I loved my wife. But I loved alcohol more.
I am often asked this very difficult question: “If you love her you'd never hurt her, so if drinking causes her pain and you do it anyway, then it must mean you don't love her, right?"
Well actually, WRONG. Did I love my wife? Yes.
Did I love her well?
Sometimes, but rarely when I was drinking.
Did I love alcohol more than my wife? It's easy to see how it could seem that way.
My wife constantly pleaded with me to not drink, not drink too much, or to not go out at all — I'd still go out, drink too much and get drunk. Clearly then I chose the alcohol over my wife, so by logical deduction I must love alcohol more than my wife. Point proven, case closed.
My relationship with alcohol was complicated. In my early days of drinking, I felt like I found the answer to life, the universe and everything in it. For someone like me who had a social phobia, suffered from low self-esteem and was terrified of women rejecting me, alcohol was a wonder drug.
So did I love it? I loved the way it made me feel. I loved that I could talk to people without feeling clumsy and stupid. I loved the fact that it made me attractive to women (that was a lie, but I was more than happy to believe it).
As time progressed and I started to drink increasing amounts to achieve the same effects and doing things that made me ashamed, the love affair with alcohol dimmed slightly. Oh I still loved the effect, no doubt, but I was less eager to pay the price.
I did still want to rid myself of the social fear, but I didn't want to become an arrogant boor. I didn't want to get into arguments, be insulting, self-righteous and patronizing. I didn't want to get into fights, get thrown out of parties, clubs, pubs, or anywhere.
But I did loved the feeling of not being afraid of my life and the people in it.
If that'd been the only choice, it would have been easier to give up the booze and be a better husband, but it was more complicated for me. The alcohol still took away my fear and made me feel popular, attractive, sexy and smart.
But when those feelings wore off, I didn't just return to being the nervous, socially clumsy man that I was when I started drinking. When I was sober, any confidence I had was gone and my fear was heightened.
Drinking again took the fear away brought the confidence back, but each binge it felt like I started drinking from deeper fear and it took more and more alcohol just to get rid of the fear — never mind feel the confidence.
As a binge progressed my ability to resist drinking was eroded until it felt like I would die or go insane if I did not get a drink. Did I love alcohol at that time? No I hated it, I hated what it made me do, say, the way I behaved.
I hated alcohol, but I had to have a drink. It felt like I had no choice.
Members of AA talk about the compulsion to drink and being powerless to stop. In my worst days I would hallucinate and even have convulsions and my mind was filled with terror.
At those times, when I was withdrawing from a binge, when mentally and physically I felt so bad, the only thing that I could think about was to feel better. And the only thing that I knew that could make me feel better was another drink.
I knew that I would probably not be able to keep the alcohol down, that I would be sick, that I would sweat and shake and feel deeply ashamed. I knew that no sane person would put themselves through this yet here I was doing it — again!
I swore, again, that if I just got out of this I would never drink again, well not as much anyway.
Some of you reading this will probably have no sympathy for my plight and say that it was all self-inflicted.
I'm not looking for sympathy, not for me anyway.
And, yes, I do have to agree that no one made me do it. Some of you may think that I am just making excuses for my inexcusable behavior, I’m not. I'm just trying to explain in part, not condone, what I did.
I'm deeply sorry for what I did. I wish it could have been different.
Did I love my wife? Yes but not as well as I could have and certainly not nearly as well as she deserved. I never wanted to hurt her, or anyone, I just did not want to hurt.
Let me step back out of the alcoholic role and back into the academic for a moment. What does this insight into addiction tell us about the nature of love and the alcoholic. One of the main lessons I try to teach people is to try not to take the apparent rejection personally.
Whoa, that’s a tall order, I know, how can you not take it personally? Well the fact is that the choice is not between you and alcohol, even though he/she may continue to drink when you have pleaded with them to stop. That seems very personal indeed and it is difficult to be objective about that.
However the real choice is between two pains. Unfortunately the alcoholic will often choose the lesser pain. When I was withdrawing I was filled with pain and fear and I was terrified what might happen if I didn't get a drink. However that did not mean that I did not feel huge guilt about the hurt I was causing my wife, that was just a lesser hurt for me.
To understand the perspective of a woman living with and loving her alcoholic husband, read What It Feels Like To Be Married To An Addict Who Loves Me Completely and to find out more about the alcoholic and how to survive living with one visit Bottled Up.