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Editorial: The heartbreak and struggles of a family dealing with addiction during the pandemic

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This is an editorial from someone in Fall River that we will call Jane to protect her identity. She wanted to tell her story of what it is like for addicts and their family members to deal with addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic in hopes that it could help others.

“They say addiction can happen to anyone. Any age, ethnicity, social class; none of it matters. I have learned as much first hand. I am a woman in my thirties married to my high school sweetheart. By no means do I live luxuriously but I do live comfortably. For all these years I had thought I was living some kind of perfect ‘fairytale’ type marriage. That all came crashing down amidst a pandemic.”

“I am considered an essential employee, but not quite essential enough during the COVID-19 pandemic. My hours were cut in half so I applied and was approved for unemployment benefits which came with the weekly six hundred payment. I thought this to be a great time to get caught up on bills that were still overdue.”

“After sorting through bills in the mail, I came to realize that the bills had not been paid in months and my husband changed his bank account address to another household. When confronted him, I was given multiple stories and explanations such as ‘all of these companies have made mistakes.’ Then you think back. The signs are all there, but you never want to actually see them.”

“The weight loss; well, I’ve been cooking awfully healthy lately and he has a physical job.”

“He’s been sniffling a lot; well, it is allergy season.”

“The occasional vomiting; maybe he has GERD [Gastroesophageal reflux disease], he did eat a lot of pizza.”

“The insomnia; well, he does drink a lot of coffee and soda.”

“Then it comes to a point where you put it all together in your mind. I bought an over the counter drug test. Still, never in a million years did I actually think that he’d fail it, but he did.”

“I was numb.”

“I then gave him the choice of coming clean with the truth or leave. He chose to leave. Words could never express the pain I felt at that very moment. The best I can come up with is just feeling broken. Then comes the thought of ‘this is my fault.’ I’m sure anyone who’s ever loved an addict has felt this. The wondering. Where did I go wrong as a wife? How could I be so blind? Wasn’t I enough?”

“Watching anyone you love suffering from addiction is heart-wrenching, but suffering it through a pandemic made it hurt tenfold. The isolation you feel. Sure, you can pick up a phone and call your friends, but you can’t see them. You can’t physically get a hug that you so desperately need. For me, I woke up and did my best to get through my shortened workday then came home to break down and cry every single night. Drink too much. Then repeat. It felt like a never-ending nightmare. My husband was living elsewhere. I was alone for the first time in my entire life. That feeling of waking up (from what little sleep I got) and remembering it all was the worst. A daily punch to the gut. Having panic attacks just by making myself a lunch in the morning. Thinking about how I always made him a lunch. The littlest of things would set me off.”

“Aside from what turmoil I had going on within myself, I had to deal with the turmoil going on within the man I love. I never stopped loving him. I never stopped speaking to him. We still spoke every day. I begged and pleaded for him to seek help. I made dozens of phone calls on my own trying to find ways to help him. I called counselors and rehabs. I must’ve sounded like I was losing my mind.”

“After speaking with some places, I was ‘contracted for safety’ which in the medical field means they feared I’d harm myself in some way. Every day was like being on the end of a yo-yo string. I never knew what type of phone call or what type of text I would get. In one conversation I could hear him say ‘I want help and I love you’ and then the next I’d hear ‘mind your business’ and ‘I’m fine.’ The latter of those conversations were the ones that hurt the most. This is MY person. The man who always held me and told me things were going to be okay. He was telling me to go away.”

“Fast forward a month and he did end up going to a rehab [center] after many telemedicine appointments and what felt like an eternity. I finally was able to sleep a real sleep that night for the first time knowing he was someplace safe. That didn’t last. He left the very next day. In that moment, all I could feel was anger. So angry. I went to the house he was staying at to find him in complete withdrawals. It was then that I realized that his addiction was much worse then I had previously thought. I gave the ultimatum of either you go back to rehab or I’m completely done and will seek a divorce. The words left my mouth and as shocked as I was to say them, I knew I meant them.”

“He went back to rehab a few days later. He was then placed in isolation awaiting results of his COVID-19 test as that is the protocol now. That took several days to return. Isolation is good for no one. Especially being in a dark place in your mind. You meet different people in rehab. Some want to get better and some don’t. Some were there just to get out of prison for a while. You worry about the influence of others.”

“He spent a week there, though I was hoping for him to stay longer, but it was his choice to leave. I couldn’t stop him. Him coming home was not easy. I was still grieving the loss of the man I once knew. Trying to reconnect was difficult. Not knowing what to say. How to act. Then a few days later I just pretty much lost it and told him how exactly how I felt. This just didn’t affect him. My entire world flipped within the minutes that that test took to come back. Then we talked…and talked. Hours went by. Progress right?”

“Now comes the time of paranoia. You wonder constantly. What is he doing? Who is he with? Is this the truth? Where is he? I started to feel a shift. Less closeness. So I bought another drug test. I had nothing but flashbacks while he was taking this test. Just the behavior and what not. He failed. This time for testing positive for suboxone which he was not prescribed. I was thrown off guard and so angry. So hurt. How could he lie to me again? How could he not just tell me he was struggling with sobriety? So back to the recovery center we went, and due to COVID-19 I was not allowed in. I was forced away. His wife and biggest advocate could not be there with him. After many hours, he left with a prescription for suboxone.”

“To stay on this program, you need to be completely compliant with your weekly visits and random drug testing. Usually, one would go into the facility weekly and have a random test. Normally, you’d be encouraged to do group meetings.”

“Normally. Nothing is normal now.”

“It is so easy for one to take advantage of the program or just fail. Every visit is a phone call. Random drug testing is not random. You have days to prepare to show up for a test via appointment. The whole system at this facility is overwhelmed with the number of people that need to be tested. My husband was in this clinic for nearly three months before getting a call to take a test which he had five days’ notice. This is the amount of time it would take for some drugs to be out of your system.”

“My husband is now doing well and keeping all his appointments and more.”

“I know not all people are able to stay living a sober life and with the way Covid-19 has impacted health care, it is so easy to do the wrong thing and make poor choices without receiving proper care or management of medications. Something needs to change to help those struggling with addiction who do not have someone at home to be supportive. Trying to call this facility sometimes can be a near impossible task. If they answer, you’ll be transferred to multiple different people and then have to leave a voicemail. Sometimes you’ll get a callback that day. Sometimes you’ll get one days later. The impact of this pandemic impacts the level of care one receives.”

“Luckily for us, my husband is now doing well. He continues to fight for his sobriety and as long as he does, I will be fighting alongside him. We both are working to repair the damage done to our marriage which needless to say, has been difficult at times. We both have found individual counseling helpful to sort through these emotions.”

Addiction has spiked during this pandemic. Help is hard to find, but it’s there. Change needs to be made to meet the needs of those suffering and searching for help. My story is a hard one to tell but hopefully, someone in my shoes can feel not so alone. That there can be a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. It won’t be easy to get there but it is possible.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jake Perry

    October 1, 2020 at 9:16 am

    Jane, Your letter was spot on. I really feel for you and your husband. As an alcoholic in recovery I totally understand your struggles and frustrations. Covid took away my daily AA meetings. It was a scary time. Virtual meeting are not the same. The good news is that many meetings have since opened up. Unfortunately, there are not many NA meetings out there but in my experience there are many people with both alcohol and drug addictions that attend AA. I would strongly suggest that your husband attend a meeting. He will have the ability to find people in there that have the same story. Knowing that he is not alone or unique can be a great relief. I will keeps you both in my prayers.

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