In Wisconsin, up north isn’t so much a direction or a place as it is a perspective. For me, it comes into focus when I reach the pine trees that are so tall, you can see for miles through their bare trunks to a background of blue water. No matter where you are, this is the view. And it is clearest, I learned, at camp.
On day one of our vacation, we visited the camp that Swenny holds so close. Listening to his stories while standing on site made me feel a part. I circled the pines that towered over cabins where he slept, I said with him the mealtime graces posted on the wall of the lodge and searched for the names of trip mates burned alongside his on oars hung in a boathouse containing nearly 100 years of memories.
And then my phone rang. An old friend of my mother’s called to invite us to dinner. He said he’d pick us up on our pier at 4 o’clock sharp with libations on deck for a cocktail cruise beforehand. I confirmed details, thanked him and then stopped in my tracks. What will Swenny do? I set off to find him and delivered the news…we’re having dinner tomorrow night, preceded by a floating cocktail hour. I delivered it as an apology, of which Swenny would have none.
“Stop feeling sorry for me,” he said. “This is a good thing.”
Camp really is a special place. It’s where Swenny grew up, and I woke up. For nearly ten years, I tried to manage every step of his recovery. Despite the many mistakes made, I carried on…and on. It became the answer to every question that started with why.
In the past month, he has come further than I was ever able to imagine. Along with the medallion he received at the close of his intensive outpatient therapy, responsibility for his sobriety was pressed into his palm.
Sensing now that Swenny needs space to navigate for himself, I find myself wondering where that leaves me. If he’s ready to move forward from a life defined by drinking to something far more enriching, am I?
Walking with him – sober and at peace – along the shores of camp, I realized that maybe it’s time to focus on me. Smooth out my edges, spend time with friends, re-engage in a few favorite things, achieve at work and cultivate our marriage. In allowing my role as the spouse of a troubled alcoholic to consume me, I also let it smother me. And us. It’s time to grow again.