In February, I treated my young adult children to lunch in their hometown some 70-miles west of me. At a second floor cafe that was a favorite when I was a student, I told them of my plans to leave their father. Another relapse had caused his invitation for sober living to be rescinded, and I was finally ready to enforce the boundaries I set long ago. Anything less was enabling. My son wanted to know my timeline, and my daughter cried while I described the memories we could still make, but as a family split in two. Waking up under the same roof on Christmas morning, traveling together, and sharing the shifting load of everyday life were all part of the picture I was painting, a bottle of vodka hidden in plain sight.
Once home, I gathered enough distractions so that my procrastination in filing was barely noticed. To explain my lack of action, I cited laws like abandonment of property as reason to stay married. Eventually, Swenny was coming over regularly to help with home repairs, cut the grass, and run boxes to Goodwill. We exchanged gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Day, giving each other time together. My gift was a ballet matinee and his was a baseball game. We walked the dog and spoke of the new neighborhood as ours. I sprinkled references to him into introductory conversations with neighbors, and we closed each day with a goodnight text.
Unsure that he was sober, I watched for signs of relapse. Shaking hands and confusing conversations left me with a hunch he was drinking. His desire to hurry home after abbreviated visits made me suspicious. But I know vodka when I smell it. And I know it when I see it. Even when the bottle lays face down, I recognize it as the drink that took my husband. Though it feels now like he went willingly.
And so can I.
One of my favorite Fourth of July traditions is a local four-mile race. It’s timing has always coincided with relapses that have marked some of our most trying moments in Swenny’s struggle with alcoholism: in 2015, a move from the house our family will always call home to make available resources for sober living; in 2016, his enrollment in an intensive outpatient treatment program demanded by his job; and last year, his own testing of his addiction with an exchange of vodka for beer.
This year is no different. Yesterday, less than 24 hours before lining up for the Firecracker Four Miler, I went to our county courthouse to take my first step toward a life independent of alcoholism. My fear of loneliness and feelings of guilt are no longer enough to extinguish my wish for something more. I’m not sure if I will ever find it, but I know that it’s not among the bottles hidden by a man so willing to see me go.
Like in past years, I ran the race to a playlist of thoughts of what’s ahead. Today, I also carried the number given to me for my place in line at the courthouse: 52. The moment it was called, the finish line I was there to draw became a starting line instead.