I am getting divorced. My husband is an alcoholic. I think I may be an alcoholic. It is only now, after 2 years of being in survival mode trying to keep everything together, that I am seeing things more clearly; I am finding myself again. But to tell this story, I need to go back.
I met my husband 4 years ago. We were interested in each other immediately, and I fell in love quickly. Great conversations, travel, a passion I hadn’t know before drew me to him so intensely at a time when I had just recovered from a broken heart, that I fell fast. Hard. Completely. We will call him David. David was handsome, charming, successful, driven, a real take-charge-alpha-male; he was different than anyone I’d ever dated. I was instantly drawn to those qualities. I think the independent woman in me thought “there is a man who can hold is own, who can push back, who isn’t a doormat”. He was tall and broad shouldered with a great smile and a great laugh.
Eight weeks after we met, he took me to the Dominican Republic. My girl friends thought I was insane because I just met this man and he could be an ax murderer. But I trusted my gut and I trusted him. Besides, if he wanted to ax murder me, he could do it in my house and save himself a lot of money. I’m logical and practical that way. The DR was incredible. A gorgeous resort sitting on the tip of the island, it was quiet and undisturbed and peaceful. The staff made us feel important and taken care of, and the drinks were amazing and strong. I drank a million of them. So did David. That was the first time we were really drunk around each other. Before that, it had been a couple beers or glasses of wine at dinner. I saw no warning signs at this point.
I always felt comfortable around David. Even before we started traveling together and having all the drinks, I never felt nervous around him which was entirely new. Excited. Butterflies in my stomach in a healthy way. But I never felt anxiety or apprehension. I felt fun and happy and sexy around him. He made me feel safe and secure. He was real, or so I thought. This pattern of fun and travel and easy-going dating continued for a year and a half. The cracks started to show when we moved in together.
He moved to the suburbs with his first wife, but wanted to live back downtown where he grew up. He was a city boy and hated being stuck out in “nowhere” with all the soccer moms and malls as he referred to the suburbs. I had just bought my cute little house that I loved so much a year before we met. I had my adorable little house 2 years when I decided to sell it to move downtown to make him happy. That was the start of me giving up myself and what I wanted to appease him or “take care” of him.
Once we got to the new condo, which was super modern and beautiful and came with 3 flights of really steep pitch stairs, he just sort of quit. He didn’t have any interest in helping me hang photos, or arrange furniture, or unpack. He said “do what you want babe, whatever makes you happy”. At first, I thought this was so nice, he was giving me control of our home to do with it what I wanted, to make it ours via my vision. I realized about a year later that it was because it wasn’t important to him; he just did not care.
It was the same for the wedding planning. He told me repeatedly “I don’t care babe, whatever makes you happy”. You see at that time his job had told him there was a great advancement and promotion opportunity for him in another town. He would be developing business for 2 smaller hospitals in a struggling market a few hours south of where we lived. I should have been a time of happiness and celebration. But instead his anxiety peaked because of the new responsibility and all the change happening at once, and he began to drink daily to “relax”. I was enjoying almost daily wine that point too because things were beginning to crack. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to be involved in anything regarding the wedding or our life in general. He retreated into his head and pints of Crown Royal and I made excuses for it; I justified it and rationalized it away rather than listen to my gut and acknowledge the red flags.
He would go get dinner, and come back four hours later drunk, with dinner having been forgotten, spilled all over his car, or he ate it himself. I was forgotten multiple times. I helped him weave up those stupid, steep stairs on more than one occasion, terrified that he would fall backwards and that’s how he would die; a broken neck in our stupid condo because of drinks. He would always be remorseful the next day, always pledging to do better, to work harder, to be better. But it was all empty words. None of his actions ever changed.
I ignored my gut warning me to slow it down, but deposits had been made, I had a dress, people had booked airfare and the hotel in Cancun. So we got married. That week was amazing. Family and friends around, sun, laughs, and too many drinks. I look at my wedding photos now and I just cringe at some of them because they should be stunning, but all I see are my slightly droopy and swollen eyes. Like really? I couldn’t have had just one glass of champagne and enjoyed the day? But that’s the thing with people who struggle with alcohol use disorder, they cannot just have one. It is never one.
