CN: Alcoholism, ADHD, Depression
The story of my breakup doesn’t begin at any point in that relationship, but months before it even began – the morning of my first 8am glass of wine. I’d been trying to quit drinking for a while before then, but that day holds the moment I could no longer deny that I was an alcoholic. It came without fanfare or angst. I just woke up that day and decided that alcohol would be my method for coping with the high levels of anxiety that had been plaguing me every morning for half a year. My life began to spiral shortly after that. Slowly at first, and then very, very quickly.
By March of last year I was physically dependent on booze. If I tried to stop cold turkey I would likely have had seizures, which led to attending my first AA meeting. It was supposed to be the beginning of the end, but nine months later I’d broken up with my partner over the phone, drunk, and almost entirely broken.
“It was supposed to be the beginning of the end, but nine months later I’d broken up my partner over the phone, drunk, and almost entirely broken”
What recovery has forced me to recognise is that I had stopped dealing with emotions in the ways most people do a long time ago, years before that morning drink. Whenever I felt any emotion that I didn’t want to deal with – be it anger, fear, frustration – I found that I could drink and suddenly not care anymore. When I was happy, I could prolong that happiness for as long as I had a bottle of wine or rum nearby.
So when I started trying to get sober, I discovered that I had completely forgotten how to feel. Like a toddler, I had to learn how to moderate my emotions and express them healthily all over again. I was, and continue to be very bad at it.
For my ex, this meant that I reacted in ways that were wildly disproportionate both to his loveable traits and his wrongdoings – exacerbated by the fact that I have untreated and relatively severe ADHD. I wasn’t some monster, and most of our last memories together still bring me a lot of joy. However, I found that whenever he slightly hurt me, I reacted heatedly because I was sober and therefore angry or uncomfortable, or by drinking in response to feeling so intensely – which only made matters worse. My intense mood swings were part and parcel of the recovery process, but they overwhelmed the both of us and wracked me with guilt.
So I broke it off.
That said, this isn’t an article about how alcoholism made me a terrible partner. I write this because in the weeks leading up to that point, I had taken to the internet to find advice on whether or not to stay in my relationship. What I found was a wave of articles from non-addicts warning each other to stay away from people like me. Even the writers that acknowledged addiction as an illness failed to consider their partners’ perspectives. The worst declared that the only thing worse than being an addict was dating one. The general theme was that alcoholics love booze more than they love their partners, and this was something I internalised until very recently.
“I often wonder whether I would have ended things sooner had I not been an alcoholic”
It is a fundamentally ableist assertion – there is no illness love can cure. I didn’t know what would happen before I took the drink that led me to end things with my partner, but I sensed it probably wouldn’t be good. That said, what went through my head as I opened the bottle wasn’t “if I drink this I’ll likely hurt someone I love, but I don’t care because I want to be drunk right now”. It was the dangerous refrain that goes through every addict’s mind: “this time will be different”. This time drinking will make me happy rather than belligerent. This time it will make me easier to deal with. This time it will help us smooth over our problems rather than creating new ones. Of course, it wasn’t different because it never is. But addiction does an incredible job of convincing you otherwise.
The internalised stigma also kept me from properly addressing the issues I had with our relationship. Red flags concerning his capacities for care and communication presented themselves over the course of our time together. I often wonder whether I would have ended things sooner had I not been an alcoholic and therefore not wrapped up in guilt about my behaviour, or convinced that I’d distorted my perspective so I could use self-pity as an excuse to drink.
Now that the relationship is over, it’s clear that breaking up was the best thing I could do for my recovery. I consider it to be my rock bottom. It showed me that my life was entirely unmanageable and that the approach I was taking to the AA programme – one where its demands were constantly supplanted by other priorities – wasn’t working.
“Now that the relationship is over, it’s clear that breaking up was the best thing I could do for my recovery”
Today, my life revolves entirely around the programme and it’s had immediate effect. I’m currently enjoying the longest stretch of sobriety that I have ever achieved. More than that, the desire to drink has quietened from an obnoxious roar to a dull, ignorable whisper. AA meetings are full of people who pushed away their partners in early recovery, realised they’d made a mistake, and failed to get their partners back. Most mornings I wake up and wonder if I’ll become one of them. But then the day progresses. I stay sober, I pray, I meditate, I call my sponsor and other alcoholics – I do recovery.
I wish I could have discovered what it took to stay sober while I was with my ex. But if our relationship hadn’t broken apart I don’t know what would have finally made me acknowledge that I couldn’t carry on as I was. I like the idea that there’s an alternate universe somewhere where I took my recovery seriously from the start and am still happily in love. But in this universe I am who I am. A woman who has to recover alone.