3/1/18 What I would say
…if I didn’t filter myself
…if I felt like you would listen without getting defensive or angry
…if we were more emotionally connected
…if I was able to organize my own thoughts
…if I felt like you were interested in what I thought
…if you didn’t pressure me to “finish the story, what’s your point?”
…if you’d put down your phone
…if any of this mattered in the end
I guess this is a journal of sorts, stream-of-consciousness style. Public in a sense, so maybe this is a bid for attention. Or a cry for help, like that time in college when I cut myself as part of an art performance and everyone thought I was committing suicide publicly (I wasn’t). Oh my god. This is a horrible way to start.
Let’s begin again.
This hidden page is a place for me to work things out “on paper” before or instead of saying them out loud. A sketchbook for my thoughts. And some of my thoughts are VERY sketchy.
I can imagine some of it will be directed at certain important people in my life – working out conversations or throwing ugly shit down so I can let go of it, analyze it, come back to it later and laugh.
Some of it might just be the shit I don’t want to burden my alcohol blog with – personal stuff that no one really cares about.
Mostly, I just want to keep track of my thoughts better – and this is the simplest place to do that right now.
It’s lonely sometimes, not being able to talk with you about important life stuff like our future and how to raise our kids so they are confident and intrinsically motivated, without crushing their spirits or teaching them to comply without questioning (among many many other things we need to impart in them).
There are so so so many things I would love to talk with you about, at great length. Things that can only be discussed between Us. Not things I can go to a girlfriend or sister or therapist about. Not things that I can resolve on my own. But things that require, or should require, your involvement.
Almost daily, I struggle with some element of our life together (recently, it’s primary been parenting), and I think about all the ways I’d like to talk with you about it, all the questions I’d have for you, all the things I think you might say back – if you were sober.
But then I remember that you’re not.
And I stuff it all away.
I’ve decided I want to write a letter to C. A carefully, thoughtfully written letter that explains where I’m at, where I think our marriage is – from my perspective, my hopes and dreams for our future, and the ways in which I think we might achieve those, including an empathetic understanding of his perspective and needs within the relationship (or what I think is his perspective and personal needs) and a gentle request for an empathetic response to my own needs.
Maybe I’ll send it, maybe I won’t. But I’m giving myself a deadline of April 26, the day before I leave for a weekend away, in case I decide I do want to give it to him with time for him to read and think about it without me around.
If I don’t give it to him, I’ve thought about writing myself an accompanying shorter letter and sending both to myself using this website, to arrive a year from now with the invocation to consider more concrete action if things have not changed in that time.
When reading this article, I felt a complete and total connection with the author’s first marriage experience and as a result, allowed myself to imagine, for a moment, the possibility of leaving C and finding someone with whom I might have a real emotional connection, like the woman in the article did.
It’s a scary thought, filled with pain and the unknown. And whenever I go down this road, I end up convincing myself that men like that don’t really exist and if they do, they have their own set of deficiencies different from C’s. And he is a good dad, a consistent provider with a great work ethic, we share similar values and backgrounds, I love his family, I love that he shares in the household chores and does the majority of the cooking and grocery-getting, etc etc etc.
Ya can’t have it all, Self. Maybe I’ve got a plum deal, in the end… just lacking in emotional connection.
I keep coming back to blaming the alcohol. If only he could quit drinking, we might be able to make some headway in our relationship. But I’m not 100% sure that is true.
Anyway, the letter will be therapeutic so here goes:
This past year, I’ve left the relationship a bit, mentally. And I wanted to write this to reach across that divide, because we feel distant and I take some responsibility for that. I’m guessing you’ve noticed the changes, and it hasn’t necessarily been easy for you. I think you know it started with turning 40. From a place of real sadness, I decided to take control over my own happiness, and to love myself the way I wanted to be loved. What could it hurt?
I made a simple list of ways I wanted to do this and then I did most of them over the course of the year, including getting on a mild anti-depressant, increasing exercise & outdoor time, investing in quality friendships and family relationships, finding a good therapist to see consistently, and in general – focusing on self-love however/whenever I could.
Quitting alcohol has obviously been a big part of this as well.
And the process of quitting has proven to have deep, reaching effects. It has uncovered new ways of thinking and being, and inspired a bit of naval gazing that is slowly having an effect.
Although I have plenty to focus on in changing myself, at times my attention turns to our relationship. And I’m realizing how rigid the mind can get when it always goes down the same mental pathways. It has taken me the better part of the year to come to the point of writing a letter like this.
