Well, if there is anything you don't know about me...this will solve that. The following is a true, but sad, story of my earlier life:
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My fingers gripped the steeling wheel like a vise. I glanced in the side mirror at my red-ringed eyes and wondered what I’d done. Did I make the right decision? I prayed I had, but inside my stomach knotted and I felt sick. I’d just walked out of the only home I knew, with very few of my possessions, after telling my husband I was through. I don’t think he heard or cared what I said. He was still too drunk. If I wasn’t so upset, I might have laughed at his surprise when I threw his glass of whiskey at him. Liquid dripped from his nose and face while ice cubes gathered in his lap—his naked lap. Maybe that was what took things to far. I’d come home to find him passed out before, cigarettes burning in the carpet and chair, but this time…this time he was naked.
Damn it, it wasn’t just his house. It was mine and my son’s, too. After I flung the drink at him, I screamed how unfair he was to make us scared to turn the doorknob when we came home. I didn’t dare bring anyone with me, and I noticed my son had stopped having friends over, too. Whiskey dictated our entire life, and it pained me to see that black label that had ruined my marriage whenever I walked down the alcohol aisle in the grocery. I wanted to smash the bottles just like the amber-colored contents had smashed my dreams.
Turning fifty was supposed be the start of new and exciting ventures in our lives: Retirement, travel, freedom. Who was I kidding? He’d already retired, but not by choice. His weight gain from drinking made it impossible for him to fit into his uniform anymore, and he certainly wasn’t in physical condition enough to engage in a foot chase with those he called “perps.” I’d always heard that a huge percentage of policemen became alcoholics, but I never believed my husband would be among those statistics. I used to love him so much my heart hurt, but now the hurt was totally different. I felt betrayed, and worst of all, guilty. Had I done something to make him turn to booze?
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t just snap at the first sign of his drinking and leave. I’d tried everything I knew to salvage our thirty-two years together. He was my high school sweetheart, and I thought we’d spend the rest of our lives together. The only good thing I could find about the situation was that our kids were pretty much grown. The oldest had married and had his own life, but the youngest still lived at home. His dad wasn’t being much of a role-model and I feared what the future would hold for my boys.
The first time I found a bottle in the refrigerator, I was confused. We never bought booze, aside from maybe a six-pack of beer when we had our friends over to play cards. I mentioned my find to him, but he assured me he’d only bought the bottle because it helped take the edge off his stressful days—helped him unwind. I understood, so I let it go, but when that bottle disappeared and another took its place, I asked again.
“I can stop anytime I want,” he said. “You’re worrying about nothing.”
Then why did I find bottles in the laundry room, over the refrigerator, and even in the garage? How much booze was it taking to help him unwind? He worked graveyard and I worked days so I had no idea how long he’d been drinking in secret. What made him put the bottle in the refrigerator so I could find it?
He assured me he didn’t have a drinking problem and his sudden interest in Jack Daniels had nothing to do with me. Bullshit! His drinking had everything to do with me. It worried me, consumed me, hurt me, and stressed me. According to him, he didn’t need help, so I went to Al-anon a few times. I heard my own story told by other women, but I found no solace in hearing how long they put up with their drinking spouses. I refused to be an enabler.
In my mind, if I threatened to leave, he’d snap out of it. If he loved me as much as said, he wouldn’t want to lose me. That plan didn’t work. I even spent three days away from home, expecting him to call and beg me to come back, but he didn’t. I reluctantly returned, thinking we might talk about it one more time and resolve the problem. He still insisted his drinking was just “recreational” and not caused by anything I’d done or said. Why didn’t I feel better?
I tried. Honestly, I did. For three more years before that fateful day when I gave him that alcohol bath. I was done by then. Tired of being treated like I was an idiot—like I couldn’t tell when he had been drinking. His speech immediately became thick and slurred. Sort of like he had a fur-coated tongue. He’d lied about the ten-day rehab he attended, making me believe he entered for us. You can’t imagine the heartache I felt when I received a phone call from his Lieutenant that revealed enrollment in the program was an ultimatum, not a choice. Oh, he learned something in rehab—how to cry. Now he was a slobbering drunk. Was this how I really wanted to spend my life? No, it wasn’t.
A friend at work had left a note on my desk, along with a key to her home. She offered a bedroom for my use and said we could discuss rental options later. With that key in my pocket, I drove to her house and unpacked my few things. I sat and cried because nothing there belonged to me. But, I had nowhere else to go nor the finances to get my own place. I pulled myself together and called my sons. I told them what I’d done, and they both understood, but I couldn’t leave my baby there…and I couldn’t bring him to share my lone bedroom. I wrung my hands until they were raw, but no solutions came to mind.
The first thing I had to do was get rid of the bills. I’d never even been late on one, but now I contemplated bankruptcy. Lawyers cost money, so I sought the help of a paralegal. With paperwork in hand, I forced myself to return “home” and have my husband sign on the dotted line. I hadn’t even thought of divorce; I still clung to the hope that he’d decide I was worth more than his bottle. He signed and I stopped paying the bills. I felt like a loser—a flake. So much for the thirty-plus year credit history I’d worked so hard to protect. I had no choice.
My sister came to visit and was appalled at my living conditions. She insisted that we look at apartments, even though I couldn’t afford the deposits at this point. By the end of the weekend, she’d put down the first and last month’s rent for me, rented a U-haul, and along with my best gal pal, Carrie, drove to the house “he” and I shared and took all the furniture he wasn’t using. I had no desire to make his life miserable. I kept reminding myself that alcoholism is an illness. At day’s end, my new apartment was fully arranged, decorated and everything unpacked. Now I had a place for my son, and for the first time in my life, I faced living on my own. I’d gone directly from my parent’s house to being married, so the thought of having my own space was a little exciting.
