I know my good fortune in being married to an alcoholic who is non-violent, high-functioning and without repercussions of a criminal record. I have been told by people who know him best that Swenny is a good person. I have also been told by well-meaning outsiders that it would be easier if he were not, because then I could go.
If that was my goal, though, I would never have come here. To the place where I have written to make sense of something about which I could make none. To face something from which I had always looked away, and to pull toward me a life that I had been watching from a distance.
Here, my life as someone who loves a person with alcoholism has played out. I have chronicled relapses and enablement with essays as a measure of how much we could take and remain. Even after alcoholism made its grip permanent with cirrhosis complete with complications, ours has remained a story about drinking.
Now, though, it has the potential to be about recovery. Swenny has been sober for more than three months, and is looking back to see what he has missed. In order to move forward, I am filling in the blanks. Those conversations are difficult. And necessary.
He recently opened one by noting how bad things could have been. People he has met in recovery have stories that are so harrowing, it’s a wonder that they are here to tell them. When he shakes his head with an air of relief and superiority that those stories aren’t his, I bring him into ours.
Four houses ago, when we were a family kept busy by school, sports and work, I would fall into bed after our kids but before Swenny. Night after night, I would hear him walk down into the basement. Over time, I would hear him rummaging in our air returns. Then nothing. Never once did I hear him come back upstairs, so in the middle of the night, I would go looking for him. There he would be, asleep in a bucket chair with a glass of lemonade, kept cool by the temperature of the room, next to him. He would drink vodka from the bottle, return it to the vent, chase it with Crystal Light and pass out. Every night.
When I told him this story, he asked why I never woke him up. “I tried,” I said. “But couldn’t.”
I have hundreds of stories like this. And the time is right for him to hear them. Because even though our pain wasn’t inflicted by one or more catastrophic events, but instead by a series of small though serious occasions, the wound still weeps.