Finding Compassion in Unexpected Places

I always assumed I would be a mom “someday,” but I never thought about what the circumstances would be when that time came. I guess I figured I would be married and living in my first home. That’s how it works, right? But I chose to marry someone with a drug problem. That’s right-I knew he had a drug problem, but married him anyway. I couldn’t have imagined how it would turn out. In my naïve mind I believed that if I loved someone enough, they would change. The harsh reality was something I was neither prepared for nor equipped to deal with. However, as hard as this story is to tell, it undoubtedly helped shape me into the person I am today.

I met my ex-husband shortly before graduating high school and we dated on and off while I was in college. He didn’t become an addict until I was in my senior year of college. I didn’t realize this at the time because I only saw him on breaks. Occasionally he would make the trip from MA to NY to visit. Our visits were brief so it was easy enough for him to hide his addiction. But when we moved in together soon after I graduated, I started to notice some odd behavior. He would spend long periods of time in the bathroom and every once in a while, I could hear the flick of his lighter. At first, I didn’t think too much of it. But I noticed that he had become very moody and easily agitated. Very rarely did he seem happy. At this point, I still didn’t have a clue what was going on, but I knew things were “off.”

I still thought that I could “fix” him and somehow control this uncontrollable situation before anyone else could figure out how dysfunctional it was.

But then, it seemed that each time he got paid there was an issue. There was a problem with payroll or “they” lost his check. I still wasn’t fully grasping what was happening. I just knew that when it came time to pay the bills it was all falling on me. It wasn’t until I found my own money missing that things started to click. But I didn’t want to believe it. Soon a ring my father gave me for my 21st birthday went missing. Then my camera, also a gift, went missing. I confronted him many times and he would fly into a rage. I didn’t know what to do. It was all so surreal and scary. I no longer had a sense of security.

Through my co-dependent haze, I saw this as a loving way to help him. In truth, it was pure manipulation.

I had known this man for 4 years as a kind, loving person. Where was that man? The person I was living with was a stranger. But the relationship continued and I became more co-dependent with every passing day. I even agreed to get married thinking that would make him happy. Things went from bad to worse. He stole checks and forged my name. We had mounds of debt. I was desperate and too ashamed to let my family know what was going on. I still thought that I could “fix” him and somehow control this uncontrollable situation before anyone else could figure out how dysfunctional it was. I distinctly remember thinking that if we had a baby, that would give him a reason to get better. Through my co-dependent haze, I saw this as a loving way to help him. In truth, it was pure manipulation. But I honestly didn’t recognize this at the time. I thought I was being kind and compassionate and even had a twisted sense of pride about it.

When I did get pregnant, he was excited and happy (he loved babies) but nothing changed. It only got worse. We ended up losing our apartment and I went to live with his sister. His addiction was so bad that he was living (squatting) in various drug houses around the city. What should have been a time of great joy and hope for us as a couple ended up being anything but. Thankfully, the pregnancy was actually very easy and uneventful. But my own sickness of obsessing over him, where he was and what he was doing, escalated. Those were very dark days.

What I was doing was dangerous and I didn’t even see it.

It was the summer of 1991 and I was 24. Each day I would go to work and before I could go back to his sister’s apartment, I would go looking for him in the drug houses. Can you imagine? Here I was, 7 months, 8 months, and yes, almost 9 months pregnant, wearing my cute maternity dresses traipsing around the worst part of the city, on a mission to make sure he was alive. What I was doing was dangerous and I didn’t even see it. I just knew that I couldn’t rest until I knew he was ok. After a time, the other addicts began to recognize me. Before I could even knock on the door, a nameless man or woman would come out onto the porch and say, with sadness in their eyes, some variation of: “You shouldn’t be here. You should go home and rest. Don’t worry about him.”

