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I didn't know I married an addict

I didn’t know I married an addict.

Written by Jim Huntzicker | Category: Addictions, Behavioral Addiction February 8th, 2021

Man…it took me over a month before I could bring myself to read this after my wife wrote it. Jen, my bride, is pretty great. Well actually she is unbelievably fantastic and the most patient, accepting, and understanding person I know. It’s probably why she was such an amazing elementary school teacher. I feel lucky to have her in my life every day. We will be married 16 years in July and we have 9-year-old twins Claire & Liam. Holy crap time flies! 

Years ago I heard a fascinating distinction on mindset as it relates to goals that have helped me accomplish many milestones in my life. It has no doubt been one of the leading guiding principles that got me here. Shifting your mindset from a goal mindset to a growth mindset is life-changing. Goals are important and are actually easier to accomplish when you are focused on growth. More on this in another post.   

When I asked Jen to help keep me organized and on task when writing the book, I guess I really hadn’t thought about all that she was about to learn about me. Most of it she knew, at least on the surface but not all of it. Nobody did. Until now there is no one I spoke to about the deep-down stuff that I am now sharing with the world in hopes that it will help the people that need it. So this post wasn’t planned; in fact, how it came about was that we were thinking it might interest some of the readers to incorporate her perspective in the book from time to time. This post will be the start of you periodically hearing from a spouse’s perspective that was on the other side of a functional addict.

Perspective from the other side:

“I didn’t know I married an addict. I honestly didn’t. Looking back, the signs were there, but I think I shoved those little (possibly scary) clues away in the back of my mind where I didn’t have to think about them. When we met, we were working at a nightclub for God’s sake! Everything about the job normalized addictive behaviors. I was going to school to get my teaching degree and the bar helped me bring in some cash. I had no idea what I was doing, having never been much of a drinker. Most of the bartenders, however, seemed so sure of themselves. They had confidence oozing out of them, which was something I severely lacked. They were this tight-knit crew that drank while they worked, and then continued the party after hours. Having left undergrad a couple years prior, I didn’t have many friends back home and most of the people I met through my teaching program were much older as this was their second career. This new group of bar people were much more like my college friends as was their lifestyle. 

Jimmy was everything I wasn’t. Confident, seemingly always sure of himself, and seemingly comfortable in every situation. I say seemingly because now I know he was using alcohol to feel that way. But at the time, I loved the way he navigated work and life. We spent that first year together in a post-college party binge. It seemed normal that he’d drink to excess and pass out every night. It seemed normal that I would drink more simply by being with him. I mean, that’s what I had experienced in college. Living in a sorority, most of my friends and the circle of people I hung out with did exactly that every weekend. So it truly seemed like an extension of my college life. Plus, all his friends had exactly the same lifestyle. Who was I to question it? And having grown up in a pretty sheltered home, I was just happy he didn’t do any drugs. That would have been wrong to me. The alcohol just felt like something adults enjoyed to relax.

As I grew more comfortable in our relationship, and we both ended up moving on from the nightclub job, I think I started to wonder when the excessive drinking would stop. I was basically done by then. I had finally snagged an actual teaching job and was setting out on my career. Jimmy had finally found a passion in the Real Estate World and was working hard to carve out a career there. We had a few fights here and there about his drinking. Mostly about who he became when he drank. I feel like drunks all have different personalities when drinking. There are the mean drunks, the emotional drunks, etc. Jimmy was a sloppy drunk. He was messy, careless, undependable, and just annoying to me if I wasn’t drinking myself. Our relationship was rock solid though- we were still truly in love and shared all the big life goals. So I still continued to look the other way and look past the bad habits that were starting to niggle into my consciousness.

