The longer story involves more personal details than I care to share in this medium, but simply put – the more I invested in myself, the more I could see unhealthy patterns of behavior. Although it took years and I’m still coming to terms with all of it, I finally recognized that C’s behavior toward me was abusive, intentional and wasn’t going to get better. If anything it was getting worse, and it was starting to negatively affect not only me but the boys, and the boys’ relationship with me.
So I left.
And it has been the absolute best outcome of sobriety so far.
I started this blog with a fierce determination to Love Myself. And I’m learning how to do just that, because with practice and fighting for myself even against my own tendencies, I’m seeing the myriad benefits of having my own back, treating myself kindly (physically and mentally) and with compassion…how in doing this, I have more capacity to extend and receive that grace and love to and from others.
And I want the second half of my life to be about opening up to that love. Getting softer and more authentic, not harder and more closed.
I recognized that in order to do this, I had to free myself from the oppressive dynamic in our marriage. Freeing C also, to be whatever he wants to be outside of a marriage he was seemingly so unhappy in.
I fought for myself. I fought to take care of myself in spite of a situation where it would have been very easy not to. Being told in so many ways, so much of the time, what was wrong with me. That by asking for intimacy and authenticity and connection, I was asking “too much”. That my emotions were wrong, that my memories and sense of self were unreliable, my perception of reality invalid and I shouldn’t trust myself, nor should others trust me.
Getting sober was the first major step in the process of fighting for myself, against those odds, and I will forever be grateful for that decision.
8 months have gone by, and the world – both internal and external – has changed in ways I never could have imagined last September.
Right now, I’m upstairs working from home and searching for children’s face masks while C is downstairs, patiently teaching kindergarten to the twins. We’ve been in quarantine since the world shut down earlier this year.
I never could have predicted COVID-19.
Or that I would stay with a man who hit me*.
The words are so black and white, so harsh when I type them out. I’ve just sat here for the last 20 minutes, not sure I even want to continue writing this.
How can I make anyone understand why I chose to stay with this man? Do I really believe I made the right choice?
The short answer is Yes, although I don’t expect anyone reading this to approve or support my choices.
Whatever the case may be, this broke us out of the toxic patterns of behavior in our relationship and allowed space for a new beginning. For some, it may be an affair, for us it was a black eye. Just as dramatic, damaging, and inexcusable as an affair. I questioned his ability to build a deck. He hit me. And I called for a divorce.
I know what all the data says. I’ve read all the articles about abusive relationships and power struggles and narcissistic tendencies and gaslighting and all of that. I know that I entered into this relationship lacking in self confidence, having diminished my true self to become the person I thought he wanted, a smaller person than I truly am. And that the dysfunction of our relationship has as much to do with those choices as they do with any misconduct of his own.
This is not to excuse his behavior in the slightest. This is my way of taking responsibility and control over MY PART in the dysfunction that led to the environment that created this behavior.
I know that my drinking was a way to escape those choices and remain diminished, intentionally blinding myself to the struggle in our marriage and my own responsibility in creating it.
Quitting gave me the clarify and freedom and confidence to consider what things might look like outside of the mental prison I’d created for myself.
And for the Summer and Fall after the black eye, I considered what life as a single mom of twins would look like. While doing that, I agreed to hold off on any definitive moves toward divorce, and C agreed to live elsewhere and get counseling for anger management and alcohol addiction.
During this time, we both got to experience exactly what the other parent was doing to maintain the house, the dogs, the kids – as we were now picking up 100% of the responsibilities when it was our turn. This was eye-opening for both of us.
C researched a number of options and found a 12-week anger management program he liked, and attended it regularly. He and I met with a number of professionals including a divorce mediator and a marriage therapist. I attended an Al-Anon session, and spent time talking with a good friend who had divorced her husband under similar circumstances (alcohol abuse primarily). I read books and articles about codependency. C cut his drinking back from ~10 drinks/night to 1-2 drinks. His behavior toward me changed dramatically.
I don’t want to turn this into a defense of my choices, because that isn’t the purpose of this post. But I decided to remain with him, after seeing the changes therapy and sobriety brought to our relationship.