I don’t want to paint myself as an angel or a martyr here. During all of this time of stress and getting-to-know-you after moving in together, I was drinking my fair share of wine. I made some bad judgement calls (driving, smoking… I have asthma), but it wasn’t daily. And during the whole year before our marriage and the year after, I cut off my drinking for 60+ days at a stretch. I would reset, to give my brain and body a break. The goal was always 90 days but I never made that. At around the 70 day mark my brain, which had been taught that alcohol was the quickest way to deal with the ick, started whispering to me again you can have one glass… you are sad/mad/scared/anxious…you are celebrating… you deserve to celebrate… See that’s the bitchy wine witch that lives in my head. She’s deceptive and sneaky and prays on me when I’m weak and weary and vulnerable. She is the devil. Satan works in all kinds of ways to get into our hearts and minds. I struggle with not listening to that voice to this day when things get tough. Even sitting down to write this, I had to talk myself out of making my coffee Irish at 9am on a Sunday morning. That voice is always there, but I’m getting better and telling her to fuck off.
Things really spun out of control with David and I when we got back from Cancun after getting married. Three days after that, he was asked to head down to our new town to start doing some work. He was excited to go prove himself. When he got down there he was not greeted with his buddy that recruited him for the job, but instead with that friend and with HR. He was told that there was a culture clash and they would not be hiring him for that role after all. David’s whole world imploded. He was now newly married with a huge rent payment and no job. His previous role had been backfilled. He spun down into a spiral of anger, shame, embarrassment, no self worth, and whiskey faster than I could even fathom. I lost him then.
He got a huge severance check from them since they were the ones who terminated the contract. I would later realize that check was a mistake. It allowed him too much freedom and time to wallow and not do anything. He spent 8 months drinking in his office and watching YouTube and Italian soccer. I basically didn’t exist. We became roommates then and never really went back to being husband and wife. I never truly felt like a wife. I felt like his housekeeper, roommate, and sometimes mother. It was a completely dysfunctional time where I was trying to keep everything together but also manage my own drinking. I was taking classes and reading all the quit lit I could get my hands on, I listened to podcasts and watched movies and went to online meetings (this was in the middle of the Covid pandemic). I was trying to better understand myself and him and what the hell was happening.
Fast forward a year and nothing changed. I threatened to leave him a couple of times and David would get it together long enough to give me hope, or sign a new lease on a rental home closer to work and my family, and then he would spiral right back down to where he was. Every time we would have a fight about drinking, he deflected to my drinking (which was occasional but nothing like it used to be). He became manipulative and deceitful, lying and hiding bottles everywhere. This was completely stupid because I always found them, and I knew the second I saw his eyes and heard his voice that he had been drinking.
I lived every day for two years wondering what version of David I would come home to every day. See, even after he went back to work he somehow always managed to leave after me and get home before me, to “work” from home. I learned that meant send a couple of emails, answer a phone call or two, and the commence drinking while watching stuff on the iPad and stretching out in the bedroom floor. So every day when I left work my anxiety would spike. Would I come home to drunk David? Already passed out in the floor David? Belligerent and pissy David? Argumentative David who would tell me that the things I was seeing and saying were not true and that it was somehow my fault? Gaslighting David? You see both of David’s parents were narcissistic and abusive. While he never laid a hand on me, in fact he ran from confrontation either literally or through drinking until he passed out, he had those qualities. He didn’t, and still does not understand that his decisions and actions and lack of actions were emotionally abusive to me.