This would happen over and over. These people were incredibly sick, emaciated, dirty, didn’t have the proverbial pot to piss in and they were concerned about me. What they lacked in material possessions they made up for in pure compassion. But of course, I didn’t recognize that at the time. I silently blamed all of them for “keeping him from me” or “being a bad influence.” I would become agitated and instruct them to “go get him please and tell him I need to talk to him.” Sometimes they would plead with me a little longer to go home and other times, knowing that I wouldn’t leave, would oblige.

Twenty-eight years later, the summer of ‘91 seems like a bad dream—a dream that happened to someone else or a character in a movie. I have a beautiful daughter who is now a grown woman, thriving and happy. I am thriving and happy. Occasionally I think about that crazy, awful summer and how I played a part in the chaos and drama. Was I to blame for my ex-husband’s addiction? No, but I was responsible for my own behavior. It took years to forgive my ex-husband and to forgive myself for what happened that summer. I had to dig deep to find compassion, something that these strangers had so generously bestowed on me.

Who could have imagined that it was possible to get a lesson in compassion from a group of strangers who I had held in such contempt?

Each one was a Divine Breadcrumb, disguised in human form, steering me back to the light.

Today I strive to be an open, kind, and compassionate person and I also actively look for these traits in others. Sometimes it’s like digging for gold and not so easy to find. But I try to remember that the people we encounter are our mirrors. If I’m having trouble seeing the good in someone, that’s more about me than it is about them. That can be hard to swallow sometimes. But I’m a work in progress and I’ve learned that having compassion for myself is the foundation for everything else.


Carol Campos
Carol Campos
Like many, I struggled for years wondering what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I had been working in the corporate world for over 20 years, most recently in a leadership role with a Fortune 5 company. Although I was consistently recognized and promoted throughout my career, I somehow knew that I was meant to do something different. I felt stuck in a life that didn’t fit, yet I had created it. What was my purpose? I had no idea. Finally, I left my corporate job and made the leap into the unknown. After doing months of self-discovery work (actually, play!), reconnecting to my higher wisdom, and re-remembering who I was at my core, I realized I didn’t have to fix myself. I also realized that I didn’t have to worry about “finding my purpose.” What I found was that I’m multi-passionate and didn’t want to be boxed into one thing. I didn’t HAVE to be boxed into one thing. I started a podcast and a blog where I explored the human experience—including my own beautiful, messy, but perfect road. This blog later became my column on BizCatalyst 360°. I became a mentor and a wayshower for others. I became a consultant to help improve company culture and improve client relationships. These are things I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. But as often is the case, the Universe had an even bigger plan for me than I had for myself. My Soul knew what I would be doing long before I did, and I’m grateful that I followed the Divine map that was laid out before me! I love traveling, exploring new cultures, being in nature, and helping people on their own paths. I hold a B.A. in Communications from Hofstra University. I live in Massachusetts with my rambunctious and hilarious cats, Petey, and Emmett.

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  1. Your courage in telling this story, your ability to somehow find a way through that nightmare of a summer and beyond (and recognize with gratitude the kindness of compassionate others – even those you had once “judged” as inferior/interfering), your tenacity in creating a good life for you and your daughter, your willingness to move forward no matter the hell you had endured – all that you have shared leaves me in awe of who in the world you are…and your ability to share your journey in such a real and raw way. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much, Minx. Your words added brightness to an already great day! It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable about sharing my journey. Shame can hold you back from really LIVING. More to come… 😊🙏🏼💗

  2. Powerful story. I learned you cannot love someone out of an addiction or abuse. Doing more doesn’t work. Trying harder doesn’t work. At some point I finally decided it was time to move on. As Paula wrote, the guilt and shame are real. It can be overwhelming. I am so glad to see you did not let your circumstances dictate the life and you kept moving forward. Very happy for you and your daughter.

    • You are so right, Frank. You have to learn all of those things. For some reason others telling you how to proceed (even if they’ve been through the same thing) doesn’t seem to work. This is one of those things where people seem to HAVE to learn the hard way because it goes against all out natural instincts. Thank you!

