Why I'm Not Walking Away From My Alcoholic Husband

One day at a time. One week at a time. One month, or one minute. The life of the spouse of an addict. He is going through his own recovery process and I am trying to go through mine. My name is “Anywoman,” and my husband is an alcoholic.

But what does this all really mean? He’s an addict. I got that loud and clear. But what does it mean? Why is he this way? What is he trying to bury with booze? Why can’t he stop? And for heaven’s sake, why do I feel like the one with the disease?

Yes, I call it a disease. It’s categorized as such by psychiatrists and doctors, whose scientific opinions I value over many of the know-it-all, self-righteous individuals I encounter. There is disagreement and skepticism about this, but it’s the only thing in this chaotic world I’ve found myself in that makes any sense. It’s the only answer I have. It didn’t answer the question I’ve asked a million times: “Why aren’t I enough?” No one could answer that question, not even my husband.

The drinking had nothing to do with me. Some alcoholics may try to blame others for their drinking, but it’s often just a deflection. The drinking has nothing to do with me. Or you. Even still, as his life spiraled out of control, as he hit his rock bottom, so did I. My life spun out of control too. He’s my husband. Our lives are linked. The anchor that pulled him down pulled me right along with it. So, why didn’t I release the chain?

I have the key. I can walk. I can just walk away. Except for that inconvenient thing called love. Love for this man. Except for those pesky things called vows. Promises I made to my husband in front of witnesses, and he to me. Sickness and health. Good times and bad. Those vows mean something to me.

“Why don’t you just leave him?” A question I’ve been asked by those same self-righteous individuals whose first response to a challenge is to walk away. Why is that the default? Why shouldn’t I do whatever I can to keep the promise I made? To leave no stone unturned in the search for a remedy? To go down fighting before I make the choice to walk away?

I chose to stay. I chose to fight because while my husband didn’t choose to be an addict, he chose to get the help he needed to recover and rebuild his life. Our life. It’s a choice he makes every day when he wakes up. The choice not to drink. The choice to value his health and our relationship over the alcohol. The alcohol that has been part of his life for as long as he can remember. His mother drank. His step-father drank. His friends, his cousins, his brothers… I could go on and on. Why would anyone think it’s easy to turn from something that has been a cornerstone of one’s life?

He chooses every day what kind of life he wants. So do I. I chose every day to trust. It isn’t easy to ignore the sly whisper in my head that insists I shouldn’t. Or the voices of the self-righteous. Those voices tend to shout. They want to shout you down. Shout down the hope, the optimism, the faith you have in this person you’ve made promises to. Shut you down in the name of their own limited experience and their “correct” view of the world. Because don’t you know? The self-righteous know better than you. Even those who have never had to make the decisions you’ve had to make. Even those who chose to walk as soon as life gets difficult.

They know better than you. You, who have cried tears of anguish. You, who sank to the floor and sobbed because this person you love, cherish, adore, has been drinking themselves to death and you can’t stop them. You, who have fought your way through panic attacks over the smallest of triggers. You, who have felt lost and alone because those self-righteous swore to offer you support and comfort, but instead offered judgment and condemnation. Because they know best and you aren’t worth that support if you don’t choose right. Right for them, of course.

Right for them, because they can’t see past their own story. Their own lives, their own decisions, beliefs and convictions, to offer compassion and empathy to others. Didn’t you know? The self-righteous only offer compassion if you choose their path. They don’t know it, but the self-righteous are living in a delusion. You can’t choose their path. You can only choose your own.

Your path, your life, your journey. The twists and turns, droughts, blizzards, hurricanes — they are all part of your journey. Only you can choose, because at the end of the day you are the only one who will have to handle the consequences.

I chose to stay. I chose to face the daily struggles, tears, frustrations, depression, anxiety. Why? Because tying all of these together is hope. Hope that my husband will continue to remain sober. Hope that we will heal. Hope that our relationship will heal. Without hope, I wouldn’t be able to manage everything else.

With each day of hope, we take a step together. With each hug, each smile, each morning greeting and each kiss goodnight, we hope together. Together, we drown out the shouts. Together, we quiet the whispers. Together, we move forward. Together, we choose. Together.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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