The Consequences Of Recovery
Dave’s headaches began just before we got married. They were debilitating migraines — accompanied by nausea and a desperate need for a dark room and a pillow over his head. We tried a variety of pain medications, therapies, and diets. Doctors ordered scans and testing, but the diagnosis was always the same.
The frequency of Dave’s migraines intensified and affected his job, activities, and relationships. Through holidays, vacations, weddings, and even the births of our children, Dave either suffered or was knocked out by pain pills.
After five years of searching for solutions, a new drug called Tramadol held promise for us. Tramadol (Ultram) was marketed as a wonder drug: it cut the pain without knocking Dave out. Tramadol helped him be alive and present again.
But it didn’t take long for Dave to build a tolerance to Tramadol. He took more and more pills to knock out a headache. Our health plan limited the number of pills they covered each month, so I went back to work to help with the cost. Medical debt happens to a lot of people with chronic illness, I reasoned.
But when money got so tight I couldn’t buy groceries for our kids, my patience ended. We started fighting, and I demanded change. I was ashamed of my husband who was a youth pastor and teacher but who seemed to have no self-control over spending money on his pain.
After a turbulent year of migraines and increasing debt, we decided we just needed a fresh start. Maybe the migraines were a message we weren’t living the life we should be.
We moved a thousand miles for Dave to attend seminary and pursue becoming a pastor. We moved recklessly — with a newborn, no job, no home. We “couch surfed” as a family of six for months while he looked for work. We got into an accident and totaled our van, giving him a new reason to seek pain relief again.
But our move took my attention from my husband’s habits. I homeschooled our kids, the baby didn’t sleep, we had no money. I was completely focused on survival. For more than a year, Dave managed to hide his doctor shopping and debts from me. His job as a salesman with a large territory made it easy, and payday loans opened a new way to fund his habit.
For more than a year, Dave managed to hide his doctor shopping and debts from me. His job as a salesman with a large territory made it easy, and payday loans opened a new way to fund his habit.
Dave still had migraines, and nearly every weekend he holed up in our room with a pillow over his head while I tried to keep our kids quiet. But what I thought were migraines were often actually withdrawal headaches from the Tramadol when remorse set in or money ran out and he couldn’t get pills.
But with four little children to care for, my compassion often gave way to anger and accusation. He’s irresponsible, he’s lazy, he doesn’t love us, he’s selfish, he’s having an affair…. When he was late for work, when checks bounced, when he was caught in a lie, I blamed everything but the pills.
It was Oprah, of all people, who opened my eyes to the truth. I sat stunned as one of the guests on her television show described MY marriage problems: inexplicable absences, secret debts, personality changes…. And then his wife revealed the truth: she was addicted to her prescription pain medication.
For years, I had chalked Dave’s behavior up to immaturity and irresponsibility. His Tramadol use was practically imperceptible physically — he never acted “high.” I finally turned to the Internet to get answers. I couldn’t believe what I read about Tramadol. As addictive as heroin? I found the pharmacy information insert and sure enough, Tramadol was highly addictive.
I felt relief and anxiety all at once. I confronted Dave and he confessed. But I had no experience with addiction. He was basically a good person, so I reasoned that if he could get through withdrawals, he would make good choices. I helped him taper off the pills, but it didn’t last.
After months of trying and failing to fix Dave’s addiction on our own, he lost his job and I discovered his doctor shopping. I finally called someone for help, and Dave went to rehab.
In the 21 days he was away, a decade of secrets and lies unraveled around me. I considered taking the kids and moving out. But even in the face of an uncertain future, I stubbornly believed if Dave would just decide to give up the pills, we would be OK. When Dave left rehab, he was told that in order to continue his sobriety, he should attend 90 A.A. or N.A. meetings in 90 days. He tried group after group and told me he just didn’t fit. I naively agreed. Nothing about Dave resembled a stereotypical drug addict: teacher, youth pastor, seminary student. I was ready for “addiction” to be in the past.
Months later, Dave became the director of a Christian camp and conference center. And six months after that, when the bills started rolling in again, I discovered he was back on pills.
I cried and begged and yelled — he was putting his job in jeopardy. He made promises, I helped him get clean, and all was well for a few months until a migraine, a trip to the dentist, or a stressful season of work would send him back to his old habit. Every time he relapsed, he was back to 30 pills a day.
During our years at the camp, Dave had first access to our mail, created private email addresses, applied for secret credit cards, and in the end he turned to buying Tramadol online.
You can only live with secrets and fear for so long. I was finally angry enough to leave and desperate for someone to help me. I found that help and support in a faith-based recovery program. With a small group of women, I let go of the fears and anger I’d held onto for years.
Dave went to recovery, too, and I thought he was doing better. I learned to let go of his recovery, to step back and let him suffer the consequences. And the consequences were devastating. He had two major relapses that first year in real recovery — they cost him his job, our home, every penny we had, and more.
I grieved hard and angry over the loss of our camp life, and so did our kids. But our secret shame was finally out there for all to see. I finally felt free. For the first time, keeping up appearances was ripped from my control, and I stayed to see what would happen when my husband was fully responsible for his own recovery. No more picking him up or protecting him or covering for him.
We started over. He clocked in and out of a low-paying hourly job (so I always knew where he was), and for the next six years, worked hard to rebuild his reputation, our marriage, our family, and our life all in the same small community where it came apart. He started a recovery group, which he still attends. And two years ago, he became the associate pastor of our church.
The road out has not been easy, but Dave has been free from addiction — and migraine headaches — for eight years now. After 15 years of shame and secrets, everything changed when I finally reached out for help.
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