A Divorcee’s Struggle With An Alcoholic Ex Finds Compassion in eTherapy
Forward: This letter was submitted anonymously by one of our readers
Most of the time, when I express what my breaking point was, it results in reactions ranging from astonishment to bewilderment, to sometimes even, alienation. I’ve never driven my Ford Taurus through an ivy-laced wooden fence at my in-laws on a random Thursday evening while incredibly intoxicated. I’ve never been banned from a bar for drinking alone and blacking out one too many times. I’ve never smelled like pinot noir on a Saturday morning while the kids watched Bill Nye The Science Guy reruns.
But my ex-husband has. And throughout his years as a man enslaved by bottle after bottle, he did a whole lot more than that.
On the day I finally left him, I realized a sad reality: I was the blame then and somehow, I was the blame on the day he finally remerged from yet another bender to show up and pick up a few of his last possessions. That day, I wasn’t sure he was alive until I saw his text stating he wanted to “swing by for a few final things.” And even then, I still wasn’t sure that it wasn’t someone else texting from his phone that he’d probably lost at the bar (an occurrence which routinely happened). I couldn’t take any chances, I had to remove the kids from the home for a stretch of hours.
This tale has a much better ending than it does a beginning, even for my former husband, but it will take a bit to get to that. For now, just know that I was a desperate woman with few remaining friends after my husband quietly and abjectly loaded up two pair of jeans, a table saw, and a pack of old Gatorades while my kids played checkers at my mothers.
My Nurturing Spirit Was More The Curse Than The Blessing
Most people who wake from their slumbers not beside a husband or wife that’s probably shaking for a drink don’t understand what life is like for those that do. Your spouse’s egregious behavior the night before is a shame you end up wearing and to those family and friends who witnessed the vile antics, that’s your life in a nutshell.
Those who you trusted, you loved, you helped, suddenly connect you to some heavenly position of power that has the ability to render an alcoholic cured.
But that’s not true. I, nor does any person, have the power to flip the human addiction switch on another person. At least not alone.
I am of the nurturing spirit. Those who are my friends, some of which, were my friends, were people who were attracted to my genuine yearning to make others happy. I loved to be the helper rather than the helped. No one felt any angst over calling me for a ride to work because their car’s transmission was on the outs.
My husband was a raging alcoholic. That switch in him was probably always switched to ‘on,’ however, it didn’t resonate with me during the proverbial honeymoon phase. We both enjoyed drinking together. Drinking was fun. We drank our way through college, we were both the fun couple and the assimilated couple. But after the college bars became a past life, the adversity I would be challenged with began to rears its ugly head. For some reason, the notion of heavy drinking wasn’t as “spirited” as it once was while in our local suburban Mexican restaurant.
We would both have drinks at dinner, but it was only he who wanted to remain at the bar until the restaurant closed down. Dinner would start at 6PM, however, the full antics of the evening wouldn’t end until the next day at 1AM.
There were always excuses to drink during the day. Initially, it was “college football Saturday.” All holidays, including, but not limited to: Memorial day, Labor day, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, July 4th, and so on, were fair game to begin the drinking early in the day.
I worried when he’d make a scene around my family or friends.
I acknowledge that it was “odd” when I’d get that phone call from a “concerned family or friend.”
I began to confront him over his drinking, but he commonly placated me with a series of justifications ranging from “this is what people do on July 4th” to “I’m really stressed and needed to blow off steam” to “well your brother was drinking with me, so…”
My bubble, or my perspective, still remained slightly latched on to our college days because in some ways, it felt as if we never left.
Until it didn’t.
“Pregnancy Changes Everything”
I didn’t know it at the time, but the day I found I was pregnant was the same day I began the process of leaving my alcoholic husband.
Pregnancy changes everything.
The day I showed my husband that pink stick result was the day he showed me that he wasn’t OK with limitations or restrictions. His eyes went ghost-like. His gait, as he walked away from me, was slumped and desperate. The inflection in his voice, when he replied with “oh that’s great,” was rattled and compromised by fear.
He wasn’t afraid of being a father, he was afraid of giving up his drinks. He saw this child on the way as a potential obstacle and like any true alcoholic, he began to manipulate and strategize ways to continue his drinking.
I didn’t say to myself on that very day, “I’m leaving this man.” But looking back, two kids later and a lot less friends, I realize that’s exactly what I was doing.
Leaving An Alcoholic Is a Lonely Walk In The Darkness
The years weren’t kind to either of us. We’d managed to have two kids, he’d managed to continue his drinking. Because I was 18-months of pregnant and infinite hours of mother, I was unable to serve as his drinking partner, nor his driver, and nor his keeper and protector.
The true dark spirit of his drinking was put on full-display. I spent half my time worrying about my kids falling down the steps and the other half worried my kids would see their alcoholic dad falling down them. We began to spend a lot of time at my parent’s house, sans the alcoholic baggage.
But we maintained keeping up appearances. When invited to friends’ homes, we went as a family. But by now, my friends and my family were fully aware of the situation. And all of them had an opinion and take over the matter.
The Harsh Scarlet Letter Of Blame
The truth is, I did everything I could to protect my children from an alcoholics unpredictable dances with the bottle. But I should make a few things clear. My husband wasn’t a violent or angry drunk, he was as happy as they come.
