Note to Our Readers: The following article contains descriptions of substance use disorder and overdose.
As told by Amy Humphrey
Addiction is a special kind of hell. It takes the soul of the addict and breaks the hearts of everyone who loves them.
In 2020, it’s been three years since losing my husband Alex, and for some reason this year has been harder than the two before. Grief hits me at such odd times, I can be at the store and see something that reminds me of Alex and suddenly feel that drowning feeling again. People often think that grief is a temporary feeling due to a loss but it’s not, grief can be so many different things.
Grief can be happy – like remembering a joyful moment and smiling, even though that person is gone.
One thing that has made me smile since losing Alex is all the silly videos I have of him dancing, and laughing. Alex never really could dance, ha-ha, he had absolutely no rhythm but he would do it anyways. The day he found out we were pregnant with “EG”, he danced to “Don’t Stop Believing”, he would always make me giggle and he had even taught “EG” some of these silly moves.
Now his laugh, oh his laugh, it is something I will never forget. It was that deep goofy laugh that changed his whole facial expression and body language. He had just an amazing laugh and joking spirit that could light up just about every room he was in. I miss it, I often watch videos of him just to hear his voice and listen to that sweet laugh.
On June 7th, 2015, I met Alexander Humphrey while he was living in a halfway house here in Dunn, North Carolina.
At the time, I was naïve to drug addiction and just how deep Alex’s history of addiction truly was. To me, three months clean seemed to be a big deal — a huge accomplishment. It didn’t take long to figure out that for someone with addiction, three months clean was nothing.
That summer, we found out we were expecting a baby and we did what we felt was right and got married. The day after we got married, Alex decided to move out of the halfway house to save money and work a more full time job. This is when the nightmare began. I started to learn bits and pieces of Alex’s past and to see Alex was not being honest with me. There were nights he would come home late, or lie about where he was. One night I looked at Alex’s arms and found two little spots, so I had asked him what they were. After hours of feeling like I was interrogating him, he admitted he had shot Opanas* in his arm. But this was just the first of many times.
(*Opana” , or “Opana ER” is the brand name for Oxymorphone – a potent prescription opioid painkiller.)
SOMETHING GREAT FOR US
Living together through substance use disorder is difficult, but it is even more difficult to understand and cope with because not every day or month is terrible.
In early 2016, Alex and I moved to a house in Dunn, NC. Alex found a great job. I thought this was going to be something great for us and for starting a family. Alex was very good with hiding things. One day I picked up one of his shoes, only to find a bag of what he said was Xanax. He said it was old, but he didn’t realize he told me just how new the shoes were.
Alex found drugs at his new job shortly after starting. He even misused suboxone. His excuse was that these people offered him drugs and he wasn’t strong enough to say no, but he also sought the drugs out himself.
Just a few months later, our little girl “EG” entered the world. I truly thought this would be the turning point for Alex. But just a short week after she was born, I went into Alex’s wallet to get his debit card to pay a bill and found a little baggie and a straw that had been cut.
Not wanting to expose our baby to this, I left and stayed with my parents and told him when he had a plan we would return home. He came and told me the plan and I approved and returned back home. For a month he did well, went to meetings, and even found a sponsor. But then his friend was released from prison and brought drugs into my home and Alex once again relapsed; he reasoned this time that “it was only Xanax”. Alex didn’t have many places to hide things so if he did drugs, he did them while he was at work or said he was working late.
I worked as a nanny, which was fine in the beginning because my hours were the same as Alex’s. Alex lost his job after our daughter was born, but soon found another job. He loved this new job, but after just a few days of working there, he started smoking marijuana. Next, my hours changed to 48 hour shifts so Alex had the house to himself for two whole nights. The drug use got so bad; I’d search the entire house each time I came home. I found everything from marijuana to heroin. Each time there was a new excuse and a new plea for me to not leave him.
ONE BREATH, TWO BREATHS…
April 2017 was full of excitement — we had our daughter’s birthday and her first Easter. It was also when things took a turn for the worse.
Alex and I got in a huge fight which resulted in him leaving the house. He spent hours ignoring me; but when he finally answered I could hear in his voice that he was high. He came home at 4am, but I made him sleep in another room because I didn’t want him around our daughter. I set my alarm so I could wake him for work.
The next morning, I saw him in the hall laying on a pillow and a blanket and his work clothes. I nudged him with my foot thinking he was just sleeping; I went to the kitchen to make “EG” a bottle and come back and try to wake him again.
I noticed he was gasping for air, so I called 911 because I thought he was overdosing. They asked me to keep him on his side and keep up with his heart rate; his heart rate was one breath, two breaths, three breaths, four breaths then gasp for air.
At the hospital he came to, and explained that he took two shots of what people call a speedball — heroin and cocaine mixed together. He was very lucky to survive this overdose. The doctor said his numbers were equal to those of a dead person; he ended up with a damaged heart as they assume he had a heart attack during the overdose and his other organs showed damage as well.
While at the hospital, the therapist told me that the next time Alex used it would be his last because his body was so damaged from his overdose and prior overdoses. A therapist told me that Alex couldn’t love me fully until he loved himself — and he couldn’t stop until he loved himself.
I finally thought we were returning to the true us: working together with Alex in recovery, and me learning as well. ”
The rest of April is a blur to me but May was an amazing month for us. I finally thought we were returning to the true us: working together with Alex in recovery, and me learning as well. He was about to start a new job and we were trying for another baby. We were truly happy and had very few arguments.
In early June, I worked an overnight shift while Alex cared for “EG”.
I tried calling him several times, but after several attempts to reach Alex and getting no response I called 911. I told them he had overdosed in April and I was worried about my daughter. After about 30 minutes, I received a call saying ,”Mrs. Humphrey, we found your husband, you need to come get your daughter.”
I frantically asked if he was okay, and the police officer said, “No, we assume he’s dead”. I rushed home because I was 40 minutes away at work. When I got home, I was greeted by officers who told me he didn’t make it. I never thought this day would happen.
Alex relapsed that night — he thought he was getting cocaine and ended up getting cocaine with fentanyl mixed in. The autopsy report described it as lethal amounts.
Being called a widow at 22 years old, burying my husband, the love of my life, and becoming a single mom was awful. Just days after Alex died, I found out that I was expecting our second child. I was left to raise two little girls who will have no idea who their father is, and I often asked myself if the pain would ever end.
Recovery is possible, and families recover too.
Next, Amy continues her own story: how creating connections
helped make her own family’s recovery possible.
Amy Humphrey is the creator of “Addiction Made Me a Widow,” a Facebook group with more than 10,000 followers and a safe space for advice and support. She is the mother of two young daughters and lives in North Carolina.