A Man With a Plan

Earlier this week, I was asked to meet with Swenny’s new bosses about his drinking and its implications for his job.  From a place of wanting to help, they had researched treatment options in our community, and seeing the cost, designed a 60-day recovery plan that they would manage.  It would remove him from our home, establish strict guidelines to which he must adhere, and leave him with no say in his day-to-day existence.  Agreeing to the plan would secure Swenny’s job for at least two more months.

I appreciated their effort because these aren’t just any bosses, and it isn’t just any job. Both are men who Swenny loves.  People who have navigated addiction, either personally or through the experiences of their families.  Men who have remained by his side, believing in his chances for a future free from alcohol.  People willing to lend him a hand when others pulled theirs away.

And it’s not just any job, but one where Swenny finds meaning in helping people who need it most each and every day.  A job where people share in their commitment to putting others first.  A job he loves.

I arrived home from the meeting and chose to be upfront with Swenny, telling him where I had been and what had been discussed. I delivered the ultimatum as I understood it – follow this plan or lose your job.  Rather than accept immediately, though, he chose to weigh his options.

Long conversations with more questions than answers continued for three nights.  The first night, he made it clear that he felt deceived by our meeting.  He had been upfront with his bosses about his most recent relapse, and to use that against him seemed somehow unfair. To not be included insulted him. My explanation that the meeting was called in an effort to help him rang hollow, and I knew excluding him was a misstep.

The second night, Swenny continued to evaluate the offer before him, uneasy still with the choices he faced: his job or his independence.

By the third night, Swenny had developed a plan of his own.  And when he delivered that plan to his bosses on day four, he went from being an alcoholic to being a man with alcoholism.  A man who wants to take ownership of his recovery and in the process, be present in his own life and in the life of his family.

Making today – Day 5 – the first day of the rest of his life.  The first day in a very long time in which he trusts himself to lead the way.

From Rescue to Recovery

For at least 10 years, I have treated Swenny’s alcoholism as a rescue effort.  Always searching for signs of life that I could pull to safety.  With relapse after relapse, though, coming lately as staccatos separating shorter and shorter periods of sobriety, I have shifted my mission from rescue to recovery.

And not the type of recovery that leads to a future.  The kind that acknowledges the end.  The kind that accepts defeat to minimize any further risk.

Another week of drinking, denial and tears has taken from me whatever fight I had left in our  quest for sobriety.  Instead, I find myself pulled from the anguish of alcoholism, limp and lifeless, having surrendered to its force.

Where optimism was once my strongest recourse, it’s now gone.  Missing.  Engulfed in a wave that has left me with one last gasp.  A gasp I choose to spend uttering the words, “I give up.”

It Takes Two

After a particularly long Saturday, Swenny arrived home from work to find me in the kitchen.  With a glass of wine in my hand.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Where do I begin?” I wondered.

It’s fair to say that once I found the beginning, I had a hard time stopping.  Thankfully, Swenny accepts that most of what enters my head comes out my mouth, so he removed his coat and steeled himself for the diatribe to come.  Feeling sorry for myself, I wondered where was the empathy for all I had endured?  Where is my permission slip to be angry, sad or even give up?

I followed him through our house, my toes nearly touching his heels along the way.  I talked.  He listened.  And empathized.  And somehow between the door and our final stop in the kitchen, he said he knew.  Of my frustration, my sacrifice and of my need to share.  He said he knew…about Swennyandcher.

Challenged for time, he hasn’t read the blog in its whole, but said he occasionally visits.  Some posts he finds touching, and others less so.  He worries that the truth could be detrimental to his wellbeing, his job, and our family.  He cautioned oversharing.

I agree.  But argue that while our truth is messy, as important as it is to protect ourselves from the circumstances that accompany alcoholism, shielding our story is pointless.  And while broadcasting it widely may not be wise, with 24 followers, most far removed from the place we call home, I think we remain safely anonymous.

If word happens to travel closer to home, I’m not concerned for what we might lose. I’m excited for what we stand to gain – understanding about the disease with which we and so many grapple, the possibility of helping others,  and mostly for the chance to help ourselves.

I am  happy to finally bring Swenny into our story.  Because after all, it takes two.

Sonny and Cher “It Takes Two”



In my dreams

Earlier this week, I had a dream in which Swenny’s former boss sent me a text concerned about his drinking. The premise was that Swenny hadn’t turned in his keys and his boss worried that he was returning there to drink when nobody was around to notice.  In my dream, as I was reading the text, Swenny entered the room. I looked up to see my husband nearly unrecognizable, exhausted from a battle with alcoholism that he was losing.  He was thin, weathered and anxious.  Years beyond the day in time in which the dream took place.

When I woke up, I was relieved. Happy that for the first time in many months, my reality was better than my dreams.

Until it was not.

The following day, a text alerted me to his relapse. But in real life, the text was sent by him.  And not to me, but to a friend of his.

“I’m still struggling, just telling you this as usual.”

Somehow, this conversation from which he deliberately excluded me appeared on my phone.  Reading it, I felt sick, deceived, and hurt.  While it was clear he was keeping me at arm’s length yet again, it wasn’t clear why.  So I made note of the message and moved on.

Less than 24 hours later, his struggle was confirmed.  Putting away the Christmas decorations, I saw the familiar silhouette of a pint of vodka, tucked into the dark corner of a basement shelf.  Knowing that I wasn’t dreaming, I confronted him. In keeping with his pattern, he appeared shocked, and questioned from where the vodka had come, before retreating from me and my inquisition.

Leaving me standing alone in our living room, alongside a bare Christmas tree at least one week overdue for the curb. I felt diminished.  The hope from just two weeks ago was extinguished with the lights, packed away with the blessings of the season.

Most carefully wrapped was the lesson I learned:  Be wary of hope.  For it is fleeting.