Trigger warning: Alcoholism, addiction, and toxic relationships
Your story may have begun like mine, a storybook kind of love that, when shared, restored people’s belief in couples that were meant-to-be. Ours was an old-school, undeniable, unbelievably consuming love – or so people thought. Perhaps if your story was like ours, you met early on a rainy Sunday morning. Our eyes locked across a café, and before we had even exchanged names, it was clear that our love story had already begun. At this point, I never could have imagined that the man I was about to fall madly in love with would become my biggest source of danger.
We spent that Sunday morning together and came to realize that our families had crossed paths for three generations. With time, we would learn they had shared teachers, friendships, and even dates. Finally, the time had become ours. He surprised me on my doorstep that Tuesday and we were inseparable by Friday of the same week. We came to love each other wildly and without caution. Unfortunately for me, I also loved him selflessly. The beginning appeared perfect, but it wasn’t. Looking back, you too may be able to see this in your own story.
Finding myself in love with a man who was an alcoholic wasn’t easy, but leaving was even more challenging.
You may have flirted with the possibility of him being the one until the first night you had the misfortune of meeting the alcoholic he had hidden so well, or at least I did. I looked at my man in a crowded bar. Terror and confusion washed over me before I could process what was happening. Looking back, I now know that my body was having a physical reaction, trying to warn me about his potential danger. He stood in front of me, emotionless and cold, with a blank serial-killer kind of look. This would be the image that would haunt me.
Not one sliver of the man I’d thought the world of was recognizable. I said his name, tried to find life in his eyes, and grabbed onto his arm. Unphased, without turning his head, he walked past me. Shaken to my core, I forgot to take a breath. This was the first time he had me gasping for air, but it wouldn’t be the last.
The man I was in love with was drunk beyond a point of numbness and had lost his ability to recognize me. This moment felt never-ending, and I remember this as if it were yesterday. The stranger with this cold and terrifying look in his eye was no stranger to himself, and unfortunately, I would get to know this man, too. I had no idea that the nightmare had only just begun.
The most dangerous aspect of being involved with a functioning alcoholic is that it isn’t always bad – there are extreme highs that sometimes lasted for weeks. When things with my guy had been good, they couldn’t have been better. When he was good, he was considerate, charismatic, generous, supportive, loving, and passionate. When he was good, he lit every room with his smile and warmed every heart with his laughter. When he was good, he was funny and made me laugh harder than anyone ever had.
Being in love with a man battling alcoholism is encapsulated by a rollercoaster of the highest of highs and darkest of lows. It will leave you consumed, craving the highs and walking on eggshells. Loving an alcoholic whose mood cycles between these high and lows had me along for the ride – it was crippling and ate away at me.
Planting little kisses on my face as I slept, squeezing my ass as he followed me through the door, declaring his affection, calling midday just to hear my voice, and giving impromptu gifts and handwritten love letters were all common weekday occurrences. Doorstep surprises and serenades in the shower were just what he did. He would indulge me for hours by pulling out his guitar and singing to me as I secretly filmed him. I would play the recordings as I did my makeup in the morning after he left for work, and it had been my favorite way to start the day. More often than not, he asked me what I was craving, so he would have known what to pick up or what to make me for dinner. Every night, the two of us would intimately explore each other’s love and body, assigning new meaning to what making love truly meant. He called me his sweet one, a work of art, a girl with a golden heart.
That’s what my relationship looked like when he was good, because when he was good, we were good. But what does that matter if he was only like that when things were good? It doesn’t matter at all.
When the weekend hit, I found myself living through long and terrorizing nights – the lows. I never felt so excruciatingly further from him or so alone than those nights I lay next to him, intertwined. Most nights, he fell asleep before me; on the bad ones, I lay awake, silently crying. Some nights I stayed pressed up to his sleeping body for warmth, craving his closeness. Other nights, I would roll away, unable to be near the monster he had been to me. I was desperate for change and scared of what the next day would have had in store. The damage was irreparable, but the doom remained unknown.
Countless times, I found myself trying to fall asleep next to an unmasked stranger, praying that by the time he woke, he’d have returned to the man I recognized and thought I knew. As I watched him sleep, the ugly words he had belligerently slurred at me would replay in my mind. Nights like these were lonely and gruesome when I cried to sleep in his bed.
