Love After Meth
BY Joe Okonkwo
January 31 2005 1:00 AM ET
Andy had been unemployed for a few months after
the dot-com he produced for went belly-up. The
moodiness and frustration he’d been exhibiting
seemed explainable. Why he was taking it out on me, however,
was not clear. After a weekend in Oakland, Calif.,
with friends, he seemed tired, irritated, and at times
even mean. This wasn’t the Andy I had known for
really been exposed to drug addicts and their
behaviors—at least not to crystal meth addicts.
So Andy’s nocturnal hours, mood swings, and
sometimes impulsive actions seemed more indicative of some
sort of mood disorder to me.
As I was
pondering the situation, the thought popped into my head: I
wonder if Andy’s a drug addict? How naïve I was,
in retrospect. Just an hour after that odd thought
crossed my mind, Andy told me that he was in fact a
drug addict and that he had binged in Oakland.
I was either
psychic or stupid.
He was feeling
sick. So was I. I took a deep breath and laid down the
law. I told him he had to start a 12-step program
immediately. I told him that he was risking losing me,
our home, our pets -- everything. He seemed to grasp
the gravity of the situation and vowed to do everything I
asked, or rather demanded, of him. I believed him.
He started going
to meetings the very next day. I watched carefully for
“signs,” whatever they might be. I went to
Al-Anon meetings myself but failed to grasp the real
tenets of the program. I was angry, vindictive, and
controlling. I was going to make him stop this. I became
more of a parent and less of a partner. As you can
guess, it didn’t help either of us.
It had been many
months since my mandate that Andy attend the program. He
had continued with it for a while but then found numerous
excuses to avoid going to meetings. Things seemed back
to normal to a degree. His mood was more stabilized,
and he was nicer. There were still
“all-nighters” on the computer and occasional
periods when I couldn’t account for his
whereabouts -- but there was always an explanation, and
it was always feasible -- at least to me.
Then I found the
stash. He had put his lighter, butane refill cartridge,
crystal, and a razor blade under a drawer in our bathroom.
Just as the thought that he might be an addict came
out of the blue, so came the instinct to look under
the drawer. I wasn’t in the habit of looking in
odd places, but something told me to do it. I was instantly
saddened and angry and embarrassed for being so stupid
as to have believed him.
I confronted Andy
about my findings. He claimed that it was an old hiding
place. I told him I’d seen the same lighter just two
weeks ago on a coffee table. He was busted. His
Instead of acting
like an innocent man wrongly charged, he was defiant
and calm. This was the “drug” personality. I
told him he had to leave the house for a week for me
to think. He told me that I should be the one to go. I
reminded him that my name was on the mortgage. He left. I
was shaking in disbelief. What had I done wrong? How
could he be doing this? It felt like there was a third
person in the relationship bent on destroying us. The
Jekyll-and-Hyde effect was in full swing.
The weekend after
I kicked Andy out, I was furious, depressed, raging,
crying, terrified, and confused. I pretended not to care if
he killed himself at that point. I didn’t know
where he went, and I turned my thoughts to protecting
myself. I hid my family heirlooms at friends’
houses for fear he would come back and steal them. I worried
constantly that the police were going to call. I went
to Al-Anon meetings and vented my anger at him. Kind
faces with more experience merely smiled reassuringly
and neither judged nor condoned my fury.
I prayed for any
sign that life would return to normal. In a blessed
coincidence, I saw Andy driving one day, many miles from our
home. I knew he was alive. I told myself I was glad
only that the car was OK.
A day later he
called me to get our insurance information because he was
checking into rehab. I gave him the group number and wished
him luck. I was punishing him with coldness for
screwing up my life.
At almost the
hour he checked into rehab, I got a job on a film that
would be shooting the entire time he was in there. My
schedule would be six-day weeks of 14-hour
night-to-morning shoots. I was also left alone to
prepare our house for sale. There was very little of me left
at the end of each day.
This was when
Andy called to ask me to participate in the family meetings
at the rehab center. I was furious that after all I’d
been through, he was asking for more—and at a
time when I had little to nothing to offer. But I
I attended the
first moderated family meeting, in which addict-patients
got to apologize or express their feelings to their
significant others. I sat stone-faced as Andy promised
to make it all up to me. We were allowed to respond
after the addict’s profession of determination. I let
it rip. I had always been private and not one to air
the dirty laundry. But in that moment I told Andy that
I didn’t trust him, that he’d been
unfaithful (news to his mother, who sat next to me), that I
thought he was manipulative and abusive and every
other word one can use to describe someone they hate.
I told him that he’d forced me to resort to dishonest
tactics just to get to the truth. When I said I’d
seen his lighter a week earlier on the coffee table, I
was lying. The sickness of this was not lost on me --
lying just to get to the truth.
Andy seemed to
also realize that this was a watershed moment in our
relationship. My polemic became known in his rehab clinic as
“the truth enema.” I told him in front
of his peers and family that I did not want to live
with him -- that when our home sold, we’d be looking
for different places. He was stunned by my
“strength.” Ironically, I was
intoxicated by it. A doormat no more. Something worse. I was
Once I realized
that I had been punishing Andy for being an addict, I
changed my entire approach. I had loved this man for a
decade. My initial, and perhaps necessary, overkill of
self-protection gave way to a more loving manner of
dealing with “our” problem.
It took many
months for this punishing approach to give way to a more
balanced one. Through my time spent at Al-Anon, I finally
heard some more of the subtle and loving messages that
had eluded me during my angriest months. Going against
the tacit yet clear (silence can convey so much)
advice of my program friends, I let Andy back into my life.
I would not
recommend this to anyone, just as I would not recommend my
previous approach. It’s too personal. I knew one
thing: I could live by my decision and, if necessary,
extract myself from the situation again.
So I asked Andy
to live with me again. We recombined households. We set
boundaries; honestly, some have been maintained and others
eroded. It’s not perfect in a clinical sense.
But as I watch straight couples divorce over seemingly
minor differences, I can’t help but think that
commitment counts only when you need it—and
that’s when it’s the most difficult to
profess our love in our church, but that doesn’t
matter to me too much at the moment. In my heart I
married this man long ago. He may relapse again. In
fact, statistics say he will. But I no longer define
him by an addiction he has to grapple with. I take measures
to protect myself. I champion his daily triumphs of
not using. I demand no less of him than if he
hadn’t had this problem. I have more tools to deal
with a relapse should it occur. I thank God I never
tried that evil little chemical that is destroying so
many lives in our community. I work daily to make our
story end better than the countless tragic ones I’ve
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