Never trust an alcoholic with your heart….they’ll break it every time.
Let me clarify – when I say ‘alcoholic’ in this post I am referring to someone who is still in the throes of their addiction, perhaps even in denial of how severe their problem might actually be. In fact, the alcoholic I am referring to likely thinks his or her life is perfect just as it is. I know and love several alcoholics who are sober and are amazing people who care for and nurture others in their lives – this post is not about people like them.
I drank too much in my early twenties, but I don’t think I could ever have been clinically classified as an alcoholic, so I don’t truly understand the struggles an alcoholic faces. I have fallen in love with two alcoholics though, so I do know how an addiction to alcohol can affect a relationship and the people in it.
The first alcoholic I loved I had a child with and the second one I almost married. (Perhaps someday I should examine that unlikely “coincidence” and figure out why I am drawn to/attract unavailable men). I’m 40 and single so it’s fair to say I’ve spent way too much time trying to be with men who couldn’t be with me. Even though we had these serious, committed relationships, I was always just their mistress. Alcohol was their true love. Alcohol and everything that goes with it – the socializing, the partying, the fun. The altered reality that alcohol induces.
During the near decade I was with my daughter’s father I heard every reason under the sun for him to go out and drink with his friends. And there is ALWAYS a reason for an alcoholic to drink. At one point years into our relationship, after a particularly out-of-control drunken episode wherein I think he even scared himself, he finally admitted that he might have a drinking problem. He decided the solution was to stop drinking Jack Daniels and Jägermeister and just drink Miller Lite. (Nevermind that he drank anywhere from 12 – 18 (or more) Miller Lites a day).
Of the almost 10 years we were together, we lived together for eight. Towards the end things were getting worse with his drinking so I got my own place, a little house across town, but we remained in a committed relationship. We were actually happier, both as a couple and individuals, when we had our own places. I’m sure he enjoyed the freedom from my constant nagging, but my reason for being happier wasn’t about freedom.
I was happier because I was less lonely living alone than I was when I lived with the man I loved.
Let me try to explain, but sadly for some of you reading this you already know what I mean by that. In my experience, living with an alcoholic was a very lonely existence. I suppose if I, too, were an alcoholic we would have spent more time together. But I wasn’t and so I was very lonely much of the time. He had a lot of friends and it was always someone’s birthday or bachelor party or there was a sports game to go to or to watch at the sports bar. We spent very little quality time together. When he was home, he was generally hung-over for most of the morning. Believe it or not – after so many mornings of seeing the one you love laying on the couch with bloodshot eyes, sweating out the booze from the night before and farting, running to the bathroom either to vomit or so he didn’t shit his pants – the romance dies.
But still, the mornings were better than the nights. The nights when he would come home drunk were the worst. He would be so mean, and say the most outrageous things. He even scared me a few times, to the point that I left the house in the middle of the night to either go stay at my mom’s or a friend’s. (When I say ‘he scared me’ I mean by his unreasonable anger and yelling or sometimes just kind of insane rambling – he never hit me or tried to hit me and I was never scared for my physical safety. He’s more of a narcissistic bully and emotional abuser.) Those nights were bad. But what was more painful than those nights were the next days when we would inevitably have to face each other. Most of the time he had absolutely no recollection of what he had done or said. None. At all. He broke my heart a hundred fucking times and he never even remembered. What is a person supposed to do with that? The worst of the worst were the nights he didn’t come home. I couldn’t even count the times I called hospitals and jails trying to find him. Miraculously he never hurt anyone while drunk and got into minimal trouble with the law a few times, but the worry he put me through he will never understand.
Between him being hung over from drinking, distracted because he was planning his next drink, actually out drinking, or being home but being drunk, I found we had very little quality time together. And the time we did have together didn’t really feel real – I often had to stifle my true feelings and thoughts so I wouldn’t start a fight. Because that’s an alcoholics favorite reason to drink – YOU. That’s another daily ritual of a person living with an alcoholic – walking on eggshells. Because even in their sober hours you often don’t have the authentic ‘them’ – you have an irritable person who can be quick to be defensive and is often welcoming of any reason to storm off angry to the bar.
As I sit and write this I am asking myself what the hell made me stay for so long? As lame and cliché as it sounds, I guess love made me stay. I did love him. I fell for him when we were in high school and shared a PE class, but he liked a prettier, more popular girl. Neither of us moved away from the town we grew up in, so after high school we ran into each other and reconnected. It was a whirlwind romance, and I moved in with him after less than a month of dating. He was in college on a sports scholarship, he was strong and smart and handsome and in the beginning he was very sweet and attentive, romantic even. He would give me cards for no reason and fill up the inside with kind words. Even as the years passed and his drinking became more of a problem, I still had hope for a bright future because I knew his potential and I knew he had a good heart. And towards the end of our relationship when we lived separately we really were happy and even talking about eventually moving back in together and getting married.
Things were going so well, in fact, that we were spending a lot of time together and I ended up getting pregnant. I always knew I wanted to have children with him, it was just happening sooner than we had planned. It was scary but we both had good jobs and supportive families and friends so though we were scared, we were excited. We found a place to live and moved in together shortly before our daughter was born.
Once we moved in together I started to notice little signs and had a gut feeling that he was cheating on me. (Ladies (and gentlemen) always trust your gut – your brain can overthink things or be closed to others’ perspectives and your heart can get confused by feelings and hopes and dreams – but your gut instinct is your survival instinct. Your gut doesn’t get distracted or confused – it just is.) So we were arguing about his late nights out, his drinking and his probable infidelity, all while preparing for the arrival of our daughter. To say the least, it was a stressful time. So stressful that my blood pressure rose to a dangerous level and I had to be put on bed-rest for nearly the last month of my pregnancy. (Oh, by the way – he had been cheating on me and she ended up moving in with him just a few weeks after I moved out and they got married a year later. They got divorced 6 years later after she cheated on him.)
