Love, Addiction, and Incarceration | Dennis Cockerham

Love, Addiction, and Incarceration | Dennis Cockerham

To everyone who has been hurt along the way,

I’ve come to learn that it’s not just my story but the readers as well. I want to make you feel, with my words, the growth and the perseverance that has created a bond so strong that it has endured years of abuse, addiction, and incarceration. I want to define for you my experiences with the definition of love.

This is a story about your self-doubt and your confusion. This is about you constantly wondering what do you do, where did you go wrong, and how can you help. About you spending all of your time trying to sort out the truth, to save us from ourselves, and to convince us that we are worth it. The amount of self-sacrifice that you display has the tendency to draw you into your own despair, fighting to find the balance between loving us and letting us go.

It has been stated that an addicts’ emotional growth becomes stunted. Like a muscle that has not been worked. I adapt this to the inmate as well. Even if drug use has stopped, things have been shifted. The incarceration creates its own absence and distortion. It is a different type of barrier which still has the ability to shelter us from reality.

Love, Addiction, and Incarceration | Dennis Cockerham

The hard lesson that I am learning is that there is another way to hurt that same muscle. A way that is not about me, but about those that cared for me instead. Plain and simple, a muscle that is overworked will also fail. You, having not only to fight for our lives when we seem unwilling to do it for ourselves. But also having to manage your own and possibly others, becomes too much.

I ran away at the age of 10. I was pretty much living on the street by 11. I called my mother or my sister only when I needed something from them or I wanted them to bail me out of another mess. Each time they would come, overwhelmed by the idea of being able to help me and the sense of relief from just hearing my voice. After a short rest, I would leave again.

In these moments and during the periods of my confinement, they began to find their own relief. A sense of escape from the trauma my actions were causing in their lives. As I continued to progress in my obsession, theirs too was created. I relied on this as much as I relied on the drugs.

If somebody did not respond to my call for help, I would blame them and add them to my reasoning for my repeated behavior. “If you really loved me, you would help me.”

Love, Addiction, and Incarceration | Dennis Cockerham

Torn in so many directions they were always there. Doing anything and everything that they could for the brief moments that released them from the heartache that I continued to cause them. None of them understood that each one of these actions tied them to my addiction even more.

I met my wife in 1999. She was a High School graduate working at the local nursing home with aspirations of college and a career. I was a full-blown addict, living a life built on so many lies that even I didn’t know the truth anymore.

At any given time, I would become whoever I needed to be to get what I wanted. I stole and I lied.

I stomped over everybody and anybody’s feelings and boundaries. It was all about me and what I could get out of any situation. Now I wanted her.

I used her. Just like I used my mother and my sister before her. But this time there was the added element of intimate relations.

For her this created feelings, but for me, this created another tool, another manipulation, and another emotion to run from. When it fits my agenda we were great, but when it didn’t I would provoke her.

Having had years of practice, I didn’t even have to put thought behind finding the right words to say. I was a master at striking an emotional response.

If this failed I would get physical. Still, she stayed. Still, she waited.

The hope of having moments together, the possibility of there being some sort of truth found in the affection that I was capable of displaying when I did decide to share some of my time with her, left her willing to abandon her own values.

This was something new and I pushed it to limits that I had never pushed it before. I did not understand love, but I understood possession. The more that I had, the better I felt about myself.

So, I set out to own her the only way that I knew how, with no consideration of the destruction that I was bringing to her life. I introduced her to drugs.

I played on her emotions for me and her own craving to spend time with me. I told her that I only left her when I wanted to use drugs, to drink alcohol, and to party.

I said that if she really wanted to be with me, then she could do these things with me. She resisted, but as most of you know now, there is no stopping an addict in pursuit of our next fix.

This is the only way our brains end up understanding all things. It is the pattern of thought created by addiction.

The same pattern that I used to define all my relationships. I had done this with my mother and my sister. Now I did it with my wife.

As I stated at the beginning, this story is not just mine to tell. Today my goal is to respect the love of others and to try and acknowledge my awareness of it as I write. I am in hopes that each of you can relate with my story without me violating the boundaries of your lives any further.

I am learning that love is not just how we feel about somebody, but how those people make us feel about ourselves. I am learning that sharing my thoughts and my emotions is going to feel uncomfortable for a while and this frightens me.

I will not always be able to express myself correctly and I will make mistakes, but I must continue to try. Honesty is the key.

Constantly battling the voice in my head that tells me that you will leave if I show you who I really am. I fear this rejection and I have spent a lifetime hiding from its possibility.

I remember celebrating my 1 year of being clean and sober. My sister stood up during the presentation. She looked out and spoke directly to my Recovery Group. She said, ” I have been trying to save Dennis for years. I could not do it and you did. Thank you!”

The pain in her words is something that I cannot explain, but the love that has always been there is something that I can now finally see for myself.

My wife and I were married in 2003. For years addiction and incarceration left its mark on us and our family. We both got into recovery in 2016. Neither of us has used drugs since that time. We are still together.

I have come to see that love is the complete opposite of self-centeredness which is found at the heart of addiction, and I now understand love as the ability to lose yourself in the process of loving someone else. My experience with love is not found in anything that I have done myself. My experience with love is found in the actions of those who never left my side. The same actions that you take now!

Don’t give up. Do not lose hope. You are setting the example of love that one day each of us will follow!

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