My ex husband is an alcoholic. A highly functioning alcoholic who could hold down a job (barely) but hit the bars the second he could. Truth is, he works for a public utility and (no offense to you utility workers who are really amazing employees), as such, he did not need to produce and compete in the same way one must if you are working for a small business or large corporation. (There is no competition for public utilities and employees can get away with producing almost nothing and not get fired. That is the truth.) Because by noon on many days, Rob was already sitting in a bar getting wasted off his ass, oftentimes going to sleep (i.e. passing out) by early evening. Very few employers would ever put up with that but at the utility, his bosses didn’t even notice. I did and it was positively stunning that he managed not to find himself on the unemployment roles. So I use the words “highly functioning alcoholic” loosely.
After five years of living a life a total chaos, lies and volatility (get drunk, scream and throw temper tantrums, apologize profusely and promise to enter treatment, enter treatment but not really be at AA meetings and instead be drinking again and lying about it, repeat), I finally left just days after getting diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer (Tom Brokaw has this disease, so does the actor Mat Damon’s father). Actually, I fled this abusive monster on the Saturday of MLK weekend and moved to Utah. I had thrown clothes into trash bags, put the cat in a carrier, and drove off. And as I drove towards Utah, I received text after text from Rob. They varied from “I love you, come back, I’m so sorry” to “you’re a lying bitch.” It was truly bizarre and unbelievable. I couldn’t get away from him fast enough. In fact, just days after I left, he sent me an email stating that he got on Antibuse (a prescription that makes an alcoholic really sick if they come in contact with alcohol) and that prior to getting the prescription, they had to check his liver function. He told me he had a PERFECT liver! I wanted to throw up. One of the main effects of my disease was that it attacked one’s liver and many with my disease first presented with complete liver failure. It was so incredibly inappropriate that it made my head spin. But that’s Rob for ya.
What really confused me, however, was that Rob’s family was silent. Well, Kellie, his younger daughter from his first marriage, called and texted me to see if I was OK. Kellie and I had a rough start in our relationship but she had ended up being a close friend and confidante. It was a relief to learn from her that Rob’s abusive behavior wasn’t just reserved for me– he had done it to her mother as far back as she can remember. But, I kept wondering, why was not a single person from Rob’s family calling or texting me at all?
And then I got “the call”. I won’t betray confidences or throw anyone under the bus so let’s suffice it to say this: The person who called me was one of Rob’s adult family members (not the children). The phone conversation was basically to relay this: Rob had emailed his entire family telling them not to have any contact with me. He went further by telling them that he wanted letters from them saying anything awful they could about me so he could present it to a judge when the time came (oh, if he had really done this, I can imagine what a judge would have thought. This kind of stuff made me more determined than ever to fight.). This family member said that their family always stuck up for each other and that is why no one would contact me but that they all realized Rob was sick, that he needed help, and that what he had done to the kids and me was wrong. This person also said that Rob had promised (again) to enter treatment for his alcoholism but instead was busy trying to find a new girlfriend. In fact, he had contacted one of his brother’s friends trying to arrange a date the weekend I left him. (Rob had also contacted his brother asking if he could move in with them but that no one in that home wanted him there because Rob too often snuck into their liquor supply in the middle of the night.) This family member said that they were all stunned with Rob’s rush back into another relationship. He had done this after he and his ex wife, Tina, split– dating way too soon instead of taking time to heal. And he was repeating it. They all recognized Rob needed a lot of help and therapy and time, but they all realized, too, that Rob was incapable of doing that. (I have to say, when I learned that Rob had emailed Tina just weeks prior to our meeting telling her how sorry he was for how he treated her, I was sick. I felt so stupid that he had been trying to repair things with Tina just weeks before he pursued me with a vengeance. It made me feel so stupid and used. And Rob did this again with the new honey. If I were her, I’d feel like an idiot, too.)
…And then I got to thinking: Is remaining silent the right approach to take when you know a member or your family needs serious help? If your son or brother was sick, wouldn’t you try an intervention? How many times had I called his mom and discussed Rob’s problems with her. She tried the soft approach with Rob– setting up appointments with her priest, asking him how therapy was going, calling me at work asking me if I would take her son back if he got help… But no serious intervention, which Rob desperately needed. Maybe if that had happened, Rob wouldn’t have destroyed two families.
So as I ponder the Rob the Great (Alcoholic), I wonder how much of his abusive behavior and destruction could have been prevented. Did someone in his family owe it to me to warn me that Rob was an alcoholic? Would I have listened? The only one who tried to warn me was Tina, his ex wife, but when she did, it was too late– we were just days away from our wedding. Rob was great at hiding his disease. He lied to me. He deceived me. He was abusive. His behavior was ridiculous. And I, stupidly, believed that the ex wife was crazy, mean and just trying to destroy our happy home. I will never, ever get in the middle of my guy and his ex again. Like, EVER.
I’ll never forget an email that Tina sent Rob’s family a few months after Rob and I got married. In the letter, she was trying to set the record straight and defend herself against the lies that Rob told everyone about her. I will never forget one sentence she wrote:
“I prayed every single day that things would get better with Rob and they never did,” Tina wrote.
That sentence sent chills up and down my spine and throughout our entire chaotic relationship, this sentence replayed in my head over and over and over again. I did the same. I prayed every day that Rob would change, that things would get better, and they never did. They couldn’t. He was an alcoholic and without serious help, it only gets worse.