I am married to an addict in recovery. A recovery warrior. Here is a little piece, a little glimpse of what marriage looks like while one partner is living in active addiction.
I’m on my way home after just finishing my 12-hour shift working at a facility for people struggling with serious mental illness. There was a time when I looked forward to getting home and shedding the stress of the day. My job has always been challenging and my home used to be my escape where I could unwind and enjoy some down time. That seems like a far off memory and it is with a feeling of foreboding, that I make my way home. I drive slowly to drag out the time it takes to get there. I hope there will be a train temporarily blocking my route so my drive will take even longer. The closer I get, the higher my anxiety. What, or more accurately, who will it be when I walk through the door? How should I act? Should I pretend that I don’t know and that everything is okay? I have played this over and over in my mind desperately hoping that my suspicions are wrong but knowing deep down they are not.
This is our daily dance; both of us knowing what’s going on but neither of us ready to face it.
I pull into the driveway, get out of my truck, and into character. I put on my best smile and walk through the door. The kids are in the basement playing video games oblivious to the turmoil which is now our lives. I see a light on in the laundry room and find my wife there. “Hi honey,” I say trying to muster as much genuineness as possible. She turns and smiles, her eyes immediately give her away. I try desperately to control my reaction. “Just let it go,” I tell myself. “It’s not worth getting into another fight about it.” I think she believes she has me fooled. This is our daily dance; both of us knowing what’s going on but neither of us ready to face it. With that bullet dodged, I retreat to the TV room to watch the endless shows that offer respite from my reality.
A short time later, she heads to the bedroom with a basket full of laundry to put away. For some reason today is different and I can’t seem to let it go. I sneak to the laundry room in search of evidence. Within a minute, my suspicions are confirmed. It’s well hidden but I find it under the stairs behind some jam jars. A bottle of Little Penguin, the red wine we used to enjoy together not so long ago, sits empty. Something in me snaps and I immediately head to the bedroom to confront her. “You’ve been drinking,” I say accusingly. I am met with denial followed by seething anger. I don’t back down and tell her I know the truth. She continues with her denials but her ever-so-slight slur gives her away.
Her anger grows but I know it is only masking the pain.
Her anger grows but I know it is only masking the pain. I am also angry, but sad and frustrated as well. It gets worse from there and she decides she to leave. “Why didn’t I take the keys,” I say to myself but it is too late. She has them and she’s out the door. I tell her she’s in no shape to drive but that only fuels her determination. She drives away and I’m left wondering whether or not I will see her again. Will I ever get back the woman I married?
Reality Escape Plan
I am happy to report the answer to both questions was a resounding ‘yes’ but it was a bumpy road getting there. Many more regretful words were spoken in anger but we eventually made it out the other side. The tipping point was the night we were
invited to our neighbour’s house for some drinks. By this point, I had an if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them attitude so I was more than happy to tip a few back and join in on the reality escape plan. Somehow the conversation turned to yoga and my wife volunteered to demonstrate a pose that is difficult to do sober, let alone drunk. As she attempted the pose, she lost her balance and fell face first, injuring her nose.
The room erupted in laughter and she appeared to take it in stride, but I knew she was rattled and deeply embarrassed. We left shortly afterwards and on the walk home, she became inconsolable. As we approached our driveway, she pulled away from me and started heading away into the darkness. I caught up to her but she begged me to leave her alone and just go home. I refused. Something was different this time. Again, she tried to get away from me, only this time I held her. Through her sobs, she kept repeating, “Let me go, I just want to die.” I held her tighter as she struggled desperately to get away. This went on for the better part of an hour until she finally tired. I was convinced that she was determined to end it that night so I was not about to let go. She finally agreed to come in to the house and I waited until I was sure she had fallen asleep before leaving her alone.
The next morning began in silence. I knew she was awake but we did not speak. My anger had long since given way to fear. I eventually broke the silence and realized that she was not angry either, she was ashamed. “I can’t do this anymore,” was her reply as she sobbed. She told me she was absolutely determined to end her life the night before by drowning herself in the pond at the end of our street. She seemed relieved that she had not followed through which also brought me relief knowing that she wanted to live. She was ready.
That was the first day of her recovery and that was ten years ago almost to the day. She has embraced sobriety and not looked back. Through the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, staying sober is no longer a challenge; rather it has become a way of life. Life’s struggles are no longer diluted in a bottle, instead they are met head on with passion and purpose. Her journey to sobriety has been a learning experience for us both. I know for certain, that the disease of alcoholism left her powerless. There was never a choice to drink less or drink responsibly. The only choice was to stop.
Part of her life’s purpose now is to help others with similar struggles as she was helped early on in her journey to recovery. And it’s in that service to others that it all works. As a counsellor and mentor, she has become a difference maker for the people she serves. That dark day many years ago was nothing less than a spiritual awakening. Having completely given up on herself and in utter despair, there appeared to be only one way out. The irony of wanting to take her own life may have actually been what saved it. “I stood at the crossroads,” she recalls. “Stop drinking and live or keep drinking and die. I am grateful to have chosen life.”