For Better

Tonight, on the eve of our 26th anniversary, Swenny and I spoke at length about our marriage. Not surprisingly, the role alcoholism has played in our years together was central to our conversation. It has defined us.

With hands on a clock unique to people struggling with sobriety, we have marked our time relative to milestones in drinking. The earliest hidden drinks coincided with our daughter’s first day of kindergarten and the passing of his mother; my return to full-time work aligned with a call from his father that an employee of his witnessed Swenny buying vodka while at work; his most significant annual relapses came – for five consecutive years – on the eve of our favorite rowing regatta. Swenny’s stay at a sober house found him shortly thereafter drinking again and arriving intoxicated at the closing for our home. The home meant to be the site of our fresh start is where we have navigated over the last two years outpatient rehab, lost jobs, time living apart and another difficult summer. Throughout, I held firm in my demands that things change, or else. And proceeded to do nothing.

And what now? Have we stayed too long at the fair? Time and again, our optimism to achieve longterm recovery has been checked by the strength of temptation and reality of relapse.

Tonight, we sat together reminiscing about what we have endured in our marriage, stunned that it is possibly over. While I can no longer remember the expectations we held at the time of our vows, I prefer to believe we have met many of them. Most importantly, we have built a relationship with love and respect that I am confident would last beyond the life of our marriage.

If we stay any longer, that may not be the case. So it might likely be for better to quit while we are ahead. With and for each other. Always.





Anniversary Wishes

Twenty-six years ago this week, Swenny and I were married. Like last year, our anniversary comes on the heels of a relapse that leaves me wondering how to celebrate. Unlike last year, though, when Swenny lived away from home over our anniversary and the holidays surrounding it, this year he is here. With no intention of leaving.

In answer to my colorfully stated request last week that he find someplace else to live, he asked me to instead consider how far he’s come. As he trumpeted his extended periods of sobriety and recent choice to drink less-damaging high-octane beer instead of vodka, I found myself with little left to say. Taking my silence as a win, he woke up the next day and every day since as if nothing has changed.

And why wouldn’t he? In relapse after relapse, my threats have remained unfulfilled. Since finding a bag of crumpled beer cans in a tree in our backyard, I have spent overnights calculating the cost of my inaction. Not surprisingly, it is high – and it has come time to pay.

For our 25th anniversary I found inspiration in the traditional gift, placing a silver lining around our first quarter century together. The 26th anniversary, though, has no traditional gift. Known as a year of adjustment, it is suggested that celebrants mark the occasion by exchanging artwork. So I have decided to paint a picture.

Alcoholism will remain at its center, but the focus will rest elsewhere. Possibly with my happiness, likely secured at the expense of his. In the picture I’m painting, I see myself in a place where previously I could not even glance – to a place of letting go.

What Swenny sees as progress I see as a series of never-ending setbacks. I find the type of alcohol he chooses to pour down his throat irrelevant, and his most recent hiding place horrifying. It’s unimaginable to me what might be next.

When I asked him last week to consider his struggle with alcoholism from my perspective, what I was really asking was permission to make the change I want most. Even though the only consent I need is my own. Let’s hope that early in the year of adjustment, it is granted.


One bridge left to cross

The other morning, I ran across a graffiti covered bridge – the second on my regular route. I remember that among the many signs and symbols dressing its rails, it once told all who crossed “I LOVE YOU $OBER.”

Because lately I have been searching for signs, I noticed that the message I held onto for many miles and months was no longer there. I returned to the bridge and scanned its phrases, brushing the rust-covered words with my fingers. The phrase was nowhere to be found. And I missed it.

I first noticed it early in my determination to make the most of a journey with alcoholism over which I had minimal influence but great investment. Believing that my happiness rested with a sober Swenny, I made certain he knew that is how I preferred him, and allowed myself to believe that it was possible. Trustingly, I put the card that I thought held my happiness in his hand and waited for him to play it.

While waiting, I continued on. Along bridges and paths, I minded our way by forging ahead with deliberate steps taken on uncertain footing. Over the years, and the past few especially, I have stumbled. Often choosing the path of least resistance, I allowed myself to be satisfied by attempts at sobriety followed by hands-in-the-air surrenders, shortened separations in response to my need for company, and used for excuses milestones I felt we should celebrate as a family to keep us together. Throughout, I put our happiness and Swenny’s odds for longterm sobriety at risk.

On that early morning run late last week, I eventually came across the graffiti I thought had been erased on a bridge up ahead. When I saw it, I thought about what else I have  missed in pursuit of the ending I thought I wanted most.

Now in a house emptied of children, I find myself looking ahead. Beyond the path I can see to one I hope to someday reach, I am letting the echo of my foot strikes lead me to where I need to go. To the bridge I said I’d cross when I get to it – where the water I was once happy to wash underneath is rising before me. Where not long ago I wished it to subside, I now want it to rush in a way that requires a bridge strong enough to deliver me to a place where my happiness rests with me and Swenny’s sobriety with him. To where there is space between swenny and cher.

Tonight, I am faced with crossing that bridge. Arrived to on a hunch, his latest relapse was confirmed by evidence tucked in the branches of a tree lining our yard. I have decided that this next bridge, I want to cross alone.







Letting in the light

Atomization is proof that eventually, everything falls apart. But it doesn’t say when, or how. We are left to figure that out for ourselves, and to wonder what influence we have, if any.

Nearing two months of sobriety, I sense things falling apart once again. Without proof, though, I continue to question what I know to be true. I know a forgotten conversation when I have one, and I recognize the scent of vodka, regardless how faint it might be. I know the look in Swenny’s eyes and I know what lies ahead. But still I doubt my instincts, and remain uncertain about what to do when the proof I’m seeking materializes.

Needing answers, I found my way to church this morning. I wanted to go alone, so left home quietly while Swenny slept. I’m glad that I did, because early in the sermon, I found my answer: do nothing.

It’s not proof that I need, but faith. Faith that nothing is falling apart – it’s only cracked. Which is okay because apparently, that is how the light gets in.


So rather than trying to fill the cracks created by Swenny’s alcoholism with answers at the ready, this time I will be still and let them grow. Facing another relapse that I feel is all but imminent, I intend to welcome the light that seeps through. And I will follow that light to the answers that have eluded me, hoping to reach them before the cracks are so plentiful, everything falls apart.