We were on year three or four of the cycle. The cycle of calm, security and intimacy that would be broken by months of overindulgence, apologies, rock bottoms, and promises to do better.
As often and as strongly as our marriage was marked by our friendship, love for each other and joint commitment to pursue Christ first in our union, I was left stranded and feeling like I was pushing by myself. I was losing him to a battle with alcohol, and I wasn’t enough to drag him out of it.
The thing about addiction within a marriage is this: as the person watching the addiction, you are trapped between the pain of watching the person you love self-destructing and the tension of choosing the lifetime commitment you made, and the values you would consider deal breakers.
When you watch someone drowning in their destruction, you can fit them for a life vest, but you can’t fasten it for them. You can’t keep their heads above water. You cannot force your strokes on them. You stand on the sideline and pray that it will click. You stand and protect your own air supply, filling your lungs with strengthening breaths and decide what happens next.
For David, the sincerity of his promises to try harder and do better were earnest and genuine. He WANTED it. In those moments, he wanted it as much as I wanted it for him, but the grip of alcohol was ultimately stronger as the rock bottoms faded from view.
For me, I hardened. Every effort and tactic that had once been effective, somewhere along the line became white noise. Tearful rhetoric, threats, a call for a taxi, anger, eventually it was drowned out by the siren call of addiction. So I built up my walls, shouldered the ox and plowed ahead by myself. I didn’t see another way to maintain normalcy for myself and our family… or to protect David. While I am the first to proclaim that there’s no room for shame in addiction – it’s all too common and it’s not nearly normalized enough – I hid behind my own denial of what was happening, sharing with maybe three people. My household was functioning, and my family was mostly thriving, even if my husband was crumbling, and I was shrinking further and further away.
My rock bottoms were different than his, which only added fuel to our frustrations. “Was this not enough??” I would cry as one more blow left me reeling. But it wasn’t. Addiction doesn’t work that way. Instead I triaged the moments that hurt me the most, sometimes the most mundane moments that were clouded by glassy eyes and too-enthusiastic-tones. But for him, he found the rock bottom, and that’s what matters. It wasn’t the bottom I would have expected, and if I’m honest, it wasn’t a moment that even seemed that bad in comparison, but my praise rang louder as he gripped the buoy and started to pull himself out of the murky depths.
February 5, 2018 marked 1 year of sobriety. 1 year of triumph and clarity. 1 year full of the greatest love and pride I have ever felt for the man I married.
But sometimes sobriety is even harder for the partner who has watched the addiction. For more than 4 years, I had shouldered the weight of our marriage and family on my own, and I liked it. I cocooned myself in piety and pride that I was the “good spouse.” That I held it together when the reins should have torn through my hands. I didn’t like finally having to acknowledge that he was healthy enough to join me. I didn’t know how to relax the control or to exhale or to not be suspicious. I didn’t know how to breath with two lungs.
I didn’t know how to not question or doubt or wait for the slip up. And slowly the resentment that had built and built, that I refused to acknowledge, seeped out. In every conversation or offhand remark. I wanted him to grovel, but he couldn’t… and shouldn’t. I wanted recognition for staying. And doing it. And loving him anyway.
My addiction wasn’t to alcohol, but I was addicted to the power that came with the pain. I was addicted to the control that came from the crumbling.
We were both addicted, but my sobriety was almost more elusive.
For 365 days we rebuilt ourselves, and slowly and slowly and slowly and delicately, we rebuilt each other and the equilibrium of our union. There is nothing beautiful in those rough hewn bricks. The beauty is simply the fact that they’re standing. And for once, while we’re cautious of the enemy at the gates, we don’t feel them breathing on our necks, their blades against us.
We’re standing on the rubble of our own Jericho, and we will continue to celebrate the way the walls crashed down. Our rubble is more glorious than the walls, and we will revel in the fall.