I had waited so, so long for my husband to sober up – for our lives to finally be better. Happier. Without the weight of the bottle holding us down.
Eight months into his sobriety, though, I was consumed with worry that he would slip up and drag us all back down the rabbit hole.
But what was more troubling for me than waiting for the other shoe to drop was the very blurry line that my role as a wife and mother had now crossed. I was so used to my old life… the life in which I was the caretaker of all, the emotional provider and the ever-present parent covering up some dark secrets. The life in which I made the decisions.
Now he was there.
He was always present with all of us, no matter what activity we were doing. He helped choose what we’d do, joined every activity with me and the kids, and always wanted to talk.
These were real conversations, not the slurred ones I was used to having. Not conversations that I had to remind him we’d already had the night before.
If I’m being honest, there were times that I secretly wanted to let him stay home and drink. Awful, right? I knew it and it killed me every time that went through my mind.
But I had to re-learn how to live with this man who had, for all intents and purposes, become an uninvolved stranger in my life.
Not only did I have to learn to share the bed again, I had to compromise on what television shows we watched. And I love Bravo, my escape from reality through reality TV. I’d get out of the shower though, and he’d already chosen the programs he wanted to watch. He’d already said goodnight to the kids.
I wasn’t alone anymore, and I didn’t know what to do. What’s more, I had no idea who this person living with me even was.
After all those times I heard “Daddy, please stop drinking,” the kids were now jumping into his arms as soon as he walked through the door. They asked him to stay with them and listen to everything about their day. My heart filled with joy anytime I witnessed it.
But still, it broke me a little.
What about me? How do I support him? Am I supposed to just forget everything that he did all those years and simply move on?
Seeming to sense my uncertainty with our relationship, he surprised me with a long weekend away without the kids. I was excited and nervous about our getaway. After all, we hadn’t been away alone together since before the kids were born. We never even went on a honeymoon. And last year on our wedding anniversary, he went away with his brother for a weekend of binge drinking.
“Is this really happening?” I thought, “Does he really want to go away with me?”
It turns out, it was just what we needed. We dressed up and spoiled one another. We got to know each other again and talked about everything.
Everything except the elephant in the room, that is.
I had so many questions I wanted to ask about his sobriety. How are you feeling? Do you ever want to drink? Do you have any coping methods? Do you ever want to have a drink? Can I do anything to make this better?
My mind was spinning like the tilt-a-whirl at the carnival, jerking every which way with questions and comments.
But the biggest ones, perhaps, were this: Do you like me again? Do you remember what you did to me when you were drinking? Are you sorry for what you did?
I said nothing.
I held my tongue and took in every moment because we were enjoying one another again. We actually liked each other’s company.
I also thought about how different this trip would be if he was still drinking. We’d likely be at some dive bar where he would be talking up a storm to all the bargoers and I would be miserably waiting to go back the room, hoping upon hope that he wouldn’t embarrass us.
But in his sobriety, the worry of drinking removed the stress and kept it enjoyable, despite the fact that I missed my kids like crazy. And most importantly, we came to find that we liked each other again.
You might find it odd that I keep talking about our like for one another, rather than our love for one another. The truth is, we do love one another, but we have a long road ahead of us… to get to know each other again, respect each other again, and to move beyond the things we came to dislike about one another before his sobriety.
And even more, I need to be able to wake up without asking, “Is this the day that it all falls apart?”
I stood beside the gray sedan, staring at my reflection in the window and thinking, “Driving. This is going to change my life.”
And it was life-changing – teaching me lessons that were not just valuable behind the wheel, but in business as well.
“Hop in!” said Mary from the front passenger seat, arm draped over her personal steering wheel and her long Elvira-like fingernails tapping on the dashboard one by one.
I had heard stories about Mary. Stories that made me fear for my life.
“Ugh! Mary’s your driving instructor? She’ll just stick her arm through her steering wheel so you can’t turn yours!” cautioned one teen.
“She’ll slam on her brakes to see how you react!” lamented another.
But for whatever reason, this woman, who was clearly doing the Lord’s work by being a driving instructor in the first place, actually took a shine to me and only yelled when necessary.
Lesson 1: Starting work with a new client requires an open mind and a clean slate.
No tricks. No brake checks. Just a woman teaching a brooding teenager how to drive.
But Mary had one trick up her sleeve that even she didn’t know about.
And it happened during my first in-traffic driving experience. On a busy Street in Columbia, Maryland. During rush hour.
