“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.
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.
As the partner of someone suffering from addiction, alcoholism is part of my life, my fabric of experience, and continues to take me on a deep and bizarre journey. Through this experience, I am learning, growing, trying different approaches to things – essentially navigating a thick jungle with no guide, no map, and no trails. However, it is a part of my life’s journey and I continue to become better and better at guiding myself.
But I can’t tell my story without impacting my partner. So the question lingers:
Who owns my story?
My mom likes to tell the story at family gatherings and other social occasions. “When I approached Matt and told him it was time for us to have, ‘the talk,’ he replied, ‘Sure mom. What do you want to know?’”
It is a chuckle-worthy story that illustrates two things – one accurately and one inaccurately. As a teenager, and into my 20s, my sexual confidence often bordered on arrogance. But it also might lead one of my mom’s guests to believe we had open and honest communication about sex and sexuality. She tried, and so did my dad. But they both viewed “the sex talk” as something to check off of a list. We did not engage in the kind of honest vulnerability that might have led to a healthy education about sex and intimacy for me as an adolescent. I don’t blame them, really. I have yet to meet anyone from their generation who could talk about sex as openly as is required to lead youths to a healthy adult outcome. My generation isn’t doing much better.
When the bottom drops out of your life, you learn really fast you don’t have nearly the control you thought you had. Releasing control means accepting that the once wonderful marriage I had is gone.
Whiskey on the rocks. No mixer. No room-temperature shots. Just harsh brown liquid barely diluted by the slowly melting ice. But who am I kidding? The way I drink, the ice doesn’t have time to melt much.
Jack Daniels, probably. We have high-end, small-batch, local bourbons distilled here in Colorado now. They are too expensive for my purpose. They are meant to be sipped. I know better than to pretend. Gut-rot, bottom-shelf, sold-in-a-plastic-bottle whiskey would feel like failure. I am trying to reestablish an identity here. Jack will do nicely. No need to return the bottle to the cabinet. It can sit on the end table next to my glass until they’re both empty.
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.
Your wife’s not a bitch.
She doesn’t have her stuff that’s making the relationship bad, too. She’s not half, or even partially, to blame.
I don’t know your wife, but I do know this…It’s not her fault.
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.