Silver Linings

Twenty-five years ago this week, Swenny and I were married. For months, I have felt this anniversary looming, like an unwelcome guest.  Would we celebrate together or wonder alone why we’re still married?  Would we reminisce to revisit our earliest days as a couple,  or dream about the future?  How should a couple with challenges that continually interrupt their happiness spend their 25th wedding anniversary?

By exchanging gifts?  Sharing dinner?  No.  Instead, at separate addresses celebrating silver linings.

When Swenny left home, we said goodbye bravely. After filling the day with the busyness of life, at 8:00 p.m. we found ourselves standing together making small talk, his packed bags at our feet.  After a long goodbye, we released one another, the door clicked shut behind him and away he went. Immediately, though, our house felt empty.   And not only of his physical presence, but of the way he helps fill every room and complete every moment.

While our encounters now have an edge of formality, they also have a layer of appreciation I would not have expected – and will not take for granted – as we embark upon our second quarter century together.  We make time to talk every day, we linger on visits, and when my phone sits silent, I watch for the screen to illuminate with a message or call from him.  When it doesn’t, I am reminded of all that is at stake.

I miss him.  And I find it heartbreaking when he asks permission to visit me, our children, our home.  Always following the question, “Can I come over?” with a second question:  “Do you want me to come over?”  Each time, my answer is yes, quickly followed by, “Of course I do.”

Because 25 years later, I still do.

No Place Like Home

Swenny has the most beautiful eyes. They are big, blue and telling.  And sometimes, they betray him.

Following yet another relapse, we are preparing for him to leave our home in order to focus on sobriety in a setting that is less comfortable, less forgiving, and more accountable. After a week of forgotten conversations, bed times alone and the familiar smell of alcohol, I wasn’t surprised to find cans of beer tucked under the sink for his convenient consumption last night.

His instinct was to deny that they were his, looking at the cans on the table with surprise, as if he was trying to figure out from where they had come.  Unwilling to own them until I called his bluff and dialed our son who was out with friends to ask if they were his.  Before I pressed the final number, he folded himself into our couch, tired of the charade and ready to talk.

In a conversation we’ve had far too many times, I asked him to find another place to live. Not for forever, but for now. And not just for me, but for him. And for the future we still want.

As the evening went along, I was buoyed about what lies ahead, even though it includes a separation that could move beyond geography.  With an outcome that rests in part with his ability to achieve the sobriety that has so far eluded him, the magnitude of what he is facing was not lost on him.  While I read and watched television, Swenny looked straight ahead.  Through the cans of beer still sitting in front of him and past the far wall of our living room straight out the door.  Where I felt light, he felt heavy, and his eyes revealed his inability to find a way out.  When he finally spoke, his words matched the look on his face.  “I’m just so tired of this.”

Watching him tempered my hope.  For his chances and ours, and guilt crept in again.  This morning, though, when he asked if I was really going to make him move out, I said yes.  No longer will I stand beside him as he compromises his health and happiness.  And even though I believe I am doing what is best – and what is necessary – I’m not able to recover my optimism from the previous night.

Gravity has set in with a weight I’ve not felt before.  Tomorrow, my husband is leaving.  And his return date will be determined by a moving target we have yet to hit.


Over the past few weeks, I have prepared to separate myself from Swenny in order to leave the turmoil of alcoholism behind.  Telling myself that I wasn’t running away, but moving on, I forecasted my future without him.  It wasn’t idyllic, and it wasn’t free from alcoholism.  Because when one of us struggles, we both do.  Swenny with sobriety, and me with doing what I believe is best.

I have taken into consideration our vows, our children, and our future to determine what is right.  Time and again, I have found that what is right is the two of us facing alcoholism together. And even though every relapse weakens our resolve, we somehow remain strong.  Until a few days ago, I would have taken full credit for that, believing that I was shouldering the burden of his alcoholism so he would not have to.

But his burden remained.  And nearly one month sober, in a moment of clarity, he asked me how I would like this to play out.  A combination of guilt, fear and love left me struggling to answer…and I saw my struggle become his.  Over the course of a conversation that took us from room to room and chore to chore, he accepted responsibility for the alcoholism that has overwhelmed our family. Appreciating the difficulty I am having in balancing my need for space with wanting to be supportive of him, Swenny asked me to give to him my guilt for the difficult decisions that await me.  So I did.

And as my guilt subsided ever so slightly, I was reminded why I love him so much.