I do the yardwork. I have since we moved out of our apartment and into our first rented house. By then, John was already sick, but we were still long months away from his cirrhosis diagnosis. He tried to mow the lawn once, in the early days at the rental, and gave up after five minutes.
At the age of forty-four, his liver sneakily failing, he simply wasn’t physically capable of it.
I scoffed at the weak and undisciplined among us. I felt superior to anyone who struggled to control his or her sweet tooth. At a restaurant with clients or friends, I boldly drank my dessert, choosing Irish Coffee over the Creme Brulee everytime. I drank extra-bitter, extra-strong IPAs. When I drank a bourbon and Coke, I asked the bartender to hold the Coke. There was nothing sweet about me…just ask my wife.
Then I stopped drinking.
It had never occurred to me that beer – even a bitter IPA – is basically carbonated sugar water. What the hell did I think malted barley was? As I weaned off of alcohol, I discovered a ravenous sugar addiction lurking just behind the booze bottle.
My ignorance about myself extends far beyond my alcohol-induced addiction to sugar. I also had a misguided interpretation of my relationship to other people – especially people in power who exerted influence over my direction and activities.
“I know you never lie to me. I believe you. You’re not lying. It’s worse than lying. You’ve forgotten.”
The rocks glass, perched on the old steamer trunk in the basement, contains a pale pink liquid.
But I know he drinks cranberry juice out of his rocks glass. Bright red cranberry juice. The warm plastic bottle of it is sitting right beside the rocks glass, on the old steamer trunk covered with the labels of our past wine bottles (those bottles our main means of travel).
I can never bury the familiar internal alarm deep enough. Something is not right here breaks out like spring sprouts from the dirt as I walk past the steamer trunk on my way to the laundry. I’m an experimentalist, not a theorist, though, so I grab the rocks glass and knock back a quick swallow.
“If you would have more sex with me, I wouldn’t have to drink so much.” Ah, the twisted phrase uttered out of intoxicated desperation in marital bedrooms around the world. And every one of the millions (maybe billions) of women who have received that accusatory plea have the same two simultaneous thoughts:
How dare he try to put his drinking problem on me. It is my body and my choice, and frankly, sex is the last thing I want with this man who has grown increasingly unattractive to me over the years and decades of his abusive drinking.
Maybe he’s right.
How dare you?
That’s the voice in my head every time I sit down to write. What gives me the right to tell these stories about my life with my alcoholic ex-husband, and the long, slow demise of our relationship? Alcoholism is personal, certainly in our culture. It’s a secret, one that he labored to keep from his family, from his friends, from his co-workers and employers (and even from me, whenever he could). Despite that, since I was his partner, it was understood that I would keep the secret, too.
“We all have a voice that tells us why we shouldn’t write.” I was surprised to hear this from a professional writing coach during a workshop. (I thought it was just me.) “We need to get to know the voice, negotiate with it. Ask it what it wants to tell us about our writing.”
I didn’t write about the events that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021. I didn’t talk about them in our Echoes of Recovery group. It wasn’t a writing prompt for our SHOUT Sobriety program. Not a word about it was mentioned during our monthly Marragevolution session, and I don’t even remember a related side discussion on our Untoxicated Podcast. I didn’t ignore it, Far from it, in fact. I internalized and anguished about January 6th. But as the most hyper-political and toxic event of my lifetime (if you think I’m exaggerating, please challenge me in the comments), I didn’t want to pour fuel on anyone’s fire by sharing my thoughts and emotions.
That was a mistake. People relapsed over January 6th.
He hates me.
Lots of why will be spun up around this in the future I’m falling headlong into (it’s the alcohol, it’s the disease, it’s not him, it’s not real).
But none of you are here right now. None of you can see the way my partner, my husband, is looking at me. We’re two decades past and three thousand miles away from when and where we first fell in love, but there’s a longer time, a deeper distance: both immeasurable.
He hates me, and it doesn’t matter why.
Empathy, that putative ability to feel the emotions of others as if they were your own… well, you can see how that would be a dangerous prospect at this moment. A thing to guard against.
I don’t need two people hating me like that.
Did you ever wonder how your alcoholism has impacted your children? Or your parents?
I have wondered. I have forgiven myself for most of the repercussions of my drinking, but the impact that this family disease had on my kids is what keeps me up at night. Some of us are lucky enough to have time to address the pain and trauma. Others are not so lucky.
In January, I finally get the text from John’s dad that I’ve been waiting on for more than a year.
Oh, and the waiting. It’s astounding the stories we build up in our heads when there’s no intervention from reality to prune them into a sensible shape. I ask myself on a loop, how does he think this happened? Why does he think I gave his son two pounds of my own liver, and a year and a half later handed the same man divorce papers? Doesn’t he want to know? If I have an overactive imagination, I wonder, are some others’ atrophied, seized up and dry? Or is it worse: do they just not care?
Waiting, I compose in my head a pointed, yet directionless reply to a piercingly unasked question. The meat of it wraps around a spinal litany of near-funerals for his son that he doesn’t even realize he’d missed: five by my count, the transplant (the one everyone pays attention to) not even the last one, not even the closest call.
I wouldn’t wish alcoholism on anyone. But…but…if I had it all to do over again, I don’t think I’d change a thing.
Do you remember the Kiefer Sutherland advertising campaign for Jose Cuervo? One of the taglines was, “Just don’t have any regrets.” That’s more than a little ambitious for a pusher of tequila, don’t you think? I have always assumed tequila was the Spanish word for regret. Has anyone ever started a night with, “lick it, slam it, suck its,” that didn’t end in regret? My life is chalked full of regrets, and more than a few of them can be directly attributed to Jose Cuervo.