Strength of self

If my life were to flash before my eyes today, it would include a series of stills from my marriage to an alcoholic.  The moment when I sat at the airport because he overslept following an all-night bender, alone in our apartment taking in as much as he could before I returned home.  The morning following a friend’s wedding when he told me he was done drinking.  The moment one month later when I found the first hidden drink high up in a cupboard, blocking the cookie cutters I needed for Christmas baking.

The moment years later when our young son asked him about the bottles hidden in the basement – his distillery – after finding them with his friends one day.   Our daughter’s high school graduation, where I sat alone because he was so drunk he chose instead to sit high up near the rafters on the other side of the gym.

That moment long ago when I asked him why and wondered aloud if it was because of me.

These stills are the picture – for better or for worse – of our life together.  What has emerged recently, though, is a hero.  For years, I waited for someone to sweep in and make this all go away.  To answer the questions I could not, and bring solutions to the problems I couldn’t solve.  I needed a hero.  So that is what I became.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Odyssey

Earlier this week, I attended a book reading of the story of Penelope and Odysseus.  When her husband returns after being gone for 20 years, he comes disguised as a beggar.  Penelope does not recognize him, and only acknowledges it is Odysseus when he refuses to move her bed.   Years earlier, he made that bed with one leg that was a living olive tree. Only he would know that, so his identity was confirmed.

Perhaps because I was sitting in the shadow of Swenny’s and my first apartment, my mind rewound to who we were 20 years ago.  If we had been absent from one another for all of those years, would we recognize each other today?

I arrived home tonight to a pile of books on the kitchen table.  Religious books.  Apparently, they are Swenny’s reading assignment, given by his mentor with the expectation of a full report in one week.  Since I’m still waiting for him to share his recovery plan with me, I asked how this fits together.

He told me that he needs to change, and these books will help him.  At this moment, I wondered who was sitting opposite me.  Swenny doesn’t need to change – he only needs to find the will to live without alcohol.  And he won’t find that in passages of books borrowed  from the church library.

I cautioned him not to fall so easily into someone else’s version of a better Swenny.  And I asked him why he’s following someone else’s recovery plan rather than crafting his own.

Hesitantly, he pulled up his plan on his iPad and read it to me.  Exercise and prayer were his only two strategies.  What happened to his outpatient recovery groups?  AA meetings?  Apparently, they had made the plan, but that he didn’t want to articulate them to me told me he’s not ready to face the hard work of recovery.  He hopes instead that checking boxes on a to-do list provided by someone else will lead him home.

When he gets there, I hope I recognize him…and I hope he recognizes me.  I worry that we have lost so much of ourselves to this journey that we hardly resemble who we once were.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our song

Today, I wondered about the background music of our life.  Maybe because I’m still waiting for Swenny’s plan, I hear none.  Two Fridays have come and gone; days spent without help or direction for the care and keeping of him and his addiction.  I find myself becoming less worried and more resentful for what seems like his continued disregard for me and our kids.

While running this afternoon, I passed the miles by paying close attention to the lyrics of the songs on my playlist.  Trying to make sense through music of this place we find ourselves in yet again.  From Supertramp to Alanis Morrisett, nothing spoke to me.  Until Fun. whose song Carry On opens with a bottle of wine and a person’s head in the curtains.  I can relate to this, I thought.  It was the words that came next, though, that made me stop, listen and begin to understand.

“…we are not shining stars

This I know

I never said we are.”

Swenny feels like less…less than he should be, less than he could be.  Not a star, but who is?  Was his potential once so great that the thought of not living up to it devastated him?  From people who have known him longer than I have, years of striving but never attaining took their toll.  Until today, I didn’t fully appreciate what he has put himself through in terms of his expectations for himself.

He has told me of his disappointment in himself for his lot in life.  I always assumed he was referring to his addiction.  Today, for the first time, I understood that his perceived shortfalls aren’t the result of his drinking, but possibly the cause.  I realize now that the best thing I can do for him is remind him as often as possible of his value as a husband, father, and friend.

By the time my run ended, the bow was beginning to move across the strings.  Soon, the symphony will play.  And it will be unforgettable.

 

 

A Drunk

I despise when people call an alcoholic a drunk.  To me, it invokes visions of a fool, stumbling along with a bottle carelessly disguised in a brown paper bag.  That’s not my alcoholic.  Someday you will hear from Swenny, but since today is not that day, let me tell you a little about him.

Swenny graduated from a great university, with a triple major in economics, political science and international relations.  He was a gifted athlete who loved coaching our kids’ teams, accepting that they didn’t have his level of ability, celebrating their effort instead.  He was once surrounded by friends who appreciated his humor and kindness.  He’s interesting, well-read and thoughtful in his opinions.  He is handsome.  Once upon a time, he put his family first.