Over the past couple years, I’ve come to notice an imbalance in our relationship and have reacted to it negatively, with anger and disappointment. I am realizing how damaging that has been to both of us, and I’m sorry.
The imbalance is in my need and your capacity to fill it. And I am slowly starting to realize how much of my need was my responsibility and not yours. I had hoped that marriage would provide me with confidence, that I would find myself positively reflected in your love and desire for me, that your support and encouragement prop me up, that our emotional connection would deepen with time and proximity, and silly things like “we wouldn’t go to bed angry” would always be true.
But I’ve realized, and you’ve told me more than once, it has been unfair to ask that much of you. Really, it’s unfair to ask that of any one individual, or of a marriage.
It may even be our biggest adult homework to learn how to give most of this to ourselves, to take care of ourselves, respect and encourage ourselves, care less about what others think and learn better what WE ourselves think.
Reading back through my idealistic expectations, I realize that I have not done a great job of being that for you, either.
And you? You have been on the sidelines, not sure what you’re supposed to do as I run to kick-boxing and yoga and start juicing and find mindfulness (well, not quite yet) but lose touch with you.
And I can see you’ve been lonely maybe just a little, even though you like to be alone. When you approach, you get mixed messages from me, and I may have rejected you a couple times. I’m sorry.
I am in a place of learning self-sufficiency and I think that can be off-putting. It’s also difficult for me to read signals from you when they are subtle or non-existant. I want you to know, I’m here if you need me – just ask. Out loud, and maybe repeat it. Be obvious. Because my focus is elsewhere.
I know you’re a big boy and can take care of yourself quite independently. You don’t need much from a relationship, physically or emotionally. I have been the needy one over the years and it’s exhausting to you.
Add twins and then I wanted you to be a good dad AND a good husband, and you didn’t know how to do either. Plus, your life was being thrown upside-down. I know how much you love change and adjust to it quickly, happily. haha So of course you didn’t have the capacity to prop me up. You could barely prop yourself up!
I’m sorry neither of us has been particularly emotionally available to the other for the last couple years. I will admit to taking a reactive distance. An angry, cut-off “you can’t hurt me if you can’t get close to me” kind of distance, where all the blame for our communication breakdown was yours and I was the victim.
I’m realizing how pathetic the victim role is when my life and my happiness are under MY control.
Desire for improvement in our relationship – for both of us
Speaking from a place of control – in that I selfishly want to improve my own situation – but also from a place of understanding and love for you, and desire for your own happiness, I would really like to find concrete ways of improving our communication.
And I’m not talking about another Retrovaille, although I think they had some good tools when applied broadly. Listening tools especially. I think we could both do a better job of listening to each other, finding time to talk – just the two of us – that isn’t rushed or stressful or boozy, and then really trying to understand the other better.
Really, that and having more sex might just improve things dramatically.
And I plan on working more on myself, and on coming to a place of acceptance about my life as-is. I definitely prefer our relationship when I’m asking less of it.
But I think we would both be happier in a more connected relationship.
In the absence of more direct communication, I have made the dangerous mistake of making assumptions about your actions. (i.e. “If he throws the bed pillows on the floor, it must mean he’s angry at me. Why can’t he put them where they belong? Doesn’t he know that bothers me?” “If he doesn’t say he loves me when he leaves in the morning, he must be angry at me.” etc)
These negative pathways have been reinforced over time, and in the end, they have started to feel like reality. The truth is, I could be entirely wrong, or even partially wrong, and regardless my assumptions are hurting no one but myself. Even if they are true, unless you are directly communicating to me that you ARE angry with me (or whatever the case may be), moving forward I am going to try to give the situation the benefit of the doubt and assume the most positive possibility (“He is tired/buzzed/drunk and has bad aim.” “Maybe he did say he loves me and I just slept through it”)
I realize that in the past, due to a lack of closeness, I have felt a need for constant reassurance especially when we are struggling. At times, I really DON’T know if you love me, your love can seem conditional. So the morning “I love you” takes on more significance, and there is more depth attached to simple actions like putting the bed pillows in the basket.
In the end, refocusing my energy inward instead of outward, I am slowly finding that I don’t require as much reassurance.
I do, however, desire a closer relationship with you.
So I want you to know, just because I’m not focused on Us right now, I do want to stay together and make this the happiest marriage it can be for both of us.