The final straw came when our daughter was barely a few months old. He had gone out drinking with friends and the next morning he wasn’t in bed, which wasn’t a surprise since I had the baby’s bassinet in our bedroom and he probably didn’t want to wake her up when he got home. I was surprised, however, when I walked out into the living room and he wasn’t on the couch or in his recliner. I double-checked to make sure his car was in the driveway, and it was. I went out to check the car and he wasn’t in it or passed out in the yard anywhere so I knew he made it into the house. I checked the bathrooms and even the basement (which was just a laundry room) and he was nowhere. I was standing in the living room trying to figure out if I should call someone, it was pretty early in the morning still but maybe I should call one of his friends…as I was pondering this my gaze drifted to the baby’s nursery and I noticed the door was closed, which was unusual. I immediately got a sinking feeling and I ran to my bedroom to check the bassinet just to reassure myself she was in fact, safely sleeping there, which she was. I had just seen her a few minutes before, but I had to go in and see her and touch her and hear her little soft breath before I could do anything else. After my heart stopped pounding, I walked to the nursery and opened the door, and though I knew in general what I would see, I wasn’t prepared for the stark reality of what I did see. There was a wet spot on the floor next to the crib (his piss I am assuming) and vomit spilling over the side of the crib and puddled on the floor near the piss puddle. Hanging over the side and end of the crib were his legs, and he was laying passed out IN the crib. Right where our infant daughter was supposed to be sleeping. Had she been sleeping in her crib and not in her bassinet with me she would have been crushed. He would have killed her. I decided then and there that I had to leave, and I did. Not before I woke him up and asked him what the hell was wrong with him and if he even realized what the repercussions of his actions could have been. What ensued was a drawn-out fight in court over child support amounts and a few years of us really not getting along well at all. Finally for our daughter we have been trying to co-parent in a healthy way, but we still argue. He still drinks several beers a day, well into the double-digits on his days off. But in his mind that’s totally fine, because it’s “just beer.” He’s always been a high-functioning alcoholic and has held a great job and he owns a nice home, so in his eyes his drinking is not a problem at all. His drinking has affected his relationship with our daughter, and though I did resolve to never tell her why her dad and I split up she is a teenager now and she is beginning to see that side of him for herself. Which is heartbreaking. I won the parents lottery and they are my heroes. I can’t imagine a parent being a source of pain for a child. I’m not perfect, and I am the first to admit it, but I never passed out in my baby’s crib.
So here we are, more than 20 years since we began dating, and still arguing over basically one thing. Alcohol. He hasn’t quit drinking for anyone – his daughter, his girlfriends and ex-wife, his family, himself. That’s a hard lesson to learn when it comes to loving an alcoholic – no matter how much love they have in their lives, no matter how many people want the best for them, they will never change until they want to. It usually takes a “rock-bottom” situation to make an alcoholic question their own behavior and do some honest introspective thinking, but unfortunately rock-bottom for many alcoholics is usually prison or death.
About 10 years after I left my daughter’s dad, I met and fell in love with another man. He was a musician and a poet and it was pretty much love at first sight. He was romantic and sweet and would play songs for me. We traveled and laughed and had the best sex I’ve ever had in my life. We were convinced we were soul mates and decided not to waste any time starting our life together. After dating for just a handful of months he proposed, I said yes, and he moved in with my daughter and I. Things quickly unraveled after that, but we kept planning the wedding, booking venues and buying clothes, we even sent out the invitations. Then a few months before the wedding date, we decided to break up. At the time I didn’t think his drinking was a major contributing factor to the demise of our relationship – there were so many things going on and so many external stressors that it never stood out as one of our main problems. The breakup was rather nasty and we ended up not speaking to each other for 5 years. We reconnected after all those years and found that we still loved each other and we spent a few months together making love and making plans for our future. It was wonderful, I thought we were being given a second chance and I was so happy and grateful. But one day I tried to talk to him about some of my fears and doubts – in retrospect I can see that I approached the conversation wrong because I was angry with him for blowing me off to drink with his friends – but because he had been drinking for a few days and was maybe already drinking that morning the conversation deteriorated quickly. He is not much of a phone talker and he prefers to communicate with me via instant message, so I couldn’t tell that he was drunk at first. But as our conversation progressed he got meaner and meaner and I finally realized why – he was drunk. It was so unlike him to seem to want to hurt my feelings, when he was normally so sweet to me. But that day he made me cry so many times, and I mean the sobbing kind of crying. One of his messages to me was so hurtful it made me feel physically ill. He blamed his intoxication and anger on me, when it actually boils down to a communication breakdown due to my anger, his intoxication and the fact that we were instant messaging. People, I know we have kick-ass technology and “social” media that somehow enables us to avoid actually socializing – but – discussing serious relationship issues via Facebook messages is just not cool. It’s bullshit, actually. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but I think talking in person, or on the phone at the very least, is so much better and is generally more productive. Not only can tone or inflection be misunderstood in a typed message, but I have found that people “say” things online or in texts that they would probably never say to the other person’s face. I’m not sure if he will ever read back through our messages and see the things he said to me, or the things I was trying to say to him. I really can’t stress enough how important communication is in a relationship – and effective communication. Typing out your feelings on your phone in Facebook message is asinine when you can call the person (with that same phone!) and actually have a real conversation.
I’ve learned a few hard lessons from loving alcoholics, but it all boils down to this – they will always break your heart. They may not mean to, they may not know they’re doing it, and they may not even remember dong it, but they will. The harsh reality is that an alcoholic simply can’t be a life partner to someone who is not also an alcoholic, and I loved both of these men but not enough to drink my life away with them.