My wife Em wrote a piece for the fantastic Clemmie Telford on her experience of my drinking and how it felt when I gave up. Please have a read, it’s always so helpful to hear the perspective of our loved ones.
When I met Dave five years ago, one of my first impressions of him was as someone who clearly loved a drink but who could handle it without much of a problem.
This gave him a big, fat tick from me. After years in what had been an often volatile and increasingly destructive relationship it was a huge relief to have met a partner who didn’t seem to drink in a way that led to toxic, frightening, drama fuelled scenes.
The week before we started living together, Dave told me he was a functioning alcoholic.
It was a total shock and felt easier to almost brush his confession off and ignore it than question or put the brakes on what, in every other way, was the best relationship I’d ever known.
After Dave moved in with me and my kids I couldn’t work out why we were arguing so much about silly, unimportant things. I put it down to the stress of such a big lifestyle change – the adjustment he had to make from living on his own to living with four strong willed kids and a girlfriend with secondary breast cancer.
Our first ‘proper’ row was over what I thought was a very funny story he told about nearly choking ‘to death’ on the menthol ‘fumes’ of an After Eight Mint. My son and I giggled uncontrollably as he shared what we thought was a light hearted, comical anecdote. It felt like a lovely ‘new family’ bonding moment. It turned into the most ridiculous row and I think that’s the point when I put two and two together and realised how much his personality changed after one too many.
He drank every single day and that soon became my pattern to. I’d usually stop after a couple of glasses and Dave would carry on. It quickly became the norm for us to sleep separately – because of a row or him falling asleep on the sofa.
I came to dread that point in the evening when his eyes would go a bit squiffy and his whole demeanour would change. “My’ Dave had left the building and wouldn’t be back til morning. I missed him, missed ‘us’ very much.
So much of our relationship continued to be fantastic and the love between us was never in question. If only he didn’t drink to the point of blacking out several nights a week. If only he didn’t pick so many arguments about silly things. If only the ‘dog with a bone’ side of him wasn’t so prevalent. And, when it was really bad, if only he didn’t go on and on and on about something to the point where I would be pressing my fingernails into my palm, suppressing a silent scream and willing him to pass out just to make it stop.
The kids started to notice and that was really hard. “Mummy, why does Dave always get drunk?” “Mum, I heard you and Dave arguing again last night” and the toe curling – “Mum, why is there one of Dave’s beer cans in the cupboard under the sink?”
I felt terrible guilt that I’d brought this (wonderful) man into their lives to make everything better and instead, despite the stability and new sense of ‘family’ that we’d found, his drinking was starting to affect them too.
But I also started resenting the kids and the challenging behaviour they so often displayed. It felt easier to blame them, to hiss at them to keep quiet or to want them to stay out of the way than it was to actually confront the man passed out on the sofa with an empty wine bottle by his side.
I blamed us for what I saw as his unhappiness. We must be the reason he can’t stop or at least cut down. He looks so miserable. Maybe he feels trapped? Feral triplets, a tricky teenager and a wife with secondary breast cancer. It was simply too much. Had we driven him to drink? Had we ruined his once peaceful and stress free life?
The rows got worse. We really disconnected. The resentment grew as did the shouting, crying and the thing I’d wanted to avoid the most – drama. “I know I’ve got to sort it,” he’d say. “I’m just not ready”.
I honestly didn’t think he ever would be.
By the end of last year I was regularly googling “My husband drinks too much and I don’t know what to do”. But he was still my amazing Dave. Him still loving me, me still loving him. Still doing his best with the kids. Still shouldering immense responsibility with unwavering loyalty and devotion. Still the man I wanted by my side every, single day, just not the drunk and increasingly ‘tricky’ version.
I found myself pushing him away. Testing him. ‘I know you’re miserable with us, why don’t you just go”…that kind of thing. I said horrible things in our rows – I wanted to hurt, humiliate him and shock him into change.
I did not understand the nature of alcoholism at all.
Dave stopped drinking on January 7th 2019.
Just like that, or at least that’s how it seemed.
He’s struggled at times, of course he has. But he hasn’t wavered and his strength and resolve has blown me away.
Initially, Dave went to AA meetings but after a period of time he felt that there might be another way for him to connect with others and find the support he needed. He began sharing his journey on Instagram as @soberdave and has found himself at the centre of the most incredibly supportive and mutually accountable, online community.
He recently hosted his first sober event. It was a sell out! The atmosphere in the room was wonderful. I barely recognised the man standing, microphone in hand, in front of over fifty sober or sober curious guests.
I could not be prouder of how far he’s come but I’d be lying if I said that his new found sobriety hadn’t triggered a few uncomfortable feelings in me too.
At the start I felt a bit pissed off. Why did it have to be so all or nothing ffs? Such a dramatic change! Why couldn’t he just be moderate, a normal drinker? What about our date nights? Our cosy nights on the sofa with a bottle of wine and the candles lit? Our holidays? Our (rare but wonderful) lovemaking? Why did it have to get to this point?
I felt scared of what I saw as the losses in our relationship and I also felt insecure. I felt sick when I realised that Dave had probably fallen in love with me through a drunken haze. All those late night texts, the ‘love words’ as we called them. They poured out day and night at the start and it felt unsettling to think that, if sober, he might have made a different choice
What if now, newly sober, he saw me through different eyes and realised he loved me less or not at all?
Those feelings and fears were fleeting, thank goodness. There are no losses, no negatives to Dave living an alcohol free life, just an ever growing list of positives. I’ve got my husband back. Actually, forget that – I’m rather smitten with this new ‘Sober Dave’!
His sobriety has also made me look at my own relationship with drink. I’m a bit of a lightweight, hate hangovers with a passion and have a natural cut off point that keeps me gratefully in the ‘moderate’ drinker category but I still find myself regularly wanting a nice glass of wine after a testing day. Still love sharing a bottle of Prosecco with friends and the idea of a winter’s evening in a cosy pub just wouldn’t feel the same without a glass of red.
Or at least that’s where I’m at right now.
Part of me is envious of the bright, clear line Dave has drawn around himself in relation to drink. He found the strength to recognise that drinking no longer served him and he boldly cut all ties. He’s said an enormous ‘YES’ to a new life where anything is possible and it’s a joy to observe that life unfold.
When talking about the benefits I could go on and on.
We sleep in the same bed every, single night and I can’t imagine it any other way.
The kids are growing up in a loving home with no signs of addiction or dependency. They may have a mum with cancer and we may all do a hell of lot more shouting than is ideal but that’s as far as it goes and for that I am beyond grateful.
These days, the only thing hidden around the house is my chocolate stash.
Dave and I still argue, of course. I have a tendency to sulk and Dave is still an occasional ‘dog with a bone’ but the drama has disappeared. Our rows are normal, every day rows. We get overwhelmed, stressed out and bicker about parenting, money, who’s the most knackered and in need of a break – but that’s just normal life stuff, don’t you think? And that really is as far as it goes.
No more lying to the kids about the arguing and door slamming from the night before – Halle-bloody-lujah!!
Dave’s sobriety is certainly a lesson in living one day at a time but it’s also a lesson in stepping way beyond the tiny, insular world that addiction places you in and creating a new, limitless and expansive life where the sky really is the limit.
As we head towards the end of what’s been a tumultuous but also, in parts, an incredibly positive year, I’ve just realised that I’m not dreading Christmas! We won’t have disconnected or fallen out by the time the Queen takes to our screens for her annual round up and I’m anticipating harmony rather than hell. What a flipping relief! As long as no one pops around with a festive box of After Eight Mints, we’ll be absolutely fine.