He Got Sober. I Got Broken.

Caring for an addict — and the price of silence.

alcoholic man sitting at bar with his head down Cagkan Sayin / Shutterstock

The deeper my husband got into boozing, the deeper I got into my own self-imposed bubble of silence.

A loyal, loving wife doesn’t talk about her husband peeing in an alley or passing out in the middle of sex while still inside her.

She doesn’t tell stories of turning away in bed, tears streaming because the sour stench of his drunken body is revolting. She doesn’t talk about the fears that crush her.


Or was that just part of my loyalty pledge?

I don’t remember a specific moment in my childhood that taught me to follow a code of silence.

Family situations that would have led to hushed voices were few, but I learned it, and of that I am certain.

As the oldest of five, my responsibilities started young, and I thoroughly understood the expectation that I was to be the kid that gave no one any trouble. I saw it in my mother’s harried face when family duties overwhelmed her.

I heard it when she laughed at me, not with me, for repeating some stupid schoolyard comment that seemed sophisticated to me at the time. I learned it when my sensitive soul felt better away from any limelight.


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And the world around me was no different. We Midwesterners are not thought of as hotheaded, heart-on-our-sleeve types.

Silence is simply understood as standard operating procedure. We aren’t brought up to expose ourselves or make ourselves vulnerable.

A practical, logical, sturdy, common sense lot, we don’t have the time or patience for existential crises or the frivolity of therapy. Diligence, discipline, frugality — those are our innate Protestant values, our cross to bear.

We do. We are. We exist. We move on. We don’t talk about it.

To place yourself in the middle of any story is to be vain. To call attention to something that should be kept private is simply not done.


It isn’t that Midwesterners are without personal struggle; we simply don’t discuss it until long after the incident has passed its pain point, or we refuse to acknowledge difficulties that may require attention.

Shut up and tough it out, you wimp. Unmet needs? Everybody has them. Talking about it won’t change anything. Who cares?

Bold, wear-it-on-your-sleeve emotion is for those with little self-control or reserved for times when the beer has adequately lubricated inhibitions. Because then it, too, can be dismissed.

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The prevailing understanding around tough issues in polite society is to be quiet, at least where I was raised.


Don’t air your dirty laundry in public. Difficulties are simply private matters to be dealt with inside the family. Speaking loudly and plainly about human weaknesses or pain inflicted serves no purpose or does too much-unintended damage.

But silence is also an expectation forced on all women.

Be pretty and quiet and compliant and thoughtful. With an emphasis on quiet, please. And certainly don’t complain.

The expectation of female silence is so ingrained in us that we don’t even know it’s wrong until something happens or something breaks inside us, and we have no choice but to see it as an outsider does. Until we are forced to look at the face of someone we love while telling our truth and see shock or horror in their eyes. 


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Until we are forced to sit with the consequences.

Speaking publicly about my husband’s flaws would be a betrayal, wouldn’t it? I thought so. But was my silence about him or me? Did I stay quiet out of loyalty or out of fear for my own risks? I don’t know. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. But the silence, the silence I chose, languished inside me like something rotting.


I’m certain I told myself I stayed silent out of love, but now, looking back, it reeks of weakness.

A weakness that haunts me. A weakness that needs to be turned inside out, considered, analyzed, and put back into a new form. A weakness that makes me dislike myself and fills me with regret.

Holding in. Holding back. Holding on. But why?

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Dana Killion is an author of mystery novels and her first memoir Where the Shadows Dance: He Got Sober. I Got Broken.