A few days ago, I could not find him.  Phone calls and texts went unanswered.  The longer it took to reach him, the worse the scenario I formed about where he was became.  Certain he was drinking, I sent a final text: “Where are you?!”

His response: “Helping a cancer patient move her mattress.”  Apparently, a stranger with no family nearby, desperate for a good night’s sleep, randomly called his office to see if anyone could help her put her mattress on the bed frame so she could sleep there instead of on the couch.  He went right over.  Therein lies the essence of Swenny.  He is thoughtful and considerate beyond anyone I have ever known.  And why he deserves to overcome his addiction and live a full and happy life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One year ago…

It was one year ago – almost to the date – when we made the difficult decision that Swenny would move out of our home and into a sober house.  We had already endured a terrible year of very heavy drinking, which put Swenny’s job in jeopardy, not to mention the damage done to him and our family.  Things were out of control.  To regain some control, I decided to sell the home we loved in order to have a financial cushion to pay for what I knew was coming – a move to a sober house.  I had done my homework with the help of a few very incredible friends and felt I had found the best possible place.

One night, after finding the vodka and Swenny passed out on the couch, I huddled with our two kids and shared the plan.  For teenagers, they amazed me with their level of support and maturity.  They were all in, so I delivered the news to their father.  Either agree to the plan or leave.  For the first time, he said, “I can’t do this alone. I need help.”

A few days later, our son walked him to the car to say goodbye.  I watched through the window as they shook hands, the younger man extending his support – through that handshake – to his dad.  Unconditional love.

From there, our summer went along uneventful.  We saw Swenny fairly often and eventually he felt he had done all he could at the sober house, and was ready to come home.  Things seemed to be going along fairly well, until they were not.

The pattern goes like this:  conversations cannot be recalled and are therefore repeated; his eyes are bloodshot; he smells like vodka; he becomes quiet; he withdraws.  For my part, I watch him, ask him and hope he’ll let me in.  He does not, so I begin searching for bottles of vodka.  Swenny hides them well, but I always find them.  Sometimes it takes weeks, even months, but I am very persistent.  And I prevail.

Here we are again.  Unsure of what to do next, I did what I seem to do best…delivered yet another ultimatum.  Get help, or leave.  I feel like a parent who threatens and never follows through, and worry that in this way I enable him to continue drinking with no real consequences other than damage to his health and our happiness.  Both might be lost causes, so I have handed the baton to him.  In taking it, he agrees to develop a plan for himself.  It might include AA, it might include outpatient therapy and according to him, it might include exercise.

Whatever plan he formulates, I do rest easier knowing he’s doing something to help himself.  Not dictated by me but created by him for him.  I do worry, though, that it won’t be enough because he has not acknowledged the severity of his addiction to alchohol.

The first person he called, for example, was a friend from his sober house.  I asked why he chose to call this person first.  He answered, “Because he had a relapse once, too.”  In the most helpful of ways, I said that I am not sure he can consider this a relapse because he’s never strung together more than a few weeks of sobriety.

While he goes through the motions of seeking help, I’ll do my best to support him.  Even though what I really want to do is Let.Him.Have.It.

First blog post

My name is Cher, and my husband is an alcoholic.  A few years ago, preparing to empty our nest as our daughter and son prepared for college, we laughed that a blog might be a perfect way to reintroduce ourselves to the couple we once were – a couple who entertained, went out for dinner, traveled and just enjoyed each other’s company.  How could we not with the nick names Swenny and Cher (true names!)?

We occasionally reviewed platforms including a his and her book club, buying a food truck, reflections on volunteering and so on.  Nothing stuck, though, because the best idea – the essence of Swenny and Cher – was far too scary.  My name is Cher, and my husband is an alcoholic.  This isn’t new, but it hasn’t yet gotten old.  For the 24 years of our marriage, he has struggled with sobriety.  I have supported him, enabled him, left him, welcomed him home and worry now that I will lose him.  He simply cannot find his way with this, and I no longer know how to help.

Swenny lives his life in denial.  He’s not drinking, he can stop drinking, he’s not drunk, he doesn’t drink that much and so on.  Unless I confront him while holding the vodka bottle, he lies.  It is exhausting – for both of us.

Today, though, I feel like we have reached a turning point.  Another ultimatum has been rendered: get help immediately or life as we know it is over.  We’ve been here many times before, but this time just feels different.  Maybe it’s my resolve, or maybe it’s his.  It’s probably both.

What was intended as a fun loving blog about approaching middle age is instead going to be about our journey from here to sobriety.  There is no finish line, so please join us for the duration.