My foot was steady on the gas pedal. I used my indicators to signal my lane changes and ensured that I was clear before going. Easy-peasy.
But as I moved with the flow of traffic, the car lurched forward.
Lesson 2: Moving your business forward is not just about keeping your foot on the pedal, it’s about making sure you are keeping it fueled.
“One of her tricks?” I thought.
“What are you doing?” Mary sniped.
“I don’t know!” I quivered, tightening my fingers around the wheel.
The car lurched again. And again. And yet again.
Lesson 3: Don’t be so quick to dismiss the thoughts and words of those around you. You never know who holds key pieces of information that allow you to solve the problems at hand.
“One of her tricks?” I thought.
“What are you doing?” Mary sniped.
“I don’t know!” I quivered, curling my fingers around the wheel even tighter.
The car lurched again. And again. And yet again.
Mary was fuming. “Keep your foot steady on the pedal!”
“I am!” I yelled, holding back the tears.
“Ohhhh… noooo,” She finally said, glancing at the gas gauge. “We’re out of gas.”
Lesson 4: The old saying, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” is not entirely true. Sometimes poor planning impacts everyone you do business with.
Mary was no longer yelling at me, but the cars behind me directed their angry horn-blowing and hand gestures at the herky-jerky car that screamed, “Hi! I’m a student driver!”
“Put your hazard lights on!” Mary demanded of me.
Now, anyone who had a car in the 1980s will remember that the hazard lights were usually a button at the end of a rod off the steering column that had to be pressed to turn on. But I was so damn nervous, I had no idea where to even begin to find the switch.
Seeing my panic, Mary took matters into her own hands – err, nails – and reached her right hand across her chest inserting her nail right into that hole to turn the stupid lights on.
Lesson 5: Just because it looks good, does mean it’s always going to be good for business.
“Ugh,” Mary groaned, fingernail still impressing the button, “I’m stuck.”
Unwilling to sacrifice her acrylic glory, Mary kept her fingernail pressed into that button while I steered the slowly coasting car across a gap in oncoming traffic to get to a parking lot.
In a time before cell phones, I can’t tell you how we ended up getting help. I can’t tell you how we got gas or how much later I ended up getting home.
I never told my family about my husband’s drinking problem.
The kids made innocent comments to my mother like, “Daddy drank a lot of beer last night watching football.”
Nothing alarming. My kids were just stating the facts – but in such a way that, like me, they may have been protecting their father’s reputation, careful not to blur my mother’s vision of him.
He was a good guy, after all – when he wasn’t drinking. And he only drank at home.
“He only drinks at home.”
That was a statement that my mother-in-law always followed with, “You should be happy he doesn’t go anywhere.”
So, there it was. I should be happy – grateful, in fact – that he wasn’t drinking and driving.
His family knew he drank excessively, but since it wasn’t affecting them directly, they just didn’t seem to care or were in denial.
Truth be told, sometimes I actually wished that he would drive drunk and get a DWI. He needed a wake-up call.
The day came, though, when he was no longer a functioning alcoholic. His drinking began to affect his job – his world, his number one. Missed appointments. The smell of alcohol emanating from his pores every work day. And people were taking notice.
The truth could no longer be ignored. His boss and life-long friend sat him down and addressed the issue straight on.
I don’t know what was said at that meeting. But the fear of losing his job – not the years of crying and fighting, not the fear of losing his family – was all it took for him to want to get help.
I cried when he told me. Happy tears, I think. But also tears of anger, fear and hope.
It didn’t matter, though. He stopped drinking and started Alcoholics Anonymous.
I remember looking at him that first night and starting to sob. I told him how scared I was and that this was it for me. I was done. If things didn’t change, I was leaving and taking the kids with me. We simply couldn’t live that way anymore.
That’s when I knew it was time to tell my mom.
I remember telling her, but also sparing her some of the more hurtful details of what had been going on over the years.
“I am so sorry you have to go through this, and the kids, those beautiful babies,” she said.
She promised she wouldn’t judge him and promised to support me, which is exactly what I knew she would say and exactly what I needed to hear. But still, I could see the hurt for me in her eyes. That’s what a mother’s love is about.
The secret was out. Everyone knew now–friends, family, and neighbors. I no longer needed to hide.
So, when I put my foot down and said we would leave. I knew I meant it.
