I am often asked why I stayed in a terrible marriage so long. I had a great job, made good money, and seemed strong and independent. Perhaps this story will help answer that.
Not long ago, I had a dream nightmare. You know when you have a dream that feels so real that it takes hours to shake off the feelings it conjures up? Yep, that was this one. Ruined my morning. No amount of Bikram yoga or massages could help.
I was back in my old life, living in the home I purchased with my ex-husband, Rob the Great (Alcoholic). In the nightmare, there I was, waking up in my old bed in our master bedroom. Rob was gone (probably on his work assignment- which, truth be told, entailed a few hours at work and lots of hours pounding beers with his work pals and contractors).
Anyhooo, in my dream, I started off my typical morning, frantic with the enormous things I had to do that day. I scrambled out of bed, put on shoes and walked the two dogs as they pulled me up and down hills. I fed them. I took a shower. Then realized Rob’s oldest daughter hadn’t come home (again) so I texted Rob to let him know. Hoping she wasn’t in a ditch. Not sure why I bothered because Rob certainly didn’t seem to care. I dried my hair, put on makeup, got dressed, woke up the children, fed them breakfast, helped them get dressed, made their lunches, reminded them to brush teeth, did something with Siena’s hair, got them all in the car and dropped the girls off at school, and made a phone call to my BFF Julie on my way to work to tell her about the latest drunken fight that I had with Rob.
I got to work, read a few hateful texts from Rob about how he was such a great drunk guy and I needed to appreciate him more then everything would be just fine. I then started my day at work.
After work, I drove home, picked up the girls, got home, walked the dogs, fed the dogs and made sure they had water, fed the girls, changed clothes, started a load of laundry, helped Morgan with homework, gave Siena a bath and wash and dried her hair, did the dishes, put laundry away, ran a few contracts for our vacation home, paid bills, reconciled the checking account (after having a heart attack that there was almost no money left in the account even though, together, Rob and I earned a substantial income) because child support and alimony just almost doubled after his younger daughter refused to live with Rob on rotation because he was still drinking uncontrollably. I then put Siena to bed and read her a story, tucked Morgan into bed, and then went on Craigslist to run ads for our vacation rental to keep those renters coming. If I had any energy left, I cleaned the house, took out the trash, and perhaps tried to calm down while taking a hot bath before crawling into bed around midnight.
Sounds great? It wasn’t. This was me.
And that’s when I woke up from my dream nightmare. Eyes huge, heart pounding, ready to jump out of bed and rush around while wondering how many hours it would take for Rob to start another screaming fit at me because he was drunk or desperately in need of a drink.
And then I realized that I don’t live with him anymore. He can’t scream at me anymore. And I tried to calm down and go back to sleep. Thank goodness. Relief. Phew
In real life, however, my typical days got a lot “better” as the week progressed. When Rob came home from his work assignment (usually on Thursdays), I would beat him home because he had to stop off at the his favorite bar for a few beers so he was suitably ready to scream at me when he did get home. One such event comes to memory. I was sitting at the table with Morgan doing homework. Rob came home, as usual, drunk. I could tell from that glassy look in his eyes and the mint in his mouth (his younger daughter clued me in on those signs). He was agitated, wringing his hands (classic telltale example of alcoholism) and his voice was high pitched and loud. I knew right away he was on the verge of a screaming fit. That horrible awful pitching scream that is impossible to describe.
Rob slammed his hand on the table. “You’re not fun!” he accused me again and again. Truth is, I was really unfun when married to him because, well, life was really not fun with him (for me, anyway). The more he screamed at me, the more I realized how volatile life was with this man, the more really boring I became. I walked on eggshells as I tried to avoid anything that could cause Rob to become Mean Evil Drunk. Not that it mattered. Nothing I did could avoid his awful screaming drunk temper tantrums. And this night was no exception.
“Hey, Morgan, wouldn’t you love to have fun with your dad instead of doing this?” By “this”, Bob meant homework. In my mind, I was thinking, “Sure, Rob the Great (Alcoholic), only you would think it wise to teach a child that “fun” should take precedence over homework. But, hey, when your whole life is governed by the pleasure principle, fun comes first. Always.
Morgan didn’t know what to say. “Um, sure, I guess.”
Rob slammed his hands on the table again and tried to get in my face. I refused to look at him. “It’s ok,” I said to Morgan softly. “Just ignore it.”
We got back to homework and the more we ignored Rob, the angrier he got. “Hey! Morgan, wouldn’t you like to spend time with your dad now?”
Morgan was silent. Even a kid knows that it’s pointless to argue with a drunk. I picked up her books and said softly, “Come on, Morgan, let’s go in the dining room.” We both got up and switched tables. Not to be deterred, Rob followed us, still screaming at me with more insults about how boring I was. Morgan and I got up again and went to her bedroom and shut the door. At this time, Morgan was crying. “Why is he doing this?” she asked.
I finally said, “Because Daddy is sick. He is an alcoholic. And he is drunk.”
“Why doesn’t he quit drinking?” she asked, shaking.
“Because he can’t. Because he doesn’t want to. Because he likes to drink.”
Except when Bob and I went to his alcohol counselor a few days later, Bob told her that drinking was actually a very lonely thing for him. He felt sad and depressed when he drank. And he felt desperate when he wasn’t drinking. He admitted that either drinking or wanting to drink was something he thought about every day. All day, every moment. And it controlled his behavior. It was so sadly pathetic. I actually wanted to cry and hug him. And that, my dear friends, is one of the main reasons I stayed. Because I felt so sorry for him and I thought that he might actually get well and I had faith and hope that he would. And it was all an exercise in futility. And it destroyed me mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Until I fled just days after getting diagnosed with cancer. I literally had nothing left to give my marriage or Rob. Shame it took something that terrible to force me out of a terrible, abusive and damaging situation.
When others ask me why I stayed so long, well, there’s one of the answers: pity.