For years, I quarantined myself, staying a safe distance from anyone I might hurt while navigating my marriage to an alcoholic. Consumed with hypotheses, I lost track of time trying to manage if then scenarios in pursuit of one that would leave my marriage, my family and me in tact. Now on the long end of a decade, I realize there isn’t one.

Finally, though, I can step out of the space to which I have been confined. A space where I chose to be alone to manage Swenny’s drinking, minimize the damage to our family and livelihood, and manipulate perceptions of family, friends and neighbors as our lives and marriage unraveled.

Placing down the heavy shield I carried for protection, I am finally encouraged to share the story of my husband’s alcoholism and our quest for sobriety. And the value of doing so became apparent to me this summer when Swenny entered intensive outpatient treatment. I watched him draw strength from the people he encountered there, choosing continued group therapy after graduation to ensure they remained at his side.

In conversation, he spoke with a familiarity of his newfound recovery colleagues usually reserved for close friends. Their stories became part of his, and I watched as my role became minimized. As Swenny’s support group grew, I found myself wanting to add to my own circle of friends, if only to relieve the burden I placed on those closest to me by seeking support from others who have walked a similar path.

So I started to open up, not in closed group sessions held for that purpose, but whenever opportunity provided. In doing so, I learned that support can be found almost anywhere. And the fullness I felt by being direct overflowed when I realized my experience was helping someone else. As my story became known, longtime friends and neighbors, new professional associates and even parents of my son’s teammates came forward saying, “Me, too.”

Once surprised to hear our story amplified by my voice, I now find it calming. Uncomplicated. And apparently, almost normal.

Swenny’s Son

During the past week, I have spent more time than usual with my son.  We had his senior pictures taken, we reviewed his college applications and talked about his essay.  The prompt was to describe something that goes unnoticed but is important in his life.  His first draft was good – very good – but as he struggled with the prompt, I encouraged him to think a little longer about his response.  Could his truest answer be found somewhere in his experience as the son of an alcoholic?  He said he didn’t think that mattered so we moved on to other ideas.

Days later at my desk, an email from him appeared in my inbox.  A new essay.  As it happens, growing up with an alcoholic parent does matter, and in 500 carefully chosen words, he described why.

It began with him sharing recollections that were among his earliest memories.  He described his surprise at learning of his Dad’s alcoholism, and the heaviness he felt as the seriousness of it set in.  His fear in not knowing what would become of him and our family.  He reflected on the strength he drew upon to remain positive as he watched his world crumble.  In the end, as the son of an alcoholic, he has come to understand that life is full of uncertainty.  And filled with struggle.

In watching his dad seek sobriety that at times seems out of reach, he continues to believe that it is not.  One day, he wrote, his dad will say he’s sober…and mean it.  Until then, he will be as supportive as he can.

When he invited me to review his essay, I offered no critique.  It was his story, in his words.  And it was perfect.








Say Something

Early mornings in September are dark like night.  In the unlit corners of my running route, I’m left to find my way by sound, unable to see what’s ahead except what the light from the stars and moon above might reveal.  Today, my steps joining one path to another were met by the sounds of the river rushing below.  It surprised me – it was loud and emerged as if from nowhere.  Even though I knew it was there.

Very much like in the past week, when the compass in our home was pulled once again from sobriety to its opposite.  It took me by surprise, even though I knew it was there.  Two weeks after completing intensive outpatient treatment, Swenny relapsed.

When I asked him what happened, he responded with silence.  He said nothing, so I begged him to say something.  Anything.  I’m not sure if he’s struggling to find the words, or if there is nothing left to say.  I told him that with his silence, he is challenging me to care enough for both of us.  And I don’t.

Unlike previously, no grand gestures have been made in support of him.  No calling of mentors, sponsors, friends or family.  No contact with sober houses or programs not yet tried.  I am not rushing into – or out of – anything.  I’m weighing my options.

Because I no longer believe longterm recovery is possible for him.  And I no longer believe that my staying the course will make one bit of difference.  Instead, I find myself seeking an exit, knowing that like on an airplane, it might very well be behind me.


Happily Ever…

Each year, our family of four writes down their New Year’s resolutions.  They are then tucked together into a sealed envelope for opening the following year.  We don’t share them with one another and only seem to acknowledge aloud the ones to which we stayed true.

When I ask Swenny about his, he always tells me what they are, and while some could belong to anyone – to get a better job, to save money, to eat better – two are unique to him.  To be a better husband.  To take Cher on more dates.

Over the years, Swenny and I have gone out together less and less to the point where we never spent time together as a couple.  When I would ask if he’d like to go to a movie, the answer was always no.  Would he like to go for a walk?  No.  Dinner?  No.  To look at Christmas lights?  No.  

Why?  Because he didn’t want me to smell alcohol on him.  So I stopped asking.  We entered into an existence of two people who were losing interest in each other and couldn’t be bothered to recall what it was they once enjoyed about being together.  We let years pass by sitting on adjacent chairs watching Friday turn into Saturday and then into Sunday.  Letting August carry us to September, October, and November, and noting that 2009 had become 2016.

While we can’t reclaim that time, we can begin anew.  Encouraged by his continued sobriety, I asked my husband for a date.  His answer?  Yes.

So on Friday night, we browsed galleries at our city’s art museum, walked among the crowds of others who like us, were out, and stopped by the local public market to pick up dinner to make at home afterwards.  We talked about art, our amazing city, and the price of fresh water perch.

We laughed.  And felt like a couple once again.