Two years ago – right about this time, actually – I was just doing my Mom and full-time job thing with a curious jungle of opportunities before me. No clear path. Just a lush, green mess of what could-be’s that required a big scythe or a dangling vine to clear the hurdles.
And that’s when it happened.
The dangling vine: The hand of a former colleague who had started her own business reached out to me and pulled me up to give me a clear view of all that was in front of me. She praised, inspired and played her role in setting my path in motion for writing and helping other women.
Her encouragement, thoughts, and words held onto me until I could set foot on the jungle floor and get my feet wet in the blogging world. She swiftly lifted me back up and swung me right from her handy vine to the next – a woman who had just branched out with a new blogging site for women and needed contributing columnists.
From there, I grabbed onto the vine of a writing coach who encouraged me to write a book. And once I wrote that book, I reached for a branch that brought me to a start-up group for entrepreneurial Moms where I again felt the ground of new experiences and kept swinging forward.
Heck, I’m even going to acknowledge the vine that Shonda Rhimes extended to me because, without even knowing me, her book swung me through the times of self-doubt and reminded me that I was going through my own “Year of Yes.”
I could go on: a business and lifestyle coach, a book agent, friends, family, and colleagues all had (and continue to have) their hands in thrusting me forward on my journey.
With every vine that takes my hand and every connection I make, the jungle has been far less daunting. Challenging, yes. But not so daunting.
Because throughout my journey to entrepreneurship, there has always been a woman who has taken me by the hand to help guide me through the jungle of whatever’s next.
Every other year, Thanksgiving brings us to Florida to celebrate the holiday with my parents. Four days of family conversation, laughter, eating, and yes, some stress.
I never seem to pack the right clothes – or enough – to get us through the handful of days that we’re there. And without fail, something gets left behind.
“I found one of Nick’s socks on the floor,” my well-intended mother texted when I returned home, “I can send it back.”
“Don’t worry about it, Mom. Just throw it out,” I replied.
“I’ll bring it up at Christmas,” she replied.
“Really, Mom. Don’t worry about it.”
Several weeks later, my parents arrived at Christmas sans sock. Mom seemed pretty bothered by it.
“I’ll mail it when I get home.”
“Mom, really. Just throw it out. I’m sure we have other stragglers that we’ll be able to make a match,” I reassured her.
But no, the story of the stray sock doesn’t end there…
Tuesday, January 9, 2018:
I arrived home from work and picked up the mail on the way in:
The next day, I arrived home and checked the mail again anticipating our long-lost sock.
Standing alone at my mailbox, I took my mail out, rolled my eyes and laughed out loud. I wish – really wish – I had taken a picture of what was in the mailbox. I’ll share this instead…
And finally, a response:
That’s when Dad chimed in – from Florida, mind you – and as only my father could:
Saturday, January 13th, 10:00am. A balmy 32 New Jersey degrees and dropping, I put on my hat, coat, scarf, and gloves and headed to the post office. And of course, I let my well-intended mother (and father) know what I was doing:
I wanted to take a picture of the whole line, but this crowd just didn’t look like they would be amused.
When I arrived at the front of the line, I handed the postal worker my bright orange postcard. She struggled for some time to find the package.
She finally found it, brought it back to the counter and set it before me.
“She didn’t put enough postage on it,” said the woman at the desk.
I want to thank you all for reading my first ever blog, this has been an amazing experience. Thank you, Beth, for the opportunity, guidance, and support. Thank you all for your kind words and prayers. This journey of mine has been a long road that started 10 years ago when I first realized there was a problem. The stories I am sharing are just glimpses into my journey that continues to this day. When I started the process of looking for someone – anyone – who could relate to me, I started by reading blogs. I had very mixed emotions as I read them, but just finding one that I could relate to meant a lot. I am hoping that maybe my stories can do that for someone else.
No little girl dreams longingly about her wedding day and thinks, “I sure hope I marry an alcoholic.” No woman does either.
But there was just something about him that left me paralyzed and made me stay.
I didn’t want my kids not to have their father. I also didn’t want to not be with my kids on the weekends.
I was scared.
I mean, the man drank until he was fall-down drunk every weekend. Would he do that when the kids were with him? So many scenarios played out in my head.
I had to stay.
After the July 4th episode, I just stopped caring.
We never fought.
I never questioned if this was his last beer.
I just stopped – stopped asking if he was coming to bed, if he wanted to go to the park with us, if he wanted to do any of the things that made him a husband and father.
I simply did what I had to do for my kids and myself.
