It is literally impossible to understate the insanity that life becomes when married to an alcoholic. For me, fights came out of nowhere. Huge, enormous, mind bogging arguments over big things, small things, nothing… It didn’t matter. When my husband, Rob, had a drink or needed to have a drink, it manifested itself in one of two ways: 1) giddy happiness and excitement (typically if we were on vacation or doing something really super fun); or 2) evil anger that had to be taken out on someone– and that someone was me. It didn’t matter if I left the room, fought back, tried to reason it away, argue it with something rational, be nicer, try to be funny… nothing. Life was scary and volatile. I tried everything– setting boundaries, fighting back, going silent, trying to be more perfect and loving and happy and funny, making myself scarce, being more sympathetic or less sympathetc. I read books on coping skills, attended Alanon several times a week for years, went to therapy and Kaiser Permanente-sponsored support groups. None of it worked. And there would be periods of time where things were “good” between Rob and me, usually after a huge argument and Rob had time to calm down and be apologetic and contrite, filled with new promises that he would never do something that terrible again. And when that happened, the relief and dread I felt simultaneously was weird and bizarre (and, in hindset, incredibly damaging to my physical and emotional health). I’d sit in Rob’s lap while we watched TV, or be extra affectionate, feeling relief and hope, yet always wondering when things would change and be awful again. And one thing I new with total certainty: that would happen. And it would come with no warning at all– sometimes a few days later, or a few weeks, or even a few months. And when those arguments began, it would start with crazed eyes and fidgety hands and quickly progress to frightening and explosive rage. At that point, nothing I could do would prevent what was coming. I would just have to let the whole entire Rob Screaming Temper Tantrum play itself out. Life was a volatile Hell of epic proportions.
When these horrible tantrums errupted, I kept my mouth shut and walked away. Arguing with someone who is literally out of his mind is a futile attempt and I knew better. But sometimes, I was incapable of taking the verbal abuse in silence. Sometimes I fought back. And here is a classic example– the story of (perhaps) our biggest fight ever.
On Sunday evenings, if we were in town, Rob and I often hosted dinner parties. This particular Sunday was one of them. I had spent the better part of the weekend prepping for our Sunday dinner– making deserts, appetizers, breads, and marinades for Sunday, all by scratch. We invited the Mormon missionaries, his two older daughters Kelly and Nicky, his mother, his brother and wife, the next door neighbors, Rob’s diving buddy and his wife, and my friend Deena and the twins (Deena is the sister of my friend, Lisa, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 38; she left four children behind and Deena took custody of all four children). It was Sunday afternoon and I was at the kitchen sink cutting up vegetables and Rob was sitting on the couch with a “soda” (which had lots of alcohol in it, though I wasn’t supposed to “notice”). He was wearing shorts but his legs were propped up and I could see his underwear. I mean, the whole vision of me working while he drank on the couch looking “like that” was just hideous. We were talking about where we should go on vacation next. I mentioned Europe and Bob wanted Alaska. I kid you not, that’s what started this fight.
Out of nowhere, Rob’s screeching high pitched scream boomed out. “You’re so selfish! We never go anywhere I want to go!” (I can’t add enough exclamation points here to get the point across of Rob’s decibel level, but you get the picture. It made the windows shake.) My heart was pounding. Oh no, here it comes.
“Rob, why are you screaming at me I am standing right here. I can hear you,” I said slowly.
“You never listen to me!” he screamed.
“Rob, we are talking about vacation. This should be a happy topic,” I started talking to him like one would talk to a five year old. Stay calm, I told myself.
“Fine! I’m leaving! You can have your stupid dinner party all by yourself. I’m going to Anaheim.” Rob was on a work assignment that had him in Anaheim Monday-Thursday. He usually left on Monday mornings but now, after a weekend of me prepping for a dinner party, he decided he wanted to leave? That was the final straw. My resolve to stay calm vanished. Honestly, I started to panic.