There are a number of big and small ways I think we could improve our communication, and I’m interested to hear what thoughts you may have on this as well.
Some small ways include taking more time for ourselves – dates or lunches during the week. Having monthly or quarterly check-ins (financial? emotional?) that are expected and therefore can be prepared for, mentally. When we do find time together, we could work on letting the other talk without interruption or offering opinions, on asking quality questions and really spending the time to understand the other’s point of view (hints of Retrovaille here).
One big way we could work on our relationship is through therapy, possibly finding a therapist who doesn’t know either of us, who specializes in marriage counseling, who we are both interested in using. Of course, this would only work if we were both invested in the idea.
One of the biggest roadblocks to our communication, in my opinion, is the amount and frequency of alcohol you drink. I don’t bring this up to be combative, or to trigger your defensiveness. Now that I’ve quit, I’m not 100% anti-alcohol.
But I have noticed a huge difference in my own life, and forgive me if out of love for you, I desire the same benefits for you – and for our relationship.
The long-term effects of consistent heavy drinking are rather appalling when you do the research:
One thing that resonated with me was learning about the cycle of alcohol dependance. Alcohol addiction does not mean you are a bottomed-out drunk who drinks non-stop, starting in the AM and getting wasted every day. Alcohol addiction is a physical quality of being unable to control your drinking to healthy limits (I think it’s 10 drinks/week for women, 12 for men or something similar). And the cycle of dependance happens daily – looking something like this:
- Waking up in the AM: Feeling like shit, dragging yourself out of bed, headache – instant water and ibuprofen as needed.
- Mid-morning: Finally getting brain unstuck and feeling OK.
- Mid-afternoon: Can’t wait to get home and have a drink! Life is bullshit, the drinking makes it all bearable. Feeling edgy and impatient.
- Late afternoon: First drink … AHHHHHHH relief. Life is back to normal.
- Evening: Maybe I should take a break, but nah I’ll keep this buzz on by drinking through dinner and evening routine… don’t want to lose the buzz before I can really sink into the couch and relax.
- Late evening: Just one more can’t hurt
- Night: Pass out, but then wake up hours later and struggle to get back to sleep (this is the alcohol metabolizing into sugar, which wakes you up)
- Early morning: Damn, I shouldn’t have had that last drink (or 2 or 3) last night. I won’t do THAT again.
- Cycle. Rinse. Repeat.
When we drink heavily, daily, we are in a constant cycle of withdrawal when not drinking. The effects of withdrawal are chronic exhaustion, irritability, rage, and an inability to cope with the daily, common, stressors of life. This quote is taken directly from a book on the research behind alcohol’s effects on the brain. Holy shit! That was me, 100%!
In my own experience, quitting has had a massive effect on my own perception of life, deepened my ability to connect with others (by removing the self-focus that was natural when in the cycle of dependance), improved my self-confidence and mood, helped me sleep better (which has it’s own host of benefits), increased my energy and focus, and most importantly, allowed me the distance from my own thoughts to be able to examine them critically… a distance that made this letter possible.
It’s like I’m emerging from a mental cloud I wasn’t even aware was there before. It’s really incredible, and a little embarrassing – I feel like I’m playing catch-up with the other more sober adults in my life (which are most of them). And I’m finally hopeful, feeling the capacity to improve my life in the ways I have wanted to for years but felt stymied before, not knowing why.
And I get that this may all be falling on deaf ears. That it’s not the time for you to consider your own relationship with alcohol.
But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your relationship with alcohol (and mine, prior to quitting) is having a negative effect on our relationship and our family’s dynamic.
Can we make it work? Can we get by? Yes.
Will we ever be able to achieve the kind of connected, empathetic, mature relationship that will make us both happy? While alcohol is still such a part of your life, doubtful.
So many times in the past few months, I’ve had something to say to you and have not felt that I would be able to express it in a way you would hear and understand.
There is so much static between us.
I’ve thought again and again about writing it out in here, laid awake thinking about what I would say in great depth. And then haven’t done it. I’m not sure why. Too much effort? Too much negativity to put out into the universe?
But I’m here tonight. With something other than negativity – a moment of empathy.
We’ve been in a superficially OK place lately and even had a really nice time on our vacation to the cabin. But right below the surface is a lot of pain that lashes out in moments of heat:
A recent argument, when you pushed me down the hallway with your chest, yelling in my face “Shut your mouth before I MAKE YOU” and me, crying to the boys “Don’t learn how to treat women from your Dad!”