“Why didn’t you just leave,” people always ask.
If it was that easy, I would have. Believe me.
He still found his way to the kids’ games. He was still a hard worker. From the outside, we still looked like a happy family.
But behind the scenes… now that was a different story.
He would walk in the house, trip over a toy, or see laundry on the couch and just start yelling. He would still fall down walking in the house, but that time I stopped checking to see if he was okay. I didn’t care.
I simply existed with him.
I once overheard him say discussing our relationship with a friend. “Things are great between us!” he said, “We hardly fight anymore. She’s not on my case so much.”
“Really?!?” It sent chills up my spine. Was he really that oblivious to us?
I cried myself asleep a lot more than before. Before I would be angry, but somewhere along the way, that anger turned to sadness.
I joined online AL-ANON groups, which helped a little because at least I knew I wasn’t alone. I read and Googled everything about being married to an alcoholic.
And after reading all sorts of people’s opinions and experiences I started to think, “Well my story isn’t as bad as hers, maybe I am making this a big deal and it isn’t.”
But it was.
I just didn’t want to admit it.
If he wasn’t beating me (and yes, there were times it got physical), I rationalized that things were just fine.
My head spun from “oh my God, this is horrible,” one minute to “here I am, making a big deal about nothing again” the next.
Where would I go from here? Could I find peace for myself, my husband and my kids? I had no idea.
And the uncertainty was so terrifying, that sometimes the thought of merely existing with this man I called husband seemed like it was the only way to live.
July 4, 2016: The day I knew something needed to change.
We looked forward to this family-friendly Fourth of July party every year. Lots of kids, bounce houses, pool, DJ, good food, and adult beverages for the parents. The kids were brimming with excitement as we headed over to the party.
I, however, was less than thrilled and growing more anxious about it with every mile that brought us closer to our friends’ house.
My stomach started to turn, the knots only growing larger and tighter with every beer my husband picked up. One beer, two beers, three beers, a shot or two, or three.
Once it began, there was no stopping him.
“Please don’t drink too much,” I begged of him in the days leading up to the party.
It was the same request I had made a million times for the last 10 years.
To others, he’s the funny drunk guy, the life of the party, with his obnoxious remarks and inappropriate language. To me, he’s the man I hate because I knew the remarks were going to turn to me – and that behavior was only going to get worse as the night went on.
And I’d be left to apologize to people who I didn’t even know for behavior that wasn’t even mine.
People who don’t know me would laugh and say,”It’s okay, he’s just drunk and letting loose.”
People who did know me would say things like, “He’s lucky to have you,” and “You are a saint.” Personally, I hated both because they didn’t truly know what it was like living with a functioning alcoholic.
He would go to work every day, go to the kids’ games, dances, and we’d never argue about money.
Friends and family just thought it was the just the way he relieved stress. Sure, it could have been – but then his stress became my stress.
The fireworks ended and the kids and I were ready to go home. It took about thirty minutes to get him to the car.
Once we were all there, it started, “You all are party poopers,” and “You guys suck!” “I am not leaving bitch,” or “Go the fuck home.”
And this was all happening in front of our kids (seven- and eight-years-old) who had started to cry because they want daddy to come home.
It wouldn’t be the first time or the last time that I left him at a party.
When we were driving home, my child said to me, “We are the only ones that know how to handle daddy when he’s drunk. What if something happens to him?”
I thought I sheltered them from it, but they knew a lot more about Daddy’s drinking than I realized.
I knew right then that something needed to change. It was the first step to my new beginning.
Just days after I birthed my first book, Pursuing My Wonderful, I held my little bundle of joy to my chest and wept.
First, tears of joy and pride that I had brought something so amazing into this world. And then those tears turned to something darker. Sadder.
When I had my first son, born of an emergency c-section, I couldn’t manage to find the words or the celebration that I had just brought a child into this world. I choked on the words, “I had a baby,” wallowing in the sense that I hadn’t earned the title because I never pushed. Not once.
I could only manage to say that the baby was here (as if he was simply dropped off at my doorstep), because in essence, the doctors took him out of me. And although it saved my son’s life, it sure felt like I had taken the easy way out.
After all, what woman worth her salt never had to push?
And that is how I started my “Wonderful” journey.
Sure, I had published a book, but had I earned the right to be called, “Author”? Had I actually birthed that baby or had I taken the easy way out by self-publishing?
Not one day after my stash of books arrived at my door, I ran into a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in a while at Target.
