Sunday, July 24, 2016

Soberversary: What I Learned In My Spouse's Ten Years Without Alcohol

Dana and "his puppy" Bruizer
I've waited ten years to write this post.

Many times, I wondered if I'd ever be able to.

Ten years ago today, I walked into the garage with my arms crossed to hide my shaking hands. I didn't want my husband to know how scared I was to bring up such a difficult subject with him.

"We need to talk."

Those four words barely caught enough air to pass my lips. The entire future of our then-12-year marriage hinged on the outcome of the conversation we were about to have.

I loved my husband. He was a good man, a loving father, a hard worker, a beautiful and creative mind. I didn't want to lose him.

Trouble is I was losing him -- to a cunning mistress with whom I could no longer compete.

Alcoholism.

Dana and I met the first week of my freshman year of college. Up until that point, I was what you might consider a goody-two-shoes. I didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't break curfew. I did my homework and never broke the rules.

That changed when I met Dana. In my eyes, he was that boy mama warned me about. He had a year of college under his belt. He had long hair, a pierced ear, a tattoo and, best of all, he played guitar.

To say I fell ass-over-teakettle is a bit of an understatement.

He and I quickly began a whirlwind courtship blurred by many bottles of Schnapps and an entire brewery of Busch Lite. (I'm still trying to piece together 1993, so if anyone can fill in the blanks, feel free to message me.) We switched colleges, and I watched him chase his dream of being a musician. We had fun, and when my haze of alcohol finally cleared, we were married and expecting our first child.

We settled into married life, started full-time jobs, bought a car, switched jobs, bought a house, got a dog and, eventually, had our second child.

In all of that time, I never noticed Dana hadn't stop drinking the way we did in college. There were signs that I'd missed, but he didn't fit the stereotypical definition of a drunk. He'd simply come home from work every night, crack open a beer or six and drink until it was time to go to bed. On the weekends, beer-thirty came a bit earlier and the drinks went down a little faster.

But I didn't notice there was a problem until a friend pointed it out to me.

Until that point, I couldn't understand why he was becoming increasingly distant and sad, why his nights were filled with the frustration of condensed sleep cycles, why he threw tantrums when there wasn't enough money to buy beer or not enough time for a few drinks before we had to be someplace.

I had reached a breaking point the day I walked into the garage and uttered those four words. His sadness and distance had created a chasm between us. I could no longer reach him, and something needed to change.

You pick: Me or the alcohol.

He had fear in his eyes that day when I delivered that blow. Putting myself in his situation, I'm not sure I'd have been strong enough to make the decision he made.

He poured out the remainder of his beer. And he's been sober ever since.

I will not lie about this; It has not been an easy road.

From my perspective, putting down a drink is not the hard part. The challenge is not picking it back up again.

I could not begin to explain how difficult it has been to walk through this process with him. The entire first week after our talk he said only a handful of words to me. (Most of which were, "Can I have a beer now?" -- Not a joke.)

I later learned that the approach and short-term follow up he took stepping toward sobriety was ill-advised. One in ten alcoholics suffers serious complications -- including seizures and death -- while going through withdrawal? 

After ten years, I don't think a day has gone by where he hasn't wanted a beer. Sobriety is such a delicate thing, and the temptation is pervasive.

You lose friends. You soon realize how much society uses alcohol as an easy entertainment option, and when it's not longer available, you're left behind by the friends who still have that option.

You lose your coping mechanism. For Dana, stepping into sobriety meant facing the excruciating pain of the depression for which he'd been self-medicating. That's a whole 'nother post.

You lose your crutch. For some people, alcohol provides a prop that allows the drinker to find a sense of authority when he/she speaks. Without it, he/she becomes mute with the insecurity that everything he/she says holds no importance, which is not true.

I can't begin to express the love and admiration I have for this man, for his strength, for his courage.

He has endured every craving, every temptation, every need for alcohol for the past ten years now with solid character and constitution, and he's never been afraid to admit his vulnerability in the face of his addiction.

He's not ashamed to admit he's on constant guard, living with the knowledge that stumbling back into addiction is a real threat.

Especially when he has to put up with me. :)

Thank you, God, for making my husband the man that he is today.

* * *

Kathryn Harris is an award-winning journalist and the author of "The Long Road to Heaven," the story of a modern-day Cinderella whose thwarted happily-ever-after leads her back to the one place she never wanted to see again -- home.