Nobody wants to talk about living with an alcoholic. You won’t find gauzy-filtered Instagram photos of any aspect of life with an alcoholic partner, because aside from those few moments that keep you hanging on, it’s not a pretty picture. It’s a gritty existence, where you’re lonely and misunderstood, desperate and angry, but so filled with love and hope that you try to see beyond all that to the life you just know you could have, if only some kind of switch would flip. It’s constantly searching for that switch in a dark room, because you believe with all your heart that it’s got to be there somewhere.
It’s never being able to truly relax, because even when your alcoholic is home and present, you never know when the siren call of a stiff drink will lead him away again. You feel like you have to keep him entertained, make it worth his while to stay home and stay sober. You’re afraid that sitting on the couch watching TV like normal people won’t be engaging enough, and he’ll turn to alcohol to fix his boredom … just like he turns to it to fix everything else. It’s the pressure of wanting to make everything as perfect and even-keeled as possible, so there won’t be a “reason” to drink, even though you know deep down he doesn’t really need a reason. That’s not the way this works.
It’s the strange combination of heart-thumping anxiety and the weight of exhaustion on those nights when he’s out, again, and you don’t know where he is or when he’ll be home because alcoholics don’t usually divulge those details. No matter how many times you hit redial on your phone, it goes straight to voicemail. It’s calling him time after time anyway, just because it gives you something to keep yourself semi-occupied.
It’s your brain flying through a million painful scenarios: is he cheating, is he in jail, is he behind the wheel of a car he’s in no condition to drive, risking his life and everyone else’s? The only sleep you get is the kind that comes involuntarily, forced by sheer fatigue, when your body nods off because it has no choice. But then your mind jerks you awake, like a tug of war, as it presents you with yet another shattering possibility, so you pick up your phone, look for a missed call that hasn’t come, and hit redial again. It’s a vicious, painful cycle.
It’s the worry of what it’ll be like when and if he does come home safely. The only thing you’re sure of is that he’ll fill up the room with the smell of alcohol, on his breath, exuding from his pores. Other than that, you never know if he’ll be apologetic or argumentative. And what do you say to him when he finally staggers through the door? You have to let him know this behavior isn’t acceptable, you want to show him how much it’s tearing you apart, but how? You’ve tried rational explanations, and tears, and cold shoulders, and screaming at the top of your lungs, and threats to pack up your shit or his shit and call it quits. Yet here you are. Because you love him too much to walk away, and he knows this is the case, otherwise you’d have been gone long ago. But you just can’t bear to think about what his life would be like if you weren’t around to keep holding the pieces together.
It’s keeping a tight budget because he tends to overspend on his habits, especially when he’s drunk, so you clip coupons, and buy on sale, and put off the bills that can be put off, and stash stray dollars here and there just in case. In case of what? You’re not sure. You tell yourself that it’s for an emergency bill, or heaven forbid, bail money … but you know deep down that, at least in part, you keep it in case you ever get the courage to leave.
It’s knowing with every fiber of your being that everything about this lifestyle is all wrong, and the festering resentment you feel because you’re living it. The sleepless nights. The constant apprehension. The relentless struggle to keep everything balanced, to keep your boat upright while he’s doing his best to capsize it. The fight to stay one step ahead. The helplessness. The invisible shackles of love and loyalty that hold you in place, the fear that you’re wasting your life like this, overshadowed by the feeling that you can’t leave.
It’s the fact that you didn’t ask for any of this, mixed with the strange reality that you’re the one accepting it. The loneliness of being half of a couple, but not a partnership, and of being isolated from your friends because you can’t bear to hear again why you “just need to leave his ass.” Like it’s as simple as walking out the door. They don’t understand, and they never will.
It’s the frustration of knowing that this is a life-threatening disease, but unlike cancer, its side effects are deception and lost trust and the crumbling of family units. It’s the deep sadness of watching someone you love waste away, and the profound grief of knowing your love isn’t enough to fix anything, because you can’t help someone who won’t help himself.
It’s catching sober glimpses of the person you love, the life you wanted, and knowing that neither of those things are there to stay; they’re just the dangling carrot that keeps you holding onto hope. Addiction is an evil beast.
It’s the perpetual question of whether hanging in there means you’re strong or just stupid. And you never have an answer, but you suspect it’s probably a little bit of both. You’re just not ready to let go yet.