Chris Graham and I had a come-to-Jesus one afternoon in a cabin on the side of the Smoky Mountains.
That was our first of many hard talks in the coming weeks and months. When Chris got caught after years of hiding and sneaking, he wasn’t really ready to give up his habits. He had excuses, rationalizations, and good lies ready. I have no doubt he had rehearsed this day in his head for a long time—he wasn’t dumb; he knew it would come eventually.
The thing about addiction is it lies. It tells you what you’re doing, what you’re sacrificing, how you’re living, isn’t bad.
When Chris would sit in his truck after work and get high instead of coming home, I’m sure his addiction told him he’d be a better, calmer dad and husband if he just took this little detour before joining his family.
When Chris would take off for a weekend or longer with friends for a road trip filled with drugs, I’m sure his addiction told him he deserved this break from responsibilities because he worked so hard when he was home.
Wading through those lies and figuring out what Chris really thought versus what his addiction told him was hard. Chris and his addiction had been intertwined for so long that he wasn’t sure what was his and what was the drug’s.
That’s what was so hard about all of this. It wasn’t so much the addiction (even though that is really hard and terrible and destructive), but it’s that he had lied to me for years. It’s that I didn’t know what was real and what was Chris on drugs. It’s that I thought everything was fake.
Trust was gone.
I believed nothing he said.
I was sure I never could again. Those initial weeks and months, I could not fathom looking at Chris and not first thinking that he was a liar and an addict. I thought those words would be the lens I would see the rest of our lives through, and I just didn’t see how I could stay married like that.
When I found out, just days after Chris’ addiction bombshell, that I was pregnant, it didn’t change much for me. I was already a mom to Ellie and had no doubts I could be a divorced mom. One more kid didn’t change my perspective.
But for Chris, it made something click.
Another baby, one that he might not be involved with like he had been with Ellie, sobered him up fast. He found an out-patient addiction treatment program which allowed him to still work during the day. He cut all ties with his drug friends, the ones that helped him get what he needed, helped him smoke what he had, and helped him hide things from his family. He reached out to other friends, friends that would ask the hard questions and support him when he was struggling, and told them truths about his life for the first time.
As all of this was going on, Chris was not living in our house. When we returned to Indianapolis from vacation, he packed his belongings and went to stay at his mom’s house. I couldn’t see past my rage and it was just safer for both of us if he wasn’t at home. Plus, I truly believed we would be divorcing and him sticking around any longer was pointless.
I didn’t pray for a heart change, I just prayed for strength to do life on my own.
But I know now there was a small army of people praying for our marriage, our hearts, and our healing. Mostly it was just family and close friends, we weren’t broadcasting what was going on with Chris, and we weren’t telling people we weren’t living together. I was too ashamed and embarrassed.
After a few weeks, Chris asked me to join him for the weekly family session at his rehabilitation program. Begrudgingly, I went.
I remember sitting in a circle with families of addicts and wanting to scream. They were sharing stories and asking questions and listening to the counselor and I just wanted to explode I was so mad. THEY KNEW THEY WERE LIVING WITH AN ADDICT. I DIDN’T KNOW.
I felt so betrayed.
Addiction is never just about addiction. If it was, it wouldn’t be so hard. If addiction didn’t seep into relationships and jobs, marriages and dreams, it wouldn’t feel so encompassing. For our life, addiction was in every part of it and I had just never seen it.
Rebuilding took time.
About once a day, I thought can this be over now? Can I just be back to normal now? But there is no normal anymore. And, I think, that hurt the worst. I didn’t know what home was anymore. I didn’t know what love was anymore. Because everything I thought was wrong. Everything I thought was a lie.
I don’t remember the exact moment I asked Chris to come back home. But I remember he cried. I was still cold and angry and not ready, but I was experiencing extreme exhaustion with my pregnancy just like I had with Ellie and it was making things really hard at home. Working full time and then caring full time for a one-and-a-half year old was kicking my butt and I just needed help.
I know without a doubt God timed that pregnancy perfectly. He knew I was too stubborn and too full of pride to try to work on my marriage so he gave me a little baby growing in my belly to knock me to my knees. I needed Chris because staying awake to feed dinner to my daughter was too exhausting. I needed Chris because getting off the couch to put my kid to bed was too much.
I needed Chris, and it pissed me off.
Fall 2010 was hard. The longer Chris stayed clean and sober, the more things came to light. The things I learned on the porch that July afternoon were just the tip of the iceberg. More than once, I felt like I just couldn’t hear anymore, couldn’t handle anymore truth.
But it had to happen or we weren’t going to heal. So Chris talked and I listened. Chris asked for forgiveness and so did I. He mentioned yesterday in his post about the hell ride from Tennessee to Indianapolis. To this day, I still cringe at the things I said. I have a way with words–a gift–and I can use that gift to uplift or to tear down. I knew all the right, cruel things to say to Chris on that ride home and I made sure to say them all. I was so hurt and so angry I just could not stop.
Chris needed forgiveness for his choices and so did I.
I wish I could give you–you who are hurting and wanting answers–the quick way to heal. But there is no such thing. We healed because of God’s grace. We asked for help and He worked some miracles on our hearts. Yes, we did hard work too—conversations, meetings, groups, books, more conversations—but the transformation that took place couldn’t have happened through all our hard work alone.
I don’t know what made me decide to stay married to Chris. I had such an easy out and no one would have faulted me for taking it. And things kept getting harder for a while. Things were hard for a lot longer than I imagined they would be, for a lot longer than I felt necessary.
Eventually, with time and God, I stopped looking at my husband through the filter of liar and addict. He had to prove himself again and again to make those labels go away. This took years. We had good days and bad days. As Chris re-emerged from his drug haze, we met a less patient man who sometimes yelled. I had never, in all the years I had known Chris, heard him yell. Ever. I was seeing emotions and reactions, both good and bad, I had never witnessed before. Being off drugs made Chris Graham more interesting, more human, and more real.
I loved who he was becoming as he stayed clean and sober longer. I fell in love again, with someone different but better. All the things I loved from before were still there, but brighter, shinier, and more colorful.
I had no idea that healed could look so good.