by Erin Gorman
Loving her has never been hard. I knew almost immediately that I loved her and would tell her this only a few weeks into the relationship.
Our first kiss, our first long embrace, in the thundering rain under an awning of her grandmother’s apartment building. I had snuck away from work just to feel her arms around me. How could I resist her? She’s beautiful and sexy in all of the right ways. She’s smart, funny, and a bit wild. A visual artist and incredible musician, she takes care of everyone around her. She is a loyal and loving friend, cousin, daughter and granddaughter. She’s everything I could have hoped for in a partner, and then some.
Holly and I began seeing each other in May 2014 and it wasn’t long into our relationship that she told me she was in recovery for a heroin addiction. It was a similar story to others I had heard. Her habit formed from the use of prescription drugs. The pills were too expensive to aid in her addiction, so heroin became a more “economically manageable” alternative. After only a few months of use she entered detox. She relapsed a few times but nothing consistent and promised she would not use again.
I strongly believe that people deserve trust until they prove otherwise, I believed her. She shared so many intimate pieces of herself with me; her childhood growing up in a dysfunctional family with an abusive stepfather, her history of substance abuse beginning at a very young age, her sexual escapades, and a long-time pattern of reckless behavior. All of this I accepted and embraced as experiences that helped mold her into the person I loved. I didn’t think she would have a reason to lie to me.
Three months into our relationship Holly overdosed on heroin right in front of me. It all happened so fast; the memory is kind of a blur, although I will never forget how it all felt.
Earlier that evening we picked up her best friend to spend the night at our apartment. He had recently been released from jail, where he had spent a few months for drug charges. Holly was beaming with excitement for the reunion. On the ride back to our apartment everything was perfect; best friends catching up. I got to know a bit about this stranger who held such an important place in her life. I could feel how happy she was to have him with us; her joy was infectious.
It felt as though in an instant her laughter went silent, the sparkle in her eye disappeared, her body went limp, and her skin began to turn blue. I screamed as I helped carry her to the shower. I was paralyzed with terror. I stood there looking at her, aiming the cold water on her face, watching her friend slap her repeatedly, yelling her name. I thought it was over. I thought she may never come back to me.
As she regained consciousness my fear slowly dissipated, first it was replaced by relief, and then by anger. As I stood there staring at her, stumbling out of the tub, oblivious to what had just transpired, I began to shake. For a brief moment I hated her. I still didn’t know exactly what she took but I wasn’t stupid. I remember my whole body convulsing as I stumbled from the bathroom to the bedroom. I sat on the bed, in the dark, and began to cry. The crying turned to sobbing, which lasted hours.
It took months to finally work through all of the emotions that had surfaced that night and genuinely forgive her. I was trying to cope with the reality of what I experienced and how close I had come to losing the woman I loved. I felt betrayed. And for the first time in our relationship I felt alone. She finally admitted to having relapsed many times while we were dating. She said she didn’t tell me because she was ashamed. I can’t say that I blame her. I can see the stigma that accompanies heroin use. It’s one thing to use recreational drugs, or even to be an alcoholic, but heroin is a different story. And she’s the first person to admit that.
One of the worst parts about heroin addiction is being dope sick. Most addicts understand that every time they get high it could be the last time they do anything, but from what Holly has told me withdrawal is like living through the pain of dying, so they keep using.
Holly says she has not used since her overdose, and I believe her. She takes Suboxone to help her feel normal and to ward off the excruciating sickness. She is determined to wean herself off over time but when the sickness hits, it’s hard to resist anything that will make it disappear. Some weeks she’ll go two or three days without taking it, but she’s lethargic, irritable, and sometimes spends a good portion of the day in the bathroom. Whether or not it is a physical response or psychologically induced, who knows. To her, all she feels is the immense pain.
I am often torn about disclosing the fact that she is in recovery because heroin addiction is in a category of stigma all on its own. Also, the truth is it’s not really my story to tell. I’m not the one who has experienced the gripping hold of addiction and lived to tell about it. But I happen to be in love with someone who has. This is my story.
There are some people in my life I have absolutely no interest in sharing this with. I have told some friends, colleagues, and others who I believe have a deeper understanding of what it means to struggle with addiction. Knowing that there are others out there who get it is comforting.
Since the beginning of 2015, three people in Holly’s life have passed away from an overdose. I’ve watched her stare into space with tears in her eyes, her body weak from emotional exhaustion. “There’s going to be nobody left!” she said. I feel helpless and furious all at the same time. Something inside me screams “THERE WOULD BE IF THEY WOULD JUST GET HELP!!”
The sad truth is heroin addiction is full of stigma, shame, and judgment. I’ve come to understand that addiction often exists to compensate for something else, something broken, missing, or not at peace. Getting help for the addiction itself is one thing, but without attempting to address the underlying cause(s), successful recovery is often impossible. The most important thing I can do is continuing to maintain an open dialogue with her about it, our life, and our future.
As we sit on the couch tonight, like we do most nights, I look over at her, she’s smiling back at me with such sweetness. She is so beautiful it takes my breath away… Her eyes express the strength of our love. It makes me melt.
“No matter how much time has passed, my feelings have not begun to diminish or even plateau. My love for you as a human being, as my best friend, and as my future wife continue to grow every day.”
I believe she feels that we are meant to be, whatever that means… This is the woman I intend to spend the rest of my life with, or until the end of hers, whichever comes first.