Updated: Sep 3, 2020
My husband died unexpectedly on Aug 7, 2016 from an accidental heroin overdose. I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of emotions ever since. Many of them I could have predicted but many surprised me, shamed me and silenced me. Hours after I received that nightmarish phone call no one wants to get, I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling with sleep eluding me. My mom had refused to let me sleep alone that night, so she was beside me, snoring away. I lay there, deafened by the silence of the night, blinking away tears and listening to my heart pound. Sadness consumed me, anger suffocated me, and numbness surrounded me. But in the quiet of that dark summer night, I realized relief and a tiny bit of happiness had also shown up. I did not expect those emotions to be there. And then as an extra fun treat, crushing guilt and shame came galloping in every time relief and happiness made their presence known. It’s no fucking surprise I barely slept a wink that night. My husband, my best friend, the love of my life was dead and I was relieved? I was even a bit happy? What kind of monster was I?
My husband had struggled with substance use disorder for 7 of our 16 years together. His drug use ripped his life apart, but it also ripped mine apart. I lived under a constant veil of anxiety in those years. Our ‘normal’ life was anything but. And yet, I’m so proud I stood by him through it all. I loved him despite his faults, his lies and his drug use. Living with and loving someone struggling with substance use is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In the 3 years since he died, I’ve worked very hard to begin to repair the damage done to my soul, my psyche and to my heart from the years of loving someone struggling with substance use disorder. The wounds from that experience run deep and will take time to heal. In the meantime, I have come to peace (well, come to peace-ish) with the complicated duality of emotions that exist in me now. I miss him desperately but am happy I am free from the chains of addiction. I have compassion for my husband and what the disease of addiction did to him but I am also so angry at all of the pain he caused me. I wish he was still alive and I am also so relieved he died. I love him and I hate him. I feel everything and anything and that’s okay.
Here are some amazing resources that helped me through, my grief counsellor Andrea Warnick , this fantastic podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking. An amazing Toronto based support group for people grieving an overdose related death GRASP and a couple of helpful books Confessions of a Mediorce Widow: How I lost my Husband and my Sanity
My kids grief counsellor was incredibly helpful and has lots of online resources too Dr Jays Children's Grief Centre
ABOUT EMILY D for CHANGE
EmilyD4Change celebrates people's stories and provides a window for people to share their personal experiences. It's about the unsung heroes who are left behind, the caregivers, the support people.
As a photographer Emily has had the honour of photographing key life stages - the joy of birth and the anguish of a persons final hours. Her understanding of the depths of love and the pain of loss expanded after those experiences. Instead of focusing only on what was lost,
Emily learned that in many cases the people left behind want to focus on what was and what was gained from loving.
EmilyD4Change invites people to share their stories of love and love lost. Through stories and images, EmilyD4Change brings seemingly ordinary people forward to showcase how extraordinary they are, bravely facing loss and demonstrating the strength and remarkability of the human spirit. Each story is unedited and shared based on what the survivor wants you, the reader, to know.
by Emily Doukogiannis
Emily Doukogiannis is a Toronto-based portrait photographer, expert storyteller and compulsive photo book maker. Her commitment to telling people's stories is something Emily does in her spare time via Emily D 4 Change and countless media outlets.
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