My wife Colleen and I got married in our early thirties. We went into our marriage with our eyes wide open. I knew she came from a tough background, that addiction ran in her family, but I believed I could give her a better life than that one she grew up in.
Colleen was the perfect wife and mom ― until she wasn’t. Our home was always clean and tidy. Colleen was focused, task-oriented and well-organized. I never had to worry about anything ― she did it all. She spent quality time with our boys. They were well taken care of, physically and emotionally. Colleen was involved in their daily lives, both at school and at home.
Then, after 14 years of marriage, things began to change. The house wasn’t as clean, she became anxious, unorganized and forgetful. She lost interest in activities and often complained about events she used to enjoy. Her attitude went from upbeat and positive to negative and pessimistic. She would forget blocks of time and began to lie to hide her drinking.
I realized something wasn’t right and ultimately intervened and took action. Colleen spent 117 days at Caron Treatment Centers. I believe that her treatment saved her life, our marriage and our family. So much good came from a tough situation, but it certainly wasn’t without its pain.
They say hindsight is 20/20, and I believe sharing what we learned throughout our process can be healing for others on this same journey. Here are the six invaluable lessons I’ve learned being married to an addict:
1. Don’t Ignore The Signs ― Take Action
My wife had a real problem, but I kept hoping everyday that the next day would be better, that “this too shall pass.” But, the disease of addiction is a downward spiral, and there are only two options at the bottom of the barrel: death or recovery. I drew a hard line after our 12-year-old son confronted me about her behavior. I told Colleen she had to get out of the house, and could only return after going to rehab, and she agreed. Confront your loved one head-on, while encouraging them to get help, but make tough choices that are best for your family.
2. Seek The Best Available Care
There are so many treatment facilities around. It can be overwhelming to determine the best course for your loved one. Before choosing a treatment center, families should ask themselves a series of questions. I relied on the advice of a very close trusted friend to recommend Caron Treatment Centers, which integrates the 12-steps into their behavioral health and addiction treatment, along with a spirituality component. When combined, these practices have proven results of giving patients the tools they need to recover.
3. Value The Advice Of Experts
I’m a Type A personality and I pride myself on my problem-solving abilities. I realized, however, that when it came to my wife’s treatment, I had to shut up and listen. When people are suffering from addiction, they can be manipulative. Had I listened to my wife, she would have left after two weeks. Knowing what I know today, that would have been the easiest decision, but not the right one. I needed to allow the staff to do their job. I let them guide and help me because they are the experts, the ones who could lay out a framework for my wife’s success. I had to trust the process, which was tough for me, but I learned that I was in over my head and that the stakes were high.
4. Educate Yourself About The Disease Of Addiction
With knowledge comes power and understanding. Even though I was aware of addiction ― it also runs in my family ― I wasn’t fully educated about it. With the help of the experts, I came to understand addiction is a brain disease ― not a choice. Colleen wasn’t acting intentionally, it was a chronic chemical dependency. I learned addiction is a family disease, impacting everyone in the person’s life, and because of this, family needs to be part of treatment. This early education allowed me to understand Colleen was not a bad person, but rather a sick person needing to get help ― and that reframing made all the difference in how I approached decision-making.
5. Find Support
Self-care is important. When Colleen was in treatment, I became the primary caregiver to our sons. I had to realize it was okay if I wasn’t Super Dad. And, as much as I had to be there for our two sons, I needed to make sure I was also taking proper care of myself. I went to 12-step meetings, one-on-one therapy sessions, and a men’s support group. I took the boys to counseling, as well as recommended family therapy sessions. Yes, it was exhausting, because healing doesn’t happen overnight. But, I had to be patient. It’s important to find what support works best for you and then do the work necessary to begin the healing process.
6. Recovery Is Priceless
Treatment can be expensive and hard to trust. At the start of Colleen’s treatment, I thought, “If she can’t get this in 30 days, I’m done.” I then realized she was someone who was sick and was trying to get better. Because addiction is different for everyone, so is the recovery. Caron’s recommended length of stay for Colleen ― 117 days ― wasn’t based on their making money. Rather, it was based on her individualized treatment plan that would allow her to achieve and sustain her recovery. First, she was taught to realize her illness; and then she was given the tools to support her recovery for life. When a loved one has cancer, you want them to get the best care for as long as they need it. The same should be said when treating the disease of addiction.
Though addiction can be a challenging and painful disease for everyone involved, I’m grateful every day for the gift we as a family have received as a result of this experience. Because we made the choice to take action quickly, we as a family have been blessed with 11 years of sobriety, one day at a time.