And that brings me to my last thought for now, and the real reason for this post:
I could never have imagined that 2 years after I quit, C would be on his own journey to sobriety, of his own volition.
And I’m grateful for everything it took to get us to this point. Everything.
*There is no excuse for this behavior. But the conclusion I came to was that our relationship was a mess, yes, but he was not an abusive person. He was a man who made a really bad choice while intoxicated, who was immediately remorseful and who was willing to do anything to fix our relationship (finally having recognized that maybe he had a part in its dysfunction). Whatever power imbalances existed, I had at least some responsibility for. And I decided to give our marriage a second chance.
To anyone who doesn’t know me, or him, including all of my supportive “friends” on social media who know me only through a screen, it can be very easy to write this off as a mistake, to make this black & white, to scream “get yourself out of there before it gets worse!” and “what about your BOYS!” and “you should never – or – always [fill in the blank]!!”.
And honestly, without knowing the person, I would give the same advice.
If he ever so much as threatens me physically again, I’ve let him know on no uncertain terms, that the relationship is over.
I’m thrilled by the final outcome. Kirk, the tattoo artist was so collaborative and we worked together for about 1.5 hours to design this tattoo. Going in, I had some idea what I wanted but it was just a general concept.
Working with the artist, he was able to capture what I was looking for, extrapolating the design from the meaning I shared (see previous post) and a few sketches shared back & forth.
And since the tattoo I’ve had reason to exercise the one of the main reasons I got it: personal boundaries.
C was less than thrilled, in spite of being warned for the last two years that this was happening, and at one point being supportive of the idea. His foul mood and stonewalling have continued from the moment I got home on Friday through today. And yes it bothers me, but primarily I feel sad that something that makes me so happy and fulfilled could make him so upset. It is a reminder of how different we are in some aspects.
But then I look down, see the band, and remind myself – his anger and sadness are his own to deal with, and while it wouldn’t be nice to flaunt my happiness in front of him right now, I’m perfectly OK to inhabit the joy I feel and shed any sense of responsibility for his reactions.
Pride is another emotion I’m owning right now. Pride that I’ve come this far, that I’ve shed an addiction to a substance that was harming me (and my family by proxy), that I made that commitment and never once turned back. With that freedom came a shedding of blinders, which has opened my eyes to the other areas of my life that need work… in some cases, like my marriage, a LOT of work.
And I’m owning that too.
The vertical line represents the continuation of my own personal work-in-progress. Never complete, but with each day one step closer to a healthier, happier self.
Today is the day I get my tattoo and it felt worthy of a post.
712 days ago, I made a plan on how to quit drinking successfully. One element was a system of small rewards leading up to a big reward, this tattoo, to celebrate and mark 1 year sober.
Almost 2 years later, I’m finally getting it done.
And I want to document what it means to me, here, as reference to come back to if I’m ever questioning my decision (both on sobriety and on the tattoo).
The design is a thin band around my left forearm. The band will be interrupted or broken at one point to symbolize breaking the bonds I had with alcohol. And as the years are moving by, I’m realizing that taking that step gave me the freedom and awareness to break other, less visible bonds, and to create healthy boundaries between myself and those close to me. So the meaning of the tattoo has grown to encompass a process of letting go. Shedding the expectations of others, discarding the responsibility for other’s emotions, letting go of the things that have been holding me back.
I’m hoping that the design will also show a continuation of the path I’m on, in some way. That the process is not done, it has just begun. It is a work in progress.
Well I may not be drinking, but I’m stuffing my face with ice-cream every night after smoking pot and then scrolling Facebook, making impulse purchases like it’s going out of style.
So yea, my life is not ideal right now.
With C out of the house for the last two weeks, it’s been rough.
The days have been long and frenzied, with overload at work and overload at home, no time for any of it but somehow juggling through it. The tiredness of late work nights make it worse with the kids too, plus without dad around they’ve been a handful (and understandably having their own reactions to the whole situation).
It’s just been awkward and hard, for all of us.
And surprise surprise, he’s angry about it. Today, he would barely look at me when we met at the boy’s talent show.
