Living with an Alcoholic = Lonely

Living with an alcoholic is incredibly lonely.

Say I had to go grocery shopping.  I couldn’t leave Mike home with the kids because I couldn’t trust that he would be able to care for them. He’d probably pass out and not hear the baby’s cries or remember to change her diapers. He might hide in the bathroom, drinking, for an hour or more, while leaving the TV on something wildly inappropriate for the kids to watch. (Ethan tells stories of how Mike let him watch History Channel documentaries on ghost hunting, Bigfoot, the September 11 attacks – all nightmare-inducing docu-dramas for a 4- or 5-year old.)

But I couldn’t take Mike with me to the store either. He’d just sulk and be pissed off that he couldn’t get a drink. He’d probably yell or throw a fit about something stupid just to cut the errand short. And, he’d probably claim he was sober and insist on driving.

I couldn’t escape. Couldn’t even break free for an hour or two to run errands. I used to look forward to my hour or two alone on the weekends. It was refreshing to me, walking the aisles of Target and the grocery store. Something mindless to take thoughts away from a hectic career and work week. I’d review events of the past week and reflect on what’s coming up. Since the summer of 2010 when I found out what was going on with Mike, my weekend escapes became rare – really, really, really rare. And soon, I came to resent the fact that I couldn’t go anywhere, do anything, because I couldn’t trust him to stay home – or come with me.

But it wasn’t just random weekend errands. Multiply the lonely feeling by 100 when it comes to going to friends’ weddings or planning a family vacation or visiting relatives. I couldn’t go, leaving him alone – but I was pissed that I was confined to my home with him and missing the things I wanted to do with the people I love.

Sidenote: When Lauren was born, Mike and I spent hours discussing godparents. But I kept putting off her baptism. I knew I couldn’t invite friends (and our first choices for her godparents) to come share our day because Mike’s alcoholism was obvious. Finally, I felt like we had to move forward and just get it done, so we named my mom and Mike’s brother as godparents. It would keep things confined to the few people who knew what was going on. Don’t get me wrong, my mom is a fabulous godmother and I think she was genuinely touched that we asked her to play that role in Lauren’s life. Mike’s brother, on the other hand, well, I haven’t talked to him since the funeral

I also didn’t tell anyone what was going on. Afterall, I was so hopeful that he’d get better. I KNEW he’d get better. That he’d wake up one day and realize that he had the WORLD to live for – a good education, a good job on the horizon, a fantastic wife ((patting myself on the back)), and two wonderfully awesome kids. If I told people – family or friends – I worried that they’d change their opinions of him, maybe think poorly of him. I didn’t want them to think badly of him because DAMMIT! he was going to sober up and be the man I fell in love with in college.

It didn’t happen.

I didn’t tell friends until I had Mike removed from our house by court order in August. I’m sure people realized that I wasn’t around, that I cancelled plans or just didn’t show up. They might have chalked it up to having a new baby or a crazy work schedule. I don’t know. But when I finally told friends, I felt an immediate sense of relief. I’m not a pity person, but having the people I care about know what was happening brought peace to me.

But I was scared to tell college friends. Mike and I met in college and starting dating my senior year. It was a very small school, and everyone knew us as a couple.

I called my friend, M, a few days before homecoming. She had Facebook messaged me, asking if Mike and the kids were coming. There’s no easy way to have that conversation over the phone, so I just launched right into it. “Mike and I are separated and I’m filing for divorce,” I told her. I explained how I learned about his drinking and how he didn’t want to get better. That we tried AA and rehab. That it was starting to get bad for the kids. I cried as I talked to her.

She was incredibly supportive. “I’m on your side,” she told me.

“Don’t be on my side. There are no sides,” I said. “Mike needs friends. He needs to know there are people supporting him, wanting him to get better.”

“I’m still on your side,” she said. I smiled.

I told more friends at homecoming. One friend, who went to college with us but also high school with Mike, asked, “What do you want us to do?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He asked if I wanted him to take a side, to not talk to Mike anymore (not that Mike had talked to any of his friends in years). “NO!” I said. “Mike needs friends. He needs you to be there for him. Call him, email him, Facebook him, go see him at his parents’ house. I just want him to get better and I want him to know there are people who love him and want him to get better, too.”

At Mike’s funeral, several of his friends told me that they tried to reach out to him, but he didn’t respond.

I think alcoholism made Mike lonely, too.

“Poor Thing”

I closed on our house three days after returning from Fort Wayne for the funeral. It was tough, wrapping up those last-minute details from six hours away, but when I packed our suitcases in the car, I included all my paperwork and documentation. Just in case. And I definitely needed it – the entire mortgage had to be reworked (and approved) following Mike’s death. Something about state law… Dumb community property state.

It was important to me to be able to close on the house as soon as possible. We had been living out of boxes in a temporary corporate apartment for six weeks. We had Christmas in the apartment. Celebrated New Year’s. Ethan started school while we were there. But we needed a home. We needed our “stuff” which had been in storage since we moved out of our house in St. Louis. We needed to be settled.

Since closing on the house eight weeks ago, I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to really get settled – after all, three days after the movers came, I as on a plane to Orlando for a four-day work trip. There are still a few boxes lying around. Things to hang on the wall are still leaning against furniture or are wrapped in layers of tissue paper and thick cardboard boxes. The basement storage area is quickly filling with stuff I don’t know what to do with, and the garage is still a mix-match of things I’m saving for a spring yard sale as well as some things of my mom’s from her storage unit in St. Louis (mostly big, giant furniture that we can’t move to her new storage place).

