My name is changed - and I was married to an addict.
Yes, he told me he was a recovering alcoholic, and at first, he was. But the slip back into addiction and alcoholism was so slow and start-stop that by the time I realised it was too late and had to call time on the relationship, he was too far gone to accept help.
It’s confusing, being in a relationship with a drug and alcohol addict. Especially when they are as charming as John was. He regaled me with stories about his past life as a drunk, the stupid, dangerous and awful things he’d done, and how he’d been through rehab, and AA. He’d taken the twelve steps very seriously; I remember he told me about posting money to a family member to make amends for ruining their sofa when he was drunk and generally acting like an asshole when she let him stay. He was the textbook recovering alcoholic. He was also funny, intelligent and kind-hearted, the type of man it was easy to fall for.
The Start of the Descent
The descent back to substance abuse started quietly. He wanted to find some kind of magic mushroom available in Tenerife while we were on holiday there. I wasn’t happy about the development but after traipsing around for ages in the heat, he couldn’t find what he was looking for anyway so I was relieved. On my birthday night, we went out, he managed to procure some speed when I wasn’t looking and sat up after I’d gone to bed doing it on his own.
Similar things would happen occasionally that I’d turn a blind eye to. After all, he wasn’t drinking, and it was only occasional. Looking back now, I was kidding myself from the word go. He got hold of some legal highs a few weeks after the holiday and made himself sick on them, completely ruining the nice dinner I had planned for his birthday. That summer, our second summer together, he started using etizolam (a type of benzodiazepine tranquilliser available illegally online) without my knowledge, as he was stressed at work. He had to wean himself off as he’d started shaking uncontrollably and acting like he was ‘on something’, turned up late to his best friend’s baby’s naming ceremony (he was supposed to be the humanist version of the child’s Godfather) and they fell out.
He also became obsessed with DMT, the ‘spirit molecule’ and managed to source a version of it online. He took it while I was away, and decided he wanted me to try it when I got back. I didn’t. He then decided to try it again, against my knowledge and advice, when I was dog-sitting for my parents in 2013, a year later. He reacted badly, trashed the flat, vomited all over the bathroom and didn’t get out of bed for about three days. He lied and told me he had a stomach bug.
At this point we were engaged. Yes, you might ask me what the hell I was doing, but in between these relapses he was lovely. That’s the thing; most people assume addicts are violent, antisocial, abusive…John was none of those things. He was a supportive partner, my family loved him (they didn’t know about the relapses and he begged me not to tell his family, too) and he adored me. He apologised every time he let me down and said he wasn’t perfect, he was an addict and he’d try harder.
We married in 2014, and we had a relatively quiet year. He’d had what can only be described as a mini-breakdown a few weeks before the wedding, due to work stress and he was suspended from his job pending an investigation (he was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing). I supported him, emotionally and financially, but he cracked and drank a bottle of vodka for the first time in years, again when I was away for the night visiting my sick father. He wanted me to find out; he left the empty vodka bottle sticking out of the kitchen bin. We had a long chat, I asked if it was a one-off or was he drinking again. He promised it was a one-off and begged me again to keep it quiet. I kept it quiet. By this time I had confided in a couple of close friends about the situation; they were worried but I assured them I was fine.
New start? Start of the End…
In early 2014 John got a new job that required him to drive to work rather than work locally, and I thought this would be a deterrent to drinking or taking anything illegal. Throughout 2014, my father was terminally ill, and I had to spend a lot of time going back and forth to where my parents lived, leaving John at home.
At the end of 2014, I cared for Dad for a week to give my mum some respite while she visited family in Australia. He spent two weeks in hospice respite care and then I took over at his home. The night before I was due to pick him up from the hospice, John was due to go out to a gig. He planned to drive to a friend’s house about 20 miles away, pick him up and drive them both to the gig. All good, I thought. I was worried sick about getting Dad’s drugs right the next day as by this time he was taking a combination of well over ten different prescription drugs, all on different doses, different days and times. I was really worried I’d get the doses wrong even with the pharmacy ‘menu’. John knew this.
At about 11.30 that night I received a call from John’s mobile. When I answered, it wasn’t John, but the manager of the venue he’d been at. He was too drunk to tell anyone where he lived, he’d fallen over and hit his face, and his ‘friend’ had left him and gone home in a taxi. I was livid. I managed to arrange a taxi home for him, even calling the taxi company to ask that they make sure they saw him go into the flat. The driver didn’t bother. John didn’t have his keys either, they were at his friend’s house where they’d left the car. It was December, it was freezing cold, he was locked out, I was 30 miles away. It was 1am, and then his phone died so I had no idea where he was. I was calling hospitals until 3am, when I had to force myself to try and sleep as I had to worry about my sick father.
John didn’t get home until the next evening and I spent most of the next day not knowing where he was. This was the start of the real downhill spiral.
Losing my Dad
In 2015, Dad died. John had been really supportive, taking me back and forth to visit him, and being there for me when I inevitably got upset at seeing him so ill. He was also hiding the fact that he was drinking again, along with occasional drug use. I was preoccupied with Dad, I think I knew but couldn’t deal with it and pretended otherwise. He took me to a music festival, drove us to the middle of nowhere and took pills with vodka so that he was completely useless and not only ruined the weekend, but couldn’t drive us back to the motel. I had to organise a very expensive taxi, and another one back to the festival field the following day so that he could pick the car up. I almost left him at that point; but I was a few weeks from losing my dad and I couldn’t do it. Dad thought the world of John and I didn’t want to upset him when he only had a few weeks left.
I found empty vodka bottles a week after Dad’s funeral. I confronted John, threatened to stop hiding things from his family as I needed help. He said that if I did I would worry his mother to death and as she’d just been through breast cancer treatment, did I really want to do that? I did call her; she didn’t help me, just went round to see John and accepted his lies. He was vaping cannabis at this point, and also doing speed.
Lies, coke and desperate measures
I was losing my grip on the situation and in a desperate attempt to resolve things I managed to convince him we should move closer to my mum, 30 miles away, and far enough away from his drug-dealer friends that we could perhaps have a new start. We put things in motion and even though he didn’t really want to do it, we applied for a very small mortgage on an apartment. Sadly, we were rejected. I couldn’t understand it; I was in a full time job, I had debts but was on top of them. What I didn’t know was that John had been running up serious debts buying cocaine, and as well as asking me for money to cover petrol and expenses, he was borrowing money from payday lenders to cover the household bills, cancelling direct debits for utilities and hiding bank statements and the loan applications. I only found this out when the financial adviser returned John’s bank statements and I found the loan letter.
I should have left him at that point, I had friends who were willing to help move me out there and then. But I’d just lost my dad, I couldn’t face the upheaval. We’d been married less than two years and I didn’t want to admit failure. I think in hindsight a lot of people, me included, think we can rescue addicts. Newsflash: we can’t.
Controlled drinking — don’t go there
We were at breaking point, but it wasn’t until January that the drinking started again full time. After yet another argument about empties in the washing basket, he admitted he was drinking again and as he was fed up with our constant rowing, he wanted to try ‘controlled drinking’ — but only I could know about it. Of course, this secretive behaviour is typical of addicts but he talked me into it, despite my severe reservations. Part of me thought that at least if he’s drinking in front of me I can keep tabs on him. He started booking weekends away, holidays and trips on his credit card for us, not really because he wanted to spend time with me, but because he could drink without anyone he knew seeing him.
Things escalated quickly; from drinking at 8am in Berlin, to washing four lines of coke down with vodka on the night I refused to go to the dodgy ‘strip’ in Cyprus with him; he missed almost two days of that holiday as a result and I was left in tears. I had to leave an eighties music night in a hotel halfway through and practically drag him home to the hotel we were staying in, where he tried to vomit out of the window thinking it was the bathroom. He insisted on going out drinking in Southend on the night of the Brexit results, despite me being ill and not in the mood, then booked us in for an extra night so that he could carry on drinking. Had I been able to drive I would have come home alone many a time. I was miserable as hell.
The lost weekend
The final straw was when he booked a weekend away on what would have been my dad’s birthday, and I refused to go because I couldn’t face another weekend of babysitting a piss head. I arranged to see friends, and he went alone. And disappeared. He didn’t come back for five days. He got so drunk that he ended up sleeping half naked in a doorway, lost his anxiety medication and refused to tell me where he was. At one point he said he was on his way home on the train and he was so abusive, which was so very unlike him, that I packed a bag and got on a train myself to my mum. I called his parents, only to be told that they couldn’t help, and that I was his wife and should be there for him when he got back, whatever state he was in. At this point I realised I was on my own.
He got back in a disgusting state, stinking, paranoid, shaking uncontrollably, and I was so concerned that I called 111. The doctor advised me to get him into the surgery the following morning, make sure he took his medication and keep an eye on him. He was checked over, cleaned up, signed off work for a few weeks and I read him the riot act. It was the last time I was going to pick up the pieces. He was contrite and said he wanted to live a sober life, he realised he couldn’t carry on and wanted our marriage to work.
Two weeks later I found more empties. I knew I had to follow through with the threat this time. I found a flat, moved out and started again. Sadly, he didn’t. After a couple of big drug and alcohol binges he went back to AA, and I continued to help and support him, as did a couple of close friends. His family were wilfully ignorant of why we’d split up, thinking I left him and moved to be closer to my mother. He got clean and sober for a few months, then met a fellow alcoholic girlfriend and was back to square one in no time. He died at the age of 46, less than a year after we separated.
Why would I stay?
Reading through all this it sounds like I was a doormat. Why would I stay with a man who treats me that badly? It’s hard to explain, but the relapses weren’t the John I fell for. The John I married would have me in stitches laughing until I cried. He wanted a quiet life, with kids together perhaps. He loved his family and was fiercely protective of them. He adored me. He supported me when work was tough, he had my back when people let me down and he was there for me when my dad died. He was also an addict, he had many, many demons from his past that he just couldn’t defeat, and deep down, he knew he was always going to sabotage his happiness because he didn’t think he deserved to be happy.
I don’t regret my time with John. But I’ll never get into a relationship with an addict again…