Brynn's early life was magical, but her love of adventure and the unknown soon took her down darker paths. Destination: Enlightenment.
Shackled In Friend Zone
For 11 years, I didn't want my husband.
Karl and I met in college in 1992, in a Russian class. He was a super nerd; besides having Coke-bottle bottom eyeglasses, Brillo pad hair and terrible sense of fashion that daily included a khaki trench coat and dusty blue silk button-up shirt, he had a little Bart Simpson keychain hanging from his backpack. I'm not sure that I was any better, but I definitely felt superior at the time.
For several weeks, I avoided talking to him as much as possible. Unfortunately, he always made me laugh and after giving in and agreeing to go to the student union for dinner a couple of times, we became fast friends. Soon after, we became inseparable, even though I had a boyfriend and was not at all attracted to him.
He was really smart in a pointless way. His major was medieval English; he lived, breathed and ate Chaucer, Donne and Richardson. Most of his time was spent reading books he didn't especially enjoy and writing poetry for a beautiful redheaded girl in our Russian class named Jennifer.
Jennifer was unbelievably far out of Karl's reach, but he made a truly valiant effort, preparing an entire book of lofty hand-written love poems for her, only to be firmly rebuffed on the very day he presented it to her. I knew it was going to go badly, but offered encouraging words in spite of knowing she would never be interested in him.
I studied Russian for three semesters; finally there was a study abroad program to Moscow. Everything that could have gone wrong before the trip, did. The Russian embassy even lost my passport and the director of the program had to go to the airport and find it in the mail room. Karl came to see me the day before I left and I remember him standing out in front of the store I worked at (I wouldn't invite him to my house), hopefully gazing at me while opening his arms in anticipation of a hug. And I was too embarrassed to give him one in front of my posh and attractive co-workers. I said it was because my boyfriend was standing there with me, but it was plain old embarrassment that refused the hug from a man who had become my closest confidante.
This friendship went on for several years, through many boyfriends. Karl tried to have relationships with other girls, but it always seemed like the women he chose were out of his reach. It wasn't so much the way he looked, but the way he acted. His humor couldn't overcome this nagging sense of him being just a little too insecure and a little too immature.
During my second trip to Moscow, my cute English friend taught me how to make Jello shots, so I could get wasted without having to taste the alcohol. Karl asked me to make some so he could have it before class; he liked to suck down two batches in the 15 minutes before English. I was never drunk at school. He and I would also go out to the Little Russian Cafe on Larimer; he would suck down shot after shot of vodka and I would eat borsch. I needed to feed my Russian addiction. He needed to get drunk before getting on the bus to go home.
Eventually, I moved to Russia to study and then stayed on to work. Karl and I were still in close contact and I still loved talking to him. My boyfriend at the time was abusive and so it was hard to talk to Karl outside of work; contact with any other men drove Sergei into fits of insane jealousy. At some point, Karl was in a relationship with a girl at the University of Wisconsin and moved out there. But at some point that also went horribly wrong, so he left her, came home and joined the army.
I think that my stepdad was the most amazed by this choice; I don't think there could be a man less destined to join the military than Karl. This was, after all, the guy who found Shakespeare relatable on a personal level.
But I thought it changed him for the better, and so when my first marriage deteriorated, he was quick to nominate himself as my new love interest.
Yeah, I Know You Told Me It's A Disease
Okay, I'll just say it: I hate addiction. I get that it's a disease and addicts need to go into treatment and all that, but I really hate addiction. You're probably not a bad person, and as long as you feel embarrassed about your addiction, I can at least have some kind of relationship with you despite you being strung out on ... whatever. But I won't ever entirely respect you. Or trust you.
If you want to get all angry about it, blame my grandma. She was very beautiful and very talented and very kind. I loved her dearly. But when my grandfather got sick with Alzheimer's, that's when everything went back to "normal."
A short while before I was born, my grandma stopped drinking. Her alcoholism had weighed heavily on the entire family for many, many years; nothing could stop the drinking that so affected everyone's life. When she was young, she had been a social drinker, but as her life progressed, her need to escape became more desperate and all-encompassing.