  3. Carol, Just WoW… your compassion saved you. this is so raw and full of the beautiful you that you are. We try to see the good and want to help others. The good in you stayed on top. I’m so grateful for this.
    Your story tells us more about the great person you are. Thank you so much for sharing. Your daughter is blessed to have you.
    I can relate to loving someone and ignoring the signs …for want of helping them. The shame is real and it’s not your fault….and it takes years to figure it out sometimes. You are strong and brave and compassionate too, I’m proud of you. Thank you again for sharing your soul.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Paula. It really means the world to me. Every once in awhile the shame resurfaces, but now it’s rare and I’m able to address it much more quickly and with grace and love.

  4. I can’t imagine living through that summer. I’m glad you used your situation to springboard your life into a better environment for your daughter (and yourself.) Some people could take that situation as a reason to continue their own downward spiral, but not you!

    In our current opioid crisis, I imagine your story isn’t uncommon. Sharing your experience will undoubtedly help others that may not be as courageous as you. Thank you for using your voice so loudly and proudly.

  5. Wow, what a powerful, honest, real, raw sharing of a time in your life and some of the many lessons you gleaned from these experiences. I thing self-compassion is one of the greatest gifts, learnings, and practices that bubbles up from scary experiences, co-dependent patterns-the arrogance of thinking we’re capable of turning out someone else’s insides while often neglecting our own. Though I had many different experiences on my challenging journey out of my own co-dependent ways, I see myself in your story-the innocence, the naive, that desire to see good, be good, turn a blind eye to the darkness, to also see his fellow addicts in contempt then as flawed, hungry, and compassionate beings perfectly imperfect actually “steering you to the light of your life” and far away from the darkness they knew was theirs…and his (your ex-husband). Truth tellers show up in many different guises. How wonderful you experienced this reframe, this profound awakening.

    • Thanks so much, Laura. I think that’s what hit me the most as I was writing this–just how arrogant I was (yet thinking I was being kind and loving). I’ve done a lot of forgiveness work over the past few decades, but forgiving myself has by far been the hardest thing to do. THAT journey continues.

  6. Dear Carol,

    You are such a good friend and reading your life-history’ brought a lump in my throat. Since I have had the honor and privilege of engaging with you and exchanging thoughts and comments on a myriad topics, there is one overwhelming aspect about you. You are a ‘giver’. You engage with people because you want to not because you have to. You do have quite a story to tell; the downs and ups of life; initially many ‘downs’; but you raised yourself above the negativity that could have created a longer term suspension from a forward-looking, positively motivated life. I have witnessed your video podcasts on numerous occasions and have had the supreme honor and indeed joy of chatting with you via WhatsApp video. You are so positive and over the last – getting on for nearly two years’ I have witnessed a supreme transformation which every day elevates you to a level that many folk could only dream of. The fact you are able to share the initial road of life you experienced is all credit to you.

    The Divine Breadcrumb is a model of empathy; a platform so personal yet so liberating that collectively it brings together folk from all walks of life.

    A distinctly comment element here is BizCatayst360. Also a platform of friends sharing innermost thoughts and experiences, describing visits to locations that brighten the day and you are an individual, your own special personality that brightens the lives of anyone reading or viewing your posts, articles and essays.

    Your words will vitalize people in the knowledge that even your challenge experiences can become leading lights for people to follow.

    Carol, you are an inspiration and a joy to behold.
    I value our friendship and salute your for extending you genuine friendship to others; potentially indeed demonstrating your highly positive, instinctively caring persona. Never take it for granted.

    Thank you Carol, so much

    Winchester – from across The Pond
    Championing Positivity, Empathy and Kindness

    • Oh my goodness…thank you so much for the kind words, Simon. You have always been in my corner (which is comforting to know). You have witnessed my personal growth first-hand. I feel lucky to share my stories on this platform. I hope it helps others to know that they are not alone and that it’s safe to be vulnerable.