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.
It was my first experience being among people at a gathering where drinking alcohol would be assumed, almost mandatory. This was also my first experience with people that had no idea I quit drinking, had no idea of my disease of alcoholism, and certainly had no idea of the roller coaster of a life I had lived in the past year. This was my first time being with co-workers at a social happy hour and work/dinner conferences since getting sober. My brain started to worry days ahead of time. My default way of thinking started my racing patterns long before I should have been worried about the event. My past habits, dysfunctional thinking, and excessive thoughts caused me to fixate on a tiny event in my future that should not have even been a thought in my mind.
As the first day of conferences wound down that afternoon, my coworkers and I all went back to our rooms to take off our work attire and get ready for the upcoming dinner. Shortly after getting to my room, a co-worker texted the group. “Meet at the bar in 15 minutes…I’m buying the first round.” Three others in our group replied. “Hell yeah!” “I’ve been craving a beer all afternoon.” “Let’s get our drink on!” I instantly started to worry. Should I reply? I wondered if I should go. Maybe I should just drink. No one in my personal life would have to know anything about it. I impatiently and anxiously paced around my hotel room. I finally texted the group after many crazy thoughts spun through my mind.
I don’t drink, but I’ll be there.
I’m a hunter. I’m married to a gatherer. And it’s really fucking hard.
Does this stupid analogy really explain why we find marriage to be so difficult? Do you also want to hear my regurgitated insight about the mixing of oil and water, the distance between Mars and Venus, and the oh-so-soothing conventional relationship wisdom about how opposites attract? Is it really so simple? I have been accused of oversimplifying before. Usually by my wife after I have hunted down a solution while she is still gathering information on the topic.
For us imbibers, the calendar can be divided into three drinking seasons.
The holiday season starts about mid October for most. I am an overachiever, both as a lush and as a lover of scary movies, so my holiday season starts on October first, sharp. The holiday season runs through the fourth quarter of the college football national championship game when one SEC team that I don’t care about crushes the year’s eager victim. Between the bookends, the excuses to drink line up in an organized, dependable, evenly spaced out succession making sobriety unthinkable, and moderation a celebratory faux pas. Drinkers have plenty of reasons to drink during the holiday season.
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.
“We can.” That’s the response I received for years when I asked my wife, Sheri, if she wanted to have sex. As an active alcoholic, that consent was good enough for me. I didn’t know it, but I was looking to sex for the same dopamine hit I got from alcohol. A reluctant, “We can,” was enough.
When the question is, “Do you want to…?” and the response is, “We can,” that’s never really enough.
I’m not just talking about the psychological damage her consent did to Sheri. “We can,” really messed me up in profound and lasting ways.
There’s nothing more important to a successful marriage than intimacy.
There are things that are equally important, like trust (which is the cornerstone of intimacy) and loyalty and cohesive parenting and mutual protection, but there is nothing more important, if a long-term romantic relationship is to thrive, than intimacy.
These aren’t the ramblings of a horny teenager. I’m not just talking about sex. I’m talking about the emotional connection that takes place at the intersection of vulnerability and sexual contact. It is important. In fact, nothing is more important. And if we are going to solve the catastrophic intimacy problems that are enmeshed in alcoholic relationships, we’d better stop moving intimacy to the back burner and downplaying it as hopeless, and thus, unimportant.
The most temporarily effective thing my wife and I tried to help us get along during my alcoholism was simple: Be nice. I describe this plan as temporarily effective because while it created moments of peace in our house more successfully than anything else we tried for the ten years of my active addiction, it ultimately didn’t work. So it was the most effective ineffective path we went down to fix our marriage.
Here are the details. Before we said anything to each other, we were to run it through this filter: Is it nice? Yep, we banked our marriage on the childhood mantra, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
I was shocked when he said it. Not only did he admit to letting his drinking get in the way of spending time with his children, but even when he was actively engaged with his kids, he didn’t enjoy it. He wanted to be somewhere else. The connection with his own flesh and blood was empty for him.
For a proud father, that was a bold and vulnerable admission. I know a thing or two about vulnerability. I have written and spoken publicly about some of my most despicable behavior. But I have never admitted to hating spending time with my children.
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety.” When journalist Johann Hari made that statement as part of the conclusion of his TED Talk in 2015, I didn’t disagree with him. I mostly didn’t disagree with him because I was still drinking in 2015 and didn’t give a shit about a speech titled, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong.” But even now, today, I think Hari got that first part right. Sobriety doesn’t fix anything. It is neither the solution, nor is it the opposite of the addictive behavior that has brought millions of us to our knees.
It’s the second part of his concluding statement that has been increasingly adopted as indisputable fact in the recovery community for the past six years. Hari ended his talk saying, “The opposite of addiction is connection.” From the first time I heard it, until a few months ago, I thought Hari was right. Now, I’m convinced that while the concept is useful, it is incomplete.
I believe the opposite of addiction is neither sobriety nor connection. I believe the opposite of addiction is self-esteem.