The ultimatum, part 7

Paul said he was willing to try to stop drinking until his birthday almost two months later. He wanted to see if he could even do it. It was a step in the right direction.

What did that mean though? Could I still have a few drinks with my friends around him? I was willing to give it up too. His close friends asked if he wanted them to stop drinking around him. Some friends just stopped drinking with him when he stopped. I think everyone was a bit uncomfortable doing this new dance at first.

Paul said he didn’t want everyone to change the way they lived their lives. But they did. I really didn’t realize how much we influence other people with how we live our lives. When he quit drinking quite a few of his friends cut back too.

It changed the dynamics of our relationship big time. I was angry and we argued a lot at first. But after the initial anger wore off, I noticed another change.

His drinking gave me a lot of power and control. I didn’t realize it until it was gone. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted him to stop or at the very least cut back. I nagged and nagged him to stop which didn’t work. It only made things worse.

Every time Paul and I got in an argument I would never look at my own negative behavior. I would throw back in his face that I would talk to him about my issues when he stopped drinking. I held the trump card of remember when you screwed up _____ with your drinking. It gave me a get out of jail free card that I used in almost every argument that wasn’t in my favor.

Now I could no longer avoid talking about some of my issues. Not only that but without drinking he now had the upper hand. He was working through his issues. That meant I had to work through some of mine too. I started seeing a therapist to work through my anxiety and depression.

In some ways I envied Paul. I wanted to leave my issues on a shelf, to not drink of that bottle and then they would be gone. But I’ve learned so much since then. Battling addiction is more than just leaving the bottle on the shelf. It’s the longing to reach for it like the embrace of an old friend in sadness and celebration.

I had to face the fact that my anxiety and depression also scared him. He’s had to reach into the darkness to pull me out many times. I can’t seem to escape the trauma I’ve experienced. At times it still threatens to drown me.

We both had to work on our issues. We were both broken people in need of a fix. It wasn’t just about him and his drinking. It was how we learned to cope with our trauma at our very core. It was exploring every crack and crevice that was tearing down our foundation.

We spent those two months rebuilding our relationship. We got along better than ever before. Then after that things went a little haywire.

The ultimatum, part 6

Honestly, I think he just wanted to fit in. He wanted to belong somewhere.

Sometimes he said he wished he would’ve been adopted. Maybe he would’ve reached his full potential for growth in an environment that promoted learning. Me, I’m just glad he wasn’t aborted.

His mother Martha dropped out of high school before she got pregnant with him as a teenager. Intellectually she was slow. She tried as an adult to get her GED but she couldn’t pass the test even with the help of tutors.

By some freak of nature, Paul is one of the smartest people I know. He has a brilliant gifted mind. I would guess his IQ was almost twice as high as his mother’s which caused a lot of frustration on the part of both parent and child.

One of the smartest things Martha did however was pack up her car and leave behind the inner city of Chicago with her mother and 9 year old Paul in tow. I know the story would’ve turned out differently if he would’ve stayed.

The family moved to northern small town Wisconsin. It was quite the culture shock. Imagine moving from one of the largest cities in America to a small town of residents whose families lived there for many generations and probably founded the town. Jobs were scarce and the town didn’t attract a lot of outsiders.

Paul struggled to fit in especially in that time period without having a father. One of his teachers made an example of him by spanking him in front of the class telling him he needed a good spanking because he didn’t have a father.

On parent day, Paul stood alone. He didn’t fit in with the smiling children of two parent families. He wore ill fitting clothing because they struggled financially. Martha worked long hours in a factory just to afford their modest home. She couldn’t afford to take off of work for every school event and his grandmother didn’t drive.

Paul struggled in school. He didn’t have a parent that could help him with his homework. His mom didn’t pressure him to study or do his homework anyway. He was never disciplined. Everyone knew his mother was slow and assumed he was too. The kids laughed at him and called him names. No one really even cared if he graduated.

He made it into college anyway. He created a new life for himself. He joined a fraternity and finally found a place he belonged. All he had to do to fit in was drink. A lot. Those were the years of hazing and dangerous drinking. It was nothing to wake up the next morning out on the lawn.

He got so involved with partying that he flunked out of college for a semester. He returned home and worked alongside his mother in the factory. After that experience, he decided to apply himself. He discovered he had a thirst for learning and figured out he wasn’t the idiot everyone defined him as. He was told he was stupid so much he thought he was.

