Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Relapse

Shortly after our second wedding anniversary, my husband and I were invited to an extended weekend at the Four Seasons outside of San Diego. My husband was already there, after several days on business in LA.

I left our kids at home with my mother and flew down to meet him. It should have been a clue to me that he sent a driver instead of picking me up himself. He was golfing. While it annoyed me, I didn't want it to ruin our time together, and I put it on the back burner.

We stayed at a 2-bedroom suite as guests of our friend Trevor* from Beverly Hills. It was a high-end timeshare of some sort that Trevor’s parents own. Trevor wears makeup and takes bubble baths. He annoys me, but he’s completely lovable in his own way.

My husband is a recovering alcoholic. He's been in recovery now for three years but his mother just died and our friend killed himself and then my grandpa got sick right after that. After caring for my Pappa for 6 weeks in his home, he died too. I'm not so sure my husband is sober anymore, but whenever I ask him he says he is. He swears he is.

The first part of the trip isn't so bad. We eat well, sit by the pool, actually have sex (a small miracle with two young children). But then more people join us. We sit and talk on our balcony alone for a while. My husband seems giddy. Is he drunk? I never seem to be able to catch him drinking. He doesn’t slur his words, but there have been times when he does not come home, and other times when he is very mean. My husband is not a mean person.

We talk about our life, and our plans. Things seem hopeful. He seems happy. He says he wants to do things different. He has been working a lot. I barely see him lately. I am glad to hear these words, but I am hesitant. Is he drunk? Is this too good to be true?

After a nice Italian dinner, and many, many drinks, the bill comes and none of our affluent friends seem to have any money. After hours of hearing all the details of their personal wealth, my husband is left with another large tab. We roll eyeballs at each other as he hands over the American Express card.

I confront Trevor about the drinking while my husband takes over the piano bar, singing some Sinatra song. Trevor says he may have had a few beers earlier. I am agitated, but decide to wait until we are alone to speak to him. On the ride home, he becomes belligerent. By the time we reach the hotel, we are openly fighting. The couple who is driving us tries to intervene, but it is useless.

And this is where it gets hazy. I'm not sure what is real, what is remembered, what is embellished, what has been blocked, and when I went completely insane. I asked my husband about whether he is drinking again and this time he admits it. He goes to a bottle of tequila in the kitchen and nearly guzzles the whole thing. I am hysterical. I beat his chest, or maybe it is the wall, or the bed or the pillow. Do I end up on top of him? We are screaming.

Trevor comes in and begs us to stop. He says he is traumatized. He says everyone can hear us and this is his parents place and he will hear about it in the morning. Trevor takes his Ambien and drinks some more. I am crying and not making any sense. My husband leaves the room for something and I lock him out. I start calling people, basically anyone, hysterical, and drunk myself. The AA people must think I’m completely nuts. I cry all night. I wonder what will become of our life. I don't know how I could have been so stupid. I am angry for believing a lie that was so obvious. I wanted to believe it. A relapse was so inconvenient for me.

At some point I unlock the door and let my husband back in. We are both still angry. I am unable to come out of bed the entire next day. I can not come to terms with my life. I decide to tell my husband that I will not leave him if he gets sober. As if he could just stop right then, and it would all be over, and we could go back to our neat little life.

Trevor knocks on the door to settle the bill early in the morning. I wouldn't look at him or him at me. My head hurts and I want to die, literally. He doesn't have any money, but he won’t say this in front of me, so my husband has to go into the other room with him. When we leave, we see one of the other couples from dinner, the people who drove us home. We mutually ignore each other. The plane ride home is silent.

I wish I could say that it was one day that determined the course of my life forever and everything got better from there. But life is never that obvious. It was a hangover of that night, a relapse that went on for more than a year before my husband finally went to treatment. But it was the residue from that day that caused me to see my own sickness, my own part in things.
A good marriage is not handed to you. A good life does not happen by itself (usually). But somehow I lived most of my life waiting for someone else to make everything right for me and got mad when that didn't happen. That day was a kick in the head, a slap in the face, telling me to wake up.

Addiction runs on both sides of our families and I was no place to be complacent with two small children. I had to deal with my own co-dependency issues. I had to finally look at what had brought me to marry an addict after growing up around them on my moms side of the family.
I do not know why that day took a year to manifest. It was the worst year of my life. I found cocaine in my home and separated from my husband. I refused my own birthday party. I stopped talking to my father-in-law. A friend died from complications of ALS and then my husband’s stepbrother killed himself. I wore a size zero that year, and I felt like a zero, a nothing. My son had 9 cavities and had to go under to have them fixed. I didn’t feel like such a great mother anymore.