After our visit to the cabin, sitting together reflecting on the couch after kids were in bed, me thinking it would be a gentle, positive moment to bring up the possibility of working on our relationship, only to have it turn into a angry conversation about divorce. Me saying, “Over the last year or so, I’ve thought a lot about what it would mean to separate” and you, angrily jumping in, “Yeah, me too. I’ve even researched apartments and lawyers” before I could finish that it wasn’t something I wanted to do. At all. Me, “You can be so passive aggressive sometimes” – You, “What do you want me to do? Punch you? Hit you? Stab you?”
You, so angry about me wanting to do therapy – why can’t I just be happy, didn’t we just have a nice time at the cabin? I know that’s all you want to remember.
Me, trying to remind you that it’s BECAUSE I want the good times to continue that I brought up therapy.
How can we be at such odds?
But today, a glimmer of understanding thanks to divine providence I’m sure – and also to an insecure and overwhelming colleague.
At work this morning, in a moment when I was already overwhelmed with other input, a coworker approached me with a long and garbled story about a project we’re working on. Apparently, it’s twice the amount of work I originally understood, and the immediate expectation for my efforts was not clear. The more she spoke, the more garbled it seemed to me – until I was quite frustrated.
No matter what questions I asked, she didn’t seem to be able to tell me directly what I was supposed to be doing, so I finally snapped at her “I’m going to go find someone who can be more decisive about what I need to do!” and stomped off.
Tonight, as you and I gave each other the quick, superficial download about our days, I realized-
That’s what I sound like to you.
You have so much overwhelm going on in your head that you can’t even hear me – and if I don’t get to the point quickly, provide a clear action for you to react to, you get extremely frustrated and blame me for that frustration.
You don’t know why you can’t deal with it, but you can’t. My emails, the links I send to articles, my suggestions on improving our relationship, are all overwhelming. Not because you don’t love me, but because the emotional component of life is one that you don’t excel at, so it’s too much.
So you buy the cut of steak I like, and go out of your way to pick up the locally roasted coffee beans we both like, and write little notes in the morning or send texts asking how the boys were.
And that’s all you know how to do.
My attempts at changing that, at trying to make you learn a different way to love me, have come across as criticism, discontent, unhappiness, negativity. And that has just made the overwhelm worse.
So you avoid it whenever possible.
Explains why you don’t answer emails about these topics, only the ones about logistical stuff. Why you get angry when I bring up anything related to our relationship. Why you would never bring anything up yourself, god forbid!
And over the years, my efforts to draw closer have become the one thing that pushes you away the most. Like magnets facing the wrong way, impossible to connect.
So, how do we turn the magnets around and find each other again?
I’m sure there is so much more to understand.
We fought and you hit me in the face last night. Backhanded. Left a big golf-ball sized welt on my cheekbone that is still swollen today.
Wow. Never thought I’d be writing this.
I need somewhere to put all the thoughts, not sure where or who to go to. I don’t want to do anything that I’ll regret.
I’m trying to figure out how much of my reaction is an overreaction. I don’t want to play the victim. I know I had a role in the fight and I could have handled myself better.
Is it overly dramatic to feel like I don’t know you anymore? that I don’t trust you? I’m more concerned about your behavior with the boys when I’m not around now – is that overreacting?
Do you think what happened is justified, even a little? Do I?
You crossed a line. I said that last night.
And I’d drawn that line in January this year when I made a conscious decision that I was going to give our relationship one more year and if things didn’t improve I was going to start an exit plan. Two major factors would determine this choice: if there was any emotional/physical abuse of myself or the boys, or if your drinking got the point where I considered it abusive.
Since that decision, made in early January after another blow-out argument in front of the kids where you physically threatened me – pushing me down the hallway with your chest and talking about hitting me – you did a Dry January which was so encouraging. Then you went dry again in April for a couple weeks. Your intention was to go longer than 4 weeks, I heard you say 8 weeks at the beginning but it didn’t last and I didn’t ask why. You’ve gone back to drinking the regular amount, but are waiting until later in the day to start which is helpful with the boy’s bedtime routine. You’re still pretty emotionally and mentally unavailable after they go to bed though, when the whiskey comes out.
So I should have known that it wasn’t a good idea to bring up anything complicated last night. Well, I did know but I did it anyway.
You’d been punishing me for a few weeks, and since returning from the music festival with Sue, it had gotten worse. I could tell you were upset with me and I could guess why.
