The year I turned 25 I finally completed 6 years of Higher Education (and a year working in the middle). After about a billion fruitless job applications to every kind of publisher known to man a good friend sent me a little snippet she had cut out of our local freebie newspaper advertising for an Editorial Assistant. I went on to get the job and joined a young, thriving company which was hiring a lot of young people just like me – fresh out of university, trying to break into the publishing industry.
A big group of us, all in our 20s, would bundle down to one of many local pubs in our lunch hour (for food – not so much drink), and get together for nights out – it was good fun, we had a lot in common and some of these people will be my friends for life.
There was a guy called Dave who would always bring along a couple of his mates to our social events. And that’s how I met Robert. He was a bit older than the others at 28, but it turned out we had a lot of people and places in common. We’d grown up in the same town but never actually crossed paths before. He worked as a facilities manager for a large publishing house and he was charming and generous and sociable. He was also a very practical person, re-wiring his own one bedroom house himself which certainly impressed my dad who is an arty creative type for whom such things were a bit of a mystery.
We were very quickly a serious item and, for a couple of years, we had great fun – travelling all over the UK, camping our way round Scotland, long weekends discovering the magic of Cornwall, Norfolk, Leeds and North Yorkshire. I would spend nights at his little one bedroom house and every time I arrived I would notice the empties and I knew he liked his drink but I always assumed the bottles had built up over the course of time.
Then we decided to get really serious and buy a house together. We found a lovely little property situated in a local riverside village and set up home. And it was at this point that I suddenly realised the true extent of Robert’s drinking problem.
This house was situated literally a stone’s throw from a low-beamed village pub which dated back to the 16th century. This place was a social hub – the landlady threw great parties and her lovely husband worked for Ladbrokes and laid on coach trips to some of the local race courses for race nights. Needless to say we got pretty heavily involved. He began to lose touch with his closest friends. And then I got a bit of pub fatigue and I didn’t want to be down there every night any more.
I spent many evenings in the house alone and I began to dread his return. He would drink non stop in the pub from 6 to 11 then he’d bring home a couple of ‘take out’ bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale and open up a large bottle of red wine and finish the lot.
The drunk version of Robert was a different person. It was like a stranger was entering my house every night – one who could not be reasoned with. I started making sure to be in bed, pretending to be asleep by 11.30 when he would roll in. I didn’t want to witness him in that state. It wasn’t that he was violent or nasty in any way – he was generally a happy drunk, occasionally morose – his grandparents and parents were all dead by the time I first met him in his late 20s and that can’t have helped.
There were nights when he would stagger in to bed, fall into to the deepest sleep imaginable and then roll out onto the floor with a heavy crash, taking the duvet with him but failing to wake. After a couple of occasions trying to grapple the covers back I gave up and began storing a spare duvet in a nearby cupboard. There was even one occasion where I woke to find him standing in the dark peeing onto the floor in the corner of the room so disoriented was he.
He would always wake up fresh as a daisy – he was a functioning alcoholic and he loved his job so he would go off to work with a spring in his step. One morning I decided enough was enough and that I should confront him and let him know how I felt about his drinking. I gingerly approached him and began to question the amounts he was putting away, the fact that, in my opinion alcoholism was taking over his life. This was the one time I saw him fly into a rage – he backed me into a corner in the bathroom, angrily shouting and accusing me of being a fantasist before storming out of the house leaving me a weepy mess curled up in the bathtub.
Despite all of this, when he proposed to me some months later, during a trip to Galway in Ireland to visit my aunt and uncle, I said yes. This is one decision I hardly understand myself. I guess I just felt that, with our lives so thoroughly intertwined, a joint mortgage and a runaway train of friends getting married almost every other weekend it seems now, this seemed like the right thing to do. But I do remember feeling very uncertain during that engagement and it was only when Robert’s sister and her husband came to stay with us one weekend – flying over from Germany where they lived – that I was given a bit of a shake out of this waking dream I was living. He refused to leave the pub to pick them up from Heathrow so I went alone. When we arrived back at the house he still failed to appear and eventually we had to go to the pub for them to say hello.
My sister in law to be sat me down and told me to get a grip, refuse to marry him without a big change – insist on a radical change in his drinking habits – an ultimatum if you will. She told him in no uncertain terms that he was treating me with the greatest of disrespect.
He listened, he took it seriously, he started buying Kaliber low alcohol beers, drinking soft drinks and noticeably changing his ways. The wedding preparation train stepped up a gear. I was on a juggernaut and I wasn’t about to leap off the side at 100 miles an hour.
We had a white wedding with all the bells and whistles. On my wedding night I ended up sleeping on the floor of the hotel room. At 10 am the following morning we went down to get a coffee from the bar but he opted for a pint of lager instead. We jetted off on a two leg honeymoon to Cape Town and then Mauritius. In hindsight, a city offering numerous tours of the nearby wine estates was maybe not such a good idea and then an all inclusive week at a Mauritian resort – even more of a disaster with free booze on hand day and night.
Essentially the ultimatum went straight out the window – it was as if he had known all along that he would placate me in order to trap me into the legal binding of marriage which he thought would be more of a ball and chain than I was willing to accept. This reached a pinacle when I woke up one morning to find that, in the absence of any readily available booze he’d raided the house and downed the little half litre bottle of sweet syrupy Sauternes dessert wine that I’d treated myself to in Cape Town.
And he became very controlling. He’d always put me on a pedestal but he seemed to see me as a clueless girl who needed to have every administrative part of her life managed for her. And then there was ‘potato-gate’ – an incident in Tescos where we’d gone together for a weekly shop. I had grabbed a bag of potatoes and put it into the trolley and he went into a bit of a fury – instructing me not to put anything into the trolley without his say so. For some reason we had driven to the supermarket in separate cars so I, in a bit of a state of shock and blinking back the tears, ran out to the car I’d arrived in and drove home without exchanging another word. He carried on, did the shop and returned home without a mention of any of this.
I knew I had fallen out of love with him but I couldn’t leave without trying to get things back on track. I moved back in with my parents and asked him to partake of both Relate counselling sessions and some AA meetings. He agreed and we visited Relate about 3 or 4 times. He attended AA once and told me he wasn’t one of those people. He told the counsellor at Relate that it was all in my head – that my family were anti-social and didn’t understand because alcohol is just a normal part of having a social life. I couldn’t make myself be heard and the counsellor passed no opinion whatsoever.
I knew then that it was dead in the water. Fortunately, my parents were a rock and completely accepted me moving back in with them at the age of 29. I couldn’t face trying to pack up my things in his presence so I took a day off work and secretly flung everything I owned in the back of a car. I was convinced that he would find out what I was doing and attempt to stop me – violently (even though I had no reason to believe this). In the event he did find out and returned after I was all packed up and we exchanged words in the presence of my dad. He didn’t want me to go. I had to go.
We had been married for seven months.