‘My husband was a drug addict – and I had no idea’

Illustration  (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
Illustration (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)

My name is Kelly, I am the wife of a drug addict. My husband was addicted to cat [Methcathinone] and cocaine for years. And I had no idea.

As hard as it is for me to share something so personal, I felt prompted to tell our story – it’s honest and real and the ugly truth of how drugs can damage a family.

My husband and I got married nine years ago. I was very young when he proposed to me – it was shortly before my 21st birthday. I had planned to be engaged for a few years at least… but then my mom got sick. She was diagnosed with colon cancer and I remember feeling that I needed to make sure she was at my wedding. So, I found myself walking down the aisle at 22. Things were good for few months. He had his own business which was, as far as I knew, very successful.

But a year later, when I was pregnant with our baby girl, things started to go downhill. I started getting calls from the bank saying our bond had not been paid for two months. They said Barry was not answering their calls. It was the first of many accounts that had gone unpaid. Soon after, our medical aid was suspended, electricity cut off and car was repossessed.

I was thrown in the deep end trying to juggle payment arrangements and signing letters from the sheriff. I became the provider – always stressing. He became the fun one, the life of the party that everyone remembered. I became the worrier. He was the laid back one, I was uptight. He was optimistic, I was the pessimist. I lost who I was. I became Barry’s shadow. I was grey next to his bright yellow. Debt mounted up. I started borrowing money from my dad.

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Our daughter was born and things calmed down a bit. My husband opened another business, trying to start fresh. Borrowing more money from my dad, I signed sureties for the suppliers as Barry was blacklisted. The business seemed to start off well, even paying a few bills.

But then it started again. I would come home from work to find beer bottles in the kitchen bin; my husband on the couch watching TV, or playing Frisbee outside with a friend – or worse, no-where to be found. He stopped caring. He stopped wanting to support us and I couldn’t understand why. If something ever had to happen to me and I needed help, my husband would not be the person I would call as I was not sure he would even come to help me.

My mom died in July 2012. I went through the hardest time of my life, losing my mom, my best friend and confidant. Barry was barely around. I have never felt so lonely and sad in my life. Too much was happening and I was too young to process it all.

Eventually he got a job where he worked for about eight months. In this time, I fell pregnant with our son. But Barry was fired. Again, he was unemployed and lying on the couch -- and things got really bad. Having no car, he would take me to work and have mine – he needed it for interviews he said. But 5pm would come and I was never really sure whether he would fetch me.

When I called him and his phone was off, I knew it was up to me to get home and fetch our daughter. I would have to get a lift home with my sister-in law who worked with me. “It’s fine! He is Fetching Casey, he is just running late” I would say. I would then walk the 2km to the nursery school to fetch our daughter – in the dark because it was winter.

I never told my family what was happening or ask for help. It was silly because I know they would have wanted to be there for me. I was just too embarrassed. I still had no idea what was going on or why my husband was abandoning us.

There was always an excuse for letting us down. And those excuses became increasingly far-fetched. My husband has such a vivid imagination he could write the next Harry Potter book. He ran out of petrol – several times. He dropped his car keys into a street drain, he lost numerous cell phones, and he was in an attempted hijacking – that time he came home with his shirt ripped, to give the story a bit more believability. If it carried on much longer, I would have heard how the HAWKS had recruited him on a top secret mission!

Illustration (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
Illustration (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
Getty Images

The night I found out about the drugs was one of the worst nights ever. He didn’t come home, again. His phone was off, again. He eventually called me at 8pm and said that he was in a road block. The police had pulled him off because my license disk had expired (which I knew it hadn’t).

Seeing the opportunity to finally catch him out, I asked where he was – in the middle of Benoni town he said. I got Casey in the car I had borrowed from my dad and off I went. I think back and I remember driving up and down in my dad’s bright green Hyundai Atos, after 8pm with my daughter crying in the car for her Daddy.

In the middle of Benoni town (the dodgy part)! What was I doing?? I was putting myself, my pregnancy and my beautiful little girl at risk! Enough was finally enough. I obviously didn’t find him and I went home, called my security company and reported my husband missing. I called our families and finally asked for help. No more hiding.

