There was evidence early on, but I ignored it. The real impact hit right after the wedding, when I received a call at work from my insurance company. They wouldn’t be able to put my freshly acquired husband onto my auto insurance because he had a DUI. I sat at my desk with the phone in my hand, speechless and confused. I was well aware that my mate sometimes drank too much, but this DUI was news to me, and I had not known him to lie. I soon learned of more lies, the common cover-ups of the alcoholic.
Jim and I had a classic codependent-alcoholic relationship. He was a good man who drank to cope with life. I desperately wanted him to quit drinking. He would quit for six months at a time, then go crashing back. I thought if I loved him enough, he would change. I gave up drinking and cleaned the house of booze. He drank with his friends, calling me every hour or two to inform me he would be late. Occasionally, after a round or three at a local bar, a friend would drive him home. The next day, silent and hung over, he would get on his bicycle to go get his truck, sadly pushing off across the parking lot. I drove home from all parties and events, the perpetual designated driver. One weekend morning, when he was driving us back from Lake Tahoe to our Bay Area home, we were stopped on a mountain road by a police officer. Jim had his travel mug filled with the hair of the dog. I was terrified, sitting there in the passenger seat as Jim cranked up his good manners. I was astounded that the officer didn’t smell the red wine on his breath. Lucky Jim got off with a speeding ticket.
Toward the end of our marriage, we moved up to a little town in California called Paradise. Jim wanted to live in the mountains, and we thought we could afford to eventually purchase a home there. I was desperate to do anything to save my marriage. I had already tried yelling, crying, drying out, begging, pleading, and counseling. I hoped that if we lived in the trees where he wanted to be, he would be happy and stop drinking. We rented a chicken coop that had been converted into a darling little house. I had a garden with gophers and a laundry room; he had trees and peace. The problem was, neither one of us had a job, and there was no work in Paradise. Jim commuted several hours, leaving me for days at a time to go into the valley to work construction. I spent my time looking for a teaching job, scouring the town’s tiny library for books, and watching thirtysomething reruns. On one of his trips, Jim stayed at my brother’s house and upset everyone with his drinking. I told him if he drank again I was leaving.
It was a Thursday night, I think. He had completed his week’s work in the valley and was coming home. I got a call about 6:00 that he was heading out. I think I got another call around 8:00 that he was still on the road. The waiting was familiar. I had been tortured for years this way. Pacing across the floor as the day shifted into night, wondering if he was in jail. Wondering if my life was going to completely change with the sound of shattered glass and a phone call from a stranger.
At 10:00 I got the critical call. He was further up in the mountains at a roadside bar, and was clearly drunk. I was devastated. I stood in the night in my little mountain home, tears streaming, the full knowledge of what was happening not yet hit. I begged him not to drive, wanting him to just be alive so that we could hack at this thing once again. He promised he wouldn’t.
Two hours later, I was asleep when I heard him come through the rickety kitchen door. He had driven anyway, and by some miracle had gotten home. I got out of bed and waited in the darkness, feeling powerless and betrayed. I knew the straw had been broken. I could no longer live like this. It was time to quit.
The next day, we had an intense conversation at the kitchen table in which he outlined my flaws and told me that he knew I would leave if he drank again, so he did. And now I had to follow through. A few days later, with my stepmother’s coaching, I packed my car with essentials, and moved down the mountain and across the bay to my parents’ house. I had done all I could do. I quit trying to make Jim something he wasn’t. I quit trying to fix him. I quit waiting for him to quit.