by Don Prince
We never think about the harm and hurt we are causing others when our selfish thinking and actions take over our lives. I know this was true for me, and many other men and women that I talked to or have aided in getting the help that they need and deserve. Our wives, husbands, children, siblings and friends are all innocent bystanders of our behaviors in one way or another.
I’ve written a few articles for publications both locally and nationally. Most have been about my personal experience with addiction and my journey to recovery and a new fulfilling and productive life. What I have not talked about up to now is what happens behind the scenes.
During my active addiction, it was obvious to almost everybody who knew me that I had a problem. My denial allowed me to believe I was getting away with my drinking and behaviors because I was smarter than that. After all, drinking vodka is safe because you can’t smell it on my breath. Really? What the hell was I thinking? Maybe the slurring of words or not remembering conversations from the night before because of blackouts might have been signs everybody else saw that I chose not to.
The rest of this story isn’t about me or anybody else reading this that might be struggling with addiction, or knows somebody who is. It’s about the wife, and a man she loved and lost due to his inability to see what was happening to him, and his refusal to accept it and get help.
Life was supposed to be magical. I had married my high school sweetheart and moved into our own home before any of our friends. We were all so young, 19 and 20 years old, full of ambition but very naive and innocent.
He joined the firehouse soon after we were married and we acquired an extended family there in addition to our own. I loved being a part of it, watching him train and progress, hearing the stories, the smell of smoke on him after a working fire (I will admit it was a bit of a turn on for me). Whether it was from something in his past, or genetics, or maybe even a PTSD trigger from a call he never told me about, things started to change and get very dark.
My new existence as the wife of a firefighter was progressing now into the wife of an alcoholic, and it was a shameful life that I wanted no one to know about. How could I talk about what my husband did 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, when I thought nobody knew? As his drinking progressed, so did the deterioration of our marriage and family life. He lost his regular job relatively quickly for not showing up, and twice going to work drunk.
While I was working, he was sitting at home drinking and partying. I lived through the hell of him getting behind the wheel drunk and refusing to let me have the keys when I, and our young daughter, were driving with him. There were several times he put our lives in his hands while under the influence, and didn’t care that he might hurt us as well as himself. I hated him for that.
Many years passed with verbal and physical abuse and the inability to look him in the face because I became angry at what he had given up. What the fireman had lost. What he had become, and how it affected the family.
Our one-year-old daughter was my pride and joy. I had to work, and he stayed home with her. Some days, by the time I got home to my small child, he would be blacked out on the couch. She would be coloring quietly in front of the television unsupervised and alone.
At one point, I realized that our young child knew what daddy was doing was wrong, yet she had unconditional love for him even with his addiction. Life didn’t seem normal for me on the inside of the house. No one else knew the hell I lived through when I got home. The yelling and physical anguish got worse and worse and very aggressive. Nothing would stand in the way of his drinking until he passed out. Blackouts became an everyday occurrence.
My life was hell, but I refused to talk to anybody or have them see the real life I was living. Every day, I would try to make things happy for our daughter. I tried to keep her focused on what she needed to do for school. But at night, every night, I would cry myself to sleep, not asking myself why this was happening nor doing anything about changing it. I, too, was in denial.
Alcoholics and addicts tend not to realize what they are doing to their friends and family and coworkers. They think that they are by themselves and not hurting anyone or anything. My life revolved around working all day, coming home to take care of my daughter, and staying up all night because my husband had decided to argue with me about driving to the store for more booze. He would rough me up until I would give him the car keys, then drive off drunk, not returning home until the next morning when I had to go to work. I would cry and worry thinking he had crashed the car and he lay hurt somewhere. Sleeping was impossible until he was back home.
Eventually, he was jailed for yet another DUI. The “behind the badge” courtesies didn’t fly anymore and he couldn’t hide behind being a fireman and get out of being arrested. The local cops who knew him from the shift change at the firehouse could no longer look the other way.
He called me in the middle of the night and wanted me to bail him out. I, for the first time in my life, hung up the phone and went back to bed. The next morning, when he was released, he barreled through the door yelling at me and my daughter (now 14), threatening our lives. I made a decision that day to save our lives and reached out for help before he killed us.
After 20 years of marriage to my fireman, I had reached my mental and financial limits. I filed for divorce. It took me a few years to get out and start living. I realized that I had already been living a life as a single mom, working and supporting my daughter and myself. Living without him wasn’t all that difficult. I was scared and alone BUT, I was alive the morning of my divorce hearing. As I said before, alcoholics don’t always recognize the lives they are messing with. My ex-husband didn’t even show up to court. The judge granted me my divorce, no arguments. Now my life could begin.
There is a happy ending to my wife of an alcoholic story. Many years later, my now 20 something daughter decided that I should not be alone in life. She introduced me to a wonderful man who had courage, integrity, a passion for life, and the utmost respect for himself and others. This man knew how to love and cherish me. The night I met him, he told me that he was an alcoholic, but he had gotten the message, changed his way of life, and overcame the monster that lived within him. He was a RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC, and lived the new freedom he found from recovery to the core. I married him and YES, live happily ever after.
If you have a similar story to tell as the one above, there is help available right now for anyone who seeks it. There are programs and groups available for spouses and children of addicts to help them cope and recover as well. They suffer greatly and deserve every possible avenue of support and help that they can get. It’s not just about the drunk or the addict. If any of you grew up in a household like this, or are living it now, you know what I am talking about. And you are out there.
About the Author: Don had a sixteen-year career with the Brookhaven Fire Department in New York. He managed a two-station department with 80 members and fifteen apparatus. He is a former New York State certified EMT, a former member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 36 and is proud to have served as a first responder during the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center.
Don is a person in recovery from long-term alcohol addiction. He celebrates his sobriety by assisting others in getting help for their addiction. Don is a Nationally Certified Recovery Coach, an Advanced Clinical Intervention Professional, and a Peer Support Specialist. You may contact Don through his website, Sober Coach Don, and Facebook. He is available to answer your questions anytime, day or night, at 561-282-8685.