What a weird Valentine's Day! Last night my boyfriend of 10 months confessed to me that he has a drug problem with crack cocaine. To say this came out of left field is an understatement, but it also helps some strange behaviors fit into place. He apparently has been smoking crack once a week for the past two years. Before that, he had done it a year, then stopped a year.
This information is blowing my mind. He holds down a professional job and is a caring, attentive partner. I think we bring out the best in each other and have an easy, sweet rapport (we're both in our early 40s). He's a good man. When he told me, I did my best to be supportive, nonjudgmental, and help him create a plan for action to get some help. He said he'd never felt so ashamed or vulnerable or afraid in his life. Basically, he'd blown the day, leaving work yesterday afternoon to go smoke himself into oblivion, after already pulling an all-nighter. (He finally admitted to himself at that point that he had a real problem and decided he wanted to stop for good.) He hadn't told one person about this. Ever. Until last night.
He talked to his boss this morning, who was incredibly supportive and guaranteed him his job (lucky man!). He's spilled all to me. We've gotten him some phone numbers to call and hopefully he'll call them. I realize, in many ways, this is out of my hands.
The reason I'm writing is, while I want to do everything I can to help, I'm also left with a weird feeling of despair about this whole situation. He's not who I thought he was. When he called and periodically canceled on me before, or fell asleep at my house at 8:30, I just wrote it off as annoying, but still acceptable behavior in a relationship. But something had also been gnawing at the back of my mind, something that felt like it stood between us. I couldn't put my finger on it. Now I have.
He's admitted that he lied to me at various times when canceling. He's trying hard to be honest and take responsibility. He's thrilled and relieved I'm being so understanding. Again, I'm concerned and afraid for him and want to help. But the prospect of facing the potentially long hard road of rehab with someone is not what I thought I was signing up for. Addicts relapse. Family and loved ones often stand helplessly by, blurring the lines between personal responsibility. I'm afraid this is what I'm in for, and yet, I'm not going to bail on him either.
I love him, he loves me, I want to be there for him. I'm aware that there are lots of resources for both of us. Just wanted some words of reassurance for my sinking heart.
Does this ever go well?
Not OK in L.A.
Dear Not OK in L.A.,
This question interests me perhaps more than any other. It is not just about recovery from addiction. It is about the quest for enlightenment.
You yourself, the girlfriend of the person using crack, you are doing the right things. You know the situation. But let's talk about what your boyfriend is going through.
The quest for enlightenment has several pieces. But this pattern seems to hold: You may be lured by whatever -- the luminous green fizz of a gin and tonic with lime; the metaphysics of pool balls cracking in a slant-light afternoon in a back room off the water somewhere south of Portland where you know you won't be found for days; the longed-for attenuation of an annoying hum; the erotic dream of a hungry and willing partner who promises both surrender and control. Whatever it is that lures you, whatever enchanted pathway so promising and bright that ends in despair: Escape from it is about the quest for enlightenment.
It is a tale with many twists and turns, many lures and enchantments, many false victories. When you are in the grip of this thing you get hints and warning signs. You get scares. In each scare is a glimmer of light. For a moment you are ready to do anything. But the urgency fades. You get your strength back. You say to yourself, "What was I thinking? I can handle this."
This I know from personal experience. You wake up places. I woke up places: in my car on the side of the road. On the front steps of a neighbor. On the sidewalk outside the Mondrian Hotel. In a sauna somewhere in North Beach. On the sand. On a lawn. In the mud. In a car -- driving. On a bus. In a truck, sleeping on the side of the road. On the floor in a kitchen at a party. I woke up many times not knowing where I was. I woke up many times frightened and alone.
That pattern can last a long time. So maybe if he gets into a rehab where they don't let him bullshit them he will at least acquire the habits of a man who knows he's licked, even if he doesn't every second believe that he's licked.
But about your relationship with him, and relationships with substance abusers in general. This morning on the beach a woman's herding dog ran off. She had one of those bright-orange retractable leashes in her hand and was calling "Azzie! Azzie!" The woman followed the dog down the beach so the dog kept going ahead of her, keeping the same distance. It's hard not to follow a dog you are chasing. You fear for the dog's safety. But if you keep going the dog will keep going too. Only if you sit down and refuse to follow, after a while he will look back and see that you are not there. His face will then acquire the expression of a drunk waking up on the kitchen floor at a party. Where the fuck am I? Where is my pack?
You have to wait for the dog to get to this point. It's hard to stop following the dog. And it must be said, also, that some dogs do not ever stop. If they're going to stop, they're going to stop. You have to wait for them.
You sound like you know that. Your feeling of bewilderment is normal. You sound like you are willing to stop following and wait for him. You know that recovery is uncertain because it is like the quest for enlightenment. Actually, I think the "God" part of the 12 steps is about enlightenment. It is about the long struggle to break through, to have one of those ecstatic moments where you pierce the veil of temporality.
In every one of these episodes of failure and terror the addict has, there is a little enlightenment. It's like a distant voice or a glimmer of light. But what does he do about it? Does he just keep trotting down the beach? Or does he look around and see that he is truly alone this time, that no one has followed him, that he has wandered all the way to the rocks and the tide is rising?
"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
What? You want more advice?