My breaking points were tossed in here and there. And about different things. His smoking really started to bother me as well. He had always had this supernatural ability to keep from smelling like smoke. You know how most smokers walk around with yellowed teeth, stinky clothes and an aura of smoke? He didn’t! Truly never! I have never smoked a cigarette a day in my life, so I am not numb to it. I go out of my way to avoid smoke now. I literally hold my breath if I have to walk by it. Back when he and I met, you were still able to smoke in bars. I was definitely more used to it and even went home from work reeking of it. But when that became illegal and after we progressed in our life, it became intolerable to me. He had always known that he should stop. He had started to say he was going to. We talked about how much money it would save if he didn’t. So when he finally quit, I was ecstatic! How surprised was I then, when he decided to pick it back up on a night out? His formerly understanding and patient girlfriend was not about to have this. I feel like that’s when I became someone I didn’t want to be. A nag. A giver of ultimatums. This is not who I set out to be. I am a firm believer in not changing someone. I knew I got into a relationship with this smoking, drinker of a man. I went in with my eyes wide open and I hated that I was now the person shooting him dirty looks and harboring angry feelings. This is something addicts do to the ones they love. They turn them into people they don’t want to be. They make their loved ones and friends worry. They make them suspicious. They make them silently seethe.

When he took back up smoking, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Having never been addicted to nicotine, it fully escaped me how you could quit one day and take it back up the next. Hadn’t we completely decided it was disgusting and terrible for his health? Didn’t he remember how glad I was when he quit? I fully let him know how horrendous I thought it was. Thankfully, he was where he needed to be mentally to quit again, and this time it stuck. I breathed such a sigh of relief that I once again gave him a pass on his drinking. I felt like I had to pick my battles and that smoking was the worst of the battles. This might sound snooty or stuck-up, but I grew up in an extremely healthy family and no one, not even extended family, smoked cigarettes; it felt like a trashy habit. It was smelly and cheap. When he finally made up his mind to quit, I was so relieved not to be embarrassed about it anymore. So these (not so true) reasons are why I once again shoved his drinking to the back of my mind.

However, Jimmy’s battles were picking up in the other addictive areas of his life and it was starting to seep more and more into mine. With no more appetite-suppressing cigarettes to depend on, he started filling that void with food. Having a vicious sweet tooth myself, I happily enabled his newest addiction. Dairy Queen every night? Check. Trips to McDonalds for fresh hot fries and a huge icy Coke? Absolutely. Refill on the bread basket at a restaurant? Yes, please. So now, picture this: both of us gorging on food and then him, drinking like a fish. The sloppiness became glaring to me. I myself was gaining weight. I was starting to resent every drink he took. I noticed more of his drunken unpleasantness; everything negative was starting to be magnified. One night in particular sticks in my mind. And if you know me, you know I have the worst memory. Obviously, this was an event that seared itself in my brain, no matter how small it actually was. We went to dinner with a couple of friends which started out in the usual manner: Jimmy ordering lots of drinks, but so far so good. Then we moved the party to a comedy club where more drinks were then enjoyed. If you’ve been to see live comedy, then you know that usually the seats and tables for the audience are small and close together and this was no exception. Jimmy, who was quite drunk by this point, kept talking loudly to his friend during the comedian’s set. The comedian didn’t notice, but everyone around us did. We kept getting shushed and got more than a few dirty looks. I was mortified and kept telling him to be quiet, but in his drunken state, he could have cared less. Those people were too uptight. I was too worried about what other people thought. He was a paying customer and could do what he wanted. I remember going home that night with a pit in my stomach, just now starting to realize I couldn’t live the rest of my life this way. I am the true definition of a pacifist. I HATE confrontation. To this day, if I get into a disagreement with Jimmy or anyone, I make myself sick over it. Physically sick. Until it’s resolved, my body and mind are consumed with it. So I was living my life with a small pit in the depths of my stomach since none of these things seemed to be going anywhere, and I wasn’t empowering myself to talk to him about it. For this particular thing, nothing ever got resolved because I’m sure he didn’t even remember it in the morning.

For those of us living with addicts of any kind, we walk around with a growing sense of resentment and dread. When will something embarrassing happen again? When will they disappoint us yet again? How do I bring this up without sounding like a nag or a bore? How will I get them to stop or to just recognize the problem with giving an ultimatum? Am I overreacting? Maybe I’m the problem…

Needless to say, these little and big disturbances due to drinking happened time and time again. Drunken (one-sided; HIS side) nights out, drunken airport waits, drunken flights. He literally could not have one or two drinks like me. And that was hard for me to wrap my mind around. It’s hard to understand alcoholism when you’re not the one who’s the alcoholic. I still don’t even think I truly get it since I never experienced it firsthand, but living with someone with it? For sure- we can talk all day 🙂

