The absolute worst thing that can happen in an addiction scenario is finding out a person has been using after it’s too late. Dependencies are often kept secret from loved ones out of fear or embarrassment and there are definitely occasions when a fatal overdose can blindside a family. Such is the case with author Elaine Zimmerman, who chronicled the devastating loss of her husband in the new book Smacked.
Zimmerman spoke with NPR this month about the tragic true events that happened within her family. Her husband Peter (and the father of her two teenagers) had become a secret heroin abuser and ultimately succumbed to his addiction. In her book, she describes the shock, anger and depression that followed, as well as the terrible task of informing their children.
“The worst part was telling my kids [why he died] and having to see their reaction,” Zimmerman explained to NPR personality Terry Gross. “There was a certain level of shame and guilt that we had that this had happened in front of us and we hadn’t recognized it.”
When looking back at the last few months of Peter’s life, Zimmerman did open up about warning signs that were not clearly visible. One example would be “errands” that he would run for hours on end. Later she came to realize that Peter used that time to get high, but in the moment she had no idea.
Elaine also detailed the fear she had when it came to confronting her husband about his habit. She admitted that there were times when she wanted question his erratic behavior, but fear and insecurity would often take over.
“There was something about Peter that I was afraid of, and it’s a hard thing to name,” she explained. “But he had so much power in my life. He had all the economic power. I was a writer. He was a lawyer. … I had no regular paycheck. I worked really hard, but there was no comparing our incomes. … It was very clear whenever I pushed back about anything — even if it was something like support was late — he would remind me that I better be careful, because I needed him. And, so, when all of this was happening and he had these explanations — “I’m sorry. I was in a meeting and I left my phone in my office. That’s why you couldn’t reach me.” And he always had what seemed like a plausible reason. And I felt really like I was being gaslit. I thought I was crazy to question him.”
Ultimately, failing to press him led to tragic circumstances. Of course Elaine did nothing wrong, but we highly recommend reaching out for support even if you slightly suspect that your spouse or loved one might be using. Because the worst thing of all, is realizing you acted too late.