The final straw happened at the beach. We were on a quickie vacation for my birthday. We had an amazing first 24 hours and then everything went to shit. He wanted to watch the soccer game and I wanted to go to the pool. We agreed he would watch the game for 90 minutes and then meet me at the pool. I went alone and laid in the sun and started drinking. I remember playing with a little girl and talking to some people about sunscreen. I blacked out. I have no idea how many drinks I had and I do not remember security having to walk me back to the room and David being embarrassed. What I do remember is that when I focused on the room I saw it, an empty fifth of vodka and an almost empty fifth of whiskey. Both of those bottles were purchased that morning and were supposed to be for the condo, for a night cap after we were through being in the sun for the day. I was at the pool for about 4 hours and he drank two fifths of liquor. There was nothing in the condo to mix them with except a couple of diet cokes. I saw those bottles and what happened clicked with me… not only did he drink that amount, but he chose, once again, to sit and drink alone instead of spending time with my on our trip for my damn birthday. He didn’t want to be with me. He didn’t care.
I flew into a rage. Two years of anger at his drinking, of seeing those stupid fucking bottles every day of our marriage, of cleaning up after him and begging for him to pay attention to me and spend time with me and choose me over alcohol…it all came raging out of me. I slapped him. Hard. Three times. The first time he was just stunned. The second time he thought “did that just happen?” The third time he looked at me and saw in my eyes I wanted to hurt him, and I did. I wanted him to physically feel what I had been feeling emotionally from him for two years. A little bit of hope, a good talk about alcohol and behavior, and then not eight hours later he would be back to the same thing…every day an emotional slap in the face.
We had horrible conversations the next day until I finally realized that this was irreparable. I am not violent. I avoid conflict. I am not a hitter or a yeller. And this situation, this level of stress and anxiety for 2 years, the alcohol use on both our parts, the exhaustion I felt and the anger I had toward him for ruining what was supposed to be my happily-ever-after… all of this had turned me into someone I could not be. It was time for me to go. I lost myself in that marriage. I became someone I was not at all comfortable being. And the only way to get myself out of it was to physically get out.
I left him 2 days later, when we were at home. He was saying the same words over and over that I had been hearing for years… I’ll do better, I’m gonna get better, I’ll work on it, You’re the most important thing in my life, I love you, I’d take a bullet for you… It was all bullshit. I have no doubt that David loved me, still loves me, in his way. But he has no idea what it means to be in a marriage, or to let anyone in. He needs years of therapy to learn how to deal with emotion and issues that he has never learned to cope with in a healthy way. But I was done. I couldn’t stick around anymore. My mental health was suffering. I was anxious and depressed and irritable all the time. I had become a hermit, sitting in front of the TV every night alone. I didn’t want to talk. I went through the motions at work, but at home I had retreated into myself because I just couldn’t deal anymore. So I had to leave. On a Thursday morning when he was at work, I packed a suitcase and the valuables that were important to me, along with important documents and I came to my parent’s house. I also grabbed the dog and the two cats. He couldn’t take care of himself, his hygiene took a dive, the house was disgusting because I had stopped cleaning up after him, and I could not leave the cats behind.
Bless my parents for allowing me to show up with no notice, three animals, suitcases and litter boxes and cry and just be still. I decompressed that first month at their house. I slept more soundly than I had in two years because I was not going to sleep full of angst and fear. I was no longer worried about him and his actions. I felt free. After three weeks with them, I met him and told him I wanted a divorce. When I said we needed to talk, he told me to come over at 3pm. I arrived at three and before I got there, I knew what I would find. My instincts were so attuned to his actions and behaviors at that point that I was not surprised at all to walk in and find him passed out sideways on the bed surrounded by liquor bottles and fast food bags. I stared at him for a few minutes and said to God “thank you for this. It validates and seals my decision one hundred percent”.
I woke him up, said I wanted a divorce. He asked if he had any say in it and my response was “come on David, are you serious? Look at you! Look at this!! You don’t care anymore or you would’ve cleaned up yourself and this house to talk to me and try and save our marriage. It’s already over. It’s been over. I’m just making it official. Enjoy the tequila you tried to hide under the pillow”. And I walked out.
