The more I talk to people about my former life, the more I realize that they truly don’t get what alcoholism is really like. I get a irritated when my friends jokingly call themselves or others alcoholics. That is like thinking I understand what it is like to go to war because I watched Apocalypse Now. (This example exemplifies my sheer lack of understanding for what real, literal war is like.) I would never try and tell a combat veteran that I know what real war is like because I have seen pictures, read books, or watched movies on the subject. Despite having read all of my grandfather’s correspondence from World War II, I still have but a glimpse into the life of a combat soldier. I don’t know about being a combat soldier at war as many of you do not know about my life of hopeless desperation married to an alcoholic for 12 years. Unless you have lived it then you don’t know. My “war” away from the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan was very different and so was his.
Watching someone that I deeply loved slowly try to commit suicide is the hardest thing I have ever experienced in my life. Maybe this makes me a wimp or an idiot either of which is possibly true, but there have been other difficult lessons that life has thrown my way. And when I look back at the hard times that happened to me and to my family, loving and living with an alcoholic takes the cake. I am sure that my lack of the daily bombardment of questions and delusions that he threw my way is why my life has evolved to what can only be described as shallow. There was so little joy in my life for so long that I won’t even have serious conversations with people at parties today.
For over a year I continually wrote on an anonymous blog to help me deal with my past life of living with an alcoholic. No doubt that sometimes the ones that love alcoholics are just as sick or sicker than the alcoholic himself. Today I deleted that blog. This is a huge step in my recovery, and it has served me very well. I have met some incredible people who have graciously helped me along the way. I will eternally be grateful to some of you for helping me to believe in myself again. And unless I had put words on a page those relationships would have never formed.
This post that I wrote almost a year ago is perhaps a small glimpse of what life was like. I want to share a bit here in hopes that it will help someone else, not to understand me, but to help someone in a similar situation. I am in no way trying to compare my own struggles to that of someone who has seen a real war. Somehow the following post is one of the few ways that I can try and relate my personal experience or “war.”
Posted on August 26, 2013
Until today I had no name for a condition for which I am in recovery. Yes, I self-diagnosed. I am the crazy girl who researches ailments to inform my doctor what I have, how I should be treated, etc. I am usually correct, so he actually listens. I don’t go often, but when I do I think he is entertained.
Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder was very real for me for so long. It is comparable to what military wives experience when their men are off to war. They anticipate the bad news, living as though death is certain in the near future. Somehow they rationalize their feelings of worry, dread, and anxiety by thinking they are “preparing” themselves for doom.
Years ago I heard a piece on NPR, while driving to work, about the daily dread that these women face. I nearly wrecked my car. The similarities were astounding. The difference is that my husband’s fight does not involve guns, IEDs, or various combat gear. His “war” is fought against the bottle. He has won a few battles but has mostly lost. It is a “war” that requires surrender, something seemingly impossible for him to do. Everyday he suits up and tries again falling into despair that he has failed again.
There have been numerous nights that I have called jails and hospitals in my tri-county area to get an idea of what happened in the depths of drinking in the dead of the night. My worry, dread, and anxiety were certainly a choice; sadly I did not know that at the time. I desperately loved him. Desperately, that’s a problem.
My self-diagnosed Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder involved not only worrying about what he was doing when I was away from him, but it was the constant worry about various other situations that we encountered in our marriage like arrest, court, incarceration, rehab, or probation. This list doesn’t include the day-to-day struggle of whether to walk on eggshells or to try and be myself during the few times that I found the courage to do so.
Because he was not always able to take care of himself, I tried to be his salvation. It felt like I usually was, but the satisfaction was fleeting, elusive. He was my best friend for many years writing me poems, bringing home surprises at random times, cooking dinner, but it was rare if he remembered my birthday, our anniversary, or even an important holiday.
Our home was a battlefield of attacks to my character and worth. I gained a lot of weight while I tried to keep a perfect house thinking that if his environment were controlled then he could catch a breath. I didn’t know that I wanted him to catch more than a breath. His soothingly sweet words in the morning must have felt like to me what the first drink of the day felt like for him. And yet I thought that if I continued to make meals from scratch and give attention to his gaping emotional wounds that somehow he would realize how amazing I was even if I didn’t feel that way. And there lies the biggest of all the problems towards what has become a very long and hard road to recovery.
I fell into and for every classic trap that the spouse of an alcoholic can fall into. I fell deeply, hard. I believed the lies and shunned the truth. I took care of an adult child while neglecting myself. I obsessed at work, wondering if he would be passed out on the floor or in the yard for the neighbors to see when I got home. I volunteered to take blame for how much he drank and how often.
The hardest and most important lesson he taught me is to try and live without expectations. Disappointment always waited for me around the corner, to capture me, strangle me. Most of the time I never put up much of a fight. When he said he was going to do something, no matter what it was, he meant it with all of his heart in the moment that it was stated only. I continue to struggle with expectations, but I no longer fall into the clutches of disappointment. I run like hell or kick and scream for help.
People are always curious as to why I stayed so long. I did want out, but the love kept me going. I also took my marriage vows very seriously. My attendance at AA and Al-Anon meetings provided temporary comfort until the messages revealed that I had to own up to my mistakes, look in the mirror, and quit enabling him. I could never make these lessons stick because I knew that by them sticking that I would deflect and leave him. It was my choice. I didn’t want to leave him. And I still miss him, very much.
For those of you who know him, he is an incredibly loving and caring person who suffers from a horrible disease. I always asked myself if I would leave him if he had something like cancer or diabetes. Of course the answer was no, and by answering this question I could see myself through another day.
My recovery has begun and even though I have lost a few battles, I feel that I am winning my “war.” Some days I surrender; others I fight for me.
2 Comments Add yours
Looking forward to reading more. Great blog post.Much thanks again. Great.
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Thank you for being so honest. Peace and love.