Journalist, Essayist, Author, Blogger

Life After an Alcoholic Husband


Alcoholism segued subtly into our marriage, stealthlike, until it was everything in our lives. Now, years after my husband’s passing from alcoholic hepatitis, a glance in the rear view mirror.

  • I don’t anticipate with dread what I’ll find when I come home.
  • My basement no longer smells like Scotch. And urine.
  • I sleep through the night.
  • Broken promises and lies are no longer the norm.
  • I’m not constantly making excuses.
  • The tension in my neck and shoulders has disappeared.
  • I finally, finally realize that there was nothing more I could have done about his drinking.
  • Constant worry has been replaced with tranquility.
  • I live in the present, no longer haunted by ‘what if’ scenarios.
  • Chaos has been replaced with happiness.
  • There is nothing I miss about life with an alcoholic.

37 Responses to “Life After an Alcoholic Husband”

  1. Teri

    It’s Fathers Day two years after my husband died drinking himself to death. I still feel the anger for leaving us and the guilt for not realizing how sick he was. I miss the sober man he was – pretty much says it all. Unfortunately, I think our scenarios are pretty common although I have not found a specific group for widows of addicts. Maybe we should start one? Every time I share my story, other people either know someone whose husband did the same thing or have actual first hand experience. Even my doctor told me she had three patients whose husbands died of alcoholism/suicide. Is it a male phenomenon?

  2. Diane G

    Reading through all the comments, some of which are my own.
    So much pain, survivor guilt(?) unresolved anger and emptiness.
    I don’t see much to look forward to, having been married 40 years, and knowing I don’t have the luxury of time on my side. I panic in the middle of the this it for me? Perhaps. I’ve become quite isolated, not interested in mustering up the energy or courage to “get back out there.”
    (Hate that expression.)
    Seems everyone I know is “a couple.” I’m just not good on my own and
    certainly wasn’t prepared to be.
    Went to a lot of trouble to dress up and attend a reception on Saturday.
    Someone asked where my husband
    was. No good way around that one. And I always tell the truth about what happened. Then I left. It’s much easier to simply stay home.
    I miss the man who loved our family and me as best he could.
    I settled for a lack of real intimacy, though, as wives of alcoholics often do.
    He was only abusive and disrespectful
    to himself. And it killed him.

  3. JackieS

    I remember when he left me for the second time……he made it all the way to Virginia from New York State……Norfolk…..He called me from the road while I sat in the bank……he had run off the road and I was making sure my paycheck was going into my own savings account and not our joint account…..that he had ransacked ……for the second time……I said, “You’ve made these choices…I can’t help you.” He hung up on me …..then he started texting our two (out of three) daughters…..telling them they needed to come to VA, leave your mom, she’s controlling…..its warm…..I’m going to the beach blah blah blah…..and then he was calling me telling me I was a stupid bitch and I could never survive without his money…..and I had already turned the gas/electric into my name and had the car insurance flagged…… He kept telling me how stupid I was…..I kept hanging up on him….and then he would tell me his legs were swelling up and I told his nephew he was staying with that he needed to take his BP meds…….it gets worse…..but I survived.

  4. JackieS

    But………What do you do when you find the email account where they cheated on you???

  5. Klmi

    Thank you for this blog. I am a widow at 34. My husband drank himself to death at 33 after 10 years together. He was a raging alcoholic and at the same time, was a wonderful man whom I loved when he was sober. But I couldn’t live with the insanity, lies, chaos, rage, and fear any more. AA, psychotherapy, rehab, and two stints in the ICU where he didn’t know who I was or what was real. I protected/lied him so that no one knew, and when we separated three months before he died, he told no one. I was treated as a true 34 year old widow at his funeral. And though I grieved, truly, I felt like a fraud. I had left him. Then he died. I’m dealing with PTSD, anger, and grief, and I have no idea what “group” I belong to help deal with it (survivors of suicide? Al-Anon? Widows? Young widows?). I feel as isolated as I was married to a raving alcoholic. I feel old, tired, stupid – I’m grieving for a man who made my life a living hell for many years. I’m sorry there seem to be so many of you that had to go through the same hell. What do you tell people? I avoid telling people anything about my past, because saying I’m a widow is like dropping a bomb. People really don’t expect it from a 30-something. I feel like I was widowed on a technicality. I know my grief is legitimate, but I didn’t lose a functioning partner. If I say alcoholism killed him, it’s a double bomb, or judgement from someone who has no idea what living with an alcoholic is like. I’m sorry you all do.

    • Ellin Jones

      Hi Kimi – I’m so sorry you’re having to endure this at such a young age. You ARE a legit widow. You stood by him all those years and went through all the craziness. You may want to try to get into a church that could help you. There are many good grief share groups. You can check out this site for more info: Griefshare helped me a lot and I know it also helped other people. The worst case scenario is that you have other grieving people to talk with on a weekly basis.

      Hope this helps,


    • Mary

      Hi Kimi – I am 56 and lost my husband of 30 years and friend since we were 11 to alcoholism. Same story with ICUs and rehab and lies and hell – yet I loved his soul so so so deeply – we have 4 children and it just sucks. today I miss him so deeply – 5 months yesterday…… So many of my “friends” do not understand how I can miss the hell and chaos – but that I DO NOT miss but I miss my love, Jeff…..I miss his soul and I was never willing to give up. Thank you for your note – hang in there and God Bless you. -Mary

  6. Sheila

    I found this site by accident and I am so very glad that I did. My husband died of a heart attack in his sleep almost a year ago. He was a functioning alcoholic, but a lovely man when sober. I was so heartened to read about other women who had been through the same experiences. I miss him so much, but, like an earlier comment, my life is easier now. I don’t have to watch what I say or do, in case I upset him. Nor do I have to be on edge at family gatherings, watching his alcohol intake, and praying that he doesn’t drink too much. I mourn the sober man that he was.