Always the wild child, when she was young she started drinking at parties and get-togethers. But as she got older, my grandma probably found herself increasingly unable to cope with the numerous bastard children my grandfather is rumored to have fathered or the non-stop bullying of her special needs son not only by fellow students but teachers as well. Maybe it was because she was trapped on a rural Iowa farm and her fiercely creative spirit was smothered by my curmudgeon of a great-grandfather, someone so cheap and so stubborn, he let his 40-something year old wife die of a burst appendix because he didn't want to pay for the ambulance ride to Omaha, or the subsequent hospitalization, until it was too late to save her.
Regardless, my grandmother became a raging alcoholic. My grandfather (who was far from perfect himself) would drive to the bar in town and buy cases of beer, my grandmother's poison of choice, through the back door. In a way, having a lot of money probably made the situation worse, because she could hold on to the delusion that no one knew about her drinking. But ... no. Everyone knew.
My grandmother's drinking greatly affected my mother. My mom was freakishly tall for a girl in the 1950s, so was an obvious choice for the girl's basketball team. Their team went on to compete in the State Championships every year. I think it was an escape for her; but she dreaded home games. Her mother showed up drunk to almost every game, thinking no one could smell the alcohol on her breath. Of course, she was wrong.
So she was sent to rehab several times, with no luck. I say "rehab," because saying that what she went through was "treatment" isn't entirely accurate. They "treated" her by: putting her in a medically-induced coma, giving her electro-shock therapy, putting her in straight jackets in padded rooms (she learned how to get out of both the jackets and the restraints), and putting her in mirrored rooms with a table full of alcohol in the middle (presumably so she could shame herself into quitting), and SURPRISE!! None of them "cured" her alcoholism.
But for some reason, the news of my birth caused her to get clean and stay clean until she folded under the immense stress dealt to her in the early 1980s.
I Hated My Grandmother's Addiction
When I was a little girl, my grandmother was perfect. So when I saw her the first time as a sloppy drunk, it broke my heart. I don't really blame her for falling off that proverbial wagon, but I remember feeling disgust at her behavior.
My grandfather had early-onset Alzheimer's in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, he had to be in a home. My grandma avoided this decision for a really long time, but the day he stopped on the train tracks on the way into town, forgetting why he was in the car or how to make the car go or even what a car is, she knew the situation was only going to get worse and he would probably end up hurting himself or her.
After she put him in the local home, she had to sell the farm she had lived on for so long and move into town. This should have been a positive experience; my mom said she had wanted to move into town for decades. Unfortunately, the move into town was interrupted by daily trips to the home to spend time with my grandfather. He had been a very tall, charming, handsome man his entire life and now, in addition to not recognizing even my grandmother, had to be tied to a chair because of his assaulting a nurse.
So she couldn't help thinking about drinking. Shortly after he died, her sister died. They had been very close. It was too much for her sober self to handle, and her alcoholism triumphed yet again.
That was when I lost my grandmother. We lived a couple of states away, so I didn't see her very often, which was a good thing. She still didn't think anyone could tell when she was drinking.
In the middle of the night, she would often be completely wasted and stand in front of the mirror in the bathroom, telling herself awful stories from her childhood, playing each part in the melodrama, voicing each character in different voices.
One of her favorite stories was the time when her sister, Evelyn, wouldn't do something for her. So she took their mother's best dress and held it over the outhouse pit, threatening to drop it in if Evelyn didn't do exactly what she wanted. This must have happened 60 years ago, but in her drunken state, my grandmother remembered each detail like it was yesterday. This story seemed pretty evil, so I didn't much like hearing it over and over.
Because we lived so far away, my grandmother's alcoholism didn't affect me that much. It did, however, greatly upset my mother, and I don't think she was able to forgive my grandmother for drinking again. As I get older, I see that her drinking had a profound affect on my mother's mental health. So even though I'm not mad at my grandma, I do wish she had been able to overcome the alcoholism so my mom (and in turn, I) might have had a more normal life.
I Thought I Knew The Man I Was Marrying
I thought the army changed Karl for the better. Like I said, the only person more shocked at his joining the army was my stepfather, and that's because he had been in the army. Karl had become much stronger and seemed full of the confidence that had always eluded him in college. He was my friend, only better.
