“I met my husband in 1986. I came to the United States on a student visa in July of 1986 and I met him on the second day being here. I was going to school in Pennsylvania and his family was from there. He was going to school at the University of Florida, so he was home for the summer. So, we started to date. I still remember the first time he told me he loved me.
I finished school while we were dating so I went back to Brazil, but he asked me to come back & marry him. So, I came back and we lived in Jacksonville, FL, and then moved to Maryland and had four boys. Things were good. He was a good man and we had a good life. In the beginning, I remember he would drink, but it was just beer on the weekends. Once in a while he would get really trash drunk and he would become very argumentative and cranky, but those times between him getting really drunk would get shorter and shorter.
The first time I went to Al-Anon, our fourth child was a baby. Strangely enough, I remember talking with my mother-in-law about how much he drank and she said to me, “I think he’s an alcoholic. I think you should go to Al-anon.”. I never heard of it before, but when she said that I was very surprised she would make such a statement. I completely dismissed it and I was almost offended that she would say her son was an alcoholic because I think at that time I associated alcoholism with people that were very…you know ignorant or people that didn’t have jobs or families….I don’t know…I just thought that couldn’t be my husband and it couldn’t be our life…Nobody drank in my family and when I was growing up in Brazil, I don’t remember anybody in my family who was alcoholics. My husband was an engineer and so he had a wonderful career and we had wonderful friends. We had a good marriage and he was very active in the church. I really did not think that was a problem until he started not going in to the office. He had a lot of leave and days off accumulated because he had been working there for so many years. So, he started missing out on Monday and he would take the day off basically because he had drunk a lot over the weekend and wanted that day to rest. The thing is that he wasn’t a nice drunk. He would become more and more argumentative and pick fights about stupid things like toilet paper or the dishwasher…the stupidest things and for no reason at all.
So, I went to Al-Anon. I remember asking the lady at Al-Anon what I needed to do to get my husband to stop drinking…because, at that point, I had already asked him, I had already threatened him, I already begged him, I had already manipulated every kind of situation that I could think of to make him stop drinking. I remember her looking at me and saying well, alcoholism is a family disease and we’re here to help you….not him. I remember telling her, “Oh, you don’t understand…I’m not the one drinking….I’m not the one with the problem. He’s the one with the problem. I just need to learn what to say because he’s not understanding me.”
She said, “Again, my darling, you’re here for you. Alcoholism is a family disease and we, as the family…wives…or spouses of alcoholics, learn to do this dance. We learn to do this toxic dance that we are just adjusting to them and we progressively forget to take care of ourselves or our families because the pain of this other person being so toxic and self-destructive overwhelms our lives.” I remember her telling me about the four C’s ~you didn’t Cause it, you can’t Cure it, we can’t control it, but we can contribute to it. I had to learn all the ways I contributed to it while making sure I would unwrap from the dance I was in with him. I began to take care of myself and my family and focus on things that I could control. There were good days and there were not so good days because it’s a very long journey and it’s very difficult living with an alcoholic. There’s a saying in Al-Anon that living with an alcoholic is too much for most of us and our thinking becomes disturbed as we try to force solutions. Forcing solutions for me was constantly nagging him to stop drinking or making excuses for his behavior, trying to manipulate him to stop drinking, or emptying vodka bottles because at that point he was drinking a lot more than just beer. There was always alcohol…there was always an excuse and everything that we did as a family had to involve some sort of drinking. Of course that brought a lot of problems into our marriage, which you know now looking back…that contributed to his drinking because I couldn’t focus on my life and the things I could make better in my life because it was in my unhealthy mind to “fix him”. I felt that the only thing wrong with my life was his drinking and if I could make that stop then everything would be normal…whatever normal is…
So, he kept on drinking and drinking and I kept on being very frightened of that situation…because I was homeschooling our four kids and he was the sole breadwinner of the family, so I was very threatened by his behavior…he was never physically abusive with me, but he was very verbally abusive. He was very mean. Of course, as part of the dance, I became more hurt…my self-esteem suffered and things got really bad. At one point I started seeing the writing on the wall and I decided that it was best for me to go to school and I had an opportunity to go to culinary school which was my dream, so I went. I don’t’ know if I went to escape a little bit, I don’t know if I went because I believed our marriage was so bad that if I was away it would give us a little break and that would be good…I don’t’ know, but I think in part I wanted to reinvent my career so that I could provide for myself and my kids so that if the situation would present itself, then I would have something for us.