I met Paul after he earned his Bachelor’s degree. By the time I met him, he was working on his Master’s degree. He fully accepted the fact that he is an intellectual. He tested me when we first met to see if I was smart too. I am an intellectual myself but nowhere as smart as he is. Sometimes I found this intimidating. But it was more threatening to Paul. It separated him from others.

He didn’t fit in with his family either. No matter what he did, he couldn’t bring them up to his level. But he could bring himself down. He found he could fit in when he was drinking. He could be social and fun. It helped him find the place where he could be like everyone else. It was a place he belonged.

The ultimatum, part 4

A business acquaintance once said that he didn’t know any business owners who weren’t alcoholics or divorced.

My husband is a visionary. But he is more than that. He is a doer. He has the ability to take his dreams and put them into action. He sees the potential in the future. I can’t see tomorrow from yesterday. I look at the past for answers, he looks at the future…what is possible.

He had this vision for a start up company. No one else in the area had this business idea, it was a new niche. Running a business is more than just doing what you are good at. It includes many moving parts; finance, sales, marketing, HR, customer service, collections just to name a few. The pressure is immense when your name is on the door and you are the only one providing a source of income for the family.

Paul worked hard even when it took years to see any fruit from his labor. He worked when he was sick. I even dragged him to the office the day after he came home from the hospital from having major surgery. Many nights he came home from work just to work some more after supper. That wasn’t even enough. He wanted to learn everything he could about business. He worked on his MBA while running a business. Most mornings he would go into the office at 5 AM so he could get a few hours of studying in before the phone started ringing.

After ten years, I joined Paul running the business for another ten years. Looking back those were some of the best years of my life. We worked well together. Running a business was rewarding but very stressful. I wanted to be in control but I didn’t want to be in charge like Paul was.

He started having a few drinks after work to take the edge off. It was his reward for a hard days work. It’s an incredible amount of stress making high level decisions that effect the lives of other people. If an employee made a mistake, it was his problem. Every month Paul had a long list of collection calls. It made me sick to hear him have to make those calls. He had to calm down angry customers when they had technology issues that he barely understood himself. He had to make sales calls where he got the door slammed in his face. His phone was always on. We could never get away from it.

Like most things in life, we rarely heard from customers when they were satisfied. They usually called when there were issues and problems.

Getting together with business acquaintances usually involved drinking. Sometimes it meant trying to keep up with the heaviest drinker. Paul would usually say he drank as much as everyone else did. I really didn’t think much about it. Then one night he called me when he was out of town and we had a 20 minute conversation. The next morning he called apologizing profusely for not calling me the evening before. I thought he was joking at first. He didn’t remember calling and having a long conversation with me the night before.

I was starting to notice a new pattern. Paul wasn’t remembering our conversations. Sometimes he would accuse me of not telling him things that I clearly remembered telling him. Sometimes he would say things that upset me and had no recollection the following morning. Talking to him was like talking to myself. Sometimes I would just walk away. Why bother? He wouldn’t remember the conversation.

I didn’t know what to do. Running a business was his life, but the stress of the constant pressure was killing him too. Nothing I could say or do could change it. Then we sold the business. Eventually the high pressure and busyness gave way to a lack of purpose and boredom which wasn’t much better…until he was back in the game with a new business.

 

The ultimatum, part 3

The morning of our 22nd anniversary was perfect. The weather was wonderful and promised a beautiful day. We left the marina in our sailboat and headed to a nearby town for lunch at an Irish pub. On the way back to the boat we stopped at a consignment store along the way. We didn’t find any bargains, just junk.

Then we headed back to the place we started. Paul introduced us to the boaters nearby who invited us onboard for an anniversary drink. By suppertime Paul seemed upset for no apparent reason other than he had too much to drink. It was a special occasion and we were on vacation which meant he drank more than usual. By the time the day was done he had 15 drinks.

After supper, the fight began. He started yelling loudly and told me to leave. When I didn’t, he threatened to leave starting the motor on the boat. I told him to leave the boat at the dock because I was leaving. I left so quickly that I didn’t take anything with me.

I wandered around the marina and to the park nearby. It was a dark night and I tried to hide myself in the darkness. I hoped Paul was worriedly searching for me but I didn’t want to be found. I was embarrassed to be seen wandering around by myself in the night.