The pain and damage from the previous night’s drinking often bled into the following days. Regardless of what he may have remembered, the following Saturday, Sunday, and sometimes even Monday were ruined. Wasting away the day, I lay next to a man who slept to avoid facing the shame of what he had done to himself and to me. If your story resembles mine, your man may not have been able to kill his evil counterpart; but through the torment, he will have begun to face what it was doing to you – or, at least, that you were beginning to get in the way of it.
I had become a captive of his disease, and somewhere along the way, I found myself comforting him and consoling him for the pain he felt, knowing how ill he was and how badly he had hurt me. In these moments of nurturing him, he grew to love me more deeply and hate himself more. It was in these same moments that I recognized myself disliking and losing respect for the man I loved.
Loving an alcoholic is dangerous because they can’t protect your heart the same way you do theirs. Alcoholics can be abusive and manipulative. They can be selfish, and they oftentimes put their egos above all. They will lie to you, they will attempt to control you, and they will make active efforts to punish you. They will withhold affection as a means of manipulation, and they will undoubtedly compromise your physical and psychological safety. They will give you the silent treatment for days, they will steal pieces of your innocence, and they will corrupt momentous occasions for you. They will disregard you, and they will disappoint you time after time.
How much worse will this time be? Is he still breathing? Is he lying in a ditch? As he drowned his body with his poison of choice, these questions haunted my mind more than I wanted to admit. Deep-rooted, debilitating anxiety took hold, and I no longer wondered if but when my alcoholic would cut the next wound worse than the last. This was perpetually on my mind. I wondered this because the alcoholic I loved endlessly failed to consider the repercussions his actions would have on our relationship and ultimately on my safety.
My love and life had become capsized by his addiction and his toxicity. They left me drowning in unfathomable worry, vast amounts of shame, disappointment, and anxiety. Lying to his friends and family to protect the image and façade of his sober self that they knew as their friend, son, grandson, and brother was no easy task. Lying to my friends and family about the man I had once thought the world of destroyed me. Alcoholic love can be profoundly abusive and dangerously isolating.
His lies had become mine, his secrets had become mine, and the burden of his demons had become mine. Drowning and isolated from the people who would have most readily given me a lifeboat, I suffered and continued gasping for air.
With each belligerent betrayal, yet another erratic decision of his or another attempt to unfairly and unnecessarily punish me, I continued to lose respect for the man I somehow still loved. He continued to tear me down to make himself feel more significant and more successful. Shorter breaths, larger gasps, I silently continued to fight the pain.
No amount of love he had for me would have been sufficient to curb his dependency, no matter how badly he wanted it to. This realization was something that broke him and pushed him to drown his thoughts and pains even more. None of my helping efforts would result in any good, but unfortunately, I learned the hard way that I best not try.
Ultimately, no one, not even either of us, could have anticipated one of our worst nights with one of the darkest turns would occur on the night it did. He left me alone to be looked up and down by a bar full of men in the middle of the night. He took off without a word and left me without a house key or a dollar in my pocket. That night, his drunk self sent the clear message I was disposable. That night he abandoned me also marked a first: the first night he didn’t try to rashly fight the men who stood too close to me, who had their eye on me, or who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I remember being so confused as to how the love we shared wasn’t enough to end his drinking. But I grew to understand that it never mattered how badly he wanted me to be enough for him to be better. Addiction had an ultimate say. Sprawled across his living room floor in agony, I shook inconsolably. Hysterically wailing, I had finally and fully surrendered to his alcoholism. Too numb and paralyzed by his inebriation, he didn’t even look me in the eyes. Unable to do anything but lifelessly and blankly stare off in another direction, he remained unphased. He showed no remorse, no concern, no emotion or compassion. Looking back, I wonder how no one who heard had called the police.
I would never have been able to watch a stranger in a fraction of the distress I was in without responding to their needs. It was unfathomable to me that a man who said he didn’t know love like mine was possible until I came along could sit and watch me on the floor suffering from pain that he caused without so much as blinking an eye. You will never experience a more tremendous heartbreak than watching an alcoholic drown himself and pull you underwater with him in the process. This night would mark one month and 10 days before I was set free. That makes it sound like it was pleasant, but it wasn’t.