Life continued to move on and so did our dreams. We got engaged. We bought a home. We got married. All wonderful things and all wonderful memories in our life.  After enjoying our newly married life for a while, we decided to stop birth control and try to have kids, something we had always both wanted and been on the same page with. But of course, life never seems to move in a straight line and we realized that month after month of negative results meant something was up. I dealt with this disappointment in moodiness and a general state of being bummed out. Jimmy dealt with this disappointment, plus his newly depressed wife with alcohol. What a great combo, right? We found an infertility doctor that we could start the difficult process with and I had a renewed sense of hope. But with bills piling up (infertility was not covered through our insurance and we had to pay out of pocket),and the pressures of numerous infertility drugs and timetables, Jimmy comforted himself with alcohol. I had too much going on with my job and my determination to get pregnant to deal with his coping. So once again, I didn’t bring up my concerns and he continued on his downward path. I have a history of just not dealing with things big or small and ignoring them. I shove them away in a little drawer of my brain and that’s basically what I was doing with his drinking. One morning, I woke up and tiredly walked downstairs to take my fertility meds. Right next to the fridge where I kept them, on the counter, was what looked like a nice cold glass of water. I mistakenly thought that Jimmy had left it there for me to swallow down all those “horse pills” as we jokingly called them. What it actually contained was last night’s forgotten tall pour of vodka. I downed those pills in one swig before the burning in my throat made me realize what it was. A little alarm went off in my brain that if he left out an entire glass of vodka, then he was clearly drinking too much. And on a weekday night. And we had been by ourselves. Ding, ding, ding.

Determined not to be a nag of a wife, I don’t remember truly getting on him about it. I think we spoke of it in the heat of the moment, upon fighting about something, upon noticing he looked or acted sloppily, upon it becoming glaringly obvious. But I give him full credit for his determination to end his alcohol addiction. He could tell you better (and he will) as to when he decided to be done. This was his decision solely. Not some ultimatum I gave him. The only thing close to an ultimatum that I did give him hopefully just opened his eyes a bit. I hope it made him think. What happened was this: we finally found out that all the science paid off- we were pregnant. AND expecting twins. I honestly don’t remember how it came about but I told him this: that he would never be allowed to hold or touch our babies when drinking. I told him I couldn’t trust that he wouldn’t be sloppy. That he wouldn’t slip up and hurt them. And that I would never be able to forgive him for that and more importantly, that he would never be able to forgive himself. 

Over the years since, it’s hard to even remember that version of my husband. He was the person I fell in love with and laughed with and started a family with. But he has become this new hybrid version. One that I still love, laugh with and raise my children with. But one with a clear purpose and a razor-sharp view of how he wants his life to be lived. It has kept me on a more purpose-filled path; I tended to watch from the sidelines and let things happen, but he inspires me to do more things with purpose and passion. Other addictions have since ebbed and flowed; sugar, marijuana. I think that he is a person who is the true definition of someone with an addictive personality. He’s all in, or all out. He doesn’t half-ass anything, big or small, good or bad. It’s funny, sometimes I miss the more carefree version of him, the one that was a bit more laid back. But I have to realize that’s not who he truly was. The alcohol was blurring him. It was censoring his real self. As he morphed into who he is today, it challenged me to change along with him. But to all you who are reading this, to those of you who are struggling with someone in the throes of addiction, it is not your fault. Be supportive. Be encouraging. Find more out about yourself through their process. But it is ultimately their process alone. They have to make the choice within themselves apart from you. You can and should help them get there if they are struggling to get there on their own and they might make that choice in part due to you, but it really has to be a singular choice. If they don’t make it by themselves first, it will never stick.” [End.]

Does any of that sound familiar? I have to be honest until I read this post for the first time I didn’t remember her telling me I couldn’t hold the babies when I was drinking…maybe (probably) I was drinking when she told me. There are so many hard choices to make in life but quitting something that has nothing but a negative effect on you and the people that love you most shouldn’t be one of them. There are a lot of reasons I quit drinking. Most importantly I did it for me and my health but you know what’s funny is that one of the reasons I was able to just stop is that I realized I was continuing to drink for other people. People I didn’t actually care about at all. Think about it for a minute…Are you continuing to drink or do something you would prefer not to because of other people? If that question puts a pit in your stomach then you have your answer.

“Anything worth doing isn’t easy and anything easy isn’t worth doing.”    

Never stop growing. Ever. 

JH 

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