More than 85 million people in the United States alone have been touched by addiction. Each has a unique story, and for far too long, many have felt isolated, hopeless and stigmatized by this illness. Drug addiction is a “family disease.” During any kind of active addiction, it is extremely rare only the addict is affected.
Loving an addict is both heartbreaking and exhausting. Addiction can and will destroy families as much as it destroys the addict. Family members are torn between how to help the addict and how to avoid enabling the addiction.
The reality of substance abusers is that the majority are just like everyone else. They have families, children, friends, lovers, spouses, co-workers and neighbors.
I spoke with Tori about her turbulent relationship with David, with whom she had fallen in love before his dark descent into the world of methamphetamine and opiates.
Tori did not wake up one day and say to herself, “I am going to fall in love with a drug addict,” or “I am going to have a child with a drug addict.” Many loved ones aren’t even aware of the substance abusers’ struggles until the lies they put into place in order to hide their habit begin to unravel.
When Tori discovered she was pregnant, the couple was happy and planned to raise their child together. However, a month into her pregnancy, David became withdrawn from her and his family.
Then, David broke up with Tori. She was heartbroken and confused. Growing up in a sheltered home, she never even thought David’s change in behavior had anything to do with drug abuse. She blamed herself for losing him.
David stayed in touch with Tori, regularly asking for updates on their baby as she progressed in her pregnancy. She invited him to her ultrasound appointment where she was going to discover the gender. Tori told me he seemed excited and agreed to go with her.
When the day of the appointment arrived, David was a no-show, and Tori was alone and heartbroken as the nurse announced she was having a baby girl.
She planned to name her baby Lily.
Communication with David in the months that followed was very sporadic, but Tori held out hope in getting her family back together before the baby’s birth in June. She got her wish, but little did she know her dream come true would soon escalate into the biggest nightmare of her and her child’s life.
Lily was born four days after her due date, and Tori described that day to me as the most “magical day” of her life. She was happy to be back together with David to share in the joys of parenthood.
What happened next, Tori never saw coming. The withdrawn, uncommunicative David returned. In hindsight, Tori realizes he had relapsed.
This time, he was angry. He began yelling and berating Tori at every opportunity. This quickly escalated into him beating Tori with his fists.
After one brutal fight, Tori recalls being thrown by David almost into their sleeping child’s crib. David had no recollection of the abusive explosion and even asked Tori where the bruises all over her body came from.
Tori was terrified but didn’t leave him. Like many victims of domestic abuse, her blame turned inward, and she believed herself to be the problem. She was ashamed to admit she was getting beat on a regular basis.
David’s job conducted random drug testing of their employees. David failed for both methamphetamine and opiates and was let go from the company. This was the first valid piece of evidence that David was not only an abusive partner, but a drug abuser.
As soon as the drug test was positive, everything else over the last year began to fall into place and make sense. He had wrecked three cars. Some of Tori’s possessions had gone missing. He could never hold down a job. He never slept. At the time, Tori was hopeful that since his problems were no longer hidden, he would seek help for his addiction.
Tori investigated rehab facilities and began to educate herself on addiction. Since she never had an addict in her family before, when David said he can beat this on his own, she believed him. She still didn’t fully comprehend that addiction is not just a behavioral issue, but a chronic brain disorder.
He began working another job and the abuse stopped. Tori believed this was a move in the right direction for her family.
Until the day she was doing laundry and David’s drug pipe fell out of his pocket.
After approaching him about it, he lashed out once again, violently. He was yelling, hitting and ignoring her daily. David was still working, so most days, the abuse wouldn’t occur until after the baby was asleep. A small, silver lining in Tori’s bruised eyes.
Tori discovered a letter from David’s employer stating he was terminated from his position. It was post-dated three weeks before Tori found the letter. Her world started spinning. David had been waking up and going to work every day the past three weeks … or so she had believed.
It is easy to pass judgement from the outside looking in, and Tori knows she should’ve left David a long time before she actually did. But after she found that letter, and he beat her for the last time, she found the courage within herself to call the cops.
He spent a few nights locked up. He appeared at Tori’s doorstep weeks later, begging for money to support his habit. Tori described him in that moment as smelling of vinegar and sweat, with shallow cheeks and dirty clothes. She tried to convince him to get professional help one last time.
Tori didn’t give him money and hasn’t seen or heard from David since.
Thinking back, Tori knows the signs of addiction were obvious and staring her right in the face. But no one knows what it is like until they are in the throes of it. She admits to being in denial for most of their relationship. She admits to putting her own life and the life of her daughter at risk for far too long. She also recognizes her situation could have been much worse if she had never called the cops that day.
Tori did everything she could for David. She urged him relentlessly to seek professional help. She found him jobs. She encouraged him and loved him unconditionally. And it could have cost her everything.
“Many would take this experience and just play the victim card the rest of their lives. I refuse to be the victim,” Tori states adamantly. “I let this terrible ordeal empower me. I am smarter because of this. I am stronger because of this.”
Her bruises have healed. Her daughter has grown into a beautiful and healthy toddler. When I asked about her daughter, Tori told me, “she is the greatest good David will ever create and it kills me to think about how he could possibly never even know her.”
The last thing I asked Tori was what she hopes people take away from her story.
“I hope others read my story, see they aren’t alone and maybe find the strength to get themselves out of bad situations,” she explains. “I just think maybe letting you share my story will touch someone’s heart and mind and give them hope for their future.”
She wants others to know that there is life on the other side of addiction, even when the addict does not recover.
“Yes, I went through a lot but now I have a great life, I am going to school, have a good job and Lily is so happy. I let my experience motivate me to never be that girl again.”
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