Another beginning…

In anticipation of today, I searched for the right words to demonstrate my support for Swenny on his first day of outpatient therapy.  When google came up short, I searched within myself.  Here are some of my words:

Dear Swenny,

When we met nearly 30 years ago, we couldn’t have imagined where life would take us.  I certainly never would have predicted the challenges of alcoholism, but I also couldn’t have possibly envisioned the joy we have found through our kids and each other.

We’ve said goodbye to friends not interested in being a part of our lives beyond a night out, but also found a smaller circle of people who really matter.  In the end, our happiness depends only on us and how we choose to handle the challenges we encounter and celebrate the good fortunes we enjoy.

We are more lucky than not, and today – like every day – is another beginning.  Keep facing this with courage and don’t ever give up.  I love you…

Just then, I found the perfect quote:

“We gain the strength of the temptation we resist.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday at 2:30

Each day that Swenny lived at the sober house, I sent him an inspirational quote.  They became a point of conversation in our shared goals for his sobriety.

Last weekend, I was reminded of the one posted here while meeting with his bosses.  In discussing whether he would keep his job, the focus was misplaced.  Everyone in the room addressed his hours, his job performance and the impact his departure would have on his coworkers.  I wish we had instead talked about what losing his job would really mean…that he would have to start over.

The steps he is taking toward sobriety are linear…one after another in a long journey intended to deliver him to a destination that has so far eluded him.  What if it rests someplace other than along the path of the next step he intends to take?  Will he have the strength to start over?

In four days, he begins intensive outpatient therapy.  The waiting room has emptied, and his name has finally been called.

My hope for him is that therapy takes him from the path he has been following to a new one completely.  One that requires strides not steps and provides strength to lift him over the hurdles he continually encounters.

I hope the destination they help him envision goes beyond sobriety to a life he would be  proud of, and one that he intended all along.

No reason at all

A few days ago, we attended my niece’s 16th birthday party.  A very special girl with some challenging special needs, this milestone was cause for a great celebration.

There, I spoke with Swenny’s dad, who shared that he is aware of his recent relapse thanks to his youngest son who had the difficult task of informing their dad.  Facing health concerns of his own, I chose to spare him the worry but during our conversation regretted  that decision.

Outside of our family of four, Swenny’s relationship with his father has suffered the greatest.  When drinking, he closes himself to others, leaving his dad to watch his decline from afar and navigate the accompanying heartbreak alone.  While there is time to heal relationships with his children, time with his father is limited.  How can Swenny begin to acknowledge the hurt he has caused his dad?  Repay him for the worry he has spent?

And why does his dad wait for Swenny to begin a conversation so long past due?  While I wouldn’t characterize his silence as shame, we spoke in whispers only after my mother-in-law and Swenny’s oldest brother were out of earshot.

Swenny’s relationship with his dad is built on love, but defined by expectation.  And in this case, the expectation is that we keep this to ourselves.  We work through it alone, even when there is so much to be gained by sharing.


In step

This week, Swenny made real progress toward sobriety by interviewing two local addiction treatment centers.  All that stands between him and therapy is an intake appointment with a doctor.  If all goes smoothly, he should begin intensive outpatient treatment next week.

The program he selected asked him what he hopes to accomplish in treatment.  His answer?  To find sobriety, to understand why he started drinking and to understand why he can’t stop.  These are difficult questions…difficult questions that take courage to ask and armor to answer.

Tonight, we walked along a nature preserve in the city where we live.  A two-mile path surrounds a meadow of tall grass, ponds and wild flowers.  Deer run about, coyotes lurk and toads converse.

I trailed behind Swenny and our son and thought about his struggle with alcoholism and the metaphor presented by the beauty surrounding our walk.  Today, his struggle is shared by everyone who loves him.  When he enters therapy, he will be alone to answer the questions he has posed.  Like a summer storm, it threatens to remove the foliage that provides cover and leave him exposed in understanding how to begin anew.

As a family, we move from being beside him to being behind him.  The path is his to forge.




If you run through the Lincoln Park Zoo early enough in the morning, you might be greeted by the sound of the lions roaring.  Today, I was met by silence.  As I approached the Lion House, I could see him perched on a rock overlooking his small kingdom.  He was so beautiful, I stopped and faced him.  When he found me staring, he stared right back.  He called my bluff, and I looked away.

When something so powerful takes you in, it’s unsettling.  In the moment, I retreated…  but later, I held my ground.

