ALCOHOLISM & MARRIAGE

This is a difficult post to write. I’ve thought about it hundreds of times. Why? Well, for starters, it’s extremely personal about myself and my partner. Despite the breakdown of our marriage, I hold him in high regard. Our relationship took work, but with that work we held onto our integrity throughout the painful decoupling process. I don’t wish to air our dirty laundry, nor do I wish to cause more pain.

I wanted to share because it took a lot of strength to change the direction of my life and leave my marriage. When you love someone, for better or for worse, it can be hard to let go. The pressure of marriage in society almost makes it seem like the definition of ‘worse’ should be ‘at the cost of our personal well-being’, i.e, putting the WE before the I.

I don’t think this is healthy. It takes two people to make a relationship work, and both should be the best versions of themselves in order to be an effective team. This is especially true with children.

Unfortunately, alcoholism seeps into the strongest parts of this bond, slowing creating decay. I used to think that by being stronger for my partner, I was doing my duty of ‘for better or for worse’. I kept secrets, propped him up, and ensured the world thought we were a perfect couple. Then I learned that I was enabling his behaviour. We became codependent on each other. This toxic relationship almost cost me my sanity.

It took every ounce of energy to both acknowledge and deal with my husband’s alcoholism. I felt so alone, so lost. I didn’t feel I had many people to talk to, which was all the more frightening. After all, families often defend their own. I was worried about creating battle lines, so to speak. My situation was compounded by the fact that my husband and I lived in a different country than our families, so anything we shared was always hearsay and from our own perspectives.

I can guarantee that every person’s situation is different. However, the feelings and emotions we experience are likely the same. I wanted to share some of my story in hopes that it might help someone. When I was at my worst, talking to and connecting with others was what helped me. A lot can be said for knowing that you are not alone.

If there's anything you take from this post, it's that you are not insane. You are not going crazy.

If you feel in your gut that something is wrong, you have to address it, for you. Even if others don’t agree. Even if your partner tells you that it’s all in your head, or that things are fine. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are not comfortable, not happy. When you are not happy, you need to get to a safe place to feel calm and supported in order to make rational decisions. I can’t stress this enough.

I thought it was me, that I was either going crazy or else I was over-dramatizing everything. Then I learned that I was in denial. I was supporting my partner with his addiction. At the time, I wasn’t ready to even call it alcoholism. I would tell myself that he’s not the kind of alcoholic who drinks everyday. He doesn’t hide alcohol in his desk or around the house. He doesn’t wake up and drink. So he’s not an alcoholic, really. It’s just a ‘problem’, one that I could fix. Like somehow it was my responsibility to help him sort it out. After all, I married him, for better or for worse.

Turns out, it is not ‘just a problem’. There are many forms of alcoholism, and my husband deals with stress by drinking. He also clearly feels the most comfortable with who he really is when he’s drinking. This is on him. I am not crazy. I was not imagining it. When he told me “you just don’t like alcohol, everyone’s always noticed that you hate partying”, I believed him. But this doesn’t matter. My partner has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Over time, it not only destroyed our relationship, it began to destroy me. I think of the amount of times I told him “each time you hurt me, I love you a little bit less. One day, I won’t love you anymore.” This clearly fell on deaf ears, or on ears in complete denial. When I finally found the courage to end it, he was in shock. Yet he had to have known it was coming, we’d talked about it so many times.

After 10 years, the drinking still continued, despite countless conversations and broken promises. I simply had no energy left. Our marriage had deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t support him anymore, and in turn, he couldn’t support me. One day, I finally had enough. I started looking up resources on alcoholism. I started talking to my doctor, to alcohol helplines, and a friend put me on to Al-Anon. I found a local meeting and attended.

There are organisations out there to help you talk through your own situation and to help you see the path out of the woods. If you can, please try to get the strength to make a change for yourself. Looking back, taking control of my own situation, for myself, was the healthiest thing I’ve done in years. For me, and for my husband. I’m so much better for it. I’m no longer wearing so much of my pain.

These organisations helped me see that my husband is an alcoholic. He disagreed, telling me that ‘these so-called experts’ are biased and just wanted me to believe it, as it’s their job to get me to be healthy again. It made me feel like I was losing my mind – did I believe the doctors/specialists, or my husband? He argued that they’d never met him and didn’t know what our relationship was really like. For a while, this made sense, so I questioned it all. Then I realised that it didn’t matter. I was unhappy and unhealthy. My current situation was such that I wasn’t in a safe and calm place to think and make decisions.

So, I ended the relationship. I made a plan, and I left. I will write another post on this, in case some people are curious how I did it.

It took a lot of strength, but I focused on myself and learned that this isn't selfish, it's self-care.

I kept a diary during to write down my thoughts. The whole process took four months, full of many ups and downs. Endless tears, feeling overwhelmed, alone, angry, scared, nervous. But also feeling exhilarated, able to breathe, happy and FREE.

It is extremely empowering to take control of your life. To make your own decisions and to not spend your days worrying about someone else. I realised how much of my days were spent thinking about my partner – whether it was cheering him up, cooking for him, doing the majority of the house chores/shopping, cleaning up after him. I spent a LOT of excess time on another person, and suddenly, I had that time free to do things for myself.

Yoga, going out for coffee with friends, sitting in cute cafes and writing, working, making lists of fun places in my city to visit. Thinking about vacations with friends I hadn’t seen in years. Reconnecting to myself. These are all benefits of taking control of your life. Alcoholism has a funny way of slowing permeating into a marriage – and without knowing it you can become codependent on each other. We kept playing out the same story over and over. He’d get drunk, I’d get mad, he’d be embarrassed and pretend nothing happened, or sulk, then he’d try to get me to forgive him. Each time, it would take longer and longer before I would – but the anger, sadness and hurt never really went away.

Now he’s on his own to help himself. I should have never thought I could be responsible to help him own his addiction, or deal with his inner demons. I was enabling him to continue with his patterns.

So, I stopped.

You can too. Trust me. It’s a hard road, but it’s so much harder to keep being hurt, over and over.

No one can help you but you.

So do it – look for support, create a network, create a plan, and execute. Try to keep rationale, as hard as it is. I’ll write more on my plan soon.

Sending you so much support if you are dealing with addiction, either yourself, or your partner. Good resources here. This is especially true for those of us working in aid work (another post on that too).

Much love,

Ella

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