  7. Diane G

    2 years after his death, I don’t miss alcoholism. But I do miss my husband.
    I suppose I did for a long time prior to his death, without even realizing it.
    I was invited out with some of his oldest friends last night, who were sharing funny memories of Pete. It brought so much up to the surface.
    Everything is still upside down for me.

  8. Jacqueline Snyder

    I needed to read this…..finally! Someone agreeing with Me……..and my youngest daughter…..who saw/experienced more than she should have……there is Peace in my house…..My house…..all my fears….while I was On Call…….Our/My bed does not reak of wine/vodka sweat……nor do I share a baseball bat with my daughter…..just in case…….I don’t miss the chaos – the confusing comments from a GP – a social worker/family member – and an X-alcoholic counselor from a rehab……I no longer have to smell his breath with a kiss….and smell vanilla……he actually drank my vanilla for my cheesecakes…….No. 7 is much harder to wrap my head around……because I think he could’ve survived if only the VA had included me…..the sober one….the one who could’ve told them about the other medical crisis he had….and maybe a brain scan and maybe his dementia…..maybe maybe…..I’m enjoying the peace…..I’m not enjoying the emptiness of a good man lost.

  9. PaulaGanziLicata

    I continue to ask myself – How in the world did I survive? – and it’s been over 8 years since my husband passed away. I’m relieved to hear you’re experiencing peaceful days, you deserve them.

  10. Christel Van Hemelrijck

    That is exactly how I feel. After the grief was gone I felt relief. I read your article in the NYT and I’ve been following you ever since. It was a really big help for me to get through that last stage of grief and I was finally able to say goodbye to my old life. It feels good to know that there are other women who understand what it means being a widow of an alcoholic. That mixture of guilt, grief, relief,…
    I love your work, it’s so truthful and inspiring. Thank you, Paula!

  11. Diane B

    I am so happy to find this site and see that I am not alone in my feelings. No one knows what you really go through with an alcoholic husband. I go to grief groups, but none cover this topic. People have said that they are there for me to talk to, but no one understands this, unless they have gone through it themselves. I have read the blogs and am glad that I wasn’t the only experiencing these things while they were alive and then go through the deteriorating disease and watch them slowly die. I am working on forgetting these bad times and just trying to remember the good husband that he was.

    • PaulaGanziLicata

      You are not alone, Diane. Wishing you continued strength as you work through the aftermath of life with an alcoholic, and hope you find comfort in the good memories and peace in your days.

  12. aprizant

    Thanks so much for sharing, Paula. I relate so much to your first point. I was constantly terrified I’d find my husband dead or badly injured. He was a functional alcoholic for the first 4-5 years, then extremely sick the last 3 years… in and out of rehab, couldn’t work, often so sick I had to call 911. I’m lucky that, in spite of his addiction, my husband was usually loving, funny and thoughtful. I miss him every day but I do NOT miss the stress and drama and uncertainty. Even our cat is more relaxed now.

    The other day, my mom implied that my life is happier now. That is not accurate. My life is EASIER since my husband’s death, which makes me feel guilty and which very few people understand.

    I am part of a few different widows’ groups but I’d love to find one specifically dealing with widows of addicts–it’s a different, more complex type of grief.

    Hugs to you and thanks again.

    • PaulaGanziLicata

      Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry for all you’ve gone through. The guilt is huge. It’s also unfair and seemingly unavoidable. For widows of alcoholics I find guilt is grief’s inevitable successor. Good luck to you and may you continue to find strength and serenity as you continue to heal.

    • Diane G

      I just passed the 2 year anniversary of Ps death and I realize that angry was much easier than sad. It fueled me through those ungodly months after his death. Now I feel so alone and so sad. My son’s family have moved in with me after losing their home to Harvey. I’ve been overwhelmed with the feeling of not being enough. We need him here. The real him. Not that spectre of death he was toward the end.

  13. Kelly Bibler

    It’s been 2 years, 2 months since my husband passed away. I agree 💯 % with all of your feelings. Sometimes I sit here and think, How in the world did I survive? Don’t get me wrong the emotional roller coaster is still on the track, but peace has finally entered my life. I can’t remember a day when I had peace living amongst the chaos of alcoholism.

    • Diane G

      This is the only place I’ve found comfort. The widow of an alcoholic/addict walks a much different path. Thanks to each of you. 💔

      • PaulaGanziLicata

        It’s heartwarming to know you’ve found comfort here, Diane. The best of luck to your son and his family. I wish you peace, happiness and love – you deserve it.

          • Diane G

            It’s been 2
            years..and was beginning to sink in. 6 months post-Harvey, my son, his wife, my grandbaby and a large dog are living with me…still. Hard on us all.
            Any semblance of normalcy seems to be evading me at every turn.
            I’m worn out.
            When we were in the midst of
            alcohol-induced chaos, it was/seemed “normal.” When I
            now think back to
            some of the drunken
            behavior I simply
            horrified! How could it ever have been ok to wheel a drunk 200 through an airport in a luggage cart?? Or drive him home from another city passed out in the back seat? My GOD.

          • Kelly Bibler

            Oh, Diane.

            I can so relate to this. Im struggling with the very same thing. So disappointed in myself for allowing the disrespect to gone for soooo many years. I’m trying to forgive myself, but it is very difficult. What was I thinking. From being called a the horrible c word to a worthless piece of sh## and so so so much more.

            You are not alone. May you find peace. Be kind to yourself ALWAYS.


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