(Perhaps you’ve heard this story…) I woke up one day in 2010 and decided that I wasn’t going to drink alcohol anymore.
When I told this to my husband I conveyed it with the same sense of urgency that I did the time that I declared that I wasn’t going to eat meat anymore.
Or when I told him that I wasn’t going to eat dairy anymore.
Or when I told him that I was going to take up running and train for a race.
He was moderately supportive but continued to do his thing.
The thing is though, when I dismissively announced to him that I wasn’t going to drink anymore that day in 2010, I desperately wanted him to stop drinking too. Not because he necessarily needed to–just because I needed his support and I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about giving up alcohol while living with a partner who still drank.
Did I tell him this? Hell no. I didn’t even convey the seriousness in my decision. If I remember correctly, I think I probably said it like this: “Hey. Just so you’ll know, I’m not going to drink for awhile and see how I feel.” Just the same way that I announced it when I was becoming vegetarian–which lasted several years–then I was back to meat-eating.
I think he probably felt like I was doing it to maybe lose some weight. Or that I’d read an article in Woman’s Day about how alcohol messes with your sleep cycles or something. I don’t think that he 1. knew the seriousness that I felt, 2. thought that I’d make it a permanent life change or 3. knew how much I wanted him to take me seriously and support me.
Did this piss me off? Yeah, it did. Was it really even his fault? Nope.
I should’ve told him these things. I should’ve let him see the vulnerable side of me–the side that really struggled in social situations without alcohol. The side that struggled trying to figure out who I was anymore. But, I kept it all under wraps and waved it all off dismissively.
Who knows. Maybe I also didn’t want him to know the seriousness so that when I failed at sobriety, he wouldn’t see me as a washout.
So, I stopped drinking but he did not.
He continued to drink at home after work and on weekends. He continued to order a glass of nice red wine with his steak over dinner at a restaurant. He continued to meet up with friends for happy hour after work, coming home smelling of bourbon and cigar smoke.
Did it hurt? Big time. Did I tell him this? No.
Instead, I quietly seethed when he’d crack open a beer at home, in what felt like a taunt to my sobriety. I’d feel like crying when he carefully perused the wine list over dinner, trying to choose just the perfect crisp white to compliment his meal. I raged when he added beer to my Costco list and left me to heave a giant 24-bottle box of Shiner into our already overflowing cart while I fought to ply my (then) toddlers with more fruit snacks in order to make it through the checkout tantrum-free.
I know, in my heart of hearts, that if I’d simply told him how difficult it was for me that he continued to drink when I had quit, he would’ve stopped for me. He might not have stopped entirely, but he might have tried to survey the scene through my eyes and refrained from drinking in my presence. As a result, I seethed in silence for a few years early in my sobriety. It wasn’t fair to me, and it really wasn’t fair to my husband.
All that it would’ve taken was 4 simple words from me:
I need your help.
Vulnerability though, man. That’s probably why I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to appear as vulnerable as I felt. Also, the seriousness of the situation scared the living shit out of me. I didn’t want him to suddenly see his wife–the mother of his two children–as an addict. I didn’t want him to think, “Holy hell. I’ve been leaving my children in the care of an alcoholic all of this time?”
Almost 7 years have passed since I quit drinking. I’ve survived all major social occasions, vacations, weddings and funerals without alcohol now. My husband doesn’t drink nearly as much as he did when I was a drinker, but he does have a fridge in the garage that’s typically full of beer and a liquor cabinet in the kitchen that’s full of all of the “important” ingredients for just about any cocktail you might require.
To be honest: yes, I do sometimes still slam the liquor cabinet shut a little harder than I should when I’m in there, trying to find a place for the salad spinner and there are too many bottles of liquor in the way. I also have been known to shove the beer aside with more force than necessary (oops, sorry about that foam, bro) when making space for our salad greens and leftover casserole in the garage fridge.
All of this to say that, if you need your spouse to quit drinking in order to feel supported in your sobriety, please DON’T BE LIKE ME! Ask for help. Tell him or her. Demand it of them. And, if they can’t fathom giving up something like that for you, then rethink that relationship or suggest that they reassess their own relationship with alcohol.
Don’t be scared to be vulnerable in front of your partner. I can’t turn back time and go back and do it all differently–I wish that I could. I know that the way that I handled the situation was really dangerous–my constant anger could have really done permanent damage to our marriage. How it didn’t, I’m not sure. And all it would’ve taken is for me to say, “I need your help.”