I was literally 3 paragraphs into a blog post about how time has started moving so much faster in my second year of recovery (I’m now 18 months and 3 days sober), and how it’s all become so much more normalised and BAM!!! My husband announces that he’s not happy and wants to separate.
I did not expect this.
I mean, OK, yes I had caught him chatting with another woman online a month beforehand. This wasn’t the first time he had been semi-unfaithful (or unfaithful – never marry a really good-looking guy!) so I was upset, but not as much as perhaps I should have been. Once caught, however, he promised that he did love me and want to make a go of things, at least for our daughter’s sake, so we had a lot of chats about what needed to change (mainly he wanted more sex – sorry if that’s TMI!) and we put a plan of action into place. He said he’d completely cut off contact with the other woman, and I thought things were going well. I was trying really hard to make things work, and although he was being quite negative about my attempts I just put that down to his general unhappiness with his life. I guess I sound like I had my head in the sand, and I probably did, but let’s try and give my actions a little bit of context.
What our relationship was like when I was drinking
For the first few years of our relationship, my husband and I fought like cats and dogs. It’s a wonder that we survived those first few years to be honest, and looking back I’m not sure how we did. Our relationship was passionate for sure, but we were both used to being the most powerful person in our previous relationships, and we both needed to make some concessions if we were going to be together. Eventually we did overcome this power struggle and hit a more harmonious place in our relationship.
Despite this harmony, however, I still had very low self esteem. It’s something that started when I was around 9, I think, that thought that I was unworthy of love, and something that I used to fuel my academic achievements (“If I’m successful, then I am worthy?”). When I met my husband I had all manner of walls that I had built up around me so that I didn’t get hurt, but one-by-one they came down as I fell in love with him and decided that, for the sake of happiness, this time I would allow myself to be vulnerable. Nevertheless, I still found it really hard to believe that someone would love me for who I was, particularly someone as good looking and wonderful as my husband. On top of that, when we would go to bars, women would throw themselves at my husband right in front of me and I would just have to stand there and take it, or else risk looking like an insecure, jealous wife (which according to my pride, would be worse than anything).
Add to this my amazing propensity to say the exact-wrong-thing at the exact-wrong-time, as well as my resting bitch face, posh accent, and poor ability to recognise people, and people would very often get the impression that I am a complete bitch. This fed my insecurity, which led to drinking, which led to ignoring the problem and my feelings about it, and this led to more drinking. You know the cycle.
Anyways, when I was this insecure, needy, drunk person, within my relationship I would seek constant reassurance from my husband that he really did love me, that I wasn’t fat and ugly, etc etc. In fact I had a Friday night ritual that I adhered to like clockwork: drink 1-2 bottles of wine, yell at my husband for not loving me enough, cry and ask him why he doesn’t love me, repeat until he fell asleep or stormed out to sleep on the couch.
How getting sober affected my relationship
When I got sober, my self-esteem started to come back. Through a lot of reading, listening to podcasts, chatting with recovery friends online and so forth, I dealt with a lot of the shame that I had. I also stopped going out drinking and saying dumb shit to people, so I started pissing people off less. On top of that, I lost weight and got fitter, so I was less insecure about my appearance.
I also learned throughout this process that there was no point trying to control or change other people. All I can control is myself and my reactions to other people, but I can’t control them. There were still things that weren’t perfect about my husband, but I loved him and wanted to be with him so I stopped trying to make him have deep and meaningful conversations with me. I stopped trying to get him to hang out with me outside of just falling asleep on the couch and snoring whilst I watch TV. We would do things as a family (e.g. go swimming or bike riding or whatever), but we didn’t do much just the two of us. That’s the way he seemed to want it, so I stopped trying to force something that wasn’t going to happen.
From my perspective, all of this worked like magic. I basically stopped fighting with my husband altogether, I stopped worrying about where he was if he went out late or wasn’t answering his phone. I focused on myself, my work, my recovery, and enjoying my life, and I was happy. But he wasn’t. All of this change had made him think that I didn’t love him anymore. To his credit, he did try and talk to me about the way he was feeling (sort of), and I guess I didn’t recognise the gravity of his feelings as I just brushed it off and said “Of course I love you”. Cue him seeking love and intimacy elsewhere…
So now I’ve become a recovery cliché – what next?
When I first got into recovery, I had heard that relationships often don’t survive one person getting sober. I had never, ever, in a million years, thought that this would apply to me. For one thing, my husband doesn’t really drink so it was me that needed to be fixed. For another, our once-volatile relationship had become so much more harmonious and I was so much happier once I was sober. I guess it didn’t occur to me that he would not also be happier.
Yesterday he said to me that he might be willing to go to counselling. This is pretty big for him as I’ve been mentioning it for years and have never been able to get him to agree. I would like to take this path, but he is still seeing the other woman and I’m not willing to try and fix a relationship while he is seeing someone else. So I guess for now he will move out and continue his relationship with her and we shall see how it goes.
I would be lying if I were to say that it hadn’t crossed my mind to drink over all of this. It definitely has, A LOT. But for the grace of something or another, I have somehow remained sober. As my recovery coach said – drinking is not going to fix anything. It will give me a really bad hangover though, and possibly lead me down a spiral that I don’t want to go down.
What I am doing is continuing to try and accept that which I cannot control. I cannot make my husband stay, and I don’t want to try and make him stay if that is not what he wants. I was reading My Fair Junkie yesterday and there’s a section where Amy Dresdner talks about doing court-ordered community service in which she is cleaning up rubbish off the streets. She has a realisation whilst doing so that whilst she cannot control her circumstances, she can control her attitude towards it. So I applied a similar thought to my own situation. I may not be choosing this, but I can choose how I deal with it. I have had moments of feeling happy since my husband said he was leaving, and then I immediately had negative thoughts come into my head like “oh you’ll only feel crappy again later”. But then I batted those negative thoughts away and thought to myself, that yes, I will feel crappy at times, but I don’t have to ruin the times I feel good by thinking about the times I might feel bad.
I’m sure that I have a long journey of self-reflection and processing ahead of me, but I am amazed at how resilient I have been so far. I would NEVER have been this resilient if I were still drinking, and that is a win in and of itself.