I spend time with the ocean.
When I visit her, we have conversations about life. I throw all of the pain and grief that has accumulated into the waves, and I talk to the people I’ve lost. We catch up, and I leave feeling cleansed and healed and whole.
I spent time with the ocean.
I traveled back in time in my thoughts as I walked along the water’s edge, back to when my struggles really began, to a fragile adolescence with big feelings and no skills to surf the waves.
If you put in the work and make the effort…if you are patient and compassionate…if you learn how to be a really good and empathetic listener – this is when you can expect to be finished with your post-alcoholism relationship recovery:
I bet that’s not the analysis you were expecting when you read the title of this article. Unexpected or not, it is accurate, and it delivers on the two promises in the title. Never is clear in that it is not ambiguous. There is no range of possible timing. And never is manageable in that if you know it will not end during your lifetime, you can be better prepared for that challenge you face, or you can opt out of your relationships if they’re not worth it to you.
If you want sunshine blown up your ass, turn to the recovery community on social media. If you can handle the truth, keep reading.
George spotted me in the drapery rod aisle. I had a list of measurements for the various windows I needed to cover in my new house, so I was in the aisle for a while. He paused at the end of the aisle, ready to offer good natured ribbing about what was taking me so long. I flagged him down to scan a couple of drapes that were in the clearance section. They would be perfect if they truly were the $7 or $8 that was advertised on the shelf, but the item codes didn’t match.
“I saw you in the aisle earlier,” he said, curious about what I was up to. “Yes, I just moved here yesterday, and I have a new house with a lot of windows to cover, so I’m prioritizing what needs to get done now. I have my list,” I held up for him to see. “Where did you move from?” he asked. “Tampa, though I’m originally from Chicago. You from North Carolina?” I asked in return. “Nah,” was his response, an answer I hear a lot here, just like Florida. Everyone, it seems, moved here from someplace else. “I’m originally from New York. My mom has folks down here,” he explained to my unasked question.
“What brings you here?”
“Antidote” – Definition, Merriam-Webster: a remedy to counteract the effects of poison
There is no arguing that alcohol is a poison. You can claim that the key is moderation, or that when consumed responsibly, alcohol can enhance your life. The science and medical communities are slowly uniting around the fact that there is no safe amount of alcohol for human consumption. So, it’s a poison with a toxic impact on our neurology and biology. If you can accept that fact, I hope you’ll keep reading. If not, nothing else I have to say is going to reach you.
I’ve been studying alcohol and alcoholism for over six years now. If you include my own personal first and second hand research, I am in my fifth decade of alcohol, and its impact, taking a high priority in my life. After all that time, all the reading, all the watching and listening, all the stories, all the successes and all the failures I have experienced and witnessed, I am absolutely convinced of one thing:
Have you ever eaten chili so hot that it burned your penis? Well, I have. In fact, I not only ate it. I made it. And I tried to serve it to my family. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start this story at the beginning.
For several years, my wife received a subscription to Martha Stewart’s magazine for a Christmas present. I’m not really sure how much Sheri got from the monthly compilation of food, crafts and home-decor tips, but I loved it! Every month, the morning after it arrived, Martha accompanied me into my tile and porcelain office, and I examined all the seasonal recipes with great delight. I was more enamored with the savory than the sweet, but even a simple sugar cookie recipe from the queen homemaker, Martha, deserved a cursory glance.
One autumn, maybe a decade ago, I opened Martha’s mag to find it staring back at me in all of its simple and authentic glory: The “Cowboy Chili” recipe that would leave an indelible mark on my manhood.
“You drive tonight and I’ll drive another day.”
Even though I anticipated getting a text like this from my husband today, it still gets my stomach churning and darkens my mood. By now, I’m fluent at translating these texts, and this one is easy: “I’m coming home early to drink so I can be plastered by tonight. I won’t be able to safely drive our family anywhere, so it’s on you.”
As an active alcoholic, the only connection I could imagine between orgasm and addiction was that I sure liked to have sex when I was drunk. Even years into sobriety, when I thought back to the relationship between my drinking and sex, my sloppy, handsy, unromantic and insistent predatory behavior brought a wave of shame crashing over me.
And now – even as I’ve studied the issue from a scientific perspective – even as I make a pitch here based on what I’ve learned – I still feel compelled to defend myself. The compulsion for self defense can only come from one place. It comes from an indelible mark of shame stamped permanently on my soul. All of my sexual attention was always directed only at my wife, and I never raped my wife. I was often disgusting. I was verbally and emotionally abusive. But I defend myself by insisting that I did nothing worse, as if my transgressions are not far more than enough.
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.