Being Married To An Alcoholic Made Me Give Up Alcohol For Good
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I never made a conscious decision to give up alcohol forever. Even now, five years into my self-imposed sobriety, I still tell myself that maybe someday, when my kids are grown, or I go out for a nice dinner, I'll have a cocktail or two. After all, I've never had a problem with alcohol. I've never even been a very frequent drinker, and there was never a time where my own alcohol consumption interfered with any aspect of my life. But alcohol impacted my life by proxy. And the longer I go without drinking, the more reluctant I am to ever take another drink.

I spent eight years dating, and eventually married to, an alcoholic who opted against pursuing treatment, and it is his battle with alcohol that first led me to change my own drinking habits.

In those early days, I thought that some day, things would change. For some people, they do. Some people get help. Some people stop drinking.

Alcohol began to disappear from my life when I first understood that my ex-husband couldn't have ready access to it in our home. I removed the alcohol from the black wooden bar cabinet in the dining room and tried not to look at the cocktail shaker and sparkling glassware displayed on its surface. It had once housed the bottles I later found empty in his office, after he promised me he wasn't drinking. His alcoholism made me look at the benign Pottery Barn piece I found on Craigslist in a different way. The sight of it made my stomach lurch.

In those early days, I thought that some day, things would change. For some people, they do. Some people get help. Some people stop drinking.

But nothing ever did change for my ex-husband, even now. I gave the bar away when I left him eight years ago, and I was relieved to see it go. By then, I had become accustomed to ordering soda at restaurants to support his sobriety and it took me months to realize that the new, single me didn't have to be sober anymore. I ordered a cocktail one night out with friends, and it hit me hard after so many years without alcohol. For the first time, I began to understand the appeal. My life as a single mom was stressful, and there were nights when I laid in bed wishing the world would open up and swallow me whole. Alcohol took the edge off. Alcohol made me forget.

I've never had a problem forgetting. I have PTSD from a complicated mix of childhood trauma and abuse, and my mind has always done its best to escape the painful memories. I'm lucky if I can remember my grocery list or why I picked up the phone, much less childhood traumas that have been locked away somewhere in my subconscious for decades. For most of my life, I let myself forget, believing that whatever I forgot couldn't hurt me or break me.

For the first time, I began to understand the appeal. My life as a single mom was stressful, and there were nights when I laid in bed wishing the world would open up and swallow me whole. Alcohol took the edge off. Alcohol made me forget.

But after my divorce, I began to see that it was what I was afraid to face that led me to abusers and pain, and forgetting only allowed my dysfunctional cycles to continue. I began going to therapy and committed myself to remembering.

And as I sat on my therapist's couch, I remembered what a long-ago marriage counselor once told me about my ex-husband: alcohol treatment works best when it's combined with treatment for an underlying mental illness. Not everyone who is an alcoholic drinks because of a mental illness, but many do. I don't know what my ex-husband was trying to escape, but I made a promise to myself then and there that I wouldn't let myself go down the same path. I knew I had mental health concerns, so the risks simply felt too great. Instead, I decided to throw away every emotional crutch, from alcohol to junk food to trashy TV, and face my demons head on.

It didn't take me long to understand why people rely on emotional crutches—they need them. My naive attempts to throw aside all my coping strategies unleashed decades of memories and a PTSD flare that lasted for six months. I dove into therapy too fast,  without the proper precautions, and I ended up re-traumatizing myself almost as badly as the initial trauma. I lay on the tile floor of my bathroom night after night, reliving my childhood abuse, and trying to keep feeling the coolness of the tile on my skin so I would know I was still there.

After the storm was over, and I managed to stabilize myself again, I locked those broken pieces back up inside and let myself eat junk food and watch trashy TV. I learned to take baby steps toward healing, acknowledging my pain without running from it or being consumed by it. But I still never let myself drink alcohol, because I know how that story can end.

I know I could drink, and it would be okay — my own relationship with alcohol has always been a far cry from my ex-husband's alcoholism. I like how I feel when a cocktail takes the edge off, and reality feels softer and gentler. It's tempting to escape from my life, my past, my pain, and let alcohol take control. It would be easier if I did.

But I've come too far now to go backwards, and to accept blurred edges and forgetting. I've taught myself to live in the present, to be mindful, to breathe — because I couldn't feel my body when I entered therapy, and I have to re-commit myself to that journey every day because my brain has been wired to abandon my body and forget. It's been an uphill climb that I've wanted to quit a thousand times because it's too hard, it's too painful, and there's no happy ending at the end of this story. But I keep going, because each day becomes a little bit easier. Each day, I feel a little more healed and a little more whole. Some days, I even know I'm okay.

So no matter how many times I tell myself that someday maybe I'll drink again, someday, on vacation or after a tough night, or even just on a nice evening out, I know I never will.