I was 21 years old when I walked down the aisle and married my beloved high school sweetheart. It seemed to be a dream come true! What I did not really know was that during a break up post high school he had surgery and there was more to be found out after. Unfortunately, he became addicted to pain killers, opioids. Motty learned to live and be a functional addict while listening to a medical professional that encouraged him to take Suboxone as a long term solution as opposed to detoxing completely. I did not understand what I was walking into when it came to addiction, but there I was so young, unprepared and unequipped for what would come next.
My name is Stephanie Pollak. This is my Kintsugi story.
We moved from New York to Florida in search of a warm community and sunny days. With family still living up North, we travelled frequently to spend holidays and some weekends with them. Every time we went up his demeanor would change. It took me time to understand that he would relapse and would fall into a serious depression while coming off the high.
We had wanted to wait, but God had other plans. I was not aware that I was pregnant. Since I was on the pill. At that time, he had relapsed, and I was going through my pregnancy pretty much alone. This was during a time that you are supposed to be pampered, loved, and supported by your husband. I was dealing with the knowledge only towards the end of my pregnancy that my husband was an addict, and he checked himself into a detox facility.
He remained abstinent for the few weeks leading up to the birth, but then began to use a week after. The hormones and lack of sleep alone can put a new mom over the edge. I was constantly worried. But also very sad, very angry, very helpless and very alone.
A Baby Feeds from the Mother's Energy
I realized that when I cried or felt those strong feelings, my baby who was moments before sound asleep or mid feeding, would start crying as well. I was desperate. “I can’t transfer this sadness and devastation to my baby. I have to be a better mom.” I recognized that I would have to learn to take care of myself in order to protect my baby. But wasn’t sure the way I’d get there alone.
After going to a first-time recovery retreat about a month after my son was born, I was introduced to the 12-Step program. I began attending Al-Anon meetings regularly to learn about how I needed to cope with his addiction. In those rooms I learned that I cannot change the addict, only my reaction to the behavior. I learned how to balance out being compassionate towards the disease and the person suffering from it, yet setting strong consequences and boundaries. But most importantly, learning how to love myself and prioritize myself through it all.
Through Al-Anon and the 12 steps, I learned that I could not control people, places, and things. I could only control myself. This started a road of self-discovery, change, and willingness towards improvement. I gained tools that would help me in what was to come into my life. I would not be able to micromanage others. I learned to let go and I let God.
Meet my Motty
I believe that many people who are not exposed to the disease of addiction portray addicts as revolting, selfish people who do not have empathy toward their family. That they make decisions without measuring the consequences. I think that some feel that addicts are even disgusting, horrible people. If they are not exposed and/or educated on the disease, then they don’t know better.
I feel it is important for me to share the type of person I married. Motty was the kindest most generous person I had ever met. He ran a successful business, and he would teach people to work in the exact same field- pretty much creating his own competition. He did not believe that helping them would take away from his income. He truthfully believed that the best charity was to help people gain a skill to work and provide for themselves. So he did, time and time again!
Let Go and Let God
One of the most vital changes in my life was the relationship I built with God. I prayed from my heart. No matter where I was--I talked, I asked. “Please, God give me guidance.” “Please give me courage.” “Please give me strength.” “Please give me wisdom.” I did not only make requests. I poured out my feelings, my despair and my tears. This relationship I built with God has sustained me for the rollercoaster of life, through learning how to be a single mom when my husband was here and not.
Independence Weekend 2014
We had a consequence set up, more like an agreement. If there were to be a relapse he could not stay at home. The Monday before July 4, 2014, he relapsed. He had to leave our home. Friday afternoon, July 4th, there was a knock on my door. Someone showed up and asked me if I knew Mark. I said, "Yes." I knew what was coming next and did not want to hear the words. The words came out, and there was nothing I could do to stop them or time. Motty had passed away.
My very first thought upon getting the news was, “God you really control the world. There is nothing we can do if you want or will something, that is how it will be.” Then, a rush of sadness came over as reality started to settle in.
One of the first people I chose to talk to over that weekend was an older neighbor who had lost his wife to cancer not that long before. I needed to know what would be next especially when it came to Jewish mourning. We spoke at length, and I think that the most important message he gave me was to prepare for the thoughtless, insensitive and hurtful things people would say.
People don’t know better. I would need strength and courage to go through it, to be wise and mindful of my reaction. My neighbor was right. I needed every bit of his advice and wisdom. To this day, I am grateful for his help and direction at such a crucial moment in my life.
I was 25 years old. I was burying my high school sweetheart.
I had a two-year-old, and I was about to embark on a difficult journey, but also one with much growth, love, joy and kindness.
My house had been somewhat of a halfway home. When Motty was alive, we used to host many addicts who had gone through rehab and were not ready to go back to their homes. I had so much experience about the trajectory, the signs, and the impacts on loved ones.
I could not be quiet. I had something to share and share I do. I would be open, and I would help others in similar situations that were ridden with shame and didn’t have anyone with whom to talk. I became a support person for family but mostly strangers who have become friends. I learned I have a voice, and I also learned I have a message.
I became more compassionate. Closer to God. I learned to understand my needs and to prioritize. I learned about true self care. I share my knowledge and empower women who are going through similar situations. It is comforting that my hardship can create goodness.
My friends are crucial in my journey. They have been there for me when I needed to vent or cry. They know I am strong, and it’s human nature to feel these feelings. When I need a sounding board, they are there for me.
Expectations are Pre-Meditated Resentment
I used to get panic attacks before birthdays. I had been so sad every birthday that my husband would forget, because he was too high or not present. I stopped caring about them and despised any attention on that day.
It was the birthday right before Motty passed away. He was in recovery at the time. I didn’t know whether or not he had anything planned for the day, unsure if he understood that it meant so much to me if he did. So, like usual I went back into bed after carpool wanting to sleep and hide from the world for that day. I laid in bed and felt something different. All my life I believed that on my birthday I should expect things from others. For the first time I realize I needed to take matters into my own hands and do something for myself. I took out my phone and researched OA meetings. As a teenager I got into the habit of purging. But through my journey I went to the opposite extreme. I had gained so much weight using food as comfort and compulsively ate and overate.
I learned a lot throughout my time with my husband. One of those lessons was that I deserved to be loved. I could love myself, and I would take care of myself. No one else and nothing else can provide that for me. It was then I became vulnerable, and I opened up to new connections. It was the first time I went to meetings to help ME with a problem that I was having.
Today, my son is seven years old. He is emotionally in tune. He has a shiny heart and an inner glow and beauty that abounds. We have wonderful open communication. He misses his father, but he also wants me to get married and continue with my life.
I learned in Al-Anon about the 3 A’s: Awareness. Acceptance. Action. I learned how to put these into practice daily. I am very aware of my feelings and if I feel pain, I allow myself time to grieve. I accept those feelings, take proper action, move forward and keep living.
It took time to get to the point where I can say that I live a full and meaningful life. I am looking forward to what is to come, but I am also happy with the person that I have become. The growth I have attained and the changes I have made to become a better person have empowered me and my child. And for that I am grateful.
You can find Stephanie on Instagram at: @stephaniepollak
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Photo by Renee Kahn Bresler
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