This is what hitting rock bottom might look like when you are married to an addict. Because an addict will never start the long, painful, lonely journey to health without hitting bottom first. When I thought I saw my now-ex hit rock bottom a few times during our marriage, when things got so unspeakably horrible between us, I thought, FINALLY, he’ll start turning his life around! I was wrong, it was all a ruse, lack of will power, lies, you name it. But sometimes, you hear stories from others and you think, “Now how does it get worse than this?” And when it really can’t, and there is nowhere left to go, the addict begins doing something different because life has truly become unsustainable for them and everyone else.
Such is the story of my friends “Wilma” and “Barney”, who I knew way back from our college days together. They were young and in love and I saw love and adoration in Wilma’s eyes every time she gazed at Barney. She acquiesced to everything he wanted and simply adored (even worshiped him). I knew they were destined for marriage and just days after they both graduated from college with degrees in hand, they had a big huge elaborate wedding and three adorable little boys, one after the next. They bought a house with a pool out in the Southern California suburbs. Wilma started a pretty successful homebased business while Barney found a solid job in Corporate America. They got a dog, Joe, a big huge golden retriever, and two cats, Fluffers and Buttercup, that sat on Joe’s back and gave him endless back massages. They were a sweet family and it was fun to go hang out over there. They were achieving the perfect American dream: frequent get-away cruises from the nearby terminals in Long Beach, family parties at their house, nice cars, cute boys, and a boat to go fishing in–quite the enviable life, right?
Barney started drinking with guys at work—they had a lot of privacy on the docks and many were also dabbling in drugs. To our knowledge, Barney didn’t do drugs but he loved his beer. Lots of it. And on his way home, the co-workers stopped for happy hours. And by the time Barney did make it home, he was stumbling, mumbling drunk. Wilma was sick with worry. He was going to get arrested. Worse yet, he was going to kill someone while drinking and barely able to get out of his car by the time he made it home. Wilma considered calling the police to report his drunk driving but she was frozen in fear. In California, it was a mandatory find, huge increase to get car insurance, and time spent in the slammer. He could get fired. They could get sued. She was numb, hopeless and beginning to feel that horrible emotion- contempt. And rage. And revulsion.
“He has gained so much weight that I don’t even want him to touch me anymore,” Wilma confessed on a very rare occasion. Usually, she kept her shame surrounding her life of hell quiet, playing along with the sweet image they had concocted about their (less than perfect) marriage. Plus, she watched a man she nearly worshiped become mean, violent and unpredictable. He never resorted to hitting her or the children but he punched holes in the walls he didn’t remember. He would wake up in the mornings passed out drunk near their diving board (Isn’t this awful? I wished that I had just found him floating in the pool. I could be a good widow, she confided one desperate day. My gosh, I felt her pain, I often thought the same of my ex.). One day, Wilma found Barney passed out on a raft in the pool. Dangerous. But was really scared her was one night when he drank an excessive amount of alcohol and was in the throws of an alcoholic blackout. She tried to revive her drunk husband off of the couch. Opening one eye, he said, “I sometimes dream of wrapping my hands around your neck and squeezing your throat until I hear bones pop.”
She was terrified, went back to their bedroom, locked the door, and pushed up chairs behind it, shaking. For her, the marriage was over. It took him days to sober up and when she reminded him of his threats, he didn’t even remember them. He expected life to continue pre incident but for Wilma, it was impossible. She moved into the lower bunk of her son’s room where she stayed.
“Why don’t you leave him?” I asked at a girl’s retreat lunch one afternoon.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We have a home, kids, my business is there. I’m stuck.”
“But what about your sanity and peace, and finding love again?” I asked.
Knowing a bit about my own personal hell, she asked me the same. “So why haven’t you left Drunk Rob yet?” Touche. Why was I sticking around? I couldn’t come up with very good answers either—laziness, hope, a home we owned together, exhaustion…
But bottoming out for Barney was soon to come. One afternoon, Wilma took their younger son to a baseball game, leaving Barney home alone. It didn’t take long before Wilma realized that she left the tickets in the glovebox of Barney’s car so she turned back, opened the garage door, and there was her drunk husband, with pornography streaming on their ginormous TV screen that was in the garage, masturbating, with a huge Jack Daniels bottle in front of him that he was working through. Wilma attempted to cover their 10-year old son’s eyes but it was too late. The porn images, his dad fondling himself, total unawareness of his surroundings. Junior started sobbing. “What is he doing?” he screamed out. Wilma closed the garage door as quickly as possible, went in trough the kitchen to retrieve the tickets, screamed some obscenities at her husband, and left with him barely making more than a moaning sound.
That evening, when Barney had slightly sobered, she finally told him how she really felt. She hated him. She never wanted him to touch her again, and he made her physically ill. The marriage was over.
At last, Barney had some very tough decisions to make. He detoxed on his own for a week in their bathroom. Apparently, it was lonely and ugly and horrific. He called out to his son one afternoon to get his mother. Wilma refused but finally gave in.
“I’m sorry, I’m going to get well,” he said through sweat and horrible shakes. He went on a 30-day medical leave at work and entered Alcoholics Anonymous. He swapped alcohol for Diet Dr Pepper (“I pick my poison now; it’s not the best swap but after a six pack, I have no desire to hurt my wife or kids,” he says). It’s been three years and he has stayed sober. He hits up AA meetings almost daily, sometimes twice per day. He leans heavily on his sponsor. Their AA group gets together for socials and have potlucks; sometimes Wilma joins them. Even on vacations, Barney finds meetings and attends them religiously. He’s back to being the nice guy that I once remember. He is present, “in the moment” again, and his wicked sense of humor is back. I’m not sure Wilma will ever feel the same way about Barney that she once did but they are repairing, healing and moving forward.
So while kicking an addiction is nearly impossible, it can and does happen. Is there hope for you and your guy? Only you can know when that rock bottom has been reached, if it ever is. And then some meaningful changes can happen.