“Are you still writing?” my friend, Esta, asked me.
“Yes, actually. I just published a book,” I responded.
“That’s fantastic! I’m so proud of you!”
In a rush, I briefly explained Pursuing My Wonderful and then added, “It’s a short book. Hopefully it’s good. I don’t know that anything will come of it…”
She stared me down as probably only Esta could. “Thank you,” she said, “You say, ‘thank you.’ Don’t sell yourself short.”
That one stung – mostly because I knew that wasn’t the first time I found myself making excuses for something I should truly be proud of.
No one else was judging me out of anything other than pride. But there I was judging myself from my negative eye.
Perhaps it was a fear of the unknown.
After five days in the hospital – me recovering from my c-section and Nicolas recovering from some early complications – we came home, carrier in hand, walked up the stairs where my dog Charlie happily met us. And even more happily, met Nick. (I still remember her furiously wiggling butt in a curiously loving way that I had never seen before. Man, I miss her.)
The next moment, I remember looking around the family room – just me, my husband, Nick, my mother and the dog – and being keenly aware that we were the only ones there. And we were left to fend for ourselves.
“Who in the hell thought this was a good idea?” I thought to myself. And by that I meant, why would anyone at the hospital assume we were able enough parents to send us home?
No manual. Just the knowledge that I was a kind and loving person on top of ideas, suggestions and feeling our way around. But the millions of books and articles offering “professional parenting advice” couldn’t prepare me for the way my life with my child was going to work.
Publishing my wonderful gripped me with the same fear and uncertainty.
Who in the hell thought this was a good idea?
Even with my friends and colleagues pushing me forward with words of support and direction, it was still unknown territory. And I didn’t know I would be any good the “what’s next” any more than I knew that I would be a good parent.
But I opened myself up to it. I threw off my robe and exposed myself as “Author” – and would be judged as such the same way women are often judged once they have earned the title “Mom.”
So far, I’ve done a good job of living up the honorable name “Mom,” but could I do the same with “Author”?
And could I do it when there was so much else going on in my life, including a full-time job, part-time freelance work and children?
I would power through. As I always have. After all, this baby was born and there was no turning back.
Nine days after announcing the release of Pursuing My Wonderful, I walked into my full-time job and handed in my resignation.
Okay, I didn’t. I would have… I had it all penned out in an eloquently worded letter in my head. But those darned responsibilities just got in the way.
My urge to quit was not because I was so convinced that one book would make me a millionaire (I had only made $34 on it at the time), but because I had just given birth to this book that I have had in me for far more than 9 months and I wanted to spend time with it.
I wanted to coddle it. To listen to it coo.
I wanted to take endless pictures of it and document the journey for all the world to bear witness on social media.
I had no interest in running back to my day job and dealing with the day-to-day issues.
I didn’t want to half-ass it. And I didn’t want to be the part-time Mom that I felt like I have been all this time to my kids. I owed it to myself, I thought, to go all-in.
But let’s face it, reality is reality. And mine does not afford me the opportunity to support two kids on writing alone. At least not in the beginning. Not yet.
My time will come.
In the meantime, I’ll keep feeling my way around and seeing what I can make of it. Because I was the one who thought it was a good idea.
And I will call myself Author. Because I have absolutely earned that right.
“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” – When Harry Met Sally
This quote has always had a special place in my heart – not just because that’s what I have wanted in my Mr. Wonderful, but because I believe this is true of any wonderful in your life.
When you find it, you just want to be with it.
I have my Mr. Wonderful, but I have grown tired – tired of waiting for the rest of wonderful to appear and tired of looking in the wrong places and trying to make a corporate relationship work. I know in my heart that it’s just not for me.
I have big ideas and have been flirting with a career shift for a while now, but I’ve been scared. I’ve been gripped by the fear that I’m simply not good enough to make those ideas work and I’m terrified of the impact it could have on me and my family if I make the wrong choices.
But it’s time for me to take a risk and put myself out there and start making the move from the full-time corporate world to starting my own business.
Oddly enough, pursuing my professional wonderful looks an awful lot like the steps I took in pursuing (and keeping) my Mr. Wonderful after being “off the market” for a while.
And it doesn’t start until you simply take first step and put yourself out there.
Throughout this book, I will introduce you to women (and men) like us who have felt like there is more wonderful out there for them. They have taken a risk, put themselves out there and created a long-term love with their passion – and have even made money doing it!
After all, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life doing something, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”