Walking downhill, on my way back from work. It’s 7pm and the night has already crept up around me. A leaf lies curled on the pavement, one of many littering the walkway. A thought drifts down, sparked by an earlier encounter: me at the corner shop this morning, waiting to buy a packet of mints, standing behind an alcoholic who fumbles for his money and mishears the shopkeeper when he quotes the price for whatever it is the man is buying.
“Been drinking all night,” says the man, by way of explanation. His Pitt Bull terrier is sitting in the doorway, harmless enough though sufficiently frightening to make me think twice about entering the shop, before I actually enter it. Anyway, I stand there and watch the man search his pockets for change. I’m not really looking at him. I’m imagining what he’s doing based on what I can hear.
Then he leaves, and I’m standing where he stood, the air still smelling of him. I bat the odour away, frowning. “It stinks,” I say.
“Drunk,” says the shopkeeper, and I nod. He’s smiling, I’m not. “What to do?” he adds.
“It’s a disease,” I say. And we both shrug at each other. I can tell he’s good-natured about this brand of client – that he recognises they, too, are paying customers and so deserve some respect. I can tell that he has some sympathy for them, as well. I can tell that when he said drunk, the word was infused with pathos. Unlike my mollifying “disease” mantra which I trot out unconvincingly at times like this.
Even now that smell – that boozy B.O. stench – makes my stomach lurch and anger twitch in my gut. It recalls buried observations, emotions. It disinters a dormant fury.
So, back to the hill.
I’m walking down it, thinking of the drunk in the shop this morning, slowly equating him with pre-rehab Ben. This soon morphs into a question to myself, not quite clearly articulated. It goes something like: What does it really mean to be married to an alcoholic?
I ask this, because I know that most people think they have some idea of what this means. I also know that most of these same people have no idea what this really means.
So, what does it mean to be married to an alcoholic?
- waiting up into the early hours of the morning, wondering whether your partner has been killed in an accident.
- trying to ignore the guilt you feel at the relief that thought brings you
- counting the buses that go by, wondering whether he will be on the next one
- hoping he won’t be covered in blood again when he returns (and hoping you won’t need to clean the outer door, walls and floors again to avoid snarky comments from the neighbours)
- thinking up plausible explanations for why daddy died for your 3/4/5/x-year-old child
- wondering whether to ring the police or whether they’ll bring him home again
- ringing his mobile obsessively to find out where he is
- listening to him tell you he is coming home right now, while knowing he won’t turn up for another eight hours
- praying he won’t crap his pants again and bring it into the flat
- hoping he doesn’t try to cook something in the middle of the night – and forget about it while it’s on the gas stove
- buying him beer when he’s in withdrawal… because otherwise he might fit
- cleaning up his vomit
- castigating yourself for not knowing he had a problem and so letting him drive off with your child while under the influence
- single-handedly managing your home and children
- making friends with loneliness
There are more – many more bullets to add to this list. Why don’t you add your own in the comments below?