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When he eventually turned up a few hours later, he came in shouting. It was how he manipulated me, see. He blamed me for not coming to get him. The truth came out that night because I didn’t keep it a secret this time. He promised that he could stop. He wasn’t an addict, he didn’t need rehab he said. He wasn’t like “those people”.

A drug test a week later proved otherwise! He brought me a container of... something to test.

“What’s that?” I asked?

“It’s my pee!” He said.

“It isn’t pee!”

“It is pee!” This went on for a while.

I remember holding it up, both of us staring at this old Tupperware container and I said “It can’t be pee! It’s cold.”

“It’s winter” he said.

“It’s orange!” I said.

“I haven’t had enough water to drink today,” he said. “Well, then how do you explain why it is FIZZING?”


I thought it would ever end

I smelt it and then took a big sip to prove that he wasn’t fooling me for a second! I stormed off to the bathroom and found a bottle of Lucozade hidden behind the toilet. To this day I have no idea what either of us were thinking. He thought orange Lucozade could fool me and I was drank what I was told was URINE to prove a point.

After what I call the “Lucozade incident” my husband disappeared for a week. I didn’t know where he was, I didn’t know whether he was alive or dead and I didn’t know how much I cared to be honest. I was 7 months pregnant at the time.

I went to ARC Addiction Recovery Centre in Benoni in a panic and I was told to be tough. When he eventually contacted me, I told him he either came into rehab, or he didn’t come home – which was met with much anger, but I stuck to my guns.

He was in there for two months and came out shortly before our son was born. He has been clean for two years. He has not touched drugs or alcohol since treatment, and he is now a sponsor. He still goes to NA meetings and he still does his step work (from the 12-step program). I have my loving (sometimes pain in the bum) husband back, instead of the stranger I spent 4 years of my life with. He is now the man I knew he could be and the loving father our kids adore.

When he went into rehab, I thought it was the worst thing ever! Highly emotional, I thought it would ever end. But it did. It may seem impossible but it isn’t.

I have made a list of things that worked and didn’t work for me. Being a pessimist, I will start with what DIDN’T.

The most important one: keeping secrets and being soft. I didn’t want to be judged, or pitied. And it was a huge mistake. By keeping secrets, I hurt myself and I ended up enabling him.

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Taking responsibility for him. Have you heard of the 3 Cs? I didn’t Cause it, I can’t Control it and I can’t Cure it. I tried to fix everything, but by doing that I enabled him more! I didn’t allow him to hit rock bottom because I was always his pillow.

Blaming everyone else. I blamed the drug dealers. I blamed his parents. They blamed me. Given the opportunity, I would have blamed Jan van Riebeek. No responsibility was taken by my husband because it was always everyone else’s fault.

Shouting and screaming. Believe me, I shouted and I screamed A LOT. I was that crazy pregnant lady.

Doing everything for him an example being I would ask him if he had sent out his CV. He hadn't. I would then spend the day sending it out FOR him. I took on more responsibility than I should have and I bent over so far backwards that I broke myself.

Things that worked for me

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"Finding my OWN group. Barry had his meetings. I needed support too. If it’s alcohol, go to ALANON. If it’s drugs, go to NARANON. I went to both.

Research. Oh boy did I research. I hit Google hard! And it helped me. I had no idea what drugs did, what they were made from. I learnt all about them – not for his sake, for mine! I learnt that I don’t need to understand why he did what he did. I don’t have to understand why he has this disease of addiction or what triggered it. I just need to accept it.

Taking it one day at a time. I am a worrier. I try control everything. It is EXHAUSTING! I have to remind myself constantly to relax. I have become a perfectionist and OCD. But life is not perfect. Life is messy and I was setting the bar way too high for myself as well as my addict.

My husband going into rehab was the best thing that could have happened. My life revolved around him. I stopped focusing on me, and on my daughter. When he was in there, I got time for myself. I watched two seasons of Downton Abbey. I read my bible. I prayed. I put myself, my daughter and my unborn son first for a change.

I will be honest, I still don’t fully trust him in some situations (Would you??) but I can say this: If he ever brought me a container of pee to test, I wouldn’t take a sip of it to check that its urine – I would make him do it! And that’s definitely saying something."

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