“You are not leaving me to manage a dinner party alone- most of which are your friends and family,” I said. I didn’t know how I could do the party alone and I didn’t know what I would tell everyone. It would be so embarrassing and I tried so hard to portray this (false) image of our family and marriage. I had to do something fast. I went into our bedroom and grabbed his laptop and ran outside with Bob chasing me. I walked out onto the diving board and held his laptop over the pool. “If you come close to me, I’ll drop your laptop into the pool. Try it,” I challenged him. This whole scene would have looked really comical if anyone had been able to record it.
“Don’t do anything to my laptop. Oh my God,” Bob was distressed, running his hands through his hair. “Please. I have so many work things on there that can’t be duplicated.” For once, he was contrite and humble. Drunk asshole, I was thinking. Wow, this kind of power isn’t something I normally felt. It was kind of nice. I was in the driver’s seat. Yay for me!
“After the dinner party, you can leave and never come back. Until then, I’m keeping your laptop and you can have it back when it’s over. Then you can get the fuck out of here and stay gone,” I said. I ignored Rob completely. I utterly hated him. He was a fat disgusting pathetic drunk and I loathed him. The dinner party couldn’t end fast enough.
I did the dishes while Rob packed up for the week. Lord knows Rob would never put a dish away. At this time, everyone had left except the twins. Deena had left them in our home for a few hours while she ran errands. I gave Rob his laptop back. “Here you go, now leave, asshole,” I said. Rob’s response was to grab the back of my head and kiss me hard. I pulled away from him. “Don’t touch me!” I said. He did it again, this time harder. I hardly remember doing this but I know I grabbed the side of this mouth and shoved him away from me. “Get away from me!” I said. The next thing I knew, Rob picked up the phone and called 911. “You cut me!” Bob screamed at me while he called the police. “I’m bleeding!” I looked at him. There was a small scratch to the side of his mouth. I wanted to be sick.
“Please don’t call the police,” I pleaded. “Morgan is afraid of police. Please. You grabbed my head. You kissed me. You wouldn’t leave me alone. Please. Oh my gosh. I’m sorry. Please just go to Anaheim.” Rob went into the garage and finished the call. I sat outside and waited, shaking. The kids were all up in the loft playing and watching TV so they saw none of this.
The police arrived. One officer went to talk to Rob while the other talked to me. I thought for sure I would soon be heading to the police station. one talking to me and the other to Rob. Soon, a decision was made. One of the officers said: “Rob admits that he has been drinking today. He is ok to drive now. Actually, because he grabbed you after you told him not to, you can press charges and we can arrest him. But if you’re ok with it, we can wait here while he leaves tonight.” Yes, that is what I picked. I didn’t want anyone going to jail. I just wanted him gone. The officer was so kind to me. “I lived in an alcoholic home. You really need to consider leaving him,” he said. Yes, I needed to leave him.
In the midst of all of this, Deena showed up to pick up the twins. With the police cars in the front of the home. Holy hell, I wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there forever. I was so embarassed. At this point, the kids had come down from the loft and noticed the police. Deena and Taylor (Taylor is Lisa’s oldest daughter who also lived with Deena) distracted the kids in the living room until Rob and the police left. Then she pulled me aside in my bedroom. “Are you ok?” she asked. For the first time, I started crying. “Yes. I don’t know what to say. Rob is an alcoholic.” It was the first time I told anyone this bit of news. It sounded so strange coming out of my mouth. Weird. Liberating? A relief? Maybe.
“Lisa lived with this. Robert did all of this to her, too,” Deena said. Yes, Lisa was married to Robert, a drug addict and his behavior was well known by everyone in the town we grew up in. After Deena and the twins left and I got the children in bed, I called my best friend, Julie, and told her what happened. It was the first time I told her about the hell I was living in. It felt good to start confiding in a few close friends. Over the next few days, I refused to have any contact with Rob despite is apologetic emails, texts and voicemail messages. I didn’t respond to any of them. Rob’s mother finally called me and I spoke with her. She told me that she would encourage Rob to get help. She understood he had a terrible problem and he had it for years. She confided to me that her step dad had been an alcoholic and how horrible it was. She sent out an email to her three children and their spouses about the evils of addiction. Rob started going back to AA but that didn’t last more than a few days.
And me? I spent a few more years living in the cesspool of alcoholism and abuse while I went to more therapy, read more books, and prayed a lot– all to no avail.