One of our cats died last week. Even with an opening line like that, I can assure you this is not a story about a cat. I don’t like cats, so I would never write about them. I do like my family, however. In fact, I love them. So I’m going to tell you a little bit about my dead cat for context.
They called him Royal. I called him The White One or Princess. We had three cats, and two of them are orange. So, The White One was descriptive enough that my wife and kids knew which cat had drawn my ire. I called him Princess because as he walked, he crossed his back feet side to side, one in front of the other, like a fashion model walking down the runway. His tail was always pointed straight up as he sashayed along giving him a royal aloofness and sense of superiority. My wife found it majestic. I couldn’t understand why Princess was always showing me his pooper. I think he liked me about as much as I liked him.
I found him early in the morning in the back corner of our bathroom, immobile and panting. I woke my wife, Sheri, who sprang into action through panicked sobs. She told me immediately that he was dying. I don’t know how she knew, but she was right. She took him to a 24-hour animal hospital where she learned that her intuition was accurate and the damage he suffered from his overnight heart attack was irreversible. Sheri held him close while the vet administered the injection.
I had to go to work at the same time my wife left for the animal hospital. We own a retail whole grain bread bakery, and I had a lot of bread to bake while opening our doors for business at 6am. Staying home to comfort my family was not an option. Sheri returned home a little after 6am and broke the news to our two high schoolers. They tried to be strong for their mother, but they both broke down before pulling it together and heading for school. Sheri decided not to tell our two younger children who we affectionately call, the littles, until after school for fear they would not be able to manage their emotions in class all day. I never would have thought of that, but agreed it was a brilliant decision when Sheri shared it with me later in the morning.
After getting the littles to school and taking a walk with a good friend, Sheri came to the bakery. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she wiped her nose as she walked through the door. I held her while she sobbed for a minute, then she ventured back into the world to try to accomplish a few of the items on her long list of tasks for the day. I could see in her face she was dreading telling the littles in the afternoon, and she would find no ease to her trepidation until the news was delivered.
I returned home at dinner time, and was surprised by the embrace I received from our youngest son, eight-year-old Andrew. He whispered, “Thank you,” through his rolling tears. When I asked him why he was thanking me, he said, “You carried Royal up the stairs and laid him in the cat carrier so Mom could take him to the hospital, and you didn’t even like him. Thank you.” With those words, we were both crying and hugging and fighting our way through a pretty rotten day.
While my family mourned the loss of the cat I didn’t like, I spent the day thinking about my relationship with them. I am two years sober, and the difference that makes on a day like the one I just described is subtle but profound. Sheri turned to me for comfort several times throughout the day, and she knew beyond any doubt that she would receive love and understanding in return for her vulnerability. Our relationship has not always worked this way. As an active alcoholic, the thing my marriage lacked the most was trust. I’m not talking about the trust of monogamy or financial responsibility. Sheri never knew how I would react to news – good or bad.
So many people think alcoholism is all about selfishly getting drunk and shirking responsibilities. In reality, alcoholism is more about unpredictability and pain.
As an active alcoholic, my anxiety was so consistently high that my reaction may indeed have lacked understanding and compassion as we dealt with a dying cat in the middle of the night. And my anxious behavior would not have had anything to do with how I felt about my wife or family. Nor would it have meant I was still under the influence of alcohol. In fact, my anxiety remained high even when I had gone days without a drink. As an active alcoholic, my anxiety in the face of an event like we experienced in the predawn hours last week likely would have sent me over the edge of panic about how we were going to tend to the cat, get the kids to school and open the bakery – all at the same time. I simply would not have had compassion to offer as I stressed about negotiating our dilemma.
My reaction in active alcoholism would have been beyond my control. It would not have made me a bad or uncaring person. But to my wife, who needed me to be strong and loving in her time of urgent despair, I would have seemed a hate-filled asshole.
And that’s what alcoholism is all about.
Sheri would not have been vulnerable. She would not have cried on my shoulder or asked for my help getting the cat into the carrier. She would have trudged stoically forward without involving her husband because her husband’s reaction was simply too unpredictable.
She would not have trusted me enough to turn to me when she needed me. And trust, as we all know, it the most fundamental and basic requirement of any successful relationship.
When I think about the healing that has resulted from two years in recovery, I’m glad my health has improved and I’ve found a peace and patience with which I was unfamiliar. I’ve lost a couple of pounds, and my cravings for alcohol have all but vanished.
But nothing comes close to the joy I feel from regaining the trust of my wife.
We recently recorded a new episode for our Untoxicated Podcast. My podcast partner, Jason, and I, want our discussions to focus largely on the effects of addiction on relationships. For the new episode which will drop in a few days, we interviewed my good friend, Simone Meyer. Like Jason and me, Simone is two years sober. Shortly after returning from rehab, Simone’s marriage deteriorated from a place that lacked trust to a place of irreconcilable differences resulting in divorce. Simone’s story is as common as it is tragic. In active alcoholism, she and her husband survived the unmanageable. In sobriety, the repair and healing required was simply too steep a hill to climb. It happens all the time.
And yet, it didn’t happen to me. The more I learn about addiction, the better I understand how incredibly blessed I am to be married to my wife. I am blessed not just because she stayed and fought for our marriage when I was drinking. I am even more blessed that she worked and learned and found the strength to open her heart to me in recovery. If that sounds like the easy part, you didn’t listen. Just ask Simone. She’ll tell you what I mean.
Sheri and I have lost our bakery lease after fifteen years of baking bread for our Denver neighbors. We worked very, very hard to find someone to buy our business and move it to a new location, but we were unsuccessful. Our beloved bakery will close permanently at the end of February.
Something else happened after two years of recovery from alcoholism that would not have been conceivable when I was an active alcoholic. Sheri and I worked together to create the most exciting solution to our business predicament. We talked, we thought, we prayed and we trusted each other. And the idea that resulted brings me more pride than all the loaves of whole grain bread our fifteen years produced. With the help of our loyal and loving customers, we are going to turn our business into something far more consequential and nourishing than a little strip mall bakery could ever hope to be. We aren’t going out of business. We are expanding the reach of our business to places where we are needed the most.
But we can’t do it alone. To have the impact we envision, we need the support of our friends, family and our thousands of customers. This is far bigger than a weekly loaf of bread. This isn’t about our own selfish needs, nor is it about unpredictability and anxiety. It is about you. It is about Sheri and me. It is about us taking our relationships, in many cases forged over many years, and making them about something bigger than ourselves. It is about vulnerability and love.
It is about trust. Won’t you trust us enough to help us take our bakery to a new level and help those who need the help the most? Please click the link below to learn more about the first step in our new plan for the future.
Now featured on the Untoxicated Podcast: Ep4 – What You Eat Can Cure You with The Addiction Nutritionist, Kelly Miller