This article is part of the Here. Now. essay series, which seeks to de-stigmatize mental health treatment, and improve accessibility to treatment and support for teens and parents in metropolitan New York. We usually have a strict policy on not running anonymous submissions, but we broke our own rule since we feel this is an extremely important story to share.
The first time I found my husband unconscious, he was alone with our 9 month old twins. I had worked late that night. When I entered the house I discovered one baby in the dining room and the other in the living room. They were not walking yet, but were quite capable of getting around quickly. So my initial thought was gratefulness. He must have finally installed the safety gates on the two sets of stairs. What a relief that we no longer have to keep the kids cooped up in playpens!
I went to survey the gates on the staircases, only to find that there still were none. I felt ill. I grabbed the kids and put them in their cribs and then I went to admonish my husband for being so irresponsible. The babies could have easily tumbled down the stairs.
I found my husband passed out on the couch. He was breathing, but non-responsive.
I called 911. Two police officers arrived within minutes and I explained that my husband had two herniated discs in his neck, the result of an injury. Since surgery was too risky he was prescribed pain medication. He possibly had taken too much. (I had no idea just how bad his problem was at this point). One of the officers warned that unless I wanted Child Protective Services involved, we should all pretend that this had not happened. I thanked them and they left without incident.
I tried to talk to my husband the next day about what had happened. He accused me of overreacting and denied he had a problem. What he had was a severe injury that required opioids in order to get through the day, he argued. He had faith in his doctors. They knew what they were doing in prescribing him these medications.
I demanded to accompany him on his next doctor’s appointment, where I asked a lot of questions—too many, according to my husband. I annoyed his doctor as well, and my husband said I would never be allowed to go with him again.
But I had a right to know why my husband was turning into a different person. Why were they just prescribing medication every month? Why was no one addressing the underlying issue causing the pain? Why did they continue to increase the dosage? And what would happen when they reached the maximum dosage?
Pain Management doctors manage pain. They write prescriptions. Period.
I watched him sweating, nervously counting his pills towards the end of every month, trying to determine if he would have enough to make it until he could fill his new prescription. If he ran out of pills beforehand, he would suffer with flu-like symptoms in addition to the pain. His body needed the drugs.
The second time I found my husband unconscious with our children in his care, he was lying on the floor, his head inside the open refrigerator. I realized I could no longer trust him with our children. My job performance—and his—began to suffer. He soon lost his job. Then I lost mine. Our lives began to fall apart.
When I found emails he had sent to drug dealers online, I confronted him. He broke down crying and explained that his prescription was no longer helping his chronic pain. He had no choice but to supplement what he was getting from doctors with what he could buy on the internet. Painkillers are expensive, however. He admitted that he was considering buying heroin because it was much cheaper. Then he said he was glad it was finally out in the open so he could get help.
Together we went back to the pain management doctors and he admitted to them that he had been seeking pills elsewhere, but their reaction was not what I expected. The doctor produced a packet of legal papers my husband had signed prior to his treatment stating he would never do such a thing. Then we were dismissed. The office refused to treat him further. We were on our own.
My husband voluntarily admitted himself to a detox facility where he spent 10 days either sitting on or face down in a toilet. Detox was horrific, but I was optimistic that all would be fine.
He came out of detox convinced he was cured of his addiction. He found a new doctor who prescribed a drug called Suboxone that is used to treat narcotic addiction. Unfortunately, there are side-affects from this drug as well—as we soon learned.
The third time I found my husband unconscious, it was from an overdose of Suboxone. He was lying on the front steps of our house, lit cigarette still in his hand. He had hit his head on the concrete fracturing his skull. Blood was pouring from his ear.
He was admitted to the hospital and treated for his head injury. Two days later I was told he was fine and being released. However, when I went to pick him up I found him hallucinating, sitting shirtless and shoeless in the lobby babbling about a conspiracy. I demanded he be put back in a room. No one could give me a satisfactory explanation as to what was happening to my husband.
I gave up on my husband and the vision I had of our family sometime after that. I could no longer trust him, and I feared for the safety of our children. He hates me for the decision I made to dissolve our marriage. He thinks I should have seen him through his illness. Addiction is a disease. It took me years to understand that. I just thought he was weak.
Would I have divorced him if he had been diagnosed with cancer instead?
I wish we had handled the situation differently. We could have united against a flawed medical system and the drug pushers who brought this on us. Instead, we battled each other.
The pill mill that turned my ex into an addict is not far from our old house. I have no doubt the waiting room is still packed as it was the few times I was there with my ex years ago. They call themselves doctors, but they do nothing to cure their patients. I have more respect for drug dealers on the street. At least they do not pretend to be something they are not.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.
Bracing Myself Against My Son’s Severe Mental Illness
Mayim Bialik: Why I Support This Mental Health Organization & You Should Too
Why This Rabbi Uses Martial Arts to Help Kids with Cancer