Confession: I married an alcoholic

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.

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51 thoughts on “Confession: I married an alcoholic

    • It is shocking really to think of the way this potentially killer drug is so acceptable in our society. I’m as partial to a cocktail as the next girl but I had no worries giving up alcohol when I was pregnant. If you have an addictive personality though you’re pretty much doomed.

  1. Although an ordeal I’m so pleased he wasn’t abusive hon, and you managed to get away from him after less than a years marriage. The saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ comes to mind after reading this. I bet the experience made you realise exactly what you didn’t want second time round. Does it all feel like it happened to someone else now?! xx

    • I feel like, compared to what some people have been through – what you went through as a young person, this seems like nothing in comparison but I was so dragged down by this relationship and so relieved to get away – thank god for my parents! Still even though I thought it would make me somehow an expert in finding Mr Right afterwards, it doesn’t – it just makes you steer away from the traits in that person that were undesirable – doesn’t mean you don’t later on discover that other men have completely different undesirable traits!! *sigh*. Nothing as bad as alcoholism mind.

  2. Oh Sam, I’m so sorry you went through this, but I agree with Mummy Tries that these things sometimes make us stronger and make us who we were meant to be. I lived with someone for three years in my early twenties and completely lost myself. You know where you don’t realise you are in a controlling relationship, until someone finally says something, when you’re actually ready to hear it? I look back on it and can’t believe I allowed it to happen, but I don’t regret it as it is a huge part of what makes me the person I am today, much stronger and more sure of myself. Well done for writing about this, I actually think it’s really important to share xx

    • There’s nothing worse than being controlled and feeling imprisoned. I got to the point where I was questioning whether he was right and it was all in my imagination… From this description I hope people would agree that he did have a serious problem? After I left him I heard through the grapevine that he collapsed in the house one night because he was just drinking, not eating for days and the ambulance crew/police had to bash the door down. There are other anecdotes too but this was already a huge post!

  3. It is so easy to get wrapped up in someone else’s issues and not be able to see your way out. I am really glad you had parents to support you through what was obviously a crappy time. I agree with the others, and am hoping what didn’t kill you made you stronger x

  4. I’m glad you didn’t take long to decide enough was enough… but I can totally feel your reluctance to break it off all the way through and even though it doesn’t make sense in retrospect, I’m sure it did when you were inside it. I think sometimes as responsible people, we want to feel we can make things work.

    I’m glad you went on to find a much better marriage and situation.

    • Thanks Denise. It does seem mad in retrospect but I did love him for a long time. That said every ‘long term’ relationship I had before meeting husband No.2 (!) lasted no longer than 4 years (this relationship was just under 4 years). I’ve been with the hubster for 8 years now – a massive record for me! I’m just happy that I didn’t have kids with my ex. I never once felt broody with him (not surprisingly!) even though I was 29 when we married. I see from a friend of a friend on Facebook that he has re-married now and had a little girl so I hope he worked out his issues and is happy now.

  5. Goodness me, what an awful ordeal. Amazing isn’t it, how we manage to get ourselves caught up in these things? But once you’re on a certain train, as you say, it’s very hard to get off. Very well written piece and incredibly honest. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Oh Sam, what a sad story. You were so strong to leave in the end. You are such a lovely person, you definitely deserve much better than that and I am glad you separated from him, met your husband (despite his strange hobby of hiking at night, he he) and had your 2 gorgeous boys. Can’t wait to meet you at BritMums Live! xx Mel

    • I guess some people go through this younger than I was – we could easily have thought about starting a family then – in the end it has taken me a long time to finally get into the right place to have children and as a result I’m about ten years older than the average mum but I don’t feel it – it’s a bit like I got stuck at that point in my life and I’m re-living it the right way now (just with slightly creakier knees!) X

  7. Thank you for sharing this post, it can’t have been an easy one to write. I can’t believe that you went through so much at such a young age and I’m happy to read that you had the strength to walk away. It’s so lovely that you’re now happily married and have 2 adorable boys.

  8. Alcohol can be a hidden disease too I think-it’s easy to ‘control’ behind closed doors. A next door neighbour from years ago was a functioning alcoholic, although the functioning got less and less over the years. I remember vividly the personality change once alcohol had been taken-it was frightening. I’m so glad you had the courage and support to move on and build the life you have now.

    • I have a friend who’s dad is like this and she says her mum always stayed with him because of them. I can see how children in the mix would be a really heartbreaking complication…

  9. Oh wow, what a wonderfully honest and raw post. I am always proud, not in a patronising way, of people who can recognise a situation they must walk away from. So well done you. Hopefully it has shaped you and helped you all for the better xxx

    • I think it has shaped me to some extent Sian. You learn from your mistakes sometimes, but relationships are always complicated. I know now that alcoholism is a massive hidden problem which is played out often behind closed doors. I also had the great fortune of a very supportive family so I was able to walk away whilst some people are not so lucky. And we didn’t have children. I have a strong self-preservation instinct though and that now extends to my children too. X

  10. Blimey Sam, how unbelievably difficult, painful and frightening it all must have been. I’m pleased you had the strength and courage to know you couldn’t live that life and were able to walk away from your marriage. You have wonderful parents. Thank you for being so honest and sharing your story. x

    • I definitely have wonderful parents! I knew I was living a lie although sometimes I question myself – I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who doesn’t see both sides of the picture. A subsequent (short term!) boyfriend questioned me for labelling my ex-husband an alcoholic and implied that I was the one in the wrong but then I think he might have had a problem with alcohol too – bloody hell I don’t have attract ’em eh? 🙂 X

  11. I’m so pleased you had the strength to do what was right for your future. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Visiting from brilliant blog posts

    • Thanks Kyla. Thanks for taking the time to read this – I realise that it is a bit of an essay. I did feel a bit mortified at the time, especially as people had been so incredibly generous with their wedding presents. It seemed like such a sham but it had to be done.

  12. Ah honey what a tough time and you are so brave to have been able to get out of such a controlling and damaging situation. I am so glad things worked out for you in the end! Very brave post to write too lovely xx #brilliantblogposts

  13. Such a candid, touching post, so glad you were able to escape, such a debilitating problem that so few discuss openly. Thanks for sharing and linking up to #brilliantblogposts

  14. wow, wonderful post, well done for taking your life back. One of my friends is in a really similar position, but they have 3 children together, so she just doesn’t know what to do. It’s a tough situation for anyone. Wonderfully written #brilliantblogposts

  15. Thank you for such an honest post. You did a brave thing leaving your husband then, but you did the right thing too. I hope you found your happiness with someone who respects you and alcohol. You deserve it.

    I popped over from #BrilliantBlogPosts

    • Thanks Lisa. Somehow, in hindsight, it doesn’t feel like a strong thing – it seems like it was part of my destiny and I just lived it out. So I feel like a bit of fraud when people say it was strong or brave. I had a home to go to, no children. I hadn’t even changed my name on my passport or bank cards – so unsure had I been about the trajectory my life was taking. It all seems too easy somehow compared to what situations others must face – violence or a partner who would threaten to stalk or commit suicide if they ever left. I didn’t have to deal with that although my solicitor did have to hire a P.I. to stalk him so divorce papers could be officially served. That wasn’t cheap :-/ X

  16. I am so sorry to read this. It sounds like you did all that you could to make things work, but ultimately your husband’s illness won the battle. But you were strong enough to know your self worth and to leave him. I know a lady who needs to do this and I don’t think she ever will. I wish you every happiness in the future x x

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