"How can my marriage be falling apart, when I started a Web site to prove young couples can have happy marriages?"
"How can I inspire other young moms when my life is such a mess?"
These thoughts have gone through my mind, I admit. Back when I first thought of the Early Mama concept, the "early marriage" component was key. I desperately searched for any indication that we could have a lasting, successful marriage despite our young ages, and I wanted to share those positive stories. In hindsight, of course my insecurity was showing, but I loved my husband madly. I still do.
Even though we've come a long way in the last few years — my husband recognizes and is in treatment for his gripping addiction to prescription pain killers — I still might end up separating from a man I'm in love with. (That's an ending they don't cover in fairytales.) And yet I'll still be grateful for this marriage. It's been a valuable experience, especially in my formative 20s. Entangling my life with another person has given me a first-person understanding to the interconnectedness around us, to the complexities and simplicities of love, and to the importance of loving ourselves. It's taught me more about myself than I ever knew possible.
Is young marriage always the BEST experience? The ONLY way to be mature? No.
Is it a BAD experience? Destined to end in flames? No.
There is no narrative to follow. Being an "early mama" doesn't give us a new set of rules and expectations, no matter the inspirational stories. We can be inspired and encouraged without using our stories to predict and judge our own lives. The only things we can expect are meaningful experiences, opportunities to learn, and both happy and sad moments. No matter the circumstances, we can be okay. We can grow through uncertainty, learn through pain, become stronger and smarter and better. And just because a relationship might end, that doesn't make it a failure. Not if we learned something from it.
No matter what life throws us — a pregnancy test turns positive, a marriage turns abusive, we have a sudden and shocking loss — we can keep moving forward, or we can let a situation break us. Sometimes it's not an either/or — sometimes we get wrapped up in mind-made identities and patterns, sometimes we bury ourselves under shame and fear, and that's okay, too. Because there's humanity in the struggle.
Having a baby and getting married at a young age isn't always easy, but it's not supposed to be. Life will NEVER be consistently easy, and comparing our lives to that expectation will always lead to disappointment. But just because something is hard, doesn't mean it isn't worth it. In my experience, it's the most struggling moments that have been the most necessary.
So this is my story, in all its raw honesty...
What It's Really Like To Be Married to a Drug Addict
I could hear my husband open our front door as I prepped dinner in the kitchen. Except I knew it wasn't really my husband, not the same guy I married 68 months ago. Not the same man who held my sobbing body as a positive pregnancy test sat on our bathroom sink, 74 months ago. Not the man who promised we'd be okay. That we could do this. That he would always stay by my side.
And, technically, he did stay by my side. Technically.
He limps into the room: skinnier, snifflier, dead in the eyes. We had a few good weeks going as husband and wife. I actually thought he might be coming back to me after a near-death scare, a promise to get clean, a few sessions on a therapist's couch—but it's all back again. The consecutive ATM withdrawals and sneaky deception. The coldness in his words, the preoccupation behind his eyes, the sound of his struggling lungs whistling as I try to sleep next to him. All back.
Today it's Vicodin, before that it was Methadone, before that it was Heroin, before that it was an OxyContin prescription from his doctor, hoping to ease a gnawing pain in his leg. The doctor didn't ask if he had a deeper pain, an emotional pain that this prescription might temporarily patch. The doctor didn't ask if he had a history of addiction in his family or at what age, exactly, he started self-medicating the anxiety that plagued his childhood. That age was 9.
Not like my husband would have been honest, of course, because addicts aren't honest with anyone, especially themselves.
When signs of my husband's dependence became obvious to the doctor—and to several doctors afterward—there was no acknowledgment, no understanding, no effort to help a man struggling with a coping strategy that turned self-destructive. There was simply a phone call from a receptionist: "We can't see you anymore." Dropped from care.
So he went to the streets, which is where so many addicts go when their prescription is yanked from their hands. He wasn't looking for a high; he needed to feel normal, to not be in constant pain. And so the cycle starts: Disappearing money. Lies. Falling asleep at the dinner table. Denial. ER visits. Broken promises. His life is chaotic, consuming, no matter how or why it is.
He shuffles past me; I hold my breath. Everything in me wants to scream.