Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez
***In honor of my addiction memoir, Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies that Nearly Killed Me, hitting bookshelves on 2/25, all month I'll be tackling questions that deal with addiction.***
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
My husband smokes rocks—cocaine.
He doesn't have a full-time job, but whenever he gets some work, he uses the money on drugs instead of seeing to the kids. He'll steal stuff at the house, tires off of the car, batteries, inverters, cash from me, etc.
How do I handle this? Should I just stay out of his life for a while?
His mother has come to try and help, but she's also at her wit's end. I'm getting boils under my arm; I'm so stressed out. I'm also afraid of catching STDs because of his wandering eye after taking drugs.
He is so emotionless, unsympathetic, and only shows a bit of love and compassion after he smokes.
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I am so very sorry that you’re going through this. It is devastating to watch people we love self-destruct.
Your husband is sick. His addiction is a health issue, not a moral one.
Underneath the drugs and behavior is the human. And that can be very hard to see when someone is acting out in horrible ways because of their addiction.
I want to say something about "tough love." I don’t believe in cutting someone off who is sick, who needs help. And often, old models of tough love have kept people trapped in cycles of shame. We can reject this idea of withholding love and instead focus on healthy boundaries.
As someone who has been on both sides of this situation, I always come from a place of compassion for everyone involved, even the person struggling with addiction. But you can be compassionate and still set boundaries. Boundaries are doubly important for the sake of your children.
So what does that look like? How do you set boundaries with compassion?
You have kids at home. He can’t live there while he is actively using drugs. Since he has been stealing, he shouldn’t have a set of keys, either. He can see the kids, but not when he is high. You and his mother should be on the same page with these boundaries.
All of this said, leave the door open when and if he should want help, whether that means you or his mom. Let him know he is loved, that he deserves more than the life carved out by his addiction. I know for myself when I was at my lowest, I didn’t feel I deserve to live. I carried so much shame. I am fairly certain he is struggling with those feelings, too, as most in active addiction do.
Now, you need some help, too.
Going through this with him is traumatic. If you can, please get the help of a therapist. Confide in a friend or two you trust. And it’s worth looking in to support groups such as Al-Anon. Allow yourself multiple avenues of support. And, depending on the age of your kids, they may need some outside support as well.
You will get through this. You can’t control or change his behavior. You can only change yours. Lead with empathy and draw the line where you need to draw it to protect your kids.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, Maori Greenstone, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my newsletter, which contains a behind-the-scenes look at STRUNG OUT and the publishing process, exclusive extras and book giveaways only for newsletter subscribers, recommendations to get you through the week, extra Ask Erin content, and more… XOXO