After an hour in the hot August sun, listening to kids sing pop songs (some of the little ones crying or running away, C saying “I hear ya kid!”), we tried to rally the boys with ice cream as a fun surprise. Which then turned into a nightmare after little C dropped his Italian ice and big C refused to get him a new one.
I privately disagreed with his choice but to the boys, I supported him which meant tag-teaming to try to get both boys to the car as little C screamed “I WANT ANOTHER ONE!” over and over at the top of his voice while rage-crying, in full meltdown mode, all while the rest of the parents were quietly, happily eating snacks with their kids. I know I shouldn’t care, but it felt like everyone at camp was judging us as we carried a explosive screaming 5-year-old to the car.
He then proceeded to scream for the next 20 minutes while I sat with him in the car, trying the whole empathetic approach to no avail. Manhandled into his car seat, he screams and kicks my seat the whole way home, another 20 minutes, only calming down after a few minutes in the house.
Big C then gets back with the groceries (Boys having refused to go home in his car, he got to do the grocery run…) and the rest of the evening he won’t talk to me, he won’t look at me, he’s just stonewall-angry. A familiar place for me although it had been awhile.
We divide up the evening’s duties and he leaves after the boys go to bed.
While leaves me to my bad habits.
So I’ve decided to write here instead, then go to bed early for a change.
I’ve been avoiding this because I don’t like whats going on right now. I’m not proud of any of it, I wish it weren’t happening, I feel like a bad parent and person and I’m questioning everything.
And the boys are pushing back so hard right now, I find myself feeling really desperate and lost and ugly inside – without the wherewithal needed to be a good mom to them – keeping boundaries, being a calm stable influence when they need it most.
It’s been hard not to project anger at both work and home, with big stressors in both environments right now, and I’ve fucked up a couple times.
This experience is humbling me in ways I didn’t expect, and at times I feel like I’ve lost the ground underneath me and don’t know where to put my feet.
I think C is feeling similarly.
I find us back in the familiar dance and wondering what I’m doing to perpetuate it.
Something happens where I feel hurt by C (or in this case, I was literally hurt by C). I approach him about it. He gets defensive and finds a way to get angry with me for my way of handling how I feel. His anger “wins” over mine somehow, and I end up feeling like I’ve done something wrong. Many times, I end up apologizing – if only to feel I’ve done my best to turn toward him rather than away.
In this case, I asked him to leave – and while initially it seemed he was willing to do anything to make things work and could understand the need for it, now – he’s angry.
Well, guess what. He had a rough week. I had a rough week. Life is shitty right now.
Recent circumstances have shown me, more than any other time in my adult life, how different everyone’s mental landscapes are. One person’s interpretation and memory of an event can be completely different from another person. Who’s to say who is “right” or who is “wrong”?
The reactions of family and friends to a situation I thought was black & white have caused me to question my own judgment and the judgment of others at the same time, leaving me with little ground to stand on.
I have a thought, it makes sense to me… and then I question it’s validity.
There are many moments of paralysis. I don’t know how to BE, right now. Who am I, outside of the reflection of myself in others’ minds?
As anyone would, I tend to reject the negative impressions I feel others may have of me, but right now I’m inclined to give their perspective more credence. Not because I dislike myself but because I’m less sure of my own perspective.
Is this the ego-work I so wanted to embark on, a year ago?
Advice from the comments section of this article makes some sense:
Take your time. Love from your heart. Be still. Observe. Listen, before you act.
Also, this perspective is interesting given the advice I received from my religious parents (“Yes, he gave you a black eye, but you really need to look at your own part in the dysfunction”):
For the record, he has agreed to separate while he works on his issues with anger and alcohol. And he has been absolutely wonderful since the incident.
When does a person go from being a heavy drinker to being an alcoholic/alcohol-dependent?
What if you think you’re fine but your spouse feels you have a problem and says your drinking affects them negatively?
How much should one’s partner’s opinion matter in this case? What if they’re overreacting?
What about pot? Does smoking regularly in the evenings count as addictive behavior? Could it be considered a replacement for alcohol, an avoidance mechanism that should be addressed?
