Active in my addiction, I was a runner. I ran from hard situations, stale relationships, jobs I didn’t like, parenting. You name it. I ran from it.
Running away from what caused mental and emotional pain — whether it be a dead-end job or a relationship at the crest of its honeymoon phase — was the only way I knew how to cope.
When my first child was born in 2007, it took everything I had to not run from caring for him. I didn’t know how to, first of all. I am the daughter of one person with alcohol addiction and another with a substance addiction. I was young, too young to have a child. I was active in my addiction. And, before I got pregnant, I hadn’t been with my son’s father, who is now my husband (we’ll get to that later) long enough to know if I wanted something long-term.
After a rough bout of undiagnosed postpartum depression, my addiction took off, and I went from binge-drinking once a month to daily drinking to escape the depression and anxiety. I’d begun moving toward isolation, alienating my friends and family, and my son’s father was the last one to go.
After a rough bout of undiagnosed postpartum depression, my addiction took off, and I went from binge-drinking once a month to daily drinking to escape the depression and anxiety.
As he walked toward the door with a black duffle bag in hand, he looked at me and said, “One day, you’ll realize I’m not the problem. And when you do, I’ll be here.”
I scoffed and told him to lock the door behind him.
About nine months later, staring down the hallway into my son’s room, I had a moment of clarity. I had to get sober. I had a child to raise that depended on me. I had what some recovery groups call the “gift of desperation,” and I believe that my willingness to get sober, coupled with my fear of what would happen to my child if I didn’t, propelled me into finding a way to live without alcohol.
Six months into my sobriety, I realized that my son’s father was right. He wasn’t the problem. He, in fact, was who I wanted to be with for the long haul, I just couldn’t see that from within the stormy clouds of alcoholism.
Sobriety was the answer, and it would fix all of my problems. Until it didn’t.
In short, we got back together, and I naively thought everything was going to be great. After all, I was sober! In a short couple of years, I’d paid off most of my debts, found a job I liked, gone back to school, and been present for my son. Why wouldn’t my relationship be any different? Sobriety was the answer, and it would fix all of my problems.
Until it didn’t.
So, at just shy of two years sober and two weeks into our newly minted marriage, my husband and I sat on the stiff, gray couch in our new therapist’s office.
Getting sober was indeed necessary to address the problems in my relationship but it wasn’t a cure-all. I’d done too much damage in those four years that we were together before I stopped drinking. I was, quite honestly, devastated that I didn’t know how to fix my relationship even as a sober woman.
Our therapist pointed out two things that made me realize that there was no fixing my relationship, at least not on my own.
- My relationship couldn’t be fixed by me because it wasn’t just about me — another person was involved. Nothing was fixable unless we both wanted to work things out.
- I came from a broken home, as did my husband. Neither of us grew up with a positive example of what a romantic relationship should look like, so why would we know how to have one?
In the middle of my alcoholism, I couldn’t see either of these points. In sobriety, I couldn’t either. I could see that I had changed, and I could see that I wanted things to work with my husband, but I couldn’t figure out how to bridge the gap.
What I realized is that I had to stop trying to fix and start listening.
My husband, in having to navigate a relationship with a drunk, had built up certain defenses.
As an active alcoholic, I was in immense emotional pain but I also caused a lot of pain. My husband, in having to navigate a relationship with a drunk, had built up certain defenses. He loved me but he still had to live with me which, I can imagine, was really trying at times.
I was irrational and, often, my insecurities weighed out over reason, which meant he tip-toed around me and couldn’t be open with his feelings. I would rage over little things like not receiving a phone call or text message in what I thought was a timely manner. I spent too much money and had nothing to show for it so he had to hide money to make sure the bills got paid. I neglected my child and him so he sought support elsewhere. I lied frequently because I was ashamed of the truth, so he didn’t trust me.
When we landed in marriage counseling, we’d been together for around six years (with that whole nine-month break in the middle) and I’d only been sober a third of that time.
As a binge drinker, I was adept at pulling myself together for long periods of time, which created a roller coaster of highs and lows in our relationship. This was the first time I’d really committed to sobriety and my husband needed a chance to come to terms with the fact that he could trust me and rely on me as much as I could him.
Being sober and committing myself to my family was the foundation, but the healing between my husband and me took time.
Today, our relationship is solid. We’ll celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. It’s not lost on me, though, that without my sobriety and without both of us possessing the willingness to put in the work, what we have wouldn’t exist.