In March, just seven months after our marriage, I finally found out why Rob’s behavior was so volatile and explosive. It was one evening when Rob’s 14 year old daughter, Kelly, was staying with us. She and Rob got in a huge fight and Kelly went to her room and slammed her door. I could hear her sobbing so I went upstairs and knocked. I asked her if I could come in and she said yes. I sat on her bed as she cried. When she composed herself, she started talking to me.
“I hate it when he’s drinking and he drinks every single day!” she was almost gasping for air she was crying so hard.
“What?” I said. “No, he doesn’t drink every day.” I clarified.
She looked at me like I was insane. “Yes he does, Liz. You don’t see it?”
I was shocked. I shook my head. What the hell was she talking about.
“Liz, he is at the BrewCo [Rob’s favorite drinking bar in our neighborhood] every day after work. You don’t know that? You can’t see it in his eyes?”
She was looking at me and I shook my head again. His eyes? The glassy, wild eyes… yes, I see them, I’ve noticed but I didn’t know why. So Rob was drinking every day after work? My head was working on overload. The room was spinning. I was trying to put the pieces together. No, this can’t be true. I had no idea.
Except that wasn’t entirely true. Flashback. Just weeks prior to our wedding, I came home one day and Rob was laughing. “Tina was just here!” he said (Tina was the ex-wife). “She was screaming in the street that she wanted to talk to you. Call her!”
“I’m not calling Tina,” I said. But after more from Rob, I finally did.
“You have no idea what you’re getting into,” Tina said. “Rob is an alcoholic. He drinks every day. I lived with it for 19 years.” What? No, alcoholics can’t hold jobs. They pass out in the front yard. Rob has a job, he functions just like everyone else. Impossible.
I blew her off. Rob explained it away. “She’s just jealous of us. She’s the one who went to AA for nine years. She’s the alcoholic. She just wants to destroy our happy relationship. She hates that I’ve moved on.” I believed him. After all, Rob was such a sweet, kind, honest, genuine guy and she was an evil, awful person, right? At least according to Honest Rob.
But now this from Kelly…
Rob came up to Kelly’s room. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Kelly looked at her dad with utter disgust. “If you drink again while I am on my weeks with you, I will never come here again,” she said. She was actually very composed when she said it but her rage and contempt was palpable. “If you love me and you want me to live with you, you will never drink in front of me again. It is me or alcohol.”
“Ok,” Rob said.
The next day, Rob took us all out to dinner—me, my eight year old daughter, and Kelly. When we got in the car and Rob drove us to the BrewCo. Not a good choice, I thought. We sat down for dinner and right there in front of us all, Rob ordered a beer. I almost fell out of my chair. Kelly acted normal. When we left and Rob and I were alone, I confronted him. “Why did you do that?” I asked.
“That will be the day I let a fourteen year old kid tell me what I can do!” he responded.
And that was that. Except a week later, the day before Kelly was to rotate back to our home for her week with us, Rob got a phone call. We were at a coffee shop waiting for our order when he answered. “”I’m not coming to your home tomorrow. I don’t want to live with you anymore. I want to live with mom.” A few weeks later, Rob got served with papers from Tina. She was asking for full custody of Kelly. She won—Rob’s custody went from 50-50 split to less than 9 percent. It was almost a year before Kelly spent a single night in our home, and it was many months before Kelly spoke to Rob at all.
Kelly aside, Rob and I were arguing all the time, with greater and greater frequency. I still wasn’t putting two and two together. Clueless and stupid, was I. All I knew was that I had never argued with any man like I argued with Rob. I had never witnessed such bizarre behavior. Try as I might, I was completely powerless in stopping our horrible fights. They would come out of nowhere and when I realized that the fight was coming quickly, there was nothing I could do to stop it. Not leaving the home, or the room, or fighting back, or trying to be funny or… nothing. Rob simply had to scream and scream and get that horrible tantrum out of his system and have a cooling off period before the apologies would begin. I started walking on eggshells, trying to find anything to avoid “triggers.” I chalked it up to stress, his job, our new home, terrible coping skills that he learned from his evil ex-wife.
One day, Rob and I got in a really big argument and I left the house and went to a park and went for a very long walk. I called my close friend, Shannon. I told her that my marriage was a mistake and that I never loved Rob. What do I now? I asked.
Rob called and I answered. “I am sorry,” he said. “I am an alcoholic. I need help. I’ve never told you that before and I should have. Tina hated it but I didn’t care because I never loved her. But I love you and I want to get well for you. I want to have our family together. I want us to be happy.”
My heart shattered and it all made sense. Finally, I realized that the horrible and explosive fights were all alcohol-fueled. Those glassy eyes, fidgety hands, and screaming? I thought about it. They all happened after Rob had been drinking, or perhaps needing a drink very badly. Rob was sick. I was fantastic at helping people. I felt a calling—a calling to get this sick man healthy. I would heal him.
I drove home and hugged him. I was on a mission. I downloaded AA meetings near us. The next day we went to an AA meeting together where he told the participants, “I am Rob and I’m an alcoholic.” I felt so proud of him. We went to several AA meetings that week together. He contacted our health insurance company and started attending their alcohol cessation classes. I felt love and compassion for him. I cooked for Rob and had dinner ready on the table when he got home a bit late from those AA meetings.
And one day, I got a phone call from his 16 year old daughter, Nicky. I was on my way home from work.
“Where is my dad tonight?” she asked.
“At an AA meeting. He’ll be home around seven o’clock,” I answered.
She almost laughed. “No he’s not. My friend just saw him pulling into the BrewCo.” (This was the first in several times Nicky ratted her dad out. Rob hated it. “She’s just manipulating you and deflecting that she’s the one with a lot of problems!” he’d yell.)
Surely she was wrong. I drove to the BrewCo. I didn’t see his car. I drove around the back of the building and, sure enough, there it was. I walked into the bar and he was sitting there talking to the bartender with a beer in front of him. He was rather surprised when he saw me.
“This is a non-alcoholic beer,” he said.
“Sure it is. I thought you were at an AA meeting. I hope that beer is worth your marriage. You are disgusting,” I said.
I walked out and drove home and started opening drawers looking for signs. In the garage freezer, there was a paper bag and inside of it was a bottle of vodka. And mini bottles of vodka in drawers in the garage. I started packing up a suitcase for him and when Rob got home, I simply said, “Get out.”
And he did. He went to his mother’s house for a week and he promised me that he was back on the wagon. This time it would be different. He got it this time. He was going to go back to therapy and would get help and be more committed than ever to his recovery. He moved home. And he started drinking again. And lying. And screaming. And abusing.
I was living in a nightmare. To a man I didn’t love. Who I grew to resent and loathe a bit more every day.
And that, my friends, is how I ended up in a marriage I didn’t want to be in, to a man I didn’t love, trying to heal a man who lied to me, screamed at me and, eventually, helped make me physically and emotionally sick. It’s been a horrible experience but somehow I survived it. The stories are sometimes funny, maddening, and helped shatter many lives. Understanding my past and trying to make sense of it has been an important part of my self discovery and path to healing.