Being in a marriage with an addict feels like a war sometimes. The kids are collateral damage, the home becomes a battlefield, and the bedrooms become trenches. The children retreated in shock and silence the first time they saw a full-blown explosion of rage between my spouse and me. My spouse was screaming, verbally abusive, lying to me, and cursing at the top of his lungs. My spouse tore out of the house. I felt shaky, embarrassed, and scared. I know how I felt, but what about the children.

My first instinct was to pack up the kids and run away, but wait…the kids were in school, I had to be at work in the morning and had no place to run, no real money, and no actual credit card, only store credit cards.  Most shelters were full, and the ones with vacancies did not allow children. My parents had passed on, and I had no family within a 100-mile radius. These are some of the trappings that kept me imprisoned while living with an addict. The thought of taking my kids and running away was overruled by reality. I had nowhere to go but on my knees.

Past conflicts were containable skirmishes that I justified, lied about, minimized, and covered up.  I walked on eggshells to keep the peace and wore a mask around the kids to hide my tension and anger. But kids sense bad vibes and sometimes overhear petty arguments we try to hush. When the explosion happened, the covers got wholly blown off, revealing the raw, ugly truth that can never be covered back up.

I asked my kids how they felt. My youngest said it made his head flip-flop. My oldest shrugged, holding her brother’s hand in protective mode, still guarding him, even in my presence, as if I were the enemy. I felt like the enemy because I couldn’t protect my children from reality.  How can I erase what they just saw and heard in their own home. How can I make it all better. How can I shield them from the next battle. I decided to do something my parents didn’t do. I talked about it. It was time to speak to my children truthfully—no more lying, hiding, covering, or pretending. I finally named the enemy: addiction. I said it out loud. With my limited knowledge, I tried to explain what mood-altering drugs can do to good, loving people and make them behave ugly and selfishly. I apologized to my children. I told my children to please understand that it’s not their fault; they did nothing wrong and are not responsible for other people’s behavior.

I answered all questions honestly, and yes, the truth hurts. We prayed and held on to each other. I loved my spouse; they loved him, and we forgave him. What do we do next, or until the next explosion. And what toll will dysfunction take on my children…