The ultimatum, part 10

After taking a couple weeks off of drinking in January, Paul had a new plan.

He was going to drink a bottle of wine every other night. His doctor said he shouldn’t have more than 14 drinks per week. With this plan, he was pretty close.

He didn’t have a problem not drinking when he didn’t drink. But he found the nights when he had a bottle of wine more challenging. Frequently when he was on his fourth glass, he no longer had the discipline to not drink a couple more. What if it was an extra large bottle of wine? Did that still count as one? He had a hard time leaving extra wine behind because that would throw off his count. What if he had a couple of mixed drinks and then started a bottle of wine?

I found myself angry and triggered on the drinking nights. If he went over I knew. At times I threatened to dump all the alcohol in the house out. He said I was wasting my money because he could just go to the store and buy more.

I tried to ignore him on the nights he was drinking. That also did not work well. It seemed to bother him that I avoided him and usually lead to an argument. Sometimes I would confront him if he started his fifth drink. That also didn’t work. The one that says please help me when he is sober also says leave me alone and stop controlling my life when he is drunk.

After several months he discovered that his plan did not work. He devised a new plan. He could have 2 drinks every day of the week. If there was a special occasion, he could have 4 drinks a day if he had two drinks at two separate times of day. For example, he could have two drinks at lunch and then two drinks at suppertime never having more than two drinks in his system at a time. If he had 4 drinks per day he would have to give up drinking another day of the week. This would keep him within the 14 drinks a week limit.

He had it down to a science. I told him if he followed this plan I wouldn’t give him a hard time about drinking ever again. Things were going well, really well in fact. But then he slipped this past week. I confronted him on it. He was upset at first, but he knew I was right. I am only trying to hold him accountable because I care about him.

I don’t like to be in the position of being the person that has to help him control his drinking. I don’t want to have to be the bad guy. He’s told me countless times that without me he would probably drink himself to death. I want to think that he would be fine without me. I think it will be something he will always struggle with.

He had made a lot of progress in this last year. For that I am thankful. I am happy to be an influencing factor in that change. He was willing to address his issues and grew a lot in the process. I have to give him a lot of credit for being willing to look at some negative things about himself. It hasn’t always been easy.

It’s our anniversary next week, 23 years. We are planning on getting away a few days on our sailboat. This year I am confident things will go well because we are taking a different path.

The ultimatum, part 9

I felt a lot of anxiety leading up to his birthday. He did it, Paul went without drinking for almost 2 months. He said it was a piece of cake.

He said he would try to quit drinking until his birthday.

But then it was his birthday. I was worried. Now what would happen?

That night we had a few friends over. They had pizza and he drank a bottle of wine. I felt a sense of loss. I didn’t belong. I felt like an outsider. I had been dairy free for over a month by that time. As they ate pizza and laughed, I brooded in the corner.

I felt triggered by Paul drinking again. I felt angry and hurt like I did on the night of our anniversary when he drank too much. Paul was in a jovial mood. He drank another bottle of wine out by the campfire while I sat inside.

He wanted me to sing while he played guitar. When he pushed close, I pulled away. He was gone and I felt like I couldn’t trust him anymore.

What was going to happen going forward?

Slowly and steadily he started drinking more but nowhere as close to as much as before.

We got hit pretty hard in the next couple months with bad news about my dad. It will be a long time before I am ready to talk about that. I can tell you this, my dad struggles with addiction. My mom ignored it. She buried her head in the sand. I have to wonder maybe things would’ve turned out differently if she gave him an ultimatum.

I think I did the right thing. I never wanted Paul to stop drinking. I just wanted him to be in control of it instead of it controlling him.

I found myself triggered by so many things, not just Paul drinking. What happened with my dad threw me into a deep depression. I wish I could say that trauma only happens from your parents in childhood. Sometimes it tends to be a lifelong roller coaster ride.

Paul thought he was going to lose me this time. He was so stressed out that he started to drink more which stressed me out more.

Because of the ultimatum, he knew it was a problem he needed to address. In January, he stopped drinking for a few weeks in a time of prayer and self-reflection. Then he came up with a new plan.

The ultimatum, part 8

Paul struggled with what it meant to be a husband and a dad. He never had a dad and barely remembered his mother’s brief marriage when he was 4 to a man that was supposedly abusive towards him.

