Staying Sober Through My Husband’s Drinking

Staying Sober Through My Husband’s Drinking

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When I quit drinking over four years ago, I kept hearing how I shouldn’t have any alcohol in the house. Others warned it would trigger cravings and make it too easy to relapse. They were right about the triggers, but no one seemed to know what to do about my husband’s drinking. Just because I had developed a crippling problem with alcohol didn’t mean he had too.

I’ve always been fascinated by sappy movies where the husband runs out in the middle of the night to buy his pregnant wife ice cream and winds up gaining sympathy weight. That is so not my husband. He makes no apologies for who he is, and that’s probably what attracted me to him in the first place.

Or it might have been the drinking.

We met at a rooftop pool at a Baltimore hotel where I was the lifeguard and he was a guest. The first night we met he asked me if I’d saved any lives yet and gave me a wine glass to drink from each time I did.

On our first date, he took me to a corporate picnic at a ballpark where we kept up beer for beer. He joked that meant we were already married in some countries. We climbed up to the nosebleed section and talked for hours and almost got hit by a bus on the walk back to his hotel room. It felt as close to love at first sight as I’ve ever known.

The next day he took me to lunch in Little Italy and bought a bottle of good wine. I was only 20 years old and felt so grown up. I drove him to the airport and dropped him off at the gate and wasn’t sure how I felt, but was pretty sure I’d never see him again. Instead, he called every night and wrote the first of many letters on his plane ride home to Chicago.

Over the next six months while we long-distance dated, I mostly talked to him while drunk. I have vague memories of lying across my bed late at night, talking on the landline, which of course I just called a phone then, and sobbing about being apart or nothing at all. Maybe he moved out to be with me because he just couldn’t take the phone calls anymore.

And we were drinkers together for many years. Our before-child years were a lot of fun. I’m not saying I miss puking in hallways or the Sundays I was so hung over I had to recline my driver’s seat in the parking lot to rest up before grocery shopping. I don’t miss the fights I picked or the time I drove my car into a curb and tried to call AAA from a nearby apartment’s intercom system (that poor guy in apartment 3A may still not have forgiven me).

Still, while I don’t miss those aspects of drinking, I wonder if my husband misses some part of the old drinking me. If he does—and I’ve asked—he never lets on.

The day I decided to quit drinking, I gripped the doorframe to steady myself and told him I was stopping on Monday and to leave me alone until then. It was a Friday. Nothing in particular had happened to make that my bottom, but he didn’t bat an eye and just said okay. We both just kind of went with it.

What had happened with my drinking is Addiction 101. It got steadily, progressively worse over the years. A decade passed without a single incident of hallway puking, but if I plotted my drinking habits on a chart, it would be impossible to ignore the spikes and steady climb. At some point, I switched from beer and wine to booze because it was easier to mix and sneak. I tried turning back and drinking less but failed repeatedly. Ultimately I was in so much pain, I had no choice left but surrender.

My first year of sobriety, I went to a lot of meetings. This was where I kept hearing I shouldn’t be around alcohol anymore. A recovery friend said to me, “I don’t get how you stay sober when you could just grab a beer from the fridge.” Her drug of choice was a complicated cocktail of pain medicine her doctor had actually prescribed. At my next meeting, a woman talked about relapsing on vanilla extract. Sure, I could have grabbed a beer from the fridge or vanilla extract from the pantry, just like I could have gotten in my car and driven to the liquor store. Somehow I didn’t do any of those things.

My husband wasn’t wild about me going to meetings because it meant time apart, plus he had to put the kids to bed. This was probably my favorite part about meetings. I got to slip out and slide into a folding chair and no one could ask me for anything, except maybe to read a few paragraphs from a laminated sheet of paper. It was pure peace and bliss. It fortified me for Friday nights—the hardest part, in early sobriety, of living with a drinker. My husband would leave his pint glass of beer on the counter and every time I noticed it, which was often, my brain screamed mine. I ultimately had to ask him to stop leaving his pint glasses on the counter. I don’t think he had any idea what it was doing to me.

At some point, though, my brain stopped screaming mine and switched to smug judgment and smoldering resentment. While his drinking clearly wasn’t like my own at the end, I knew he drank beyond moderate levels. Occasionally he’d say things about cutting back during the week or probably needing to stop before he turned 50, and I’d feel a cross between excitement and dread because what would his sobriety look like? Would he, too, threaten to throw clothes out the window in a fit of early-sobriety rage? I may never know.

It’s four years later and he still drinks and I still don’t. He leaves his pint glass on the counter occasionally, but it doesn’t usually trigger me. Usually I don’t pay attention to what or how much he’s drinking. That mantra about keeping my side of the street clean continues to help because I realize my sober life is a full-time job. I don’t have time to wander over to his side with a ratty broom and make a few half-assed passes. I hope to lead by example, but ultimately the work is up to him—or anyone who decides they’re ready to get sober.

I definitely stay sober for myself, but I also know it directly benefits those in my life. I’m no Mother of the Year, but I’m more patient and loving and present with my kids. Marriage is trickier, but I feel like I’m bringing more to it these days. And my husband isn’t living with an addicted spouse. After I gave up drinking and got past the turbulence of early sobriety, a lot of the drama in our marriage went away. It’s taken a while to accept my part in that, but I guess we see when we’re ready to.

Sure, I hope my husband joins me in sobriety. I’m saving a seat for him. But I understand it may not happen. I know recovery is fun, but I also know I didn’t believe that one bit until I got here.

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About Author

Kristen Rybandt has written for The Fix and blogs about recovered life at Bye Bye Beer. She lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania with her husband, two daughters and assorted pets.