My mom’s alcoholism instilled in me a core belief that I was different, inadequate, and deeply flawed. I developed a belief that there was something wrong with my family, and there was something wrong with me. My parents were divorced. We didn’t have a lot of money. My mom was an alcoholic, and no one explained to me what that meant, or how she struggled with an illness.
Instead, it was normalized to smell whisky and see an adult passed out or wobbling around or urinating on the carpet in a half-asleep, half-drunk stumble. I didn’t understand, but I knew that this was my life. I didn’t know that my fight or flight system was in high gear, probably most nights. I developed a subconscious defense mechanism crafted from perfectionism and high achievement.
Sobriety sucks. Now that I don’t drink, I’ve been stripped of my alcohol-induced intelligence and infallibility. I used to be right all the time. That’s why I talked so loud and repeated myself so often. I had a lot to say, and I was proud to bestow on everyone within earshot my slobbery wit and careless observations. They talk about the health benefits of moderate drinking like poise, attraction, decision making and better-smelling breath. I’d like to add another one. Alcohol made me smart. I was always right. Now I’m wrong a lot.
I’m a big horror movie fan. The beginning of October marks the start of the three-month holiday season for me. Up first…as many scary movies as my eyeballs can consume in 31 days. I like some of the slasher movies, most of the psychological thrillers, and the best of the classics. One thing I have no time for, however, is a movie centered around the old and tired plot of someone who turns into a despicable creature and does unspeakable things that he can’t later remember. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, An American Werewolf in London, and any movie featuring the Incredible Hulk don’t do anything for me. The concept is boring because I’ve lived that plot. I’ve transformed into a monster who could do or say things I wouldn’t dream of in the light of the next day. Add a little toxic elixir, and the results were unpredictably terrifying. I don’t need to watch a movie to see the diabolical transformation. Been there, done that.
You see, I was an alcoholic.
As the partner of someone suffering from addiction, alcoholism is part of my life, my fabric of experience, and continues to take me on a deep and bizarre journey. Through this experience, I am learning, growing, trying different approaches to things – essentially navigating a thick jungle with no guide, no map, and no trails. However, it is a part of my life’s journey and I continue to become better and better at guiding myself.
But I can’t tell my story without impacting my partner. So the question lingers:
Who owns my story?
My mom likes to tell the story at family gatherings and other social occasions. “When I approached Matt and told him it was time for us to have, ‘the talk,’ he replied, ‘Sure mom. What do you want to know?’”
It is a chuckle-worthy story that illustrates two things – one accurately and one inaccurately. As a teenager, and into my 20s, my sexual confidence often bordered on arrogance. But it also might lead one of my mom’s guests to believe we had open and honest communication about sex and sexuality. She tried, and so did my dad. But they both viewed “the sex talk” as something to check off of a list. We did not engage in the kind of honest vulnerability that might have led to a healthy education about sex and intimacy for me as an adolescent. I don’t blame them, really. I have yet to meet anyone from their generation who could talk about sex as openly as is required to lead youths to a healthy adult outcome. My generation isn’t doing much better.
When the bottom drops out of your life, you learn really fast you don’t have nearly the control you thought you had. Releasing control means accepting that the once wonderful marriage I had is gone.
Whiskey on the rocks. No mixer. No room-temperature shots. Just harsh brown liquid barely diluted by the slowly melting ice. But who am I kidding? The way I drink, the ice doesn’t have time to melt much.
Jack Daniels, probably. We have high-end, small-batch, local bourbons distilled here in Colorado now. They are too expensive for my purpose. They are meant to be sipped. I know better than to pretend. Gut-rot, bottom-shelf, sold-in-a-plastic-bottle whiskey would feel like failure. I am trying to reestablish an identity here. Jack will do nicely. No need to return the bottle to the cabinet. It can sit on the end table next to my glass until they’re both empty.
I think it was about 4 years ago when I wrote my first letter – my first letter where I addressed the issue at hand. It was the first of many letters to come where I stressed how much I needed my husband, how much my kids needed their dad.
I begged and pleaded for him to stop drinking.
As the years continued, I continued to write my letters to him. I cried, sobbed, begged, pleaded and threatened, but it was not enough.
I changed through the years, and so did my message. Where the letters once started with, “I need you! I can’t live without you,” the sentiment slowly turned into, “I can do this on my own. The kids and I can no longer continue on this merry-go-round with you.”
They say you know when you know. It is 100% true.
This is the letter I read to my husband at his intervention. I thought it was the end.
It was just the beginning.
Your wife’s not a bitch.
She doesn’t have her stuff that’s making the relationship bad, too. She’s not half, or even partially, to blame.
I don’t know your wife, but I do know this…It’s not her fault.
Deep Guts run cheap on video-
Nagging aspirations and duties
that won’t leave you alone.
Lethargy has taken a room upstairs,
screams “Join me”
as you languish away,
watching what’s supposed to be done just sit there,
left to simmer.