I've been married to an alcoholic for over 20 years now and yet I still remember, too astutely, the pain and utter hopelessness of the early years of my marriage. Overwhelmed doesn't even begin to convey my emotions. I told my daughter, "NEVER get married." (I told a friend I had said that to my daughter. She said, "you don't mean that." Sadly, I most very much do mean it.) My daughter, wise beyond her years, said, "You just saying that because you married the wrong person."
But what my daughter can know, even for all her innocent wisdom, is that he wasn't the wrong person when I married him. When you marry an addict and it's early in his disorder, he's not the person he's going to become as his disorder progresses - whether his substance of choice is alcohol, drugs, porn, sex, etc., etc. The process of addiction changes the brain physically. And so what can I say to those reading this who are "just" starting out? What was I so desperately looking for those first early morning hours in those first early years when I would sit alone in the dark, just the light from the computer screen illuminating the room and my thoughts?
I wanted someone to tell me what to do.
I wanted someone to tell me how to stop the unfamiliar but unfathomable pain.
I wanted someone to calm the confusion.
I wanted someone to make sense of it for me.
I wanted someone to do something, even though I may not have known what that was.
It was as though I was caught in the churning rapids of a raging river, the water tossing and throwing me about with no more effort than were I a hapless twig. I am shouting to those on the shore,
HELP!! HELP!! HELP!
But there is nothing anyone can do for me.
I never really found what I was looking for those early years because there wasn't really anything anyone could offer me.
Not anything I would have accepted anyway.
Because the only real thing anyone could have given me in those early years is the same thing I offer in my first book, "The Alcoholic Husband Primer."
"Run. Run away."
Because what I will say to you, if your spouse or loved one is in the early stages of addiction is this:
It's going to get a lot worse.
He's going to get a lot worse.
He's going to become someone you don't even recognize.
And you going to get worse.
In the process, you are going to become someone you don't recognize.
In the process, your life is going to become something you never thought it would be.
Certainly nothing you ever wanted it to be.
But I wouldn't have heard that back then.
I saw and lived and experienced what it really means that alcoholism is a "progressive" disease.
And neither will you, most likely.
Not if it's early.
Not if he's still the right person, yet to become the wrong person.
You are only standing at the edge of the river and it's quaint and quiet and calm where dip your toe in.
I want to tell you don't do it.
Don't venture forward.
That sparkling, clear water with its sandy bottom and gentle ebb is not as it seems.
Around the corner it is vicious.
Around the bend it is violent churning and treacherous rocks and a current that can pin a bear to a tree.
It's nearly impossible for the uninitiated to fathom how profoundly and perversely alcoholism changes a person.
20 years ago if anyone had tried to tell me my husband would be calling me a "fucking bitch" and screaming at me to "shut the fuck up," I would have said they were the "fucking bitch" and they needed to "shut the fuck up." I, quite simply, would have never believed them.
I certainly wouldn't have listened to any advice akin to "run."
And most (no?) people would.
We humans need to feel the sting of pain, smell the stench of burning flesh for ourselves. No matter how many others tell us the fire is hot.
You're going to step into that river.
You going to ride its gentle current around the bend.
Until you are picked up in a furry of current and whipped around til you are certain you are to be smashed into pieces against the rocks.
So since I can't stop you from going, what I can say is go prepared.
Pursuing your life.
Cultivating your voice.
Creating and maintaining your own financial identity.