I’ve written about life with my ex-husband, Rob the Great (Alcoholic) often. A quick recap: he was a functioning alcoholic who was incredibly explosive and abusive. I put up with his inexcusable behavior as long as I could until I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a blood cancer). Just days later, I packed up the car, children and cat and moved from San Diego (I went on disability with my employer) to Utah and into my parents’ basement so I could enter treatment. It was quite a dramatic exit, filled with horror. On my way out, Rob threatened to cancel my health insurance if I didn’t get my ass home. He accused me of faking my diagnosis, and of being a liar and much more.
In the beginning…
During the time I was married to Rob, he was awesome to my family and friends. He was energetic, fun, outgoing and a fabulous host. You see, when Rob has an audience, he becomes a happy drunk. And, in fact, if you do not know the signs to look for (glassy eyes, mint in his mouth, extra high falsetto voice, slurred speech), you would not know he was drinking at all. You would just think he fun and awesome. When my parents came to visit, he was in extra amazing form– always with plans to have fun, go boating, go out to eat, throw a dinner party, or drive over the border to Tijuana for lobster.
When my parents went home from their frequent visits, I called my mom almost every day as I was driving home from work, oftentimes to vent about Rob’s horrible behavior and our most recent absurd and ridiculous fights. Trust me, fighting with Rob the Great (Alcoholic) after he’s had a few drinks (or wants to drink) is something that must be seen to be believed. It is something straight out of a movie: bizarre, over-the-top, and frightening. My mom would be horrified. She had never seen his behavior like that.
Or did she?
She has shared with me some of the odd behavior she witnessed. Small strange patterns but, knowing what she knew, they were still signs of trouble. They included:
- How he could sit on the couch watching TV while I cooked and cleaned and worked like a mule
- How he could come home from work so early and still maintain a job (he was often home, already drunk, by 3PM or even earlier)
- His constant hand-wringing when he was trying to gather the family to go out and do something fun
- His high-pitched voice (which got higher the more he drank)
- His agitation when there was nothing fun on the agenda
- How he could sometimes go to bed (i.e. “pass out”) so early
- His nearly total lack of doing any true work around the house, like take out trash, walk the dogs, or put a dish away
- Why he seemed to need so much sleep
- His constant, insatiable desire to find something to do and near panic when he couldn’t
- How quickly he could become agitated (like one time when I had accidentally cancelled a massage appointment and he would not stop badgering me)
But her last conversation with Rob took the cake. She was describing it last night and it brought back such horrible memories.
That fateful, awful day
The day was Monday, January 2. We had just returned to our San Diego home after our holiday trip to Utah. During that trip, I had received a phone call from my doctor that he had noticed alarming abnormalities in my blood work and I needed to have some major tests when I got back. That day, while Rob went out to the bars and got smashing drunk, I was at Kaiser hospital getting tons of labs drawn, picking up a 24-hour urine collection kit, and getting a bone scan. When I arrived for Xrays, the tech told me that they thought I had cancer. I nearly fell apart. I got home, wanting to throw up. Rob eventually arrived, glassy-eyed and angry, screaming at me so loudly that he was literally spitting in my face. When I told him that they thought I had cancer, he screamed at me even more, pounding his fists on the kitchen table, and in a shrill voice (and in an high octave that only Drunk Rob can achieve), he accused me of being a liar and drama queen.
I called my parents nearly hysterical. I literally did not know what to do. My mom asked to speak to Rob. “Please,” she pleaded. “She is terrified. These are scary times. I know you can calm her and support her– I’ve seen you do it.” She said she was almost begging. You can only imagine how you would be feeling if this were your daughter and she were some 12-hours away from you, receiving alarming health news, and hearing her husband screaming at her. How desperate and awful would you, as a mother, be? As my mom was sharing her memories of that awful phone call last night, we both started crying. It was so horrible, there is no adequate way to describe it. And neither of us will ever be able to forget it, to drown out permanently that horrific day.
“I will!” shouted Rob, full of drunk bravado. “I am taking care of the kids, I’ll pick them up, take them to dinner. Yes I will!” he screamed. It was all I could do not to fly across the room and choke him.
Rob handed back the phone to me and I went into the back part of our home.
“Is this the way he speaks to you?” my dad said, horrified.
“Yes.” I was sobbing. My parents could hear Rob continuing to scream about how he was such a great guy and I was worthless, stupid, and nothing but drama.
My mom told me that she had never felt so helpless and desperate as a mother than that day. What to do? Should she call Margaret, Rob’s mother, and beg her to step in? The police? Who? They were so far away and their daughter was crumbling. They had almost never heard me sob. I tear up and cry a bit but I rarely sob and yet there I was, sobbing uncontrollably. I might have cancer. I might be dying. And I could process nothing because I could not get past Rob’s screaming in the living room.
“We are leaving tonight. We will be there by noon tomorrow,” my dad said. “We are bringing you to Utah.”
And there I was– always an empowered, strong, independent woman, being rescued by my parents. I had no energy left. I could do no more. I was desperate and scared and I had nowhere to turn. I had gone from “girl who seemed to have it all” to absolute nothing. I wanted to crawl into a ball and let my parents take over. And I was 44 years old and at the lowest point of my entire life. And you know what? I did not care. I needed help, I could no longer pretend to do it alone. I was nothing.
The conversation that my mother had with my then-husband is something no parent should ever have. As a mother myself, I cannot fathom how or what I would do. Hunt my daughter’s husband down and… what? But I hope and pray none of us need experience that because it is a horror that is indescribable.
I am so blessed that I had amazing parents who were able and willing to step in. I know that I will do the same should the need (God forbid) ever arise.
I cannot even imagine the horror, for you and your parents. Thank goodness you escaped. I have 2 sisters who were involved in slightly abusive relationships as teens. Luckily, they got out of them. My husband and I have talked to our teenage daughter multiple times about abusive men. That scene from “The Bucket List” about the dad hiring someone to mess up his son-in-law comes to mind. I actually know a man who did that. Hell hath no fury like a parent whose child is being mistreated. Onward and upward.
Lizzy Smith says
Thank you for your comment! I can’t imagine having a conversation like that with my daughters’ partners either– especially if I was so far away at that moment and unable to do a thing about it. What do we, as parents, do if we are in that situation? I think about that every so often. Calling his mother wasn’t an option. She actually defends his behavior. (I know, shocking, isn’t it.) Calling the police? (I actually did that after I got off the phone with my parents. I had him removed from the home and it was the last day I spent with him.) Rush to my side? That is what they did– they got in the car hours later and started driving, sick and worried and desperate. And I was alone, trying to get the kids off to school, trying to act normal, terrified of the cancer diagnosis that I knew was coming, I just hoped and prayed it wasn’t one of the really “bad” cancers. I look back and still wonder, What the Hell!?! How is anyone that evil? Well, I’ll tell you how– alcohol or drug addiction. Or maybe some very serious mental illness. I will never stop talking or telling my story. As horrible as it is, I am not alone in my suffering and the more I connect and heop others, good!