A long time ago about ten years into our marriage, he went on a business trip to Florida and he got a DUI. I didn’t even know what that was, but he was very scared that it would hurt his job, so I called my parents and asked them to pay for a lawyer to have his records expunged. He told me that the cop framed him and that he wasn’t drinking or anything and I totally believed him. I would never have asked my parents for money if I hadn’t believed him….then going forwards 10-15 years, he was drinking more and more and he got a couple more DUI’s and at one point I wrote a letter to the judge and asked the judge to compel him to go to rehab. He ended up going, but he came home and started again, but there was this one time he stopped drinking for about 6 months and it was wonderful. I remember the day he started drinking again….we went to this wonderful restaurant in D.C.
For my birthday and I remember him asking for a glass of wine and I remember thinking…holy shit, here we go again….because an alcoholic can’t have just one drink and the kind of drunk he was~he had to get completely trashed. It was a big slip because from there on, he drank more and more and more. He was hospitalized several times. He would just pass out drunk on the couch and miss more and more days at work until he was missing more days than he was going until eventually his boss was starting to notice and I remember getting a call from his boss….and she asked me what was going on. One thing I never have done was lie to anyone~I don’t’ know if I was scared or if I thought that by not lying that maybe they would intervene in some way, ya know? I think a lot of people wanted to help him…there were people from the church, his work, my two besties…..they were amazing because I was falling apart. Then things got progressively worse, so I kept going to Al-Anon and getting help for myself…and he got progressively more angry with me.
One day I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided I couldn’t do this forever….at one point he assaulted one of our sons and I filed a restraining order against him and he was removed from the house. He eventually ended up in a shelter…then got kicked out because he was bringing in alcohol, so he went to a couple of different sober houses, but he didn’t get sober there either and was kicked out for alcohol. Eventually, he lived in a tent. He wanted to drink and that was the thing he was going to do….no matter what. He lost his job and ended up living with his parents in South Carolina for a couple of years until he died. His mother found him and they ended up finding 137 bottles of vodka in the trunk of his car, underneath his bed and he died at 51.
To this day, it’s hard to envision a world where he isn’t in it, you know? He was a very good man and a very good father who loved his kids, but alcoholism is a baffling, cunning, and powerful disease as they say and that’s what it does. The goal of the disease is to kill the person, but before it will kill the person, it will kill the person’s relationships and their dreams, their career, their life aspirations, the things that are most precious to those people. I would have never had thought it could happen to him~someone who believed in God, who had good kids, and we didn’t have a lot of money, but we were living a comfortable life and we had health and a lot of laughter and joy, but that all gets taken away by this disease.
I continued to be in Al-Anon until this day and found a lot of support from my family and my friends, from Al-Anon and my group~I always felt a lot better, encouraged, appreciated, and loved by being there. You realize that you’re not alone. There are other people with very hard situations and you discover that you have choices. You discover that although you have no control over a lot of things, you do have control over your behavior and over the way you think and act. When I started thinking that way instead of trying to manage or control my husband’s drinking things became a lot better for me and for my kids because if you are ok, your kids will be ok.
My kids are now adults and doing well. I have a career I love in culinary arts and I found love in Al-Anon~we have a similar story in that he was married to an alcoholic. We have a great relationship, we have so much fun together and are now married. I got my motorcycle license, so we ride our bikes together. We’ve made beautiful memories together and he is good to my boys. It’s not easy, but life is tough and it’s not impossible to navigate through it. I’m grateful for what I have now and where I am and it’s all God and because of God’s grace.”