Fast forward now to three months later. I am still trying to get all the paperwork together to get divorced. I have an attorney, it’s in motion, but it’s slow. It stalled for 6 weeks because David made some really poor choices, landed himself in intensive care, and his sister and I were worried we were going to lose him. When he was out of the woods physically, we had to deal with some cognitive deficits. He did some brain damage to himself. So there were competency issues to sort out with doctors and the attorney. Now that all of that is finished, I am finally proceeding with the necessary steps to file this and get moving. I am ready for my life to begin again. I’m ready for my own place. I’m ready to take a damn vacation!! I am exhausted but I’m feeling more and more free every day.
I am a nurse. A healer. An empath. A caretaker. A fixer. Some would say a natural witch. I have great instincts that serve me well, when I listen to them. My animals never fully warmed up to David. They saw the darkness in him that I didn’t see. When his true personality and his sickness revealed itself I became acutely aware that I had felt all of those warning signs, my instincts knew but I ignored them. Because I loved him. Because I wanted to help him. Because I believed in “til death do us part”. But I don’t think living a life of misery and anxiety for the rest of my days is what God ordained for me. I don’t think that is why I was put on this earth. I no longer have guilt about leaving. I stuck by him in critical care and after. I took care of his medical issues, his disability payments and claims, his insurance issues, the rental house payments, his car, his job… I saved him in multiple ways. Whether or not he learns from this and turns his life around is no longer my concern or burden to carry. All I want from him is one signature on a packet of paper to let me go. I want my freedom.
I lost myself in this marriage. There is nothing wrong with being a caregiver. But so many times, that instinct to save and help overwhelms us, it wipes out our boundaries and we become a dimmed version of who we were meant to be. I am now trying to reclaim ME. Who am I? Other than nurse, sister, daughter… who am I? Why was I put on this earth? What are my hobbies? What makes me happy? What do I like to do in my free time? I have to reclaim my SELF. I have been doing a lot of reading, more meditating, trying to write more. I have spent time outside with my dog (when it’s not 100+ degrees and I don’t get eaten alive by mosquitos). I have been reading about crystals and healing modalities that are outside my norm because I am curious, and have always been curious, about things outside my comfort zone. I’m emerging from my hermit cocoon and seeing my girl friends more often, having lunches and brunches with cute clothes and awesome food and delicious mock-tails. I burn candles constantly depending on my emotions in that moment and I’ve rediscovered my love of essential oils and am taking an online class to deepen my knowledge. I cry when I need to and I sing loudly in the car and I dance in the house when I have to move to get it all out. I am designing my new place in a glam French country style: cozy and warm and inviting with soft corners and colors and feminine touches but a little bit of bling. I’m dreaming about Christmas when I will finally be able to buy the MINI Cooper I’ve always wanted.
When everything breaks, when your world shatters over time or in one defining moment, you’re left standing in a mess you cannot comprehend. The overwhelm is real. The ache in your heart and body and soul is real. But underneath the confusion and the ache is something even more real: survival. The instinct to move away from danger, to save yourself, to be authentic to your spirit is stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. I tried to save David for 2 years. I scarified large pieces of myself in the process. But in that one moment at the beach, when I left him there and was on the plane on my way home to safety, I felt it. The deep calling in me. My voice. God’s voice. It was time for me to save myself. Survival instinct took over and nothing else mattered. Not him. Not vows. Not helping him. Not saving him. Nothing else mattered but me, so I left and saved myself.
My family says I stayed much longer than they thought I would. But love is hard to turn your back on, until it isn’t . I want anyone reading this to know that you are worth saving. You are worth a life of safety and beauty and wonder and happiness. For women in particular, that is difficult because we tend to be the ones to hold the family together. But at what cost? Go when you need to go. Save yourself and everything else will fall beautifully into place. I believe that wholeheartedly. I am waiting for my next chapter. I am looking forward to the future with clear eyes and an open heart. There is so much I want to do and experience that I can make happen now. We all deserve that. We deserve happy. So when everything breaks, grieve for it, and then stand up and put everything back together in a way that honors who you were put on this earth to be.
Love and light friends.