I could go on for pages and pages, telling the entire story…how he sold the house then moved into my neighborhood and still pursued me. Of course he hadn’t quit drinking. I finally had to tell him that I couldn’t be the person in his life to help him move on…he’d have to handle that on his own. He had choices and he made a poor one. I could tell you how I immersed myself in living the single life, enjoying freedoms I’d never had, but I fear that would paint a pretty awful picture for those who know me. I became someone even I didn’t know. I think the bulb came on over my head when my son suggested I make my own friends instead of hanging out with his. I was having a second childhood and doing all the things I never had a chance to do. I’m not really proud of most of them, but if you learn something in the process, “they”, whoever they are, say you haven’t wasted your time.
It didn’t take long until I realized I missed my life. Not the life I shared with a drunk, but all those years before when I was married to a handsome, loving man who always made me feel like the prettiest woman in the room no matter where we went. I missed that guy.
Reality hit me hard when I was scheduled for an emergency hysterectomy. My seventeen-year-old son wasn’t home enough to count on, and for once I felt truly alone. The night following the doctor’s appointment where the physician shared his worry that I might have ovarian cancer, sent a myriad of fearful thoughts spinning through my mind. I still had a lot to do. I didn’t want to die, and I felt certain that would be the outcome…especially when the doc had said he never had a patient survive the disease.
Now that I’d settled down for the night, the panic I’d fought all day seized my heart like a steel glove. I had no one to comfort me…at least not anyone made of skin and bones. Feeling lost and alone, I turned to God, as I always did when I had a crisis. I prayed. “Dear Lord, I’m so frightened. I don’t want my life to end. My youngest son still needs me to give him guidance, and I’d leave him in your hands Heavenly Father, but I think you probably have bigger fish to fry than the problems of one rebellious boy. I often ask myself why he can’t be more self-reliant, like his older brother. I don’t think my first-born needs me, but I need him.
Although I felt a good connection with God, I felt guilty asking him for so much. I couldn’t brag like most televangelists who claimed the Lord spoke to them, but this time was different. I finished my prayer, sobbing and hoping God heard me. Questioning, actually, if he even existed though I believed…need to believe with my whole heart that he did. Loud and clear, in the darkness of my room, a booming voice responded. Nothing eloquent, not a lengthy conversation, just “You’ll be fine.”
The words were so clear. I turned the light on and glanced around the room. As I suspected, there was no one else there…at least that I could see. I switched off the lamp, puzzled by the experience, yet realizing my tension, fear, and concern had all melted away. I believed those assuring words and found the sleep that earlier evaded me. The next morning at the hospital, an unusual calm surrounded me like comforting arms. I went into surgery knowing I wasn’t alone.
God told the truth. The biopsy results of my removed ovaries were benign. And although I have no witness to bear testimony to my claim, I know I heard God that fateful night…I know I did. I’m not sure if he spoke in a voice others could hear or if he spoke to my heart. Nonetheless, he strengthened my faith and taught me you don’t always have to see or touch something to know it truly exists. We never walk along as long as we have our belief. I knew getting a divorce and starting over would somehow be a lot easier now.
My friend, Lisa, came and took care of me while I healed. When I’d made a full recovery and went back to work, I vowed to change my life. No more being the party girl—a century old woman acting half her age. I really needed a partner in my life. I investigated Internet dating, met a few men with whom I had no attraction or commonality, and then I went to a single’s dance that changed my life.
For month’s, I had asked my single friend to go with me, but she always had an excuse. One Sunday night, I decided I was going come hell or high water. I recall sitting in the car, working up the nerve to walk into the dance, and when I finally went inside, the hostesses made what might have been a difficult moment, not so daunting at all. It was there I found the other shoe I’d been missing—the man who proved what I thought had been such a wonderful marriage really hadn’t been. We talked the evening away, sharing stories like we were best friends. When he walked me to my car and kissed me goodnight, I really thought he’d never call me, but he did. One month after I met him, I moved in with him, and shortly after that I filed for divorce. My new love encouraged me by saying it was time because he didn’t want to live with another man’s wife. As soon as my divorce was final, we married, and that was fifteen years ago. Life is so fleeting. At sixty-six, I’m taking one day at a time and living it as though it might be my last. We never know, do we?
For the longest time, my ex still stayed in touch. Of course he generally phoned when he’d had enough liquid courage to dial my number, but I must admit, I never asked him to stop calling. That saying I heard so often from divorcing friends now made sense. “I love him, but I’m not in love with him.” Now, I’m married to my best friend, and I discovered that even at fifty you can find love again. You just have to look in the right places.
Sadly, my ex-husband passed away a few years ago in May. Although we were apart for years, his death left a hole in my heart. He was my high-school sweetheart, the father of my children, and my real first love. What died with him are answers about why he drank…why he threw us away for alcohol. I’ll never know, I guess. I wish I could tell you that I’ve found some sort of peace in my life, but now I’m doomed to watch my sons repeat the past. I’m happy in my marriage, but not with my questionable tract record as a parent. I’m not a prude. I see nothing wrong with a beer now and then, but to have to know my boys can’t face life without their fists wrapped around a can pains me more than I can say. I always thought I was a good mother, but now I wonder. If living with one person dependent upon booze taught me anything, it’s you can’t change people, they have to do that for themselves. As much as I love my sons, they have to man up, remember what alcohol did to their dad, and cast it aside. Why don’t I see that happening?
Luckily, God is there for me…God and Kelly, my hubby, who loves me warts and all.