The Gravity of the Opioid Epidemic - Part 3: A Counselor and Wife's Perspective

    “A successful marriage isn’t the union of two perfect people. It’s that of two imperfect people who have learned the value of forgiveness and grace.” - Darlene Schacht

    When we say our marriage vows, we promise that we will, among other things, be there for each other in good times and in bad…in sickness and in health.  Oftentimes, couples repeat these vows while having visions of a near perfect future.  Why put a damper on such a happy day with thoughts of doom and gloom?  When we think about the “sickness” part, we might envision mild heart problems or something common, yet minor.  When we think of bad times we might think of supporting each other through problems with work, or the loss of a relative.  Do we ever envision helping our spouse through the devastating trials of addiction? For every addict out there, there is a loved one who is trying desperately to save them, while feeling lonely, judged, and terrified.  Many of these loved ones are spouses whose visions of a near perfect life with their husband or wife came crashing down the day they learned the devastating truth…they are married to an addict.

    A counselor or therapist spends their working hours helping others in need of guidance.  They receive an extensive education and training on methods and strategies of providing the proper help to individuals in many different tragic situations.  They are committed to making a difference, not because they have to, but because they truly want to.  However, what happens when a counselor finds themselves in a situation where the person who needs guidance is their own spouse?  How does this education and training translate from professional to deeply personal?  For Cassie, a Certified Counselor and Therapist, this is a road she has been navigating for years, and this is her perspective…

    As a therapist in an alternative school setting, Cassie works with many children who have felt the effects of the opioid epidemic firsthand.  “We see kids who come from families of addiction who are in elementary school, sometimes no older than 5 or 6,” Cassie says, “and it is warranting mental health treatment for those populations at a demanding rate.”  As heartbreaking as this is, it’s what she signed up for.  When someone chooses to become a counselor or therapist, they realize and expect that they are going to deal with many sad and disturbing situations.  However, what she did not think she had signed up for was dealing with the opioid epidemic in her marriage as well.

    Cassie describes first coming in contact with the opioid epidemic at a young age when a family member became addicted to pain killers and heroin.  “At that time I didn’t quite understand it,” she says, “I saw it rip apart the family…broken promises, missed holidays, stolen belongings…the works.”  Little did she know that she would be dealing with this epidemic for longer than she had ever dreamed.  “When I was 24 years old, the opioid epidemic reared its ugly head into my life again,” she reflects. “This time I was surprised, and completely crushed, to learn that my husband was addicted to pain medication.”  Soon, she would learn that her husband’s addiction had reached new heights with heroin use as well.

    Despite Cassie’s background in counseling, she still had a lot to learn about how to deal with the effects of addiction in her own life.  “I thought he could just quit,” she says, “and I truly believed he had until money continued to go missing, and I found out the problem was even worse than before.”  What followed was a roller coaster of rehab, sobriety, and crushing relapses.  “These times brought out a beast that I’ve never seen before, and don’t ever want to see again,” she says.  Once a young, happily married couple, they were now bracing themselves to see just how strong those bonds of marriage could be.

    Through this heartbreaking roller coaster ride, Cassie held on.  She stuck by her husband’s side and tried her hardest to help him however she could.  This is something that many people give her a tremendous amount of credit for.  Due to her therapist mentality, she looked at addiction and the recovery process in general in a very mature and steadfast manner.  While there were moments when simply leaving would have been infinitely easier, she knew how to stay and support without enabling, which is something that takes many loved ones of addicts a very long time, if ever, to figure out.

    Something that Cassie and her husband learned together was that treatments that might work for one person struggling with opioid addiction do not necessarily work for another.  After many trials and errors, her husband was able to find successful sobriety with a combination of therapy and Medication Assisted Treatment.  While the topic of Suboxone can be very controversial, and some support groups cast judgment upon this method of sobriety, Cassie firmly believes it has saved her husband’s life.  “Some people say this isn’t ‘sobriety’ but I’ll argue that until I’m blue in the face,” she says.  It has been a little over a year and a half since he started this medication assisted treatment under a doctor’s care, and since then, he has successfully held down a full-time job, and they have, without a doubt, saved their marriage.

    However, Cassie is not in denial about the new reality that has become her life.  In choosing to stay, she has also chosen to accept the fact that this is a battle her husband will have to fight for the rest of his life.  “He will always be an addict, he will always have that voice in his head telling him he needs to get high, and relapses are likely,” she explains.  “This is MY reality for the rest of my life,” she says. “It’s terrifying, but I keep going because I love him and believe he can manage his disease.”

    When Cassie first learned about her husband’s hidden addiction, it didn’t take long for anger and self-blame to kick in. “I was frustrated with him and with myself for letting it get by, for not seeing the warning signs, and for not helping him soon enough,” she says.  It is common for the loved ones of addicts to blame themselves for what they did or didn’t do.  They might begin to look at past memories with an entirely new perspective, thinking of signs or warnings that should have been so clear to them at the time.  The thing is, you never really think it will happen to you, or to the people you love.  The veil of denial can be very thick, and even blinding at times.  The important thing is, once a problem like this does come to light, fight it with everything you have.  Don’t hide in the dark, feeling alone and scared.  Get help, and never give up!

    “I’ll admit I was embarrassed to share this with others,” Cassie says. “I wanted to be a ‘normal’ married couple, but keeping it a secret only made things worse.”  Only when she began to share her experiences with others was she able to feel any sort of relief.  Now, she prides herself in sharing her experience, because she knows that there are many others out there like her who will find comfort in it.  “I want to end the stigma,” she says.

    She wants the readers to keep their eyes open for warning signs of opioid abuse.  Everything from counting pills, keeping track of bank transactions, and observing the size of their loved one’s pupils is fair game.  “It may seem extreme, and 4 years ago I would have found what I am saying to be completely silly, but not anymore,” Cassie says. “My thoughts have changed because I’ve experienced it firsthand.  This is an epidemic!  People are dying, and it doesn’t discriminate.”

    If you, or someone you know needs help in finding a treatment facility for drug or alcohol addiction, call this helpline for 24/7 access to specialists who are on call to answer your questions and provide nonjudgmental guidance – (888) 610-5623

    To be continued…

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    Author: Michelle Adams


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