I heard people laughing and partying nearby. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t feel confident in my safety from people or wild animals without my phone. I could literally just disappear. A part of me wanted to just keep walking and leave everything behind. But I didn’t have any money, my phone, or even a jacket so I probably wouldn’t get too far. Besides I didn’t even know where I was.

I stayed at the park a long time until the grass I was sitting on grew damp and the bugs started biting. But I wasn’t ready to go back to the boat.

I got cold outside and sat for awhile inside to think in the boater’s lounge. It was awkward. I was sitting by myself looking sad on my anniversary when people wandered through. Maybe they knew? Maybe they heard the fight? I couldn’t stay there all night. Was I going to sleep in my clothes on the couch?

Maybe I could get my phone and call someone for a ride home. But it was late and we didn’t live close. Was Paul still upset? What was I going to do that night? What was I going to do going forward? Will our marriage end on the day it all began?

Eventually I made my way back to the boat.

The ultimatum, part 2

I think things got worse after his mother died from cancer.

Or maybe that’s when I noticed it more.

He was a happy drunk before. Or should I say it enhanced his good moods and his bad. It’s hard to be upset with someone who is spilling forth good things about you. You are so wonderful. You are so beautiful. I’m so happy I married you. Yeah, tell me that when you are sober I’d laugh.

After his mom died it wasn’t fun anymore.

He didn’t have any family left. That’s a hard pill to swallow. No one. He never had a dad or siblings. His step-dad Darryl started dating online a month after his mother died. Paul felt like he helped Darryl out more than Darryl helped him through the grieving process. The rest of the extended family were the wedding funeral types. Our teenage kids met most of them the first time at their grandma’s funeral.

He started drinking more than his usual routine. A typical summer Tuesday he went out with friends and had maybe half a dozen drinks. Wednesday and Thursday a bottle of wine. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday he drank two bottles of wine. Monday he took the night off to prove he didn’t need to drink every night.

He was drinking somewhere around 40 drinks a week. Special occasions, hanging out with friends, or really bad days warranted a couple more drinks. So he had anywhere between 30 to 50+ drinks a week.

The year his mother died was a really rough year. I don’t think he cared anymore. His only parent was gone. He slowly watched her die. He coped with the loss by drinking more.

He said he wasn’t going to stop drinking until the doctor told him to. That year his liver numbers were a little high. It was just a fluke thing he said because he was out drinking with his friends the night before.

He wasn’t worried but I was.

The ultimatum, part 1

I am finally ready to tell the story of what happened last summer. It’s taken me almost a year to share this post originally written in August of 2019 because it has been tremendously difficult to talk about.

It’s over. At least that is what I thought as we were sailing on the way home from our anniversary trip. I wanted to take my wedding ring off and throw it into the drink. After all, he was throwing away our marriage for the drink.

Just the night before, our wedding anniversary was ruined. He stood at the dock screaming obscenities for everyone to hear. He told me to leave. I quietly walked away. I knew it didn’t pay to fight. He was wasted.

I felt so embarrassed the next morning. I knew that people were near and overheard the anniversary domestic dispute. I pretended that everything was alright. We had a very happy anniversary I said, probably our last I thought.

It would’ve been easier to get drunk that night. If I drink, it is easier to forget that he is drinking. That is the trap I see. Couples that both drown in the drink can’t pull each other out before they sink.

I told him if he doesn’t stop drinking, I would leave him. I meant it too.

It wasn’t always like this. It started out slowly, just a couple drinks a night to take the edge off. But gradually over time, it grew steadily worse. He was a happy drunk. Paul was always the life of the party. He loved everybody and said many kind words, until he wasn’t that way anymore. For awhile he was in control, but then it took control of him.

Paul said he would try to stop drinking, he loves me more. For how long I want him to stop, I am unsure. Tonight will be the test. It’s the night he goes out with his buddies once a week. They might try to pressure him to drink. He will tell them that he screwed up and if he drinks his wife will leave. Paul is afraid of losing his friends and not being fun anymore. But I said if they are truly friends, they will care about you whether or not you drink.

He thanked me for pulling him out when I saw him go under. But I’m not sure he is out of the water yet. I’m happy he is willing to try. I’m glad he ruined our anniversary because that was the catalyst for change.