His only parent was very childlike herself. They were dirt poor. He spent the first half of his childhood in low income housing in the inner city of Chicago. His mother was slow and uneducated. She also struggled with mental health issues that I would guess were trauma related.

Martha’s dad died when she was 12, so Paul didn’t have a grandpa either. He wouldn’t have made a good grandpa anyway. He was known to abuse his children and cheat on his wife. He wouldn’t be my chosen father figure for a future husband.

Martha didn’t always make the best decisions but she was a good mother. She always told Paul he could do anything he put his mind to. She did the best she could with the hand she was given.

Sometimes I feel like Paul was more of a parent to Martha than she was to him. But that could be because I saw him give her advice as an adult. She would argue that credit cards were money. She wasn’t a drinker but I think she was addicted to gambling. I’m sure that is why Paul is obsessed with keeping our finances in order.

Martha also had a really bad temper. She was very reactive and emotional. She often was angry and thought people were out to get her. Or you could be the best thing that ever happened to her. In those times you could do nothing wrong. She was crazy fun, exciting, and impulsive.

After her brief marriage, Martha didn’t have a lot of boyfriends. She worked a lot. Sometimes she lost her jobs due to her chronic tardiness. She married for the 2nd time right before I met Paul. Her husband Darryl is only 15 years older than Paul. He had kids but his ex took off with them and they spent most of their adult life in and out of prison. Maybe if Paul was still a child he would’ve been a good father.

I wish I could say that my own dad was able to take him under his wing. If anything, my dad taught him what not to do as a husband and a father. It seems like we both had to parent our parents more than they parented us. It caused a lot of stress shouldering all of that responsibility.

There was no one, just a big empty void of abandonment. He was expected to be good at something he never learned how to do. He didn’t have a dad to play ball with. No one taught him how to fix things or work on cars. He was never disciplined. He didn’t have a dad to embarrass him or give him advice on girls. Like most things, he just had to figure it out himself.

I tried to gloss it over and glamorize it by saying that at least he could develop his own style. But it wasn’t easy. I think he is a wonderful father and husband despite his insecurities. When he screws up he apologizes and tries harder to be a better person. He is doing a wonderful job and I appreciate his commitment.

He could’ve walked away like his own father did. Instead he was willing to roll up his sleeves and work on himself and our relationship.

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.

The real up north

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This past weekend we traveled to the farthest northern point of Wisconsin.

If you aren’t familiar with our state, we are located in the northern mid-west of the United States. We are surrounded by bodies of water on each border of our state, except our southern border which has Illinois. To the west, we have the Mississippi River. To the north, Lake Superior. To the east, Lake Michigan. With so many lakes, it is a wonderful place for fishing, sailing, and water sports of any kind. The diehards even go fishing on the lake’s ice on the coldest days of winter.

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Most of our population lives near our biggest cities of Madison, Milwaukee, and Green Bay. It takes approximately 8 hours to drive from the southern most point to the northern and 5 hours from the farthest west to the east. A lot of our lakes are practically deserted…peaceful, serene, and quiet.

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Wisconsinners are very hardy folk by nature. We have to be to survive our winters. We are known for the Green Bay Packers, the Great Lakes, brats, and beer. Unfortunately, we are also known for being one of the drunkest states hosting some of the drunkest cities in the nation, if not world. Drinking is a huge part of our culture.

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The far northern portion of our state has a lot of wildlife not related to drinking. I captured a picture of Paul fishing. But in doing so, I may have gotten a little too close to an otter den. I was chased down in the water by hissing otters. I can’t say that ever happened to me before. We also saw deer that were too numerous to count. This part of our state tends to get the largest snowfalls and coolest temperatures.

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I love taking pictures of our state’s beauty. The northernmost part of our state is rugged and wild with the lowest population.

On the way home, we stopped for brunch at what was rumored the best restaurant in the county. It was almost a 2 hour wait, so we decided to skip brunch and headed towards home. It took us over an hour to find another restaurant. Was it the only restaurant in the county?? Gas stations and restaurants are scarce. But even rarer is good cell reception. You might be in trouble if you run out of gas on a snowy winter night without cell reception. Even the highway traffic is minimal. I think we saw more deer than cars.

But I would have to say, even though I’ve been to many beautiful places, that Wisconsin is still on the top of the list. I wanted to share that beauty with you.