My first marriage was falling apart and Karl was there to jump in to claim me. And he was my best friend! How could I ask for a better husband?
Yeah, well, I should have asked.
Being married to him was pretty awful right from the beginning. He changed very quickly into his dark, mean self that I had never met before. He was ruthlessly verbally and emotionally abusive to me and my daughter, Elisabeth. I should have left him right away, but I was trapped with no money, two sick kids and I was pregnant.
Finally, after 11 years of marriage, his drug addiction was the last straw (in a very large pile of straws) and I kicked him out.
I stayed with him for a long time. We only moved one time with the military, but we moved to Fort Hood. It has a reputation of being one of the worst posts in the army, and it didn't disappoint. It is isolated, the weather is pretty miserable and the crime rate, which the army does a good job at keeping out of the news, was the worst in Texas. We were sent there because Karl was unable to choose a duty station out of the ten duty stations they offered us. I begged him to make a choice; but he took so long to decide that the army decided for us. We were there for the shooting and a couple of weeks later, my husband was deployed to Balad, Iraq. I took my kids up to Colorado Springs to be with my mom.
I knew he wasn't in very much danger, so instead of obsessing over his safety, like many military wives have to do when their husbands are deployed, I was looking forward to being away from him. But even though he was physically gone, he didn't go away. He had access to phones and internet 24/7, and his anxiety was through the roof. Instead of having a break, I had to speak with him directly for several hours a day or he would accuse me of all sorts of things. I was utterly miserable.
When he returned home, I refused to go back to Fort Hood. We went and visited him the week he got back, but then returned to Colorado Springs. It was then that he became addicted to oxycodone.
He always had issues - BIG issues - with smoking and snuff, but I never thought he could be a full-on addict. I think it began as an actual physical problem (he has minor neck and nerve issues), but it's more likely that his anxiety got the best of him and his near Obi-Wan ability to get people to do what he wanted allowed him to manipulate doctors into giving him an unbelievable amount of drugs every month. It started off at a pretty normal amount, but then ballooned into 210-pill-per-month habit.
Addicts Care About One Thing
In October 2013, he got a DUI. I was disappointed and angry but mostly really surprised. He was stationed without us at the Dugway Proving Grounds; I refused to take our kids to a place where they perform nuclear, biological and chemical weapons testing. I was mostly surprised because he lived within a very short walking distance of everything on post and I wondered why he had been driving at all. I had no idea he was having any issue with drugs or alcohol. He confided that he was lucky that they only did a Breathalizer on him because he would have gone to jail for sure if they'd done the blood test.
He was so proud of himself for only getting probation for the offense. Frankly, I was amazed he wasn't in jail; this all happened at 11 a.m. and the reason he got caught is because he almost hit an MP car head-on. I was utterly disgusted by the whole thing.
Soon after, he came home and he was even more different. He didn't "get" me any more. He would fall asleep while I was talking to him. Not while I was talking and he was listening, but while he was talking, in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of the day. Would just trail off and start snoring.
I found out later that it was a complete lie, but he started telling us that he was being recruited by the FBI. He didn't say what he would be doing for the FBI, but it was something. He was taking huge amounts of prescription painkillers at the time. My friend kept saying I should call the doctor and have them do a pill count, but I didn't want to jeopardize his job with the FBI! She kept telling me that no one with a DUI was going to get a job with the FBI, but I thought that maybe my husband's skills were a a level at which they would be willing to overlook one indiscretion.
But the drugs were too much for me. It wasn't even that I was utterly disappointed in him for having an obvious addiction (which, just like my grandma, he was sure no one knew about). It was that I had no control whatsoever over his addiction. At one point, I made him give me the bottles of pills so I could dole them out responsibly, as prescribed. But he would find them and partake liberally.
There was a part of me that was a little jealous. I have a really bad back, and I'm lucky to get 10 pills and a prescription for physical therapy. When my back goes out, I literally have to stop drinking anything because it hurts too bad to crawl to the bathroom to pee. And yet here he was, getting 210 prescription painkillers per month, and the doctors at the VA even offered to give him more!
In April, he took all the pills and switched them out for Tylenols, which look the same except for the imprint. And he was sneaky: he kept coming to me and asking for the pills, knowing full well that they weren't his oxycodone tablets.
