A letter to my younger self… being married to an alcoholic
To my sweet, naive and patient younger self,
It’s not your fault. It is not your fault your husband is an alcoholic. I know you think that if you could support him more, love him more, provide more, that you can make things better. The truth is – and I know you know this, but you need to really believe it – is that only he can help himself. It doesn’t matter if you get him to go to the doctor; it doesn’t matter if you go to counselling as a couple; he will not stop drinking and destroying everything around him, until he has hit bottom and is ready to change for himself.
Let’s be super clear, living with an alcoholic sucks. It really sucks. The unpredictability, the anxiety, the mood swings, the unease about any social occasion.
Living with an alcoholic will change you and change how you live your life. You will be pleased to know that you will come out the other side. But when you do, you will also be tougher, less patient, less forgiving, a little bit scarred, but also joyful and free. You will not look at alcohol the same way ever again. Unfortunately, the journey is not easy: you will skip social occasions, not celebrate birthdays, have anxiety about any Christmas party. You will find friend’s weddings deeply stressful. You will lose more hours of sleep from being woken up in the night by your drunk spouse – or worrying where he is – than your baby was ever responsible for.
And the night’s are the worst. The not knowing whether tonight is going to be a good night when you can sleep, or one when you are woken with a barrage of calls demanding you come and collect him (which you won’t), requests to find out where he is (cause he fell asleep on the bus), or demands to transfer cash (to pay his bar bill or gamble with); or when you’ve turned off all the phones, the hammering on the door cause he can’t find his keys, shouting in the street that he needs money for the taxi, or the police turning up cause he’s been taken to hospital. The stress doesn’t even stop when he’s home, cause then there’s late night music and endless telephone calls, a veritable feast that he wants to cook – or half cook, judging by the way the kitchen looks in the morning – and people turning up at the door expecting a party who you have to turn away.
Holidays will be ruined. Friendships will be strained. You will question if your career progression has faltered as you decline business trips, skip after work drinks, and can’t work late because you can’t rely on him to do nursery pick up. And then there are the arguments. The soul-destroying arguments that only one of you remembers in the morning.
Anyone reading this who hasn’t lived with an alcoholic can really only be asking one question: why stay? But you know the answer: 1) you made a commitment in getting married and really meant it (though you are starting to question this), and 2) the one that you are still hanging on to: you think it will get better. You think that at some point he will come to see that he and alcohol cannot continue to have a relationship. You think that he’ll be able to see the impact that drinking has on your relationship, the relationship with his child, your finances and your whole life. But it doesn’t get better. At least, not until you have finally reached the end of the line and decided you can’t live with this any longer.
The surprising thing is how invisible it is from the outside. People don’t see what’s happening inside your marriage – they can see a little, but not as much as you think. Be brave my love. Talk to other people. You’ll be surprised at people’s reactions. You’ll be surprised at how many people have much closer experience than you think: who grew up with an alcoholic parent, or live with, or are themselves, an alcoholic partner. They can bring you hope and support. You may still feel you don’t want to share, but remember, this isn’t your fault and you haven’t failed. You do however deserve not to live in constant anxiety about what he’ll do next. You deserve not to be shouted at because he’s drunk or hungover, you deserve not to have your savings spent in the pub, you deserve to be able to shut the door and go to sleep, safe in the knowledge that you can sleep the whole night through.
You will survive this and walking away is the right thing to do for you all; for you, for your little boy, and curiously, it’s also the best thing for your husband too. Taking away his support allows him – forces him – to take responsibility for himself. You are not responsible for him. You don’t have to be and you never should have been. In time, you will all benefit from calling time on the relationship. It’s time to claim your life back and stop being the lesser version of you that you have become. Be bold and make the change that you know you need to.
Your older, wiser, less worried about what other people think, self.