Writing about my value and worth is much more difficult than noting what I don’t deserve. It’s easy for me to be hard on myself.
But, I can list a number of tangible things that I’m proud of: my daughter, that I bought a house at age 27, my career, a published paper, helping my sister financially through vet school and her wedding. These tangibles are the outcomes of the intangibles.
The intangibles are what is important. The intangibles are the things I want to model for my daughter.
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.
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.
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.
“Come here and listen to this voicemail,” insisted my coworker, Loraine. She had a concerned look on her face, and she gestured in a way that assured me that my participation in her dilemma was not optional. She held her desk phone to my ear as I listened to the wife of another of our coworkers curse and spit venomous insults that would make Louis C.K. blush. “Jim’s wife dialed the wrong extension and left that on my phone instead of his,” Loraine surmised. “Have you ever heard anything so vile? I’m worried about them. If they talk to each other like that…that is not OK.”
More shocking for me than Jim’s wife’s language was Loraine’s reaction. I had heard vile, unhinged communication like that. In fact, I had heard a similar diatribe the previous weekend. And I gave it as good as I got it. For me, that voicemail was hardly noteworthy. For me, talking like that was normal.
I was an alcoholic. Vicious verbal combat had been normalized.
I spent way too much time on social media during the week between the holidays. I usually post about my writing and podcast, then turn it off, so anything more than a few minutes a week makes me feel gross. I probably only scrolled fb and IG for a grand total of an hour, but I still needed to take a hot shower, scrub my eyes with bleach and submerge my phone in Windex.
In case I’ve been unclear, I don’t enjoy social media. I think my dislike stems from my borderline-perverted curiosity about your messy, dysfunctional lives. I don’t want to see your family’s strained smiles wearing itchy sweaters in front of a dead evergreen adorned with LEDs and third-grade craft projects. Great – someone held Preston down long enough to comb his hair, and Bill really did a nice job sucking in his gut for the ten seconds until the timer on the phone camera ran down to zero. Precious. Send it to grandma. I want the truth, damn you!
I’ve always known he did his best. That was never in question. For many years now, however, I wallowed in my belief that his best wasn’t good enough – that he should have done more and known better. But time, when combined with an open mind and considerable reflection and contemplation, is a powerful potion to heal old wounds.
I’ve long blamed my dad. Now I’m not so sure…
If you think reading about the impact of alcohol and recovery is therapeutic, you should try writing about it.
If you are battling a compulsion to drink, or if you are the loved one of a heavy drinker, you are probably protecting a closely guarded secret. It is the kind of secret that will eat you up from the inside while the poison does mental and biological damage to you, the drinker or second-hand drinker. The erosion of self-esteem, relationships and capacity to manage are all universalisms, yet we protect our secrets like we are somehow unique in a nation with over 15 million alcoholics.
And we protect our secrets because we can’t find a safe place to let them out.
June 22, 2007, dawned beautiful, clear and bright in our corner of the Mid-Atlantic. A perfect day for a little bit of a sail. A perfect day for a little bit of a wedding.
John and I had been living together for most of a decade. We’d always made a big deal about the anniversary of our hooking up, I guess you’d call it, romantics that we were. In thinking of how to celebrate our 10th, getting married seemed like the obvious choice.
There was only ever one consideration for a venue. She was one of a gorgeous pair of 72-foot schooners, operating in town, berthing at night in the slips right outside our apartment complex. Surprisingly affordable, she offered many things, including an organic constraint to the size of a wedding party, and extra conversational points for having been featured in a big-budget movie. Those are just minor details for flavor, though. All we really wanted was to get married on a boat, on the water, with plenty of booze.