Hi, my name is Paula and I’m a social drinker.
Writing about life with an alcoholic, I wanted to clarify to readers that I’m not a teetotaler. More than 15 years after our wedding, I suddenly found myself in a mixed marriage: social drinker and alcoholic. This new relationship prompted questions: Is it OK for me to drink? Should I abstain?
Hitched to an alcoholic, my world went spiraling out of control, like the tail on a lost kite taken by the wind. Before my husband began drinking secretly—bellying up to the basement bar, his man cave filled with stashes of Scotch bottles—he was a social drinker. I don’t recall the night Robert’s glass of Scotch disappeared, but I do remember the morning he recoiled from my “have a good day” kiss, like a vampire startled by sunlight, worried I’d smell liquor on his breath at dawn. And so it began, life with an alcoholic. Bring on the excuses and lies. Cue the abandonment. Fire up the blame. Stand by for unemployment and bankruptcy. Next stop—rock bottom.
Amidst the chaos, I found comfort in my routines: favorite TV shows, gym workouts, a glass of wine with dinner, whether out with girlfriends or cooking at home for a party of one, my husband making excuses as to why he couldn’t join me. Should I have felt guilty about having wine? If Robert wasn’t giving up his bottles of Scotch, why should I give up my glass of Chardonnay? Since he spent all his time in the basement, we weren’t drinking together, I wasn’t encouraging his behavior. And Robert never drank wine because the sulfites bothered him, so keeping a bottle of Kendall Jackson in the refrigerator wasn’t a temptation. But mostly I resisted abstinence because, paradoxically, I refused to bow once again to alcoholism and its stranglehold on my life. Alcoholism had turned me into a doormat. Loved ones go out of their way to accommodate the alcoholic – making excuses, ignoring bad behaviors, hiding the truth. We do all we can to keep the alcoholic out of danger, healthy and employed; keep the house running and the bills paid. It’s an emotional roller coaster navigating that impossible line between caring and enabling, putting their needs before our own. Our support goes unappreciated, our efforts thwarted or worse, attacked, as we’re doing whatever necessary to hold it all together. And still the alcoholic drinks. Add to the mix, Robert’s refusal to get help or acknowledge the problem. His addiction had already transformed me into a resentful Al-Anon member, robbed me of a loving relationship and sent us on a path to financial ruin. Why should I relinquish something I enjoy, even if it was alcohol?
Al-Anon tries to educate its members that the alcoholic’s drinking has nothing to do with their loved ones. Though the alcoholic may try to place blame, the reason he drinks is because he chooses to do so.
Just as Robert’s drinking had nothing to do with me; my glass of wine had no impact on Robert’s drinking. None. Having a glass of Chardonnay at night with dinner didn’t make me an accessory to Robert’s alcoholism. Nor did it turn me into an alcoholic. I was then and still am a responsible drinker.
As our relationship morphed from Loving Couple/Social Drinkers to Alcoholic Husband/Shattered Wife and I found myself in the maelstrom of Robert’s alcoholism, I couldn’t help but write about it. My life had been transformed into a never ending season of Breaking Bad, writing it down kept me sane. I hope reading about life with an alcoholic helps those who are in the midst of the storm, as well as those who have survived it–including all those who find themselves in mixed marriages of social drinker and alcoholic.