Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.
Lately, I keep remembering this letter I sent to my husband shortly after we were married. He'd struggled with drugs for a long time before we'd gotten married, but he'd cobbled together several months of clean time, and he'd made all kinds of promises to me about how he'd be a new person, how he'd be a wonderful husband, how everything was going to be different and better and fresh for him, and subsequently for us. He'd gotten into some real serious legal trouble because of his drug problems, and one of his beautiful promises to me was that he'd never let himself go to that place again. He promised! He must have meant it if he promised!
It was a beautiful story. Having just gotten out of a messy entanglement with another man, I was ready to believe a beautiful story. I was so smitten with him, and it all seemed so, so beautiful.
A few months into our marriage, though, he started talking crazy. He started saying that he was going to do drugs every now and then...You know, nothing too serious. He wouldn't let it get out of hand. He wouldn't let it turn into something he HAD to do...not like an every day thing. He'd just occasionally dabble...every now and again...just to take the edge off or to have a good time. Drugs were a part of who he was, anyway! He'd always done drugs, and he just didn't feel like himself without it. Why would I try to control him? He'd sacrificed a lot to be with me, and he just wanted to be able to relax and have a good time sometimes. And people don't always do what's right, all the time. Like he should exercise more, right? And he should probably go to church and stuff...but he didn't always do that...and doing drugs is just another thing that's maybe not great for you, but it wasn't going to destroy his life or anything if he just kept it under control...I just didn't understand.
At first, I'd ignore a lot of this stuff. I hoped that by not engaging it, I wouldn't fuel the fire, and I kind of understood that it didn't matter a damn if I engaged it or not, he was going to do what he wanted to do. Also, he talked about these things with an air of defensiveness...like preemptive defensiveness, so it felt frightening for me to challenge him. After a few weeks of his ranting increasing, however, I decided to send him the following note:
Tonight I was thinking of how I'll never tell you the things that are bothering me, or at least I won't tell you explicitly, and how it's uncharacteristic of me and probably a way I'm not being fair to myself. And it's also not fair to you that I'm only half-revealing what I'm thinking. I think you always tell me what you think and feel, which is a disadvantage in ways. It gives me a chance to process and respond that you maybe don't have. But it's also an advantage because you get to make the story of what's happening between us.
I don't know why I don't like to tell you, exactly. I know it's a mix of things. I don't like to fight with you. I don't like to feel vulnerable to you. I don't like to think of the possibility of you leaving me or me leaving you. I don't like to cry. I don't like the person you become when we talk about drugs. But I know that some part of me is growing cold, and I don't want to feel cold to you. So maybe it's time I tell you my story of how things are.
You talk a lot about the changes you've made, for me and for yourself, and I'm proud of you for those changes. I appreciate them every day because without them we wouldn't be able to be together like we are now. But I've made some pretty big changes, too. I've made those changes because I want to be with you more than I want anything. I believe in the way that I love you, and I believe in the possibilities of happiness that open up for me when I think about our life together. We've made a really beautiful life, and it gives me so much hope. I know you are aware of all these things, and so I don't like to bring them up too much…but it seems like lately you talk a lot about your sacrifices, and I want you to remember mine. Both of us have given up a lot to be together, and it's what makes what we have so important. This relationship with you is the most significant of my life, and I'm going to put up a nasty fight before I let anything destroy us, either from the outside or the inside.
And it makes me scared and angry when I feel like you're threatening to destroy what we've got. It would be very easy for you to turn me into a fool, and I've felt very foolish many, many times in our relationship. The possibility of losing the feeling of hope that I have for us, especially piled on top of all the things I've given up to be with you, is stifling. Having all those sacrifices rendered ridiculous would be devastating.
I'm not asking you to change. I'm asking you to stay just the way you are, now. I don't understand why you would want to interject something into our relationship that will mess it up. We're so good together, and our lives look so good. We're in love, really, really in love in a way that I didn't believe was possible to sustain. I don't understand what drugs might do for you that could be worth losing what we have. I don't understand why the weight of the potential consequences, legal, emotional, and with us, doesn't matter, or doesn't matter enough. I don't understand why you always seem so shocked when I tell you that I don't like this. I don't understand why you are so determined to be self-destructive and so convinced that it's not self destructive. Deciding to go out of your way to fuck with drugs is different from not exercising...it's an active, decisive move away from being the person you want to be. Being lazy about improving yourself is different from actively seeking out ways to make yourself weak.
And, it bothers me that you promised me you wouldn't do drugs and that you've taken that promise back. It makes promises fragile if they can be rescinded when you don't remember them or when you get in a different head state and decide they aren't real. Are there other promises you've made to me that I can't count on? Do you know what they are, or do I have to wait and see when they come up?
And I never want to talk about this because it feels dull and repetitive, partly because I've had the same conversation again and again with myself, with therapists, with my alcoholic ex, with so many people. I don't want to control you, but you'll say I do. I don't believe that anybody can outwit drugs…it's like insisting that you can convince antibiotics not to attack bacteria in your body. You are always so fiercely, rationally, intelligent and it bothers me to hear you spout the same, boring addict rote as everyone else. You're better than that.
You are right that I want some control, but you're wrong about where I want it. What I want to control is myself, and I can't live in a situation that makes me feel out of control. I don't trust myself around drugs, and I am not willing to fight that battle inside my head. I had to work hard to build myself up into the person I am today. I'm stronger now than I used to be, and I won't risk it for anything. I'm sure you'll say that I should relax, that you haven't done any drugs yet, etc. etc…and maybe I should. Maybe saying all this is my way of relaxing. I've tried ignoring the way I feel, but it doesn't go away, and it's making me feel like I'm susceptible to some kind of crumbling. Like my love for you is a jigsaw puzzle and the pieces might fall apart. I love you too much to feel these things. I love you too much to lose you. We've been through too much to be able to be together to lose each other. I don't know how to end now. I guess I just will, and send it before I get too scared.
Isn't that fun?
I sent him this letter four months before he tried heroin for the first time, and almost two years ago to the date from today. It's sad how little has changed, and how much has changed, and how clearly I understood that I was in for a rough time, and how I didn't get out of it then. How I'm not ready to get out of it now.
Photo by Christian of f_stop