Junky's Wife in Charlotte, North Carolina

The Junky's Wife Explained

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was a spectacular train wreck. I used coke, a lot, sometimes for days on end. I cut myself. I hated everyone. I slept around. I was in a relationship with someone who was alternately wonderful and horrible. Kept things nice and chaotic, like my childhood... like what's comfortable. When I finished college, I moved to New York for grad school, right before September 11. Something in me around that time was changing, and the change was profound. The hurt didn't stop, and the urges to act out because of that hurt didn't go away, but I found an inner resource of self-respect. I started working out. I was writing. I was working, teaching, and feeling competent, useful, intelligent. I was away from my boyfriend, my family, everyone I knew, and I was getting a fresh start in this beautiful city that I'd chosen. It was difficult -- expensive and scary -- especially after September 11, but I was making it work.

Because I didn't know anyone, I didn't have access to drugs. I was broke, anyway. My life revolved around school, work, and exploring the city.

I realized after a few months of being clean that when I was using, I'd simplified myself. I'd become nothing but a cokehead, and it made me angry and disappointed in myself. I'd spent some of the best years of my life being a cokehead. And that was all. I wasn't a lover, a friend, a writer; I wasn't any of the things I'd wanted to be. And I'd spent quite a bit of time and energy, in spite of being a train wreck, constructing myself from raw materials of my own choosing. Going to study art in Italy was part of my design. Spending a month on Outward Bound was part of it. Choosing my friends, my academic track, my habits of mind and life to make myself into an artist, a woman poet. I'm not being clear. Let's see, how can I explain...

I was born to people who were pretty standard, working-class folks, good in heart and good in their relationship. They were both strangely awful toward me in their own ways, but they were good people -- small-town people. From the time I was 13 and my family moved away from the town where I grew up, I'd felt different -- different from the other kids, different from my family, different from everyone and everything. I'd felt like an outsider, and I'd started accumulating characteristics and habits and attributes that I thought I could make my own. I didn't feel like I belonged in the culture I'd grown up in. I didn't feel like I belonged with the culture I'd moved into. I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere, so I clung to the one thing I felt sure of: my intellect. I started shaping a life that I could embrace and feel right in. Somehow, though, the substance abuse blotted out the rest of the stuff I'd done, and I was simply a depressed cocaine addict. I was a cokehead.

And so I stopped. Since I've moved to New York, I've only used cocaine twice: once with a friend from grad school and once on the night before I got married -- the first time (ha). I will never do coke again. I'm sure.

That's what worked for me, rejecting that shrinking label and identity. I couldn't have it. There was too much inside of me that I wanted to give to the world.

When I found my husband's needles, I felt that so much of that work had crumbled. All the work I'd done, all the following of my heart, all the personal growth -- it was nothing compared to what I was facing. I loved him, and I wanted him to be better, and I couldn't will him to be better. I couldn't think him better. I couldn't love him better or cry him better or cajole him better. And the first few weeks, I drove myself crazy trying to make him change.

And it occurred to me one day that what frustrated me most was that he'd made me into a junky's wife. I went around for a few days telling everyone, "I'm nothing but a goddamned junky's wife. A fucking junky's wife." My whole world was subsumed in his addiction, his habits, his problems, and fixing him.

It's better now. It's not perfect, but it's better. Meetings help. Talking to my friends helps. Writing about it helps. This space gives me a forum to obsess and be crazy and vent and spew and get it all out. And in the end, I think I'm going to grow from this experience. With or without this mess of a man in my life, I'll be stronger and smarter and more fulfilled by the time it's done...if it's ever done.


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