"If Tomorrow Never Comes"
A Letter to My Spouse
My Darling Husband,
I love you. And you are dying.
As you leave me, little by little each week, each month, I struggle with acceptance. I try to prepare for when you will be gone altogether. I try to prepare for the loneliness. I'm getting some practice now. As alcohol drags you away from the living, I watch you go, and though it hurts to realize your body is in the room with me though you are lost in another world, I can find some solace in the chance that these frequent experiences are going to make your death less agonizing for me. On those nights when I cannot bear the pain of your abandonment, I must leave the room. I retreat to my study, the wonderful sanctuary you built for me and for which I'm very grateful, or to the other bedroom to sleep or occasionally to go to a movie or shopping. The loneliness is hard.
I have to be practical, too, and consider finances, even though it feels so coldly harsh to think along these lines. You are my bread-winner, the family's successful provider. Your earnings keep us in our wonderful little home, keep us fed, keep us comfortable, healthy and entertained. When you can no longer provide for us, then I must. I have to create a career for myself that brings in sufficient income to replace yours, and that isn't going to be easy at my age.
It is ironic that one of the characteristics that impressed me most when we were dating and first married was your strength, both mental and physical, and your wonderful self-confidence and intelligence. I loved to watch you at work. I've never seen anyone who worked as well with young people. It's because they knew you could be trusted to do the right thing and to do it consistently, even if they didn't much like it.
You were the same at home. If something needed repair or needed to be built, you repaired it; you built it. I counted on your willingness to make our home prettier or more efficient whenever I asked. I felt so lucky to have that kind of husband, and I could see you took pride in your work, even when you pretended you didn't.
You don't jump in so willingly any more to do the extras. There isn't much time because of all those hours addiction demands, but you do manage regular home maintenance for which I'm grateful. I know how hard it must be to mulch leaves, mow the lawn, and take out the trash when you suffer from heartburn, diarrhea and headache. Yet, you always do them. The day will come when I will have to hire outside help, I know, but, for now, I thank you for working when you are sick.
One day at a time, that's how we are told to live with addiction, and it's not only excellent advice, I've found, but absolutely the only possible way to mentally survive. The moments when I allow myself to think of future events are the moments I suffer the most anxiety, like the vacation we are planning for the summer. There is no way to know what your condition might be by then. Your liver or kidneys may have deteriorated to the point you are physically too ill to go. Or you may be unable to get through any 24-hour period sober the way you can now. Already I don't know how you can manage the rigors of our trip while adhering to the present pattern of poisoning yourself one night and recovering the next. Even if you can physically manage, how can you possibly enjoy more than a few moments of such an exciting adventure. I think about the cost and wonder if it's a waste of money.
Still, some things in life one has to plan for in advance, and this is one of them. I will purchase the airline tickets and make reservations at hotels and buy the necessary clothing. Those are the things I can do. The things I can't do include planning for your health or making you stop drinking or managing your behavior in any way. One day at a time means I cannot think about next summer's vacation or the retirement years or exciting adventures together in the future. I can turn the future over to God and try not to grieve over what we could have had and won't.
The thing about your illness that troubles me most is the superficiality of our relationship now. We started with that something special. We shared an inexplicable chemistry that exists in some love affairs and goes beyond normal physical attraction. We related to each other so honestly, with very little held in reserve.
Alcohol has changed that, of course. It has weakened you physically and depleted your sensuality. It has become so much a part of you that I cannot be honest in my feelings toward you because I hate the alcohol part. Sometimes all I want to do is scream obscenities at the alcohol part, but I can't do that without screaming at you, and so I can't talk to you at all. So often, when I need some good honest, in-depth conversation, you are in your other world, and the moment passes. If I'm not careful, the need is replaced by resentment. Resentment, I have learned, is very bad for my health while it doesn't do a thing to make you stop drinking.
There is much more, lots of accumulated little sorrows I'd like you to be aware of but what's here is enough, I guess. Do you know why I'm telling you all of this? No, it's not to hurt you. It's to enlighten you. True, I hope the enlightenment does hurt because that will show you are still able to care how I feel and what I think. I am telling you because this morning you made two statements; one may be true, though I'm not so sure, and one false. First, you said you were aware that your drinking may kill you but don't wish to do anything about it. Maybe this is so, and maybe it isn't that you don't want to but, rather, are afraid to. Second, your addiction harms you, not me, which is definitely false.
I consider myself lucky that you don't drink and drive. Very lucky! I'm grateful that you aren't a hostile drinker with all that implies. The difficulty is, because the harmful effects of your addiction are so subtle, your children and friends and more importantly, you, yourself, consider your illness a somewhat mild problem and, therefore, acceptable. And this only increases my sorrow, for I often bear it without the empathetic caring of others.
I will continue to attend Al-Anon meetings and read literature about living with alcoholism and talk to a sponsor who's been through it all before. I will continue to prepare to be independent as best I can and to grieve what is already lost and to love you with all my heart until you are gone.
--written by B.J.