I realized I wasn't safe.
I remember it so very, very vividly.
I was cleaning in the top bedroom and my 3 year old son was playing in his bedroom. I glanced out of the window and noticed my husband, who was obviously drunk, weaving his way down our back path to the garage. In a moment of pure terror I also realized that my son was no longer safely playing close by but had clearly tracked down his father and was now holding his hand as they both headed towards the car.
Heart pounding, as I realized what was about to happen, I hurtled down three flights of stairs and a fairly long garden path to arrive just too late to stop what was now in motion.
My drunk husband was at the wheel of our car and our beloved 3 year old son was in the car with him.
I have certainly had some awful moments living with a drinker but this one was one of the very worst. I felt so impotent, so angry, so very afraid.
Forgiving him as a partner was a problem on a very regular basis but forgiving him as a mother now felt almost insurmountable. How could he be so irresponsible with the life of his own child.
I felt white hot with rage but also bewildered and confused. The evidence pointed in one direction only; that my husband loved himself deeper than he loved his own child.
Alcohol isn’t of course the only culprit but I believe that watching a partner regularly hurt, insult, dismiss or intimidate a beloved child is one of the most painful things to endure and one of the hardest things to forgive. It is a deep and crippling blow to the security of any relationship and utterly toxic to love, trust and respect.
However, of course, when you live with an alcoholic the truth is nowhere near so straight forward. This was no drunken stranger I could hate and dismiss.
This was a man who 32 hours later, hung over and painfully back in reality was utterly stricken, completely appalled, almost visibly shaking with concern who (I begun to realize) didn’t love himself more than our son but hated himself completely.
Somewhere inside of me I was also dimly beginning to notice that when I pleaded with him to stop drinking, because he loved me and it was ruining our relationship, the fact that he didn’t was not a sign of his disregard.
(Oh that it had been that simple. I could have gone without a backward glance.) I learned that my husband drunk IN SPITE of the fact that he loved me.
He drank even though he then became a lousy husband, father and provider. He drank because he didn’t want to stop and then drank because the person he became made him feel so ashamed.
Perversely, one could say, for the very reason he really loved me and his children, staring his failures in the face on a daily basis made the bottom of a Vodka bottle seem his most reliable refuge.
I will stop my analysis here, for I have someone who can explain this much better than I can for he has lived it, breathed it and finally come to grips with it all.
In my last journal entry I talked about anger, the congruent reasons for our reactions and ways to process the turbulent rollercoaster of living with a problem drinker. However some of our assumptions, some of the conclusions we draw that can stoke our fury, are much more complex much less personal than they first appear.
If you are living with a problem drinker it may not be true, but likely is, that he/she loves both you and your children very much. If your drunk was callous, uncaring and utterly selfish (unless you are stuck in a cycle of abusive relationships which is outside our remit here) then you likely would have left him years ago.
And if you feel you love your drunk too much please don’t get too mad with yourself. You probably love him slightly too much, to try to compensate for the fact that you know, deep inside that he probably doesn’t love himself at all.
That may not always be helpful but it is both commendable and understandable. And that same love will be the thing that is the key to it all; learning to love yourself again every bit as much as you attempt ( on a good day!!!!) to love your drinker because you have truly done amazingly and deserve it completely. And taking that same will to love, and learning what loving a drinker in a healthy, productive way involves. It will mean stopping some things and starting some others. And, if our forum at Bottled-Up is anything to go by, it will also mean continuing doing some of the stuff you have already figured out how to do incredibly well!
Taking a deep breath and a step back can really help contain and process the deep emotions stirred up by an alcoholics’ behavior. There is much that is truly unavoidable so taking time to sift out true assessments from simplistic assumptions makes absolute sense.
Thankfully it is Johns’ job to bring expertise and experience to the table. Mine is more to set the scene and explain the conflicts, confusions and complexities that are part of living around addiction.
It all feels so intensely personal at the time, what he is doing to you and the family; and it may feel crazy and insulting to suggest otherwise. However, the deepest and most core truth of an alcoholic is primarily that he is doing this to himself because of what lies WITHIN himself. In my case it certainly cannot take the wounds away but has made them much less sore and bleeding. Maybe it will help yours too.
If you live with someone with an alcohol problem and would like some judgement-free information, help and/or support you can find it at Bottled Up.