Memoir: I thought my husband’s alcoholism was behind us—until he and our marriage spiralled out of control
When Andrew and I met five years ago in Yellowknife, we clashed immediately: I thought he was an obnoxious party boy; he thought I was an uppity snob. For a month, we worked at the same newspaper, lived in the same neighbourhood and never spoke. But when we both joined the office softball team, it became impossible to ignore each other. I discovered he was a goofy romantic—the kind of guy who coached Little League and played cards at the seniors’ centre—and I was smitten.
Andrew is an alcoholic. The first year of our relationship was a series of stops and starts as he tried to stay sober. His addiction had been a wrecking ball with his other girlfriends, and he knew he’d lose me too if he kept boozing. When he was drunk, the generous, affable man I knew disappeared. He’d show up smashed or not at all—for work, for a date, it didn’t matter. Before we met, he’d racked up $60,000 in debt, spending so much money on beer, scotch and tequila that he couldn’t afford to buy anything else—even food. Andrew had come to Yellowknife for a do-over, and by the time we moved to Toronto and were married in 2011, he’d been sober for almost two years. I thought it was behind us.
It wasn’t, of course. Andrew didn’t know anyone in the city, so he began frequenting a Gabby’s near our Danforth apartment to make friends. It seemed innocent enough at first: he dropped in once or twice a week to grab a bite and watch the Jays. He always came home sober. I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince myself it could go on that way—that his alcoholism could continue to hover over us like a harmless ghost. Eventually, he started going out close to midnight. Once he stayed out past 3 a.m., and we had a terrific fight. I told him he should have phoned; he accused me of not trusting him. Through all the shouting and arguing and vitriol, I never said what I was really thinking: that he was slipping, that while I couldn’t smell alcohol on his breath, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I did.
A few weeks later, two months shy of our one-year anniversary, I spent the night at a friend’s place in the suburbs. When I got home the next day, Andrew told me he’d woken up feeling sick. Maybe it was the flu. I fussed over him. Later, I found a tube of lipstick in the medicine cabinet—a colour I’d never wear, pale like curdled milk or old linen. In that moment, my whole existence rested on one question: who was she? Andrew tried to convince me I’d bought the lipstick, used half the tube, and forgotten I’d ever owned it. He never balked as I hooted like an owl: who, who, who?
The idea of Andrew having an affair wasn’t the only thing that terrified me. I was sure that by getting drunk, he’d done something irreversible—that his alcoholism had won.
He confessed the next morning. The lipstick belonged to the bartender at Gabby’s. He’d gotten wasted and invited her in to use the bathroom. The scenario played in my head like a movie. I gave her blond hair, imagined her leaning drunk over my bathroom counter. He swore he didn’t have sex with her, but I didn’t believe him. The betrayal was awful and raw. I told him to leave and to take the lipstick with him.
Later I realized that Andrew was the bigger victim in all this. His sobriety meant something to him, and he was ashamed that he’d lost control of it. Before the day was out, I told him he could come home. When it was time to sleep, he took the couch. As I settled into bed, I erupted into heaving, desperate sobs. Andrew was there within minutes, his hand in my hair.
Over the next few days, I asked myself more than once whether I should leave. Every time, I came to the same conclusion: I still believed in Andrew. I believed he loved me and wanted to be sober. And I believed fighting addiction—that insidious thing that lived inside him—required deep strength. Andrew thought he was weak, but I knew better.
Thus began a long summer of treating our young marriage like a fixer-upper house. When we arrived at our first couples counselling appointment, our therapist sat us down, steepled his fingers, and confirmed our relationship had hit a crisis point—well, yeah. While other young couples lounged on patios, Andrew and I practised taking breaths, counting to 10, and trying not to feel ridiculous when we used “I feel” statements. As we forced ourselves to talk about everything—careers, money, sex, all those discomfiting subjects so many couples avoid—the process began to seem natural, not silly.
As I write this, Andrew has been sober 324 days. Each one represents a victory—a tiny, growing increment of trust that the next time he feels the urge to drink, he’ll tell me. There have been times when friends have invited him out to the bar. He still wishes he could go, and I don’t blame him. Andrew must say no every evening, every sunny weekend—a dogged, exhausting no. Before everything happened, I thought of Andrew’s sobriety as an unbreakable shield. I realize now he could relapse again in a hundred more spectacular ways.
Lauren McKeon is the editor of This Magazine.
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