“I never thought he’d do something like this,” I stuttered into the phone to my mom. I was sitting in the car outside my bank. We sat together on the phone in stunned silence, trying to understand what had just happened.
That morning, I’d checked my bank account and realized my husband had visited the ATM at 2 a.m. and taken all our money. I was alone with three kids and $50.
It had been 10 years since we had met and fallen in love under the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona. Shortly after we started dating, Kory injured his back while helping his grandmother. As he slipped into a devastating opioid addiction, I watched my kind and gregarious husband morph into a different version of himself. Alternating between states of hyperactivity and sedation, his 6-foot frame withered away to 135 pounds.
After a decade of failed interventions, I’d given up hope that he would ever find sobriety. I finally found the courage to confront him and ask him to leave. But as he’d walked out the door the day before, I’d left a small window of possibility open. When he reached the car, I stopped him and said, “You go get better, then we’ll talk, OK?”
A few days later, after he’d withdrawn our money, his mom called me, frantic.
“Megan, I know my son is not in his right mind,” she said. “I’m worried. He said he could just go take the kids from school anytime he wants.”
That call set off a panic alarm inside me. Within hours, I was standing in front of a judge asking to be granted an order of protection for my children. After I delivered it to the school, once again I found myself saying those words: “I can’t believe he’d do something like this.”
Feeling angry and betrayed, I started the process of filing for divorce. In my new role as a single mom, I’d lost the last bit of hope for Kory’s recovery, even after I learned he’d finally entered rehab. Treatment wasn’t even the answer for me anymore. I was ready to start a new life without him.
But after Kory completed a 30-day program, he was a different man. I was surprised when I met him again for the first time in that same courtroom.
As he sat before me, humbly begging my forgiveness for everything he’d done, he was almost unrecognizable. He’d gained 30 pounds, his crystalline light blue eyes were clear again, and he had a sincere presence about him I hadn’t felt in a decade. He offered to put an agreement on record saying he would attend 12-step meetings, submit to random drug testing and respect any boundaries I set forth so he could see our kids again.
I agreed, and though our attorneys said they’d never seen anything like it, the judge agreed as well. That day, our healing process began.
As we sat waiting for the paperwork at the courthouse, we began a conversation that would continue for months, sifting through the disastrous effects addiction had on our family. Our lives remained separate as Kory stayed at a friend’s house, but he’d often come to our home to cook dinner and see the kids.
“As Kory continued to honor and reflect my experiences back to me, I found myself slowly falling in love with him again. I realized I didn’t hate Kory; I hated addiction.”
Day after day, he listened as I told him what it had been like for me all those years. Even as I questioned his past choices, he didn’t get defensive or try to justify his actions. Instead, he’d just say, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” or, “That must have been so hard for you.”
Before I met Kory, in my 20s, I had been introduced to a program called nonviolent communication, or NVC. NVC is a way of communicating feelings and needs, mirroring to others what we hear them say through empathy and compassion. Instead of reverting to habitual patterns of arguing, defending or withdrawing, it teaches people to use “I” statements like, “When we were talking today, I noticed you were on your phone. I felt sad because I was looking forward to connecting with you.”
After studying NVC and attending practice groups for years, I tried to bring those tools into our marriage, and honestly, Kory was often frustrated by it.
But as we began our healing process in the early days of his sobriety, it seemed like something had stuck with him in all those years of me talking about NVC. Kory showed an extraordinary level of compassion as he listened to me share how his opioid use disorder had impacted me. He acknowledged my feelings and experiences, reflected them back to me and made amends by taking responsibility for his actions.
Compassion and empathy became a bridge across the chasm addiction had created between us. As Kory continued to honor and reflect my experiences back to me, I found myself slowly falling in love with him again. I realized I didn’t hate Kory; I hated addiction.
Months later, after many more long conversations and tears shed on our living room couch, I asked Kory to come home again, just in time for Christmas. I realized that choosing to forgive him would give us a second chance most people never get and an opportunity to help our children heal, too.
As we sat on the living room floor on Christmas morning, surrounded by our children’s laughter, flying tissue paper and ribbons, I knew I’d made the right decision. It was my first Christmas ever with a sober Kory.
In the months ahead, radical honesty helped us work through the triggers and old coping mechanisms that reappeared. One day, while we were making dinner, Kory excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he came back, I said, “When you go to the bathroom, I feel scared. That’s where you hid to do drugs.”
Using NVC, he reflected my concerns back to me. “I hear you feel scared when I go to the bathroom because you’re afraid I’m using again,” he said, with empathy in his eyes. Then he leaned in, “I’m not using again, I promise. Would you like me to take a drug test right now?” His voice was so full of tenderness and understanding that my fears were instantly assuaged.
Through powerful interactions like this, Kory and I rebuilt the trust that had been broken between us. He continued to attend AA meetings and I joined Al-Anon, a program for those who have been affected by someone else’s addiction. As we shared what we were learning from these 12-step programs, we laid bricks for a new foundation in our marriage.
On Jan. 8, 2014, five months after I asked Kory to leave, we renewed our vows, quietly, on a red rock plateau beside the Seven Sacred Pools in Sedona. This time, our vows said, “I know we’re both going to make mistakes, but I also know we’ll find a way through it together.”
I never expected that my husband’s opioid addiction would lead to anything but sorrow and anguish. But somehow, it led to a second chance at love. Kory and I pieced our marriage and our family back together. In November 2014, we welcomed our fourth child — a baby girl. We named her Kama, which means “love” in Sanskrit.
Kory is now nine years sober, and we recently celebrated 16 years of marriage. In our time together, we’ve faced extraordinary challenges. We’ve learned there are many things that can end a marriage, but addiction doesn’t have to be one of them.
Megan Aronson is a freelance writer and public speaker who lives in Sedona, Arizona. She recently completed her memoir, “We’ll Be Counting Stars,” which tells her extraordinary “love vs. addiction” story with her husband, Kory. You can follow her on TikTok at @RiseAgainWriter.
Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.