I tried to leave three times. Each time was unsuccessful. On the night things finally ended, I felt relieved. He looked at me, slowly shifted his gaze to his drink, and then back to me. The three words he managed to slur were all I needed to go home, wake up my roommate, lie in bed next to her, and break my silence. She was in utter shock and had no idea what had been happening. No one had. I didn’t know at the time that by the next day, he would pretend like he hadn’t made a clear choice, but I couldn’t take the chance. I spent the night next to her, repeating to myself I was in love with an alcoholic who picked his next drink over me, and I’m so lucky he did. The next morning, I went over to my friends’. They lay curled up in bed together. I sat on the edge of the bed and told them the real reason I had left them at the bar the night before without saying goodnight. They laughed and told me not to joke about something like that until they saw the pain in my eyes.
Three days of silence followed him choosing a double gin over me, the woman he loved. Then he sheepishly crawled back like the coward he was to make an attempt at a pathetic apology. When he showed up on my doorstep, he was hardly able to look me in the eye. Crying in my entryway, he stood ashamed and remorseful. He was quiet, embarrassed, and sickened by what he had unintentionally said and done that had finally resulted in the end of our relationship. His greatest mistake was my greatest gain.
For once, it was he who didn’t recognize the person they loved. I stood stone-cold and indifferent, bold and fierce as fire. He tried to have a conversation, but having already given him all of myself that I could and more, I asked him to save his breath. There was only one thing left to say: thank you. Knowing that l failed to place my head before my heart, I thanked him for doing that for me.
The weeks to come didn’t always feel as light as the initial wave of relief I experienced when he set me free. While an unbearable weight was lifted from my shoulders, I literally felt like I was dying. I experienced withdrawal – similar to the withdrawal he had felt when I had pleaded with him not to have another drink or to have a sober night in. If your experience was similar, you may have shaken uncontrollably, had headaches, vomited, and had been unable to eat, sleep, or be alone for a week, maybe even two. However, once I made it to the other side of this, I was finally able to breathe again, and I started to recognize the woman I had previously known. Yet there was something different about her — she was more resilient and less innocent than ever before.
The unparalleled painful experience of alcoholic love will only leave you scarred if you choose to let it. No longer plagued by someone else’s demons and abuse, you will rise stronger than you have ever stood before, utterly unstoppable, unbelievably courageous, and infinitely powerful. While my relationship had been bad, the love we had shared had been profoundly significant for both of us. I grieved, provided myself closure, and healed.
Breaking one’s silence isn’t a one-time affair. It is ongoing and occurs every time you deliberately decide to disclose parts of your story to someone. Being met with the response ”of all the women I know, I never thought this would have been possible to happen to a woman like you” wasn’t easy for me to hear, because I have thought that too. Today, I no longer feel the shame or humiliation of the viciously abusive cycle I found myself in, and I know it can happen to anyone. I no longer dread the weekend, worrying what may occur as it approaches; gradually, it will have returned to something I look forward to.
It may not always feel like it, but in time, I promise you will be able to forgive yourself, and one day if it’s right for you, you may find the grace to forgive him too. In my case, forgiving him took me seven and a half months; fully forgiving myself took longer.
I hope that if he hasn’t yet, he, too, will be able to forgive himself. He crosses my mind from time to time, and I wonder if he’s laughing or if he’s sleeping. I didn’t always, but I now wish him well. Having been set free from the burden of his dark demons and addiction, I feel bad that it is not something he can as easily set himself free from.
This year was my hardest year, but my best and most significant year. I held my head up high, put one foot in front of the other, and kept moving forward. Not once did I look back, denying him all access to my current and future selves. With each step I took, the cage he tried to confine me in came crashing down. Today, I celebrate my strength, my tenacity, my character, and my ability to be an even more caring, confident, kind, and giving version of the woman I had been before carrying myself through my darkest days and to those of the brightest beauty. I now smile more often and laugh louder. I am happy, I am free, and I am hopeful. I am no longer silent, and I sure as hell am no victim.