I don’t drink. Alcohol, that is. I stopped drinking December 2009. Before that, I liked to drink, and did so whenever I liked. No too much, you understand, just a glass of red or two probably five nights a week, and sometimes the whole bottle except for the last half a glass I’d toddle over and tip down the sink swearing not to do it again the next night. I don’t quite know how I ended up with that habit. I think it was medicinal, and probably started around the same time my husbands drinking did. I think I started drinking a lot to cope with the issues which arose from the fact my husband was drinking a lot. And he was drinking a lot. In the end, he had to leave, because his alcoholism was driving me to something resembling it and more besides. He went away to rehab, actually, and to his credit, he sorted it out, with a lot of help. He’s back home now and things are grand.
While he was away at rehab, I used the solace and privacy as an excuse to do a bit of therapeutic drinking. I’m fairly sure this is how I carried on the whole time he was gone. I see now the unfairness and hypocrisy of it, but my excuse was that I was not the alcoholic, he was, and technically, it was true. But if he had a problem with drink, then we had a problem with drink, and not just my drinking or his drinking, but the reasons we thought drinking could help whatever was wrong with us. It was the fact that something was wrong which was the real issue. It wasn’t my husband, it wasn’t even the drinking. There were, as is usually the case in dysfunctional, codependent, enabling relationships, deeper problems we had no capacity to face up to which were the problem. Drinking was just anaesthetic, avoidance, suspension of animation. My husband has no memory of vast sections of the two years when he was drinking heavily; things and events he simply doesn’t recall. Significant events – moving house, holidays, big decisions that were made and conversations that were pivotal. I’d say they were gone from his memory, but I doubt they really ever went in. They came at him and merely rebounded clean off his conciousness like a poorly aimed beer bottle thrown at a bin. We have sections of our married life that he was physically present for, but which he conducted in some kind of mental, emotional and spiritual automatic state; his real self was trapped in a world of pain inside his chest, inside his head. I see I was right when I perceived back then he was not there with me somehow. He was a personality perfectly preserved, pickled for posterity in a brown glass bottle.
The month he came home from rehab, we went to his prospective boss’ Christmas Party. It was a flash do on a charter boat. The bar was open and gratis to all. We talked about it beforehand, and we knew it would be his first real test. But he did great. I’d decided before we went I wouldn’t drink at the party, to show my support, although we hadn’t had a big discussion about the issue of whether I would drink in the future, and if I did, how that was going to work. While we were at the party, my husband bumped into a guy who’d been in the rehab a few months before he had. He was working for the company my husband would be working for, and doing great. He too was finding it hard with the alcohol flowing freely all around us, and no way to get off the boat, but he was holding up manfully. He had his partner with him. She had a beer bottle in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other – both for herself. The pressure on her man to keep up his bargain with God and with himself was his alone to bear. She told me “Well, why not? I’m not the alcoholic, am I?”
It was then I decided I didn’t need to drink any more.
Over the past year, friends have invited me out with them, touting it as my chance to imbibe independent of my ‘dry’ husband, a chance to really enjoy myself, as if going out and not drinking were the equivalent of bathing in public in a vat of cold porridge. I sincerely thank them; I’m not as much offended by the fact they want to sneak me out to drink behind my husbands back as I am disheartened. I guess the fact that we had such a long road to reconcile our marriage just brings this whole element of loyalty to the issue. As hard as it was for me to allow a sneaky, lying drunk back into the house, it must have been just as hard for him to come back to a distrustful, anxiety ridden female. I think my teetotalling is the least I can do to show him 1) I’m not frightened of him anymore and 2) we’re actually doing this whole thing together.
It’s been a year, and it hasn’t been hard for me – the drinking part at least. For my husband, it’s been harder, and it’s an ongoing journey. God’s grace is all we have going for us, and we see it every day extended toward us in ways we could never have imagined, great and small. We are happy and love each other so much; more than we ever have or had the capacity to in the 22 years before now that we’ve been married. It’s been said that he who has been forgiven much loves much, and both my husband and I appreciate how much the other had to forgive for this present happiness to exist. A great gift, precious, and to be treated with respect and deference. He is a drunk redeemed by mercy….I am a shrew redeemed by giving it.
My husband being an alcoholic, and my potential to follow him, is not as big a deal now, but it certainly was when it was with us. I won’t easily forget finding spirit bottles refilled with cold tea and water, seeing him drive up with our son in the car and a beer bottle between his thighs, or stumbling across secret caches of empty beer bottles…..or finding a wine bottle with one glass left in it at the back of the cupboard, months after he’d gone away to rehab….and realising I must have been the one who hid it.
There but for the grace of God.
Read here about the work of Sherwood Cliffs Christian Community Rehabilitation Centre, where my husband Ben completed his program in 2009.
Do you or someone you love have a problem with alcohol? Click here for Alcoholics Anonymous Australia.