Alcoholism and recovery lack exactness. The symptoms of drinking that are crowding us again can be measured in frequency, depth and effect, but the reasons behind them remain undetermined. And as long as the why lacks definition, Swenny and I will exist in a state of inexactly.

Two weeks ago, in the transfer of a basket of laundry from my arms to his, I was struck by the smell of booze. Like earlier this month, Swenny confirmed with little hesitation that he had been drinking with co-workers. But this time, he closed his confession with a shrug.

Where once I could balance escalations in his drinking with some regard for my expectations of sobriety, Swenny’s newfound boldness to drink out loud has introduced an indifference that I can’t counter. So I enter into forgotten conversations as if we are having them for the first time, overlook the signs of drinking that follow him home, and walk away from moments that once positioned me for confrontation.

The recklessness with which he is managing the disease that has cost us so much is heavy. And while my response of lightness isn’t perfect, it is appropriate. For now. Because not every battle needs to be fought; and not every misstep needs to take you to your knees.

As Swenny takes chances with his drinking, I’m reconsidering the standards of progress I’ve used until now, electing to measure against a pattern of peace. His battle is not mine to fight. His indifference is not of my making.

So instead of anticipating the time when catching him translates into an ultimatum to which he might respond, I’ll prepare instead for the moment when catching him means breaking his fall. Cushioned by some indifference of my own.

The Gift

Last spring, a woman who grew up in the house we now call home stopped by with a gift. As she presented me with a drawing her mother had commissioned decades ago, she shared room-by-room memories from her childhood, leading to when her family’s time here came to a close with her father’s passing in a hospital bed by the window in our living room.

Her visit is never far from mind as the drawing sits in our buffet awaiting a frame. The house itself, while beautiful, is mostly unremarkable. Up close, though, it is stunning. We pull our doors shut with rose-tinted glass knobs, and tiles on an oddly off-center fireplace tell the story of a ship crossing. We let in fresh air by opening leaded glass french doors,  and two second story windows are centered by a tile and shelf arrangement to complement that which is found inside.

The most beautiful feature, though, is the front door. Located just north of front,  it is heavy and weathered, at once protective and welcoming. The entrance to the life we share.

When we moved here three years ago, I considered it a sacrifice. In response to the worsening of Swenny’s alcoholism, we downsized from a storybook tudor that we could no longer manage to an arts and crafts colonial with a single bathroom and pedestal sink that is sometimes shared by no fewer than three people. And while I still go out of my way to avoid passing our old house, I no longer believe that we left behind there our best days. Because I believe our best days have been spent here…where we learned to acknowledge the alcoholism with which we live. Some of what once scared me most came to be under this roof; and some of the most difficult conversations we have had have taken place here. Yet here we remain – together.

Earlier today, in the busyness of the season, I was reminded of the family who years ago  called this house home. Our Christmas tree sits in the window where the former residents said goodbye, just inside the door that fronts the life we continue to build.

While making final preparations for Christmas, my daughter said, “I do love this house.” I hope enough so that one day she’ll return to share her favorite memories with the family in whose hands we eventually place the key. And maybe even pass along to them the Christmas gift I had made this year for Swenny – an illustration by a local artist of…our front door. IMG_5924