The author and her husband Kory on the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, where they renewed their wedding vows in January 2014.
“I never thought I’d do something like this,” I stammered on the phone with my mom. He 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 checked my bank account and realized that my husband had visited the ATM at 2 am and taken all our money. He was alone with three kids and $50.
It had been 10 years since we met and fell in love under the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona. Shortly after we started dating, Kory injured her back while helping his grandmother. When he fell into a devastating addiction to opiates, I watched my kind and gregarious husband transform into a different version of himself. Alternating between states of hyperactivity and sedation, his 6-foot frame dropped to 135 pounds.
After a decade of failed interventions, he had given up hope that he would ever find sobriety. I finally found the courage to face him and ask him to leave. But when he walked out the door the day before, I left a small window of possibility open. When he got to the car, I stopped him and said, “Go get better, we’ll talk later, okay?”
A few days later, after she withdrew our money, her mother called me, desperate.
“Megan, I know my son is out of his mind,” she said. “I’m worried. He said he could go pick up the kids from school whenever he wanted.”
That call set off a panic alarm inside of me. Within hours, I was standing in front of a judge asking for a protection order for my children. After I turned it in to school, I once again found myself saying those words, “I can’t believe I did something like this.”
Feeling angry and betrayed, I began the divorce filing process. In my new role as a single mom, I had given up the last hope of Kory getting well, even after learning that she had finally checked into rehab. Treatment was no longer even the answer for me. She 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 room.
As he sat across from me, humbly begging my forgiveness for all he had done, he was almost unrecognizable. He had gained 30 pounds, his crystal clear blue eyes were clear again, and he had a sincere presence about him that I hadn’t felt in a decade. He offered to put on record an agreement that he would attend 12-step meetings, take random drug tests, and abide by any limits I set in order to see our children again.
I agreed, and although our lawyers said they had never seen anything like it, the judge agreed as well. That day our healing process began.
While we waited for the paperwork in court, we began a conversation that would continue for months, discussing the disastrous effects addiction had on our family. Our lives remained separate as Kory stayed at a friend’s house, but he often came to our house to cook dinner and see the kids.
As Kory continued to honor me and reflect on my experiences, I found myself slowly falling in love with him all over again. I realized that I didn’t hate Kory; He hated the addiction.
Day after day, he listened as I told him what it had been like for me all those years. Even when I questioned his past choices, he didn’t get defensive or try to justify his actions. Instead, he would just say, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that” or “That must have been really hard for you.”
Before I met Kory, when I was 20 years old, I had been introduced to a program called Nonviolent Communication, or NVC. NVC is a way of communicating feelings and needs, reflecting back to others what we hear them say through empathy and compassion. Instead of going back to the usual patterns of arguing, defending, or withdrawing, teach people to use first-person phrases like, “When we were talking today, I realized you were on the phone. I felt sad because I really wanted to connect with you.”
After years of studying NVC and attending practice groups, I tried to incorporate those tools into our marriage, and honestly, Kory was often frustrated by it.
But when we began our healing process in the early days of his sobriety, it seemed like something had stuck with him from all those years of me talking about NVC. Kory showed an extraordinary level of compassion when he heard me share how his opioid use disorder had affected me. He acknowledged my feelings and experiences, mirrored them back to me, and made amends by taking responsibility for his actions.
Compassion and empathy became a bridge over the chasm the addiction had created between us. As Kory continued to honor me and reflect on my experiences, I found myself slowly falling in love with him all over again. I realized that I didn’t hate Kory; He hated the addiction.
Months later, after many more long talks and tears on our living room couch, I asked Kory to come home, just in time for Christmas. I realized that choosing to forgive him would give us a second chance that most people never get and a chance to help our children heal as well.
As we sat on the living room floor on Christmas morning, surrounded by the laughter of our children, tissue paper and ribbons flying, I knew I had made the right decision. It was my first Christmas with a sober Kory.
The author and her husband Kory in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2019. They recently celebrated 16 years of marriage.
In the months that followed, radical honesty helped us overcome triggers and old coping mechanisms that came back. One day, while we were preparing dinner, Kory excused herself to go to the bathroom. When he came back, I told him: “When you go to the bathroom, it scares me. That’s where you were hiding to get high.”
Using NVC, it reflected my concerns back to me. “I heard you freak out when I go to the bathroom because you’re afraid I’m getting high again,” she said, empathy in her eyes. Then she leaned in, “I won’t use again, I promise. Do you want me to take a drug test right now? Her voice was so full of tenderness and understanding that my fears were instantly dispelled.
Through powerful interactions like this, Kory and I rebuild the trust that had been broken between us. She 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 the bricks for a new foundation in our marriage.
on january 8In 2014, five months after I asked Kory to leave, we renewed our vows, in silence, on a red rock mesa next to the Seven Sacred Pools in Sedona. This time, our vows read, “I know we’re both going to make mistakes, but I also know we’ll find a way through it together.”
I never expected my husband’s opiate addiction to lead to anything more than sadness and heartbreak. But somehow, it led to a second chance at love. Kory and I rebuilt our marriage and our family. In November 2014, we welcomed our fourth child, a girl. We call 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 have faced extraordinary challenges. We’ve learned that there are many things that can break up a marriage, but addiction doesn’t have to be one of them.
Megan Aronson is a freelance writer and public speaker living in Sedona, Arizona. She recently completed her memoir, “We’ll Count Stars,” which tells her extraordinary story of “love versus addiction” with her husband, Kory. You can follow her on TikTok at @RiseAgainWriter.
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