At the end of an emotional session with my counselor, she sensed that I was near the end of my rope. She stopped me. "What are you proud of?" I could think of nothing. Tears came when she told me, "You could have fallen apart. You didn’t." She reminded me of all the things that I had held together that year and that I should be proud of.

I had resisted AA and Al-Anon because I hated the concept that I was not in control of alcoholism. But in truth, we are in control of nothing.

Perhaps growing up with addicts had prohibited me from being able to see things as they are. I never learned to trust my own reality. I never knew I was even entitled to one. I needed a year of harsh realities because that one day did not wake me up from my self-inflicted coma.

But on that day I vowed I would never drink that much again (and I have not). I would always speak my truth (and I have). And, that I would stay with my husband.

I wasn’t always sure about that last part. I think the year also was necessary to determine whether I wanted to be married. I had to decide whether the relationship was worth salvaging and what lengths I was willing to go to in fulfilling my vows.

Most of the advice I received was not positive. But I always remembered the last sentences of a very heartfelt email my father wrote to me later that day. “Give him all of your love. You have all of my support.” Somehow those words carried me through.

At the time, I felt like the relapse was somehow a betrayal of our love. I now realize that my husband has a terminal disease and we both need to work our own programs.

At our wedding, my father had performed Billy Joel’s “I love you Just the Way You Are.” I watched the video with my children when my husband went into rehab, hoping for some inspiration. My dad’s voice cracked in some places, the range was a little high for him. It was part of the beauty of the song. My being able to appreciate him singing it, and him being willing to do it, knowing it would not be his best. Both of us are complete and total perfectionists. I had chosen that song. It wasn’t, “I Love You Just the Way I Want You to Be.”

I spent a lot of time reading. I spent a lot of time reflecting. I spent a lot of time fighting, learning how to defend myself. For a long time, I had put up with too much. I had been silent. I wanted things to go smoothly, but silence never willed them that way.

My husband is now in recovery and so am I. All that day, I wanted to put my head under the covers and disappear, but life with children does not give you that luxury. I had to go home. I am grateful I did not have the option to tune out, for the slap in the face that made me realize that this was my life waiting for me to wake up and be present.


  1. * Trevor's name has been changed.

    I actually wrote this about 9 months ago while my husband was finishing up 90-days of rehab out-of-state.

  2. I think everyone of us has a desire to have someone or something take care of us. It's probably the last vestige of childhood. The last bit we refuse to let go. Some of us never do it. Women & men have the same want it’s just expressed in different ways.

    I’ve discovered that the deepest question people ask is “am I loved?” What is love? That question can only be answered by the one who asks it. There isn’t a book that defines it for us. Often we are searching for a form of love that does not exist or a one that can not be granted. It’s like a fairy tale; we want things just a certain way. We have an image in our mind that we refuse to let go, and if it isn’t we try and force it. We think we can control others and we stifle our own discontent just hoping that with enough of this, and some of that, it will all turn out right.

    Living with co-dependency and realizing what you have given up, or realizing how much of yourself you have lost is painful, regrettable and depressing.

    Breaking the cycle is sort of like freeing yourself from a delusion. It's like being 10 years old again and waking up in someone else’s house and wondering how you got there.

    Like is what we make it, but we often don't realize this until decades and opportunities have passed.

    The good news is that you are in control of your life whether you believe it or not. It's time to put aside the, I should, I ought to, I hope to, and do what is rational & reasonable for yourself. To live authentic and have congruency inside and out is difficult for the addict and co-dependant, but it is the only way to be free. Being able to be honest with ones self and others is the key that unlocks your prison. It's time to stop looking to others to deliver us. It's time to live without guilt, shame, fear or anxiety stopping us.

    Habits become truth and truth become habits. What habits have you adopted? Whatever it is or whatever they are is where you need to start looking. Determine if you habits are rational or irrational. Stop the irrational and start making decisions based on what it rational and not based on fear, anxiety, false guilt and shame.

    Being smart, rich, healthy, educated, religious, agnostic, conservative or liberal, etc, isn’t the answer. It’s being true to your inner-self and honest with those in relationship with you. There isn’t a reward at the end of your life. Your reward is being “you” each and every day, and accepting yourself without shame or guilt.