I haven’t met many people in the neighborhood yet because of my crazy work hours, but I feel like I know them. Or, more accurately, they know me.

A couple of times a week, my mom will tell me about some of the neighbors she’s met:

  – “Her THIRD husband was an alcoholic. She left him because of it, so she totally gets what you’re going through…”

  – “She’s a therapist. Now, she doesn’t work with people who have insurance, but she said if you ever need to talk through your grief, she’d be there for you and the kids.”

  – “His daughter was married to a doctor. They had a little boy who was about four years old when her husband went on a trip to Mexico. She didn’t know that he was an addict. Killed himself, well OD’d actually, in a hotel room in Mexico, can  you imagine?”

I’m sure my mom means well, but really? How do things like this come out of a 10 minute “Welcome to the Neighborhood!” kind of conversation?

They don’t. Unless they’re being offered up as part of the intro.

I’m not sure why she feels the need to air my dirty laundry to all the new neighbors. I’m certainly not hiding the truth from the neighbors, but it isn’t how I thought I’d “meet” the neighbors. I mean, if it came out in conversation over a summer BBQ or while watching the kids ride their bikes up and down the street, I’m okay with that. But, I’m kind of not okay with the new neighbors knowing that I’m a widow, a wife of an alcoholic who was going through a divorce and is now left with two small kids. I’m not okay with them knowing all this before I actually get to meet them.

I can only imagine what they think, and from the looks I’ve gotten from a few of them when I’ve taken out the trash or waved while getting into my car in the morning, I’m thinking it’s something along the lines of, “Oh, you poor thing…”

I’m not a “poor thing.” I don’t want to be a “poor thing.” I appreciate the sympathy, but it’s not what I need or want. Especially from people I don’t know, who don’t know me or my situation or my kids. I’m not sure exactly what my mom has told them or how it was worked into conversation. And, I’m not sure how to get her to stop mentioning it – or even if it makes a difference now. Apparently “third husband was an alcoholic” neighbor is the village gossip, so my story is as good as told around the neighborhood by now.

I guess until I get to meet everyone (maybe when the weather is warmer), I’ll just be the “poor thing” on the block.


Thank God I was wearing sunglasses so he couldn’t see my eyes well up with tears.

It started on our way home from seeing the Easter Bunny. Ethan was talking about Mike and his drinking.

And after every memory, he seemed to blame himself:

– I knew that beer wasn’t on the grocery list but when I said something, daddy told me to be quiet. If only I would have told you.

– There were only three ways I could wake him up: yell in his ear, poke him with something sharp, or slap his face. I prayed that he would stop drinking but he never did.

– He would forget to feed me. I used to wish he would be more like when I was three or four years old. You know, before he got mean.

– He used to spank me if I said anything about his drinking. Why did he do that to me? I probably should have just been quiet.

– I don’t know that I believe in wishes any more. If wishes came true, he would have stopped drinking.

– I wish daddy was alive so I can ask him why he kept drinking.

My heart was breaking. Was Ethan blaming himself? Six year olds should still believe in wishes and magic, but why would he if his never came true?

I reached into the backseat and grabbed his hand. I pulled over into a parking lot. “Look at me,” I commanded. “this is not your fault. There’s nothing about daddy’s drinking that is your fault or my fault. We couldn’t stop him no matter how hard we wished, or prayed, or dreamed. Daddy was an adult and he made bad decisions, but never ever ever think it was because of you or me or Lauren.”

“Ok,” he said in a little voice, his eyes started to tear up.

“I’m serious. Do not EVER blame yourself, baby boy.”

“Is it okay if I cry now?” he asked.

“Baby, it’s always okay to cry. This is sad and it’s okay.”

As he started to cry, I hid behind my glasses. Still holding his hand, I said, “I love you, Pumpkin Pie.”

“I know,” he said. “I love you, too.”

I took off my glasses and we cried together for a few minutes. Then I let go of his hand, turned around, and finished the drive home.

Lauren was sound asleep in her car seat the entire time, oblivious to the conversation. And (probably) oblivious to any memories – good or bad – of her dad.

Silk Jammies

I bought a pair of silk jammies today.

After 10 years of marriage – and six years of dating, my PJ wardrobe had become pretty sad, basically old tee shirts and worn out cotton pants. But Mike never cared. His nighttime wear was even more pitiful.

I’m sitting here tonight, in my new silk pajamas, drinking a pale ale, reflecting on what was a great day with the kids, and feeling really pretty good…

I love silk jammies.

PS – my mom is gone this weekend, so it’s the first time I’ve been alone in my new house. Well, not alone-alone, the kids are here, but by myself nonetheless. And it feels…not bad.


The last time I drove south on I-94 , I was racing to Fort Wayne, my mom at my side and the kids in the back seat. I just wanted to get there, figure out what was going on, get it over with. I was racing, speeding. I was crying.

I went through an entire box of tissues on the drive.

Yesterday, I was driving south on I-94 to pick up my niece. I promised her years ago that I’d take her on a tour of her top college picks during her junior year. It was time.

Tunes were ready. A cold bottle of water sat in one cup holder. Change for the tolls clanged in the other cup holder. It wasn’t until I was rolling down the road that I realized I probably should have brought a hanky.

It’s just a road – a way to get from Point A to Point B. It’s a road I hope to travel often in the coming months – it’s the way to get to my alma mater, to visit friends in Indy, to get to Chicago.

I didn’t realize it also held that memory of driving to Fort Wayne to plan the funeral. It’s just a road. Except now it’s more than that.