His hangovers often resulted in him being in a dark, depressive place until he refilled with a libation. His drunken antics were entirely dangerous, of course, because he developed a scary habit of driving around from bar to bar. He slept in parking lots. He got multiple DUIs. He was let go from his job. He was arrested in an undercover sting attempting to buy cocaine.
He was never a father.
I knew that I needed to help, and I tried, but things only managed to get worse. I wanted to “fix” things. I thought I could.
My friends would give me advice, “you need to kick him out for good.”
What they failed to realize was that he was our children’s dad, even beyond breaking up my children’s ties with their father, leaving someone with DNA hooks in your family isn’t always a smooth process. Sure, he was the ultimate worst father in the world, but he would threaten me with exposing me for things he felt could “get me in trouble” and “give him leverage to win custody of my kids.”
No, I never did anything bad in my life, but never underestimate an alcoholic’s prowess for manipulation.
Because I “refused to take my friends’ harsh advice,” many of them disowned me as a friend. I wasn’t given a formal friendship resignation letter or anything, however, it was obvious when the text and calls began to go cold. If I got any responses, they were curt.
I was now the blame. I was harboring an alcoholic. I was wearing the Scarlet Letter around town. Worse more, this meant I had no one to talk to about things. My mother had been compromised by one of my old high school friends who told her, “she allows it to go on around the kids.”
In my darkest of hours, the time I needed support and friendship the most, it had vanished. I was now an outlier.
The eTherapy Lady
When I first discovered eTherapy, I was in the midst of processing a divorce. My husband was mostly begrudgingly agreeable, though when he’d drink at night, the flurry of text messages which ravaged my inbox often spoke otherwise. He was living on couches, or in his car, it was always a guess as to which.
It was a typical Monday evening in our suburban Minnesota town. It was spring, but it was cold (because, Minnesota, of course). A quick layer of snow had powdered the roads, which was nothing unusual to drive in, however, on this particular day, I encountered an obstacle that changed everything.
A deer jumped in front of my car causing me to hit my breaks, which cause the car to lose control and slid into a roadside ditch. I quickly crawled through the drive and passenger seats to check with my kids; they were OK. I was OK.
This was a busy area, and this is Minnesota, so help was quick and the people were incredibly nice to us.
“I am stressed, this divorce, I guess, has me distracted. I shouldn’t have hit my breaks,” I told the 30-something woman who sat next to me in her SUV helping to keep us all warm as we waited for a tow truck.
“Yeah, I’ve never been through divorce, but my eTherapist always tells me to just take a breath and you will realize that nothing is as bad as it seems. And honey, a deer jumped in front of you, most of us would have hit the brakes.”
“Wait, what’s an ‘eTherapist?’” I asked her with curious inflection overlaying my already shaken voice.
“Its therapy that I do online. It’s the same as if you went into an office, just using your laptop webcam. When I was in graduate school, my parents were divorcing, and the stress created a terrible environment for me to focus on class work.
I mean, how many people do you know have ever experienced their 60-something old parents splitting up? My mom was leaving my dad for another man she met on some dating site. It was the worst Lifetime movie stuff you could think of, and no one could relate to me.
So I knew this girl that was going to school for psychology and she told me that eTherapy might be a great option for me. But I’d have to be open to it. It was affordable for me, and way more convenient than visiting an office. It was convenient for me being that I was often on an erratic graduate school schedule.”
eTherapy – A New Beginning
It took almost a half a year for me to wrap my head around trying out what sounded like some odd Ayurveda solution. By the time I tried eTherapy, my car was fixed, and a new winter had descended upon us.
I saw a few ads for an eTherapist in my state that began popping up on my Facebook feed. I suppose because I’d been searching the ins and outs of it. So, I signed up for a free session.
Here’s what I learned:
I was missing “that one person” to talk to. The fact that all my friends had alienated me over my husband’s alcoholism had caused me to go without any way to communicate my feelings.
eTherapy was easy and convenient. While I admit it took time to get used to the webcam style of things, this old dog learned the new modern trick rather quickly.
The results of my sessions changed everything. The eTherapist gave me helpful ways to cope with my feelings. I began to realize that those friends who seemingly left me in the cold were really just people who cared for me and didn’t understand how to deal with things any more than I did.
I was able to reconnect with a few of them.
Better than that, we began to include my ex-husband in some sessions. No, this wasn’t with the goal of us sparking any old flames, this was with the goal of helping him resolve his own demons so that he could find a better place and hopefully, become a dad again.
He’s been sober for six months. No, that’s not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it is a long time for him. His eyes are no longer puffy. He once again, sees his kids. He has some income and is able to take them to lunch once a week.
If you are a divorced parent, I’m sure you can understand what an enormous accomplishment this is for the kids.
Would things have been different today had him and I done eTherapy years prior? Or would they have been different if my friends had found a way to help me cope with my situation rather than alienated me? I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter, honestly.
Because, life happens. We only have today to deal with our struggles. The modern world of technology that often seems to serve us to our detriments actually can be quite beneficial if we know how to use it.
In the end, always remember, that friend that’s struggling is often worse off if you leave them in the cold. Friendship is the world’s greatest therapy.