A View from the Other Side
By Nadine Herring
Hi, my name is Nadine and I am the wife of a former alcoholic and addict, sibling to a sister who is a former addict and brother who lost his battle with alcoholism. I’ve shared parts of my story through my writing before, but this is the first time I am sharing so much more of my story and I think it’s time.
My Family Story
There may be a genetic component to alcoholism in my family, but, to be honest, I’m not sure. I know that there is alcoholism on both sides; both my paternal grandfather and my aunt on my mother’s side suffered from it, as well as some cousins. As for the drug addiction, I’m not aware of any drug users in the family, so I’m not sure where that comes from.
I’ll start with my brother because that will be the shortest part of my story since I’m still not ready to deal with this yet; I know I have to, but I’m not quite ready. I’ll summarize by saying that out of a family of 5 children, my brother was the only boy and he was the oldest. I idolized my brother; he always made me laugh and taught me so much. When he lost his battle with alcoholism before his 50th birthday, a part of me died with him and I will never, ever get over his loss. He used to always greet me with “hey sis!” with that smile in his voice and it rips my heart wide open knowing I will never hear that again. I know I can never fully heal until I properly grieve my brother, but I’m not ashamed to say that I am very scared of the process because I don’t know if I can come back from that pain.
The next part of my story has to do with my sister. She is the baby of the family and she lived up to that title in every way possible. My sister is extremely outgoing, has a huge heart and everybody who meets her likes her immediately. She was like my brother in many ways and it’s ironic that my oldest and youngest siblings both suffered from addiction. My sister and I are only 14 months apart and are complete opposites; I actually think that is why we were so close because we balanced each other out.
I know exactly how my sister’s addiction started because I was there. My sister started hanging with some very shady ‘friends’ who got her started with smoking marijuana and that progressed very rapidly to crack cocaine. For all those who say that marijuana is harmless, I beg to differ because for my sister it was the gateway drug to a crack addiction that would continue for years! My parents did everything they could to help her; I even followed her around for a while to try to make sure she was safe, but her addiction was more powerful than our love for her.
For years, she would go in and out of rehabs, in and out of our lives and there was nothing we could do. We all felt the helplessness, pain, frustration and fear as we wondered where my sister was, if she was okay, or if we would get ‘the call’ telling us she was dead. If you’ve lived with and loved an addict, you know exactly how this feels and it is the worst feeling in the world because there is absolutely nothing you can do!
Fortunately for my sister and our family, her story ends happily because she has been clean for 10 years now and we are all so very proud of her and the strength it took to make it through her addiction alive; the fact that she is still here is a testament to the power of recovery.
Loving an Addict
The next part of my story is the most personal because it has to do with my husband. Next to my father
and brother (may they both rest in peace), he is the best man I have ever known and the most important man in my life. He’s hard to write about because I’m trying to figure out how much of our story to share while still respecting the intimacy of our relationship. There is also a lot to our story and I couldn’t
possibly share it all in this post!
I should have seen the signs of addiction in my future husband early in our relationship, especially since my brother and sister were in active addiction at the time, but maybe I didn’t want to see them. My husband and I met when we were very young and we literally grew up together. When we first met, I can honestly say I didn’t notice anything, it wasn’t until later that the excessive drinking and marijuana use (again to those who say it’s harmless, I say bull!) really started to come out and I had no choice but to pay attention. By that time though it was too late, I was very much in love and turned a blind eye to it; so much so that when he told me later on that he was doing cocaine I had no idea, how sad is that?
When you love an addict, whether it be a parent-child, sibling, or romantic relationship, I think there is a certain level of co-dependency that takes place. I never fully realized that until I started doing advocacy work and, of course, going to Al-Anon. Looking back now, I can see where I was completely co-dependent with both my sister and especially with my husband. We were together for two years before our daughter was born, and in those early years my mood and behavior were completely determined by my husband’s addictive behavior. It’s funny how clearly I see that now, where I couldn’t see that at all back then…
I like to think of our daughter as a life saver, and we’ve both told her as much. An active addict and a co-dependent do not make a good couple and we were both spiraling down. While our daughter was not planned, I truly believe she was sent at a time in our lives when she was desperately needed. Once I had our daughter, my whole life changed; my only focus was my child and since I had to raise her on my own for the first 11 years of her life, I did everything I could to make sure she was safe, happy and healthy. Even though my husband stayed active in his addiction before, during, and after our daughter was born, I know how much he loved her and I also know, and he has said, that had it not been for our daughter he would not have had a reason to eventually get help.
We have gone through so much as a couple and I can honestly say that loving my husband has been the hardest and most amazing relationship I have ever had. He is my best friend, I cannot imagine life without him and he is the best father and husband anyone could ever hope to have. He also has 14 years of recovery, has gone back to school to get his associate’s degree and now works in the field as a drug & alcohol counselor to pay back the gift of his recovery. He is now going back to school for his bachelor’s degree and plans to grow in his career; I couldn’t be any more proud of him if I tried!
The final part of my story is about me. After everything I’ve gone through with my family and addiction, I’m finally taking the time to focus on my recovery. It started when I decided to speak out on behalf of families after seeing a Dr. Phil show and getting so angry at how he was attacking and blaming the family members of an addict. I realized at that point that while it’s very important to hear the stories of addicts, it’s equally as important to hear the stories of their families since we are rarely heard from. Addiction is a family disease and in order to fully understand and break the stigma of addiction, you have to hear everyone’s story.
I also realized that I needed help so at the suggestion of my husband I went back to Al-Anon after 14 years. Through the program, I am learning to deal with all the emotions and issues I kept buried for so long and I have met some amazing and wonderful people in my recovery. I will have 5 months at the end of September, and I look forward to continuing to heal and grow and of course, speak out.
I hope that by sharing some of my story, I’ve shown that even through loss there is life after addiction and there is power in recovery. Addiction can destroy families and tear apart communities, but if we all come together: addict, family, friends and the community, we can win the fight against addiction because we are worth it!
Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time-consuming process of running an organization.
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