He was several years sober at the time I met him, in a 12 step program, and did not drink or use drugs. According to him drinking never had been an issue, but he struggled with drug use earlier in his life. At the time we met, he abstained from both. He was extremely charming, always there for me. I thought I had met “the one”! We enjoyed so many things together and grew quite close, although I was hesitant to get too serious too fast due to his past. He always had the right answer, though: “I won’t let you down,” “I love you,” “I only want to be with you.” So before I knew it, we were in an exclusive relationship and he quickly became a big part of my life.
We eventually had some struggles related to finances. It was usually me who paid for things, or lent him money, and he was having a difficult time securing employment as he had a record and the economy was not great. When I tried to talk to him about it, he was very defensive and I didn’t want to be a “mean mommy” so I would let it go. When he decided to start a business I signed a loan for him to purchase a new truck. We had an agreement between us regarding the payments and other obligations, and I felt secure he would hold up his end of the bargain. We also got a new puppy and began making arrangements to move in together. Soon after, I saw the beginning of a real downhill direction for us. Before long I found out about missed truck payments, parking tickets in collections, and insurance and registration problems and a host of other financial issues that I hadn’t known about. If I confronted him, it was a huge fight. And my anger and frustration seemed to push him further away. I felt lied to and used and betrayed, so I know I was acting critical and angry much of the time.
Eventually he became more distant. He became unreliable and was always late or barely awake if we spent time together in the evening. And he never wanted anything to do with me physically. I thought he was tired due to the new puppy. I also found messages he sent to other women although he swore he wasn’t cheating. I decided not to move in together until we worked out some of our issues. I started finding balls of tin foil in his trash and eventually put two and two together and realized he was smoking heroin. First he denied it, then he kept saying he would stop, yet the behavior continued. We tried therapy, but the things they would ask us to work on — better communication, no more disappearing acts on his part, honesty, no more drug use — he couldn’t follow through on so we ended up not continuing with counseling. I was so confused. He blamed me for so much because I would get angry and frustrated and fight with him. I kept trying to be better, and fix things, but nothing seemed to work.
When I was finally on the edge and knew something had to change, I found a counselor that specialized in addiction and relationships. We began to see her and I saw some hope. She addressed the addiction head-on and and emphasized that he could not have a real relationship while on drugs. He was shooting up heroin and he said he wanted to change. He worked on getting clean. I thought things were going in the right direction. We were looking forward to a summer trip to Europe, and enjoying more time together, and finally I was feeling confident we might repair some things. Then a couple weeks before our trip we had an argument. I think it was about his smoking (another lovely habit he had picked up along the way) and he was angry and telling me I didn’t really care for him or accept him for who he was. After a few days of not hearing from him, I went to his apartment to try and talk and resolve our disagreement. I found him with another woman. He was sleeping with her and she was married to someone else! I was devastated. He never contacted me again. He stood me up for the trip, and never paid me for the several thousand dollars that was on my credit card for airfare and non-refundable lodging. He would not return my calls or pay me for any of the cost, he kept our puppy who I never saw again, and this married woman moved in with him. I’m devastated. I’ve only seen my ex once or twice over the last few months and he had track marks and was clearly shooting heroin again. He’s still with that other woman (who I believe also does drugs but I can’t say for sure).
I feel so hurt and rejected and alone. I am an educated, successful woman who is fit and financially secure. I can’t understand why he chose this trashy woman over me. I feel a sense of guilt for all the times I was angry or hurtful instead of trying to be a friend or help or understand him. I don’t know where one starts to heal from something like this. Sometimes the pain is so intense I don’t even want to get out of bed and face the day. I often wonder if he’ll ever get clean, or miss me, or at the very least stop blaming me for so much. I don’t know what to do.
Lost in San Diego
Dear Lost in San Diego,
A relationship with a heroin addict can be a life-scarring experience. What you need to do is what you would do if this had been a physical wound: learn what happened and aggressively seek treatment.
The quickest route to learning what happened would be to get into an Al-Anon group. Such groups are repositories of specialized knowledge about just this very thing: relationships with addicts.
The other thing I suggest is that you get yourself a psychotherapist who has experience working with addicts and their loved ones.
If you do these things you can recover more quickly and more fully than if you just try to get over it on your own.
Seriously. I wouldn’t leave this to chance. Too often after an experience like this, the victim assumes she’ll just get over it. That’s like assuming you’ll just get over a stabbing, or a broken leg, or being run down by a truck. Even if you do heal, you’ll heal crooked. Better to set the bone right and heal straight.
Now, you may feel tortured wanting to know why. The short answer is, this is how heroin affects people. People who are addicted to heroin are going to be unreliable and untruthful; they are going to be irresponsible and unpredictable; they are going to have poor judgment about risks; they are going to have trouble making decisions based on long-term considerations; they will have trouble delaying gratification and will be disorganized; they will lack energy and will have erratic sleep habits. They will shack up with a trashy married woman and take your puppy.
So get some help. Learn what happened to you and why you fell for it. Undertake a program of recovery from it. Make that your primary focus for the next year.
And, if at all possible, get that puppy back. Puppies deserve better.