I found out my husband was an alcoholic two weeks after the wedding.
We’d been together for nine years, so I knew he liked to drink; I just had no idea how much. But after I found his hidden vodka stash, I knew he was hiding how much he drank from me.
My first thoughts were, “What have I gotten myself into?” and “It’s too late to get out now.”
When I showed him the bottles, he cried, and I cried, and he promised to stop. I thought life would go on; and it did go on. He couldn’t stop drinking, so he just worked harder to hide his addiction.
Signs of his drinking were always so obvious: the slurred speech, lack of coordination, passing out, jerking eyes, the smell of vodka on his breath. No matter how obvious, he would deny drinking unless I could show him the bottles.
His denial was so absolute that he would even blame his stumbling on diabetes complications. He refused to go to the doctor, so I knew he wasn't treating complications from diabetes; he was causing them.
Our lives were a roller coaster. Every time I would catch him drinking I was crushed. Every time he would get a run at sobriety, my heart would soar with hopefulness. I thought about leaving, but would always decide that I still loved the sober version of him enough to stay as long as he was trying to quit.
I think that’s what made me stay so long after I should have left—those two conditions: “Do I still love him?” and “Is he trying?” I thought if I could answer “yes” to those, I should stay.
Over the next 10 years there were many failed attempts at sobriety. A DUI. Countless denials, falls, broken eyeglasses, and unexplainable bruises. There were therapist visits and occasional recovery meetings. There were times when he knocked over a table or knocked himself out, and times when he wet or soiled the bed.
I tried so hard to be a supportive partner and help him help himself. But I began to fear for his life and his health. I began to fear for my safety. We never had kids because I was afraid he would accidentally hurt –or even kill—a baby when he was drunk.
Throughout all this I kept telling myself, “I love him and I know he’s trying. I made a commitment.” I thought that it would all be OK if he just tried harder. I was a true believer that love conquers all.
My life was becoming a living hell because I was constantly afraid that he was drinking, and I was constantly afraid that he would hurt himself or become abusive.
Sometimes I think the only reason he didn’t become abusive was because he would get so drunk he couldn’t stand up or walk. At the same time, I somehow still loved him—at least the person he was when he wasn’t drunk—and wanted him to get better. I guess I wanted to get back what we originally had, before liquor took over his life.
I’d try to come home right after work to somehow prevent him from taking that first drink (yeah, that worked), but I hated being at home because I couldn’t stand the person he became when he was drunk. He would just sit on the couch in a stupor. I would end up going to bed early just to get away from him. But after I went to bed was the scary part: a few times a month I would awaken to a crash, which meant he had fallen.
I will never forget the fear I had the night my ex was so drunk he fell, hit his head, passed out, broke his glasses and had blood coming out his nose. I was about to call the paramedics when he came to. Even now, I still panic when I hear a loud crash, even if I’m at the office. The first thing that still pops in my mind is that he’s fallen and hurt himself again.
The final straw was in December 2012. I got home from a late work meeting and my ex was on the couch, so drunk he couldn’t even get up. He denied drinking again, even though it was ridiculously obvious. I finally gave up and said, “Just go to bed, so I don’t have to worry about you falling.”
He tried to get up a few times and couldn’t. I was livid by then, so I just went to bed (we were sleeping in separate rooms long before then). I woke up later to a crash and went to check on him. He was lying on the floor—having fallen—and I looked at him and said, “You’re on your own,” then turned around and went back to bed.
I got up for work the next morning, peeked in on him to make sure he was still breathing (yes, when he was drinking I would do that) and was going to leave for work without saying a word to him.
He got up and apologized, (he always did), and said he must’ve hurt his shoulder when he fell, because it hurt—a lot. Later that day, he texted me at work asking me to drive him to urgent care, since he didn’t think he could drive himself.
Thanks to his fall, he had completely broken his arm at the shoulder and would need extensive surgery and physical therapy to fix it. He told everyone he tripped over the cat. I don’t think he could have told you if the cat was even in the room when he fell.
I finally realized that he wasn’t going to stop and that I couldn’t continue to live that way. I gave him an ultimatum: I reminded him his most successful times at sobriety were when he was attending recovery meetings and I asked him to attend meetings regularly again. He refused, saying they didn’t work.
I was crushed, but at that point, I realized he wasn’t committed to getting better. That one of the conditions I had set for this—that he try—was no longer being met. I started planning for my needs instead of continuing to try to take care of him.
Then, a few months later, I was thrown a curve ball: My ex had blood clots in his lungs and heart and had a massive stroke that nearly killed him. While they’re still not sure of the cause, it was probably a combination of the aftereffects of his broken shoulder and his neglect of other health problems. Plus, heavy drinking is a big risk factor for stroke.
I knew I couldn’t just leave right then—the part of me that loved him wanted him to get better. He was paralyzed on one side of his body, and had lost the ability to speak, read or understand numbers. Part of me even hoped that the stroke had wiped out the alcoholic part of his brain. I just knew he needed help, and I was the one able to provide it.
I tried to push away all thoughts of the damage his drinking had done to our marriage. Taking care of him consumed every ounce of energy I had. I was putting my life and my needs on hold for him. Again.
Ten months after the stroke, I really started to process what had happened. I felt like I was going down with a sinking ship. My ex had ruined his life with the decisions he had made; I couldn’t let him continue to ruin my life. Soon, he got a grim prognosis from his therapists: They didn’t think he would ever be able to live independently.
I realized that I had been working to get him home, but that I hated that home life. I was not going to live with the constant fear of his drinking again.
I finally came to the conclusion that I should have reached at least 6 years earlier: to get a divorce. It was the most heartbreaking decision I have ever had to make in my life—to leave the person I had committed my life to; my best friend for what had been more than 20 years.
I realized that for most of those years, I was trying to change his behavior and he wasn’t trying himself. It was time for me to take care of myself.
They say that addicts need to hit rock bottom before changing their behavior. I guess in some ways I had to hit rock bottom before changing my behavior, too. I learned love doesn’t always conquer all.
A year after making the decision to leave, I am happier than I can remember being in years. Of all the questions I asked through the years, I wish I had asked myself sooner why I didn't love myself as much as I loved him.