Is there ever justification for a husband giving his wife a black eye?
What situation is better – staying in a dysfunctional marriage to give the kids a sense of stability, or separating to give each other space to work on the dysfunction, but disrupt the children’s lives in a way they won’t understand?
Why do I need someone to answer these questions for me?
Why can’t I just trust my gut?
Why do the opinions of those around me matter so much?
Why am I here? Well to be honest, my dear imaginary reader, its because I haven’t found a new therapist since my last one “graduated” me and I need an outlet for my jumbled thoughts. Our dog walker and friend just left after I bombarded him with the contents of my messy brain, and I’m realizing I need a better place to get things out, and maybe sort through them.
I feel the need to mention that I’m still sober – zero alcohol since Oct 1, 2017, although not entirely “clean” as I still smoke a puff or two of pot in the evenings.
It’s been awhile since I’ve spilled words on this blog and I think that’s because things have been a bit messy and hard to explain. So forgive me the following stream of consciousness jumble.
An unfiltered letter to my husband:
Can we move past this? Yes.
Can we forget it happened? No.
Even though it may feel, to you, as if nothing has changed, everything has changed for me. I always knew you had a white hot anger flowing underneath the surface, that although you like to imagine yourself as the kind, loving devoted husband and father you portray on social media, underneath the surface hides another version of you that reveals itself whenever you feel slighted.
Your anger, especially when fueled by alcoholic irrationality, quickly goes from zero to an overwhelming out-of-control rage that, regardless of what you do with it, scares those it’s targeting.
You’ve only hit me once, but you’ve scared me and the boys many times before.
So no, this isn’t something that can be swept under the rug, left unaddressed until the next time it happens. I’m done waiting for the honeymoon period to end and for your anger to simmer unaddressed until you decide I deserve another dose.
You wonder why this separation is unnecessary?
It’s because I don’t feel safe anymore. I don’t trust that your rage will stay contained in the future. I have no reason to believe it won’t happen again. How have you changed? Do you even see a reason to change?
You keep saying things like “we’ve lost our way”, “it’s because the first few years of raising the boys have been so hard” “maybe now that it’s getting easier, our relationship will improve”. None of these statements tell me anything about your willingness to take responsibility for your own issues in our marriage.
Over a year ago, when you told me you were not open to working on our marriage (or yourself) in therapy, I decided the only choice was to work on myself, by myself. Which I’ve done.
Any time I found myself complaining about your behavior, I would turn that question toward myself – am I asking the same of myself? Is it possible I’m the one with that problem? And then I would work on it.
And although I still see much room for improvement, I’m tired of doing it alone. If you’re not willing to look inside and do some heavy lifting on your own issues, I’m not willing to remain in a marriage that is this out of balance, especially when it means always having to worry about when your next temper flair-up is going to happen.
My mental health, and the future mental health of the boys who are watching our dynamic and learning how to behave, is not worth that.
First, an update on C since the last post was about him. Then, an update on my latest steps and missteps along the road of sobriety.
After a successful Dry January and a “damp” February that started with intentions of moderating (the details of which were hazy and became increasingly more so as the month went on), C recently shared that he is planning to go bushy-tail again, starting this week and attempting to go 8 weeks this time, instead of 4.
During St. Patty’s Month?? I asked. Yes, I know, he said.
The driving force seems to be weight-loss, the first time around a 10 lb loss leaving quite an impression. I’ve expressed my respect for his goal and offered support in any way he needs, trying hard not to be too over-the-moon about it because I don’t want to add pressure or do anything that might make it harder for him to focus on his own reasons for doing this.
While I’m not sure how sustainable a goal weight-loss is, I’m encouraged at his desire to do this a second time shortly after his first and am hoping that 8 weeks will reveal the more lasting benefits of being alcohol-free.
It’s nice to hear him express a different mentality about drinking, occasionally bringing up the detriments instead of constantly defending it.
Whether as a result of his recent choices about alcohol, or the positive outcome of a couple honest conversations at the turn of the year, or any number of personal changes we’ve both made, our relationship seems a bit sturdier lately and I’m grateful.