After a long day at a rowing regatta with my son, I returned home to find that Swenny had been drinking.  I confronted him.  When he denied it, I let it go.  Until I could not.

Last week, in putting together the pieces of his recovery plan, I encountered more than one challenge.  Two local addiction treatment centers have no inpatient space available, and one now has a waiting list for their outpatient programs.  This caused me to delay the meeting I had anticipated all week.

The secrecy and build up to it had taken it’s toll, so I told him everything I knew to be true.  His job is in jeopardy, people who love him are concerned, and those people include our children.  Rather than look away, I waited – and waited – for him to respond.

Finally, Swenny said that yes, he has been drinking.  And that no, he cannot stop.  For the first time, he said he not only knows he needs help, he wants help.

I told him that with this mentor, a recovery plan has been developed that I hope he will follow.  When he learned that the plan includes time away from home, he cried.  He’s afraid of failure, and I told him that I am, too.  And I have little expectation for success.

As we sat together, I felt our grip on each other slipping. Outstretched arms with finger tips barely touching.



At last

This weekend, a mid-morning phone call from Swenny’s mentor proved a call for action.  Since early June, his drinking has worsened.  I knew he was still drinking heavily, which is unusual so soon after I confront him.  In the past, he would be optimistic about recovery and remain sober for at least a short time.

The baton I passed to him in June with an expectation that he develop a recovery plan was immediately dropped and somehow has landed back with me.  I am not opposed to helping him – in fact I want nothing more than to help – but having been through this before, I know that in order to be successful, he has to want sobriety enough to take the first step toward recovery.  Unfortunately, the circumstances we find ourselves in today call for immediate measures directed by someone other than him.

Swenny is drinking at all hours, putting his job in jeopardy yet again.  Life as he knows it at home may also cease to exist.  At times he is quiet, at other times difficult.  He is slipping further away from those who care for him into a place with room for only one.

Bracing myself for a difficult week ahead, I developed a plan that I hope he finds worthwhile.  Casting concern for his job and family aside, my focus is on Swenny.  He simply needs to stop. Stop drinking, stop lying, stop making excuses.  We have run out of road.

Later this week, I am expecting a call from his boss – also a friend – who over the years has given him many chances.  Together with Swenny’s mentor and brother, we will present him with the plan.  It begins with detox followed by intense outpatient treatment.  He will attend regular AA meetings.  He will volunteer.  He will not drive.  He will live elsewhere and have no contact with me or our children for 30 days.  At that point, I will determine when to commence communication with him. If he refuses any part of it, I am prepared to end our marriage.

It seems to me at once harsh but giving.  By providing one final chance, with consequences that are real and painful, I hope he can find the will to climb out of this low of lows where he exists today.

Yesterday, I ran a 4 mile race in celebration of the Fourth of July.  Every step of the way, this weighed heavy on me.  Am I doing the right thing?  How much will this hurt him?  How much will it hurt me?  How much will it hurt our kids?

By the end of the race, I had no answers.  But I did have hope.  I attend my races alone, skipping the post race festivities to hurry home.  Yesterday, though, I found a spot on the hill overlooking the finish line and watched as runners crossed into the cheers of their families and friends.  I envied their belonging and wished for what was once also mine.

I took it all in before turning toward my car to leave.  In taking the first step on a journey that is the rest of my life, I realized that for once, I intend it to be good.






If there was a map documenting our recovery journey, it would reveal a cluster of circles that share a beginning and an end.  Years ago, the circle was small to match the problem we thought we were facing.  As the seriousness of Swenny’s alcoholism grew, the circles became increasingly larger to reflect the growing strength called for in our response.

In early June, the cartographer’s pen returned to the beginning, where it has been ever since.  What should we do now?  The next steps require large financial and emotional investments.  I’m not quite ready to take those risks, and I don’t think he is either.

Two years ago, we researched inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.  Eligibility was determined by a phone interview between him and the provider.  The interviewer concluded that he did not need that level of treatment, to which Swenny sighed great relief.  I questioned the integrity of the process and moved on to research sober houses.

Now, according to Swenny, the interview indicated he would benefit from intense outpatient treatment.  That was three weeks ago and no steps have been taken to enroll.  There seems to be less urgency this time around.  Is it because nothing has helped yet, and the cost of failure increases with each attempt?  Or is it that because nothing has helped,  we have no expectation of a future without alcoholism?