It ended badly, like most relationships do when you rush them.
I met Donny in AA. When we broke up, I had seven months sobriety under my belt. I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol or use drugs in all that time, but the monster still raged inside me.
Donny wasn’t allowed to visit the halfway house I lived in because it was women only. He still lived with his parents, so time together was scarce. We hung out at AA meetings making googly eyes at each other instead of listening to the speakers. People made jokes about us doing the thirteenth step of the program. That’s the unspoken step of dating somebody when you’re both in recovery. As much as it was frowned upon, everyone around us was doing the same thing. It’s easy to transfer your addiction from substances to other people. The drama of it gives you the same dopamine hit.
We decided to move in together. His parents lived in a duplex and offered to rent us the other side. The rest of his family showed up with towels, pillows, and furniture. Nobody said a word about how we were moving too fast or about the fact that I was still technically married even after leaving my abusive husband. Donny and I wouldn’t have listened, anyway. He was just as excited to leave his parents’ house as I was to leave my halfway house.
The night before I moved into the duplex, I got pulled over by a police officer on my way to AA. I knew exactly what the problem was. My tag had been expired for the past 6 months because I didn’t have the money to pay for registration. I’d been driving around in sheer panic all that time, my eyes peeled for police cars and trying not to let one get behind me. It was all over, and I said a silent prayer as the officer walked up to my car.
“Did you know your tag is expired?”
My tears flowed before I could stop them. I explained my poverty situation, making it sound a little worse than it was, and the officer told me to wait and headed back to his car. Please God, get me out of this and I promise to get everything straightened out tomorrow.
The officer returned, “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
“What?” I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Your license is suspended, probably because of your registration problems. I’m sorry, but I have to take your car.”
I watched as the tow truck came and the driver hooked up my little white Toyota. The officer said I could call the impound place the next morning to get it back, but I’d have to get my license straightened out. I knew it was the last time I’d see my reliable little car ever again. There was no money for things like licenses or tags or getting my car out of impound.
It was left to Donny to drive me to work and home every day. I apologized every time he did it. Our relationship was already precarious now that we lived together. He seemed to want me to take over the mother role he enjoyed at his parents’ house, teaching me how to fold his underwear and keep up the house to his specifications. I was living my first taste of freedom after the rules of the halfway house, and I wasn’t ready to give that up for somebody else’s rules. Every day I felt restless, nearly manic, and I thought about drinking again more often than not.
He broke up with me in a text while he was at an AA meeting. My jaw dropped at his insensitivity. We were living together, and he was too cowardly to tell me in person. He didn’t even give a reason even though there were plenty of reasons.
I texted him back. “I’ll be out of the apartment next week when I get paid.”
Donny freaked out. He knew he couldn’t afford the apartment without my help and faced going back home to his parents. I almost laughed when he suggested we break up but still live together. For the next few days, I slept on the couch and didn’t eat dinner with him and his parents. He still drove me to work, but we didn’t speak to each other. He went back and forth to AA meetings without me while I sat home, unable to attend without a car. My coworker, Candy, helped me move out when he was at work. There was nothing more to say.
Candy dropped me off at the motel where I’d be staying. It was in the next city over on the very wrong side of town, but it was the only one I could afford. All I had was a suitcase of clothes and my makeup bag. I left all the household stuff with Donny back in the apartment. It belonged to his family, anyway. I piled my stuff on top of the twin bed the motel provided, and I got on the bed next to it and tried to take a nap. The days of the breakup took their toll on me, and I felt so exhausted I could hardly speak, much less think about what the hell I was going to do now.
I awoke a few hours later to a full-blown panic attack. My whole body shook with anxiety I hadn’t felt since my detox seven months before. I needed something to calm me down and started to argue with myself. What was wrong with self-medicating when you really need it? Wasn’t I free of Donny and the AA crowd and sober living? What would it matter if I did it one time? These are the worst lies of addiction, the lies that make you think it’s okay just once.
I went outside, intent on going to the store to buy wine. A shirtless young man was sitting at the patio table smoking a cigarette. His body was covered in tattoos, which reminded me of my old life with my estranged husband. I shivered a little at the memory, then nodded hello. There was only one reason I wanted to talk to him. I knew he had what I wanted. After a few minutes of small talk, I got right to the heart of the matter. A few minutes later, I handed him twenty dollars in exchange for a Roxy, my drug of choice. I thanked him and went back to my room. The store trip was unnecessary.
I chewed the little blue pill and waited. The moment of breaking my sobriety weighed on me, but I knew the euphoria of the drug would soon replace it. Nothing mattered anymore. I was completely alone with nowhere to turn and no place to live. My friends and family all turned their backs on me and vice versa because of my addiction. Who would care if I escaped it all for a few hours?
The next morning, I awoke to a knock on my door. The young man stood there wanting to know if he should get more drugs for me. The way he looked at me was scary. I was an easy mark. He could get money out of me and God knows what else. At that moment, I only saw certain death. If I said yes to the drugs and the young man, it would be like committing suicide.
I told him no and shut the door on him. I chose life.
After locking the door behind me, I called Candy. “I’m afraid to be here anymore,” I admitted. I’d seemed so strong the day before when she dropped me off, but all of it was fake. Now I felt like I couldn’t spend one more minute at the motel. Suddenly, I felt I was risking my life every second I was there.
Candy offered to let me stay in her trailer. She picked me up within the hour. I hurried to load my stuff in her car, trying to escape the notice of the young man. That wasn’t the life I wanted anymore. I’d lived it with my husband, who was just as addicted as me, and I knew I wouldn’t make it out a second time.
As ashamed as I was of my past behavior, I couldn’t let it stop me from trying to put my life back together. Staying with Candy would give me a chance to make things right. I wouldn’t waste it on drugs or men or my manic tendencies. I’d take my alone time and use it to become a better person, somebody who would make me proud.
For the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, I would be free.