By June, he was up to about 12-14 pills per day. The most disturbing part is that I don't remember him acting any worse; looking back, however, there was the day he insisted on driving (which he never did our whole marriage if we were going someplace together) and was driving about 20 miles under the speed limit on the interstate in the fast lane. I made him pull over immediately and accused him of being stoned out of his mind. Of course, he denied it completely.
His behavior became increasingly bizarre over the coming months. When it became clear that a paycheck for the imaginary job was never coming and his addiction would never get any better, I kicked him out. At first, he made promises to go into rehab and see a therapist. Of course, those were all smoke screens to prolong the free pills coming from the VA. I was certain, then, that nothing was going to change and filed for divorce. He denied being an addict and mentally ill all through the divorce and through his trial for domestic violence, for which he spent 6 months in jail. Nope, he still doesn't see that he's an addict.
When I first kicked him out, I knew our family desperately needed help. My mom suggested I contact the Dr. Phil show, so I wrote them an e-mail. Within an hour, a producer called me. Dr. Phil was willing to help us! But Karl had to agree to be a part of the show. He wouldn't agree to it. They would have paid for rehab and therapy, but he refused that help.
During the divorce, I looked through his medical records to try to find some reason for all this. Some injury that was worthy of 120 10mg oxycodones and 90 time-release synthetic morphine pills per month. Tried to find some mental illness for which he was self-medicating. I didn't find any physical issues that would warrant that many pills (people who have limbs amputated don't get that many per month), but I did find some vague mental health issues that might explain why he manipulated the doctors into giving him so many pills.
I also found the counseling statements from his superiors ordering him into rehab. Not one time in rehab for alcoholism, but at least two times. Two times that he never, ever told me about before we got married. I was stunned. Do you have any idea how bad your drinking has to get before the army will force you into rehab?
Dear VA: Where Were You?
I'm not pleased with the way the military and VA handled this. I called the VA before I filed for divorce, begging them for help with his addiction. I was terrified that, while deep in the throes of a mental breakdown and strung out on a lot of drugs, he was going to do something bad. They told me that, because of privacy issues, they couldn't do anything for me. I tried going to the VA office in town and had the same problem. And I imagine that still, they were giving him all his drugs. They may still be giving him the drugs. The military made a grave error in giving someone with so many mental health issues so many prescription painkillers. Did they not read his file? I believe they are complicit in the crimes he committed against me and our family. They are partly to blame for the devastation he caused in our lives. I tried to get help and they turned their backs on me and our children.
This has been my burden this last year. I read so many articles and blogs and comments about how cheating is the very, Very, VERY worst thing in the whole, wide world. When you talk about the "devastation" caused by a cheating spouse, someone who may have had one fling with one person for a couple of hours? Remember that there are people out there like me, people who would give anything to have to "suffer" through the fallout from a spouse's one-night stand with a living, breathing human. Generally, that mistress won't kill your husband. Generally, that guy won't make your wife give up EVERYTHING - money, kids, their teeth - in exchange for his charms. Addicts will kill and die for their mistresses and they will never give them up. With human infidelity, if you catch them in the act, they will at least pretend that they are willing to give them up. With addiction, they will deny, with the needle in their arm or a pill bottle in their hand, that it's even happening.
So I'm begging you: PLEASE, give me a cheating spouse any day over addiction.
Carrie Peterson (author) from Colorado Springs, CO on January 27, 2016:
I have seen people in the grips of a meth addiction, there is nothing that pulls them out of it. So tragic.
LaurieNunley517 from Deep South on January 25, 2016:
I lived through an abusive marriage with my controlling and bullying ex-husband, but the worst has been last year trying to cope with a grown son with meth psychosis. He lost everything...wife, kids, house. I HATE drug and alcohol addiction. Safe to say they are EVIL!
GirlinKS on June 02, 2015:
I completely relate to the last sentiment. I hear friends complaining because their husbands don't spend enough time with their kids, because they work too late, etc.
My son may never know his father because nothing is more important than drugs to him right now. And that breaks my heart.
I miss the "normal" fights I've had with exes in the past. If I could turn back time!