When I asked if you were upset, you said Yes. At this point it feels pointless to drag out all the points of the argument, because I’m sure both of our feelings were valid. But before we could resolve anything, you pulled away and said, angrily, I don’t want to talk about this anymore I’m watching a show.
We both grabbed for the remote. I was furious. You were NOT going to stonewall me again and continue the punishment treatment. I wanted to resolve the issues between us so things could get back to normal. I was tired of being punished for something we’d both agreed to initially.
We wrestled for the remote, anger escalating. I got it in my hands and while you wrestled me I pounded my fist down on the top of your shoulder and in that instant you stood up and backhanded me, throwing me back onto the couch, yelling something about “you hit me, I hit you”
Then, “shit I shouldn’t have done that” as I went to get an icepack and disappeared upstairs in shock.
It was a moment you can’t rewind and redo.
I didn’t cry. I didn’t yell. I didn’t call my mom.
I stayed calm inside. I wasn’t even angry. I was just confused. I wanted to act, to do something that made sense but nothing made sense.
I had freelance work that had to be done, so I put an icepack to my face and got to work. You tried coming to me and apologizing but I wasn’t ready to talk to you. I’m still not. I don’t know what to say.
You have an early volleyball game tonight, so my plan is to stay at work until I know you need to leave and then arrive just in time to switch places with you. Then, I’ll be in bed when you get back.
I’m sleeping in the guest room now. I bought a better mattress and new sheets, and I’m going to sleep there for a bit.
I’ve also taken steps to redirecting some of my freelance checks to arrive at a PO Box so I can deposit them into a private savings account.
I didn’t get much sleep last night between laying awake, waking up when I rolled on that side, and both boys coming into bed with me at various points. Probably as a result of being tired, I’ve had various ridiculous thoughts about how to react including wanting to get my arm tattoo right goddam now instead of waiting until September, wanting to make out with a co-worker I have a minor and very stupid crush on, and wanting to let certain people know, who I know love you and thinking highly of you, like your sister Elise, and my friend Shannon who I’ve suspected has a crush on her idea of you for awhile now. Blow their minds with the truth. He’s not who he says he is, or he’s not who you think he is.
But of course I won’t do any of that.
Thank god for a slow day at work, and for coworkers who glance but don’t ask.
You tried to apologize a few times that night, I couldn’t even bring myself to look at you. You emailed me a sincere apology, “you weren’t raised that way” “so profoundly sorry” etc, but it ended without any explanation about what you’re going to do differently.
Maybe it wasn’t a turning point for you, but it was for me.
I haven’t slept in the same bed with you since.
I got a PO Box to send freelance checks to deposit in a private savings account without you knowing.
And I’m doing a lot of thinking.
The main conclusion I keep coming to, without drama, is that I’m done doing the emotional labor of keeping our relationship afloat. I’m OK if it sinks, and honestly I don’t have much hope that it won’t.
I mean, you’ve shown me over and over that you are not someone who appreciates self-improvement, maybe missing a certain self-reflective quality that it requires. And of course I know now that drinking works at cross purposes with self-reflection.
In fact, you’ve actually told me (quite angrily) that you were done changing for anyone, you were 50 and comfortable with who you are, no need for any additional changes.
It’s interesting because I went to find the apology email you sent, buried in a mountain of emails since Tuesday and decided a good search filter would be “Carl sorry”. It pulled up one email from 2015 (the only email where those two words occurred together in those years) where you were apologizing for being emotionally unavailable, and I was smoothing over the waters in typical fashion – apologizing for my own part in it etc in a lengthy but empathetic email (unreturned).
People don’t change.
At the beginning of the year, I made a commitment that if things hadn’t noticeably improved by the end of the year I am planning to look into what divorce means for us.
Two lines I drew, which I believe I even said to you once on a date night, I will leave if you begin to truly abuse alcohol (and honestly, I don’t know what my terms are for that) and I will leave you if you emotionally or physically abuse me or the boys.
You’ve crossed one.
The other line is blurry.
And to be honest, looking back with a slightly adjusted (knocked straight maybe?) perspective, I think some of your projected anger at myself and the boys could be considered emotional abuse.
Where is the love in all this?
That’s what I want a chance to find. That’s why I’m asking you for the cabin week by myself with the boys.
Because right now, all I can think about is exit planning.
I took a picture of the guest room as I walked in to do some freelance tonight, feeling more hopeful than I’ve felt in days.