We seem to be headed in a good direction and I know his changing attitude toward alcohol has given me a lot of hope.
And as for me?
Well, I’m still chuggin’ along 100% sober*. And honestly, not missing it 99% of the time.
My theory about that last 1% is that it’s hanging on because I haven’t had enough practice saying No during those specific types of moments. Like date night, for example.
C & I went on an overnight date on my birthday in February. C had planned it all in advance and surprised me with a really posh hotel, the Bungalows in Asbury Park, and dinner at the equally well-reviewed Tides Hotel. The whole experience was perfect. But I found myself craving a pre-dinner fancy cocktail. You know, the ones that pack a punch and leave you with a euphoric glow for the span of dinner, and then quickly dissolve into a blur of dinner wine, post-dinner digestif, night cap or two or three…
Of course, C & I only go on these kind of fancy dates about once or twice a year, so I haven’t had as many chances to say No to myself as say, a weekend night at home.
Of course it’s a little harder.
The only remedy is more practice! I must tell C.
*I’ve added the asterisk because while I’m alcohol-free, I can’t honestly say I’m 100% clean and sober. I’m still smoking pot on the regular. And the state of my gnawed-down stumps of fingernails is causing me to question whether this habit is really helping or hurting.
Hear me out.
When I quit, I had so much energy for self improvement that I made sweeping and grandiose changes to my diet, exercise and overall health choices, even cutting back my coffee intake and replacing with green tea at the peak of my zealousness.
Over the months, that fervor has diminished leaving me with a few healthy habits like meditation and kickboxing and yoga and green smoothies in the morning, but also a few unhealthy habits that have crept in – mainly pot (I’m smoking almost nightly), staying up too late scrolling social media and making impulse purchases online (yeah, not the greatest, I know), and then as a result of the late nights, drinking way too much coffee in the morning.
Hence, the bitten-down nails.
I was starting to wonder about my own mental health as I’ve recently found myself incapable of stopping the nail biting – something I’ve been able to control better in the past.
Then one day it hit me as I was pouring my 4th cup of morning coffee (increased slowly from 1-2 cups, to 3, to 4 and now more like 5 or 6). It’s the coffee! That’s why I’m gnawing on my nails! Why do I need this much coffee? Well, because I’m not getting enough sleep. And why not? Because I find myself stuck to the couch from about 9:30 (when I should be headed to bed) to 11:30 pm, mindlessly scrolling Facebook and online shopping until the pot wears off.
And the lightbulb went off. It’s the POT. OMG. I thought it was relaxing me. And maybe it is. But overall, the chain reaction is having the opposite effect.
So now, I’m considering cutting back or quitting entirely because I don’t like what it’s doing to me overall. The tough part is that I think I’ve replaced alcohol with this new escape and that means I haven’t really dealt with the underlying problem yet.
No answers or resolutions, just thoughts out there in the ether.
After almost a month of sobriety thanks to Dry January, C told me that he’s thinking about moderating, admitting that 8-10 drinks/night was probably too much. His hope is to stay dry during the week and drink moderately on weekend.
This is HUGE!!!!!!!
My heart is so happy right now. His drinking was hurting our family and our relationship to such an extent that I was starting to think about divorce, but now I have hope.
Who knows how this will play out, whether he’ll stay committed to this idea (he seemed shaky about it initially) or whether he’ll have more success than I did when moderating, but the important part is that he’s admitting his drinking was unhealthy and he wants to do something about it.
He’s also talking about taking up an exercise regimen, and was receptive when I shared my own experience on the road to overall healthy life improvements post-quitting. All of this is without any prompting from me, which is HUGE!!!!
I have stayed as quiet as I possibly could since quitting, knowing that this had to be MY journey, alone, that had nothing to do with him… and that I needed to leave him 100% alone if I could expect him to make any change himself. Any nagging or complaining on my part would only make that more difficult for him. And I can’t say I’ve been completely successful (I admit to rolling my eyes more than once when he forgot a conversation – a big pet peeve for me – or was unable to get through a whole TV show without passing out etc), but overall, I’ve worked very hard at staying quiet.
And it’s paying off. Big lesson for me there.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut.