Seven years ago after Chris completed out-patient treatment for drug addiction, I thought we were done.
He had done the group counseling. He had stopped using drugs. He had done everything on the rehab checklist.
So we went back to normal life. Chris was clean, and he was back home. No more counseling. No more check-ins. No more drugs.
Except recovery is not that easy. Addiction recovery isn’t actually easy at all.
I learned that the hard way.
It shouldn’t be shocking, in hindsight, that Chris just found a new way to numb feelings and pain. In hindsight, we can see he didn’t learn any coping mechanisms or deal with his wounds. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. But the problem with hindsight is you only get that view after.
There’s a phenomenon researchers call “hindsight bias” where we feel like we knew something all along, but we didn’t actually know.
Researchers argue that certain factors fuel our tendency toward hindsight bias. Research shows that we selectively recall information that confirms what we know to be true and we try to create a narrative that makes sense out of the information we have. When this narrative is easy to generate, we interpret that to mean that the outcome must have been foreseeable. Furthermore, research suggests that we have a need for closure that motivates us to see the world as orderly and predictable and to do whatever we can to promote a positive view of ourselves.
Ultimately, hindsight bias matters because it gets in the way of learning from our experiences. (source)
That’s where I’m at. I wish I would have known what would happen after the Band-aid fix of out-patient drug rehab, but how would I have? Like most people, I was not well-versed in addiction and mental health and trauma.
When addiction reared its ugly head again, I didn’t feel anymore ready or equipped. I was just as shocked, just as blindsided, just as betrayed.
So this time, I did everything different.
So this time, we did everything different.
And it changed everything.
Let me tell you what life looks like after rehab:
It looks like Monday night group.
It looks like Friday evening therapy.
It looks like Saturday morning AA meetings.
It looks like $150 a month on depression meds and Antibuse (a drug that blocks an enzyme involved in metabolizing alcohol intake. If Chris drank while taking this, it would make him violently ill. For someone who hid all his drinking, we need something that makes it impossible for him to hide.)
It looks like $200-$300 a month on therapy bills.
It looks like every morning taking his medicine in front of me for accountability.
It means check-ins with his sponsor and friends.
It means changing careers, because he can’t work alone or go into people’s houses anymore.
It means no alcohol, not one single drop, in our house ever.
It means I drive us most places, because it makes me feel safer.
It means quiet time with his Bible and his AA recovery books.
Recovery consumes our lives.
I remember feeling so inconvenienced and annoyed when Chris had to go to out-patient drug rehab meetings. It interrupted our lives. I was working full time and taking care of a toddler. I was pregnant and mentally and physically exhausted. He wasn’t home to help with laundry; he wasn’t home to carry groceries in, play with Ellie, or take care of the yard. Our marriage was failing and all he had to do was go to work and then go sit in a rehab center all evening.
I was angry and resentful.
Now I know the alternative to the time-consuming work of recovery and healing is continued addiction. It’s amazing what a hard dose of reality and pain will do to your perspective.
Our lives are filled with the work of learning and healing and sobriety, and I do not have a single complaint about it. If we were not doing this life we would be divorced or we would be biding our time until the next addiction or Chris would not be in recovery.
I do not want any of those outcomes so we do the hard work of time and money and scheduling and sacrifice. I am not angry or resentful at how our life is filled with recovery. I understand what will happen if it is not.
Does this mean our lives will look like this forever? No.
I don’t know what that means for the future, but my counselor taught me to acknowledge stress or worries or current situations don’t last–everything is temporary–so reminding myself that everything changes helps usher in some peace and acceptance when things feel like too much.
If I could go back to 2010 when Chris was doing out-patient care for drug addiction, I would whisper in my ear keep going. Keep getting help. Keep digging for answers. Keep going to meetings. Heal instead of bandage.
I think that’s why I’m writing right now, in hopes someone who is where I was, full of hurt and hope, knows the road is long, the work is hard, but it is always worth it. Ask for help. Read the books. Get counseling for yourself and get counseling for your addicted loved one. Learn about addiction. Don’t be helpless, stop being a victim. Other people can help you heal, but you’re in charge of it. Not the hospital. Not the therapist. Not the rehab counselor. Not the recovery books. Not the AA sponsor. You are in charge of your healing; there are lots of people who can point the way, but the work is yours to do.
There was a time I would have written this and told you I was mad at my past self. Mad I didn’t do things differently. Mad I didn’t notice more things. Mad I didn’t avoid so much of this.
I’m not mad at myself anymore.
I’ve had to forgive a lot of people on this addiction journey we’re on and one of those people was myself. A grace-filled release of what I missed, what I allowed, and what I didn’t know.
I actually didn’t know what was happening. Hindsight wants me to think I did, but I did not. I know now, so I do better. That’s all I can ask of myself. It’s all you can ask of yourself too.
Here’s what you can’t do: Nothing.
You are not a victim of your life. You are not a helpless spouse, a helpless parent, a helpless friend. If you’re going through addiction or betrayal or pain and you’re not learning anything for next time, you’re probably part of the problem. Please go get some help.
If you’ve hit a wall, had your heart broken, or feel like you’re drowning, but you’re not willing to do anything differently, it will happen again. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way, and I would venture to say you have too. So what now? What are you going to do to heal? What are you going to do today to make tomorrow safer and healthier?
Figure that out and then get to work.