I’ve just finished reading Jeet Thayil’s Booker long-listed Narcopolis, a swooning tale of remorseless addiction in Bombay. It’s mesmerising, conjuring a world that is filthy, violent, elegant and human. Continue reading
Today is your anniversary. On this day last year, I was on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, caught in a sweltering summer, finally exhaling as I read the email from the detox centre confirming that you had been admitted. This was after you relapsed so dramatically the day after Rosie and I left for Canada. After you had ignored my calls and refused to speak to me, forcing me to ring my friend in London daily to ask her to drive down to our place simply to check that you were still alive. In the end, she did more than that. She drove you to the detox centre. Continue reading
It’s been one year since I started this blog. Despair compelled me to write that first post. Ben was on the couch – as he is right now – except today the detritus at its foot is a mug of hot chocolate. And a bowl of chocolate digestives. The digestives are the one thing that hasn’t changed. Continue reading
This is the view from my kitchen window. Over the past 24 months I’ve spent hours caked in anxiety, peering out this window, counting the buses going by, hoping for Ben to materialise, willing him to be on his feet and not lurching, limping or covered in blood. These days, I do this less and less. Ben’s recovery is something I have grown to believe in. Until now. Continue reading
Taken in isolation, hardly a compliment. But this is what Ben wrote in my birthday card a few weeks back. You are the glue that keeps this family together. I can’t remember everything he wrote – I think I skimmed the card because I was too embarrassed to read it properly.
Why embarrassed? Probably because we say so little of substance to one another these days. We’re very good at managing domestic and parenting issues. It’s just us that draws a ringing silence, followed by embarrassment should one of us dare to break it.
So, I sort of scanned the card, saw all the words, but managed to forget most of them, apart from the first sentence. And rather than feeling happy to read these words of – admit it – appreciation; I find myself becoming irritated at the thought of them.
What do they mean, really? Why am I the glue? I never asked to be in this place, holding everything and everyone together. I don’t mind being that person from time to time. I don’t even mind being that person often. But why must it always be me?
Instead of appreciating Ben’s appreciation, I find myself second-guessing it. Is he saying this because he admires this quality in me, or because he feels sorry for himself? Is he passing the buck by saying, you’re so much better at this than I could ever be. In other words, is he somehow absolving himself of responsibility?
Perhaps I am being uncharitable. He’s been through a lot, and as my therapist said today, he’s actually doing pretty well, all things considered. She reminds me, time and again, that it is still very early in the process, that it has only been a few months since he came out of rehab.
Easy to forget
It’s easy to forget sometimes. True, I find myself back in the panic room when he adopts a familiar pose or walks with a certain gait. Sometimes, I can’t see him as he is now, because the memory of what he was (a sad, shuffling drunk) rears up and superimposes itself over him. As for what he was before all of that – that is the archival Ben, the Ben in wedding photos and photos of us as graduate students. And that person is unrecognisable. He has become someone other.
But the panic and the shadows are gradually withering. Ben is responsible and loving with Rosie. He’s helping more and more around the flat, when he comes. He does some of what he says he plans to do (like calling in the council to check on a potential rat infestation in the garden – yech). He doesn’t do things the way I would do them, but that doesn’t matter. All in all, Rosie is safe and happy, and I’m not carrying quite as heavy a burden as I have been of late.
So, it’s easy to forget. But just scrolling through a list of my posts clears my mind, much as my weekly visits to my therapist do. She is based at the local drug and alcohol service, and I often sit in the waiting room with several addicts.
I hate it. It smells of beer and body odour. It reminds me so acutely of my recent past, that I can feel last year rising at the back of my throat. As I sit there, I tell myself to listen, observe, find the humour in the situation. But all I can do is narrow my nostrils and bury myself in my smart phone, aimlessly swiping the screen just to distinguish myself from them.
And then I’m back home, in my familiar life, and things have improved in ways I hadn’t anticipated, and yet, I’m still the lynch pin, still the glue binding our small family together. I should feel proud of this, but really, I’m just tired.
Lately, I’ve been under siege. I’m fire-fighting on multiple fronts. There’s Rosie, with her daily distress (the underpant issue has been replaced by the undershirt one). There’s work – the jokers (aka. our senior managers) have asserted total dominance over our organisation and all we can do is strike to make our points heard. And then there’s Ben who, for the first time in a long time, isn’t really a source of discontent, only mild discomfort.
There’s also my RSI, which has flared up in response to some rather intense pressure at work (when I’m not striking, I’m working ridiculously fast – writing and editing a flurry of texts on anything from military sexual slavery to disappearances in Thailand).
So, this blog has slowed down a bit. Partly because of the multilateral battle I’m waging, partly because of the pain in my hands, and partly because I struggle to find the words to tell this new story in which Rosie and I are pitted against one another like two factions in a wearying war.
All I can say is each day is difficult. Each day is uncertain (will we get to school in time or will she chuck a fit about her vest or t-shirt riding up, causing her to tear off her clothes at the 11th hour and consign us to the late register again?).
Today we managed to get out the door without incident. Tomorrow, we will try to do the same, but there is no guarantee we will succeed. Everything hinges on Rosie’s mood. And how well I manage it.
As for Ben, he moved out of the rehab centre and is now in sheltered accommodation, which means he’s effectively homeless. He’s got a room in a house somewhere in south London. He says it’s ok. His ok is my gross, so I won’t be taking Rosie to visit. I don’t really want her seeing him in those conditions. She will ask why he isn’t here and that will take us into difficult territory.
I asked him how he feels about leaving rehab and he seems relaxed about it. The centre has allowed him to attend their day programme. That lasts until the