It has become so common for me to read many responses to a blog post of mine from women who feel that they are unable to share the struggle of their husband’s addiction with another trusted friend. I experienced the same feeling when my husband’s addiction was first made known to me. I had many reasons for wanting to keep this a secret. I didn’t think others would understand; I didn’t want to “out” him to our friends and church community; I thought we could handle it on our own. The list goes on and on. I’m not sure why some of the women who have left comments want to keep this a secret, but I would bet that some of their reasons are similar to mine.
If you are one of those women, I want you to know that keeping this secret was one of the most damaging things I could do to myself, my husband, and my relationship with God. Releasing that secret, bringing what was in the dark into the light, was one of the best things we have ever done.
When all of the details of his addiction became known I went through an intense grief process. I experienced denial and isolation, anger, a bargaining stage (both with God and my husband), depression, and eventually acceptance of the truth. All of the stages of grief were there as if someone had died. In fact, something had died. We lost the ideal marriage that we had both wanted. We lost trust and intimacy. And we lost the image that we had created of each other: the perfect husband and the perfect wife. Handling this intense grief by myself was one of the most difficult things in the world for me. I was so lost in my shame, in my husband’s shame, that my goal was to never tell anyone. If the “ideal” was shattered for us, I wanted to at least preserve it for others. I didn’t want anyone to know that we weren’t the perfect little family everyone thought we were, so we agreed to keep all of these painful confessions a secret. We wouldn’t tell anyone, and we would work on it together with me as the accountability partner and him as the dutiful little patient. We had our roles and the script was simple: look good at all costs to all people. We didn’t include others, and we didn’t include God. We had it all figured out…until it happened again.
At the point that I found out he was once again hiding an active addiction from me, I was devastated. The second time the grief was so severe that I had to tell someone. I started attending a few 12 Step group meetings, if for no other reason than their anonymity. As I attended these groups and met others who were in similar situations, I became more comfortable telling my story. It took several months of hearing myself share my story out loud before I could share it with someone I knew. When I found the courage to share with a few close friends, it felt like an instant release. They were loving and caring as they walked through my grief with me. I was no longer alone.
John 15:13 reads: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.
Prior to this experience I had always taken this verse to mean that true love and friendship meant literally dying for a friend. When I began to open up about our situation, the true meaning of this verse became a great comfort to me. For me, true love and friendship was having women in my life who would put themselves through this death process with me. As I grieved the loss of everything I thought our marriage was, I needed these strong women to draw alongside and experience that grief with me. They loved me though all the difficult times not by saying “Wow, you’ve fallen in a pit,” but by crawling into the pit with me. And it wasn’t until after I was out of the pit, when I started to move toward acceptance and empowerment, that I realized what a gift from God this ‘greater love’ was. I don’t think I would have gotten to those later stages alone. It’s so easy to get stuck in the pit. Keeping my secret almost caused me to miss it. I’m glad I finally shared my secret and received this rich blessing. If you are reading this, I hope you do too. I’d hate for you to miss it.