|Art by Arna Baartz|
I liken living with an alcoholic to living in a war zone.
Like one who lives in deceit,When I read this poem, I thought, this is me. This is my life.
I stone myself and call for help
Your wound grows and grows
It slits my throat from vein to vein.
I put sand in your wound,
I put in your wound a giant,
and around myself I light the fire.
Of course it was not really a war zone—and to suggest so seems a bit melodramatic—but it's a terrible and unpredictable life.
If you are a (male) addict, I’m sorry. This story isn’t for or about you. There are hundreds of stories and resources for addicts. This book is written for the families of addicts who are forgotten and who largely suffer in silence.
There will always be another excuse, another mistake, another relapse, another addiction or anger about a parent’s addiction that they need their lifetime and yours to get over. With addicts there is just always something.
And if you’re reading this and you feel yourself getting angry perhaps you probably know that someone is finally telling the truth.
Of course, I have empathy for addicts too. So much in fact that I belittled myself by staying with one for seven years.
When my husband first relapsed after his mother died, my well-meaning Christian father told me to “just love him.” But that’s the problem with the addict; the more you love, the more they take of you and everything else, until there’s nothing left to give.
I remember the night I decided to stop walking on tip-toes.
I realized over the years I had become less of myself. I was worried about his anger, or that he would relapse. Suddenly I realized how ridiculous this all was. It was his turn to learn to deal with the reality of our existence instead of us having to shrink because of the reality of his.
I remember before the first rehab, a very good friend looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Run.”
My friend's mother had been an alcoholic and it had stunted his life. His comment affected our friendship for years. I didn’t want to run. I thought I could fix him. I thought my love would be enough.
Four years later, when I found out about my husband’s relapse, I thought about this friend and the courage it took him to say this and acknowledge my reality.
While most other people tried to be polite — or pray for me — their comments seemed to gently gloss over what was actually happening. When someone doesn’t fit into the perceived notion of what an addict is, it’s hard for people to know what to say.
“Run” was the best advice I received and it’s the advice I would give my daughter if she ever got involved with an addict.
Run. Run like hell.
The reason this advice hurt so much at the time was that it would have forced me to see my part in things. And when you are with an alcoholic, you are used to suffering in silence as the martyr, wondering why the alcoholic does what he does.
I wasted years of my life wondering why. I’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter.
Running would have taken courage. It would have said, “He cannot do this to me.” I am stronger than this. I can do better. Instead, I stayed, w—a—y too long.
The other part is that it would have forced me and others to acknowledge the truth.
Alcoholism remains hidden in the shadows. No one talks about it. We go to great lengths to avoid the subject altogether. Both the addict and the co-dependent will do anything to hide their sense of inadequacy. There is nobody that tries harder at being “normal” than an alcoholic and his family.
In running I would have to tell the truth. He drinks. All the time. It is not pleasant. He is verbally abusive. My life is out of control. And the hardest one: I need help.
When I finally left my husband, I was only able to do so after taking weeks to compose a list of facts. At my office, I began to put together a black and white list of the things in our relationship that I could not accept. This included that he did not go to my grandfather’s funeral, he did not come home all night long, and he brought cocaine into our home. After four and half pages of undeniable facts, I realized that there was no longer any question of whether or not I could stay with him. The list made that impossible, even laughable.
When you live with an addict, you are never quite certain about reality. Everything becomes blurred. By writing down the facts as they happened, he could not come back to me later with his own version of the truth.
In my case, there were months of lying about his sobriety when I just wasn’t sure whether he was drinking or not. Had I begun the list sooner, instead of listening to the words I so wanted to believe, I would have saved myself at least a year of heartbreak.
Before I left my husband, a dear friend sent me a quote from Maya Angelou. It said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them — the first time!” As women, we must remember to trust our instincts and not wait for the people in our lives to change.
The truth is, I knew what I thought of my ex the first time I met him, but I gave him chance after chance despite it.
While I have seen some wonderful transformations in Alcoholics Anonymous, the statistics are not promising and I would not place any bets for my future on another addict.
There are millions of kind and addiction-free wo/men in the world.
I happen to now be married to one of them.
Trista Hendren, an excerpt from her upcoming book Hearts Aren't Made of Glass: My Journey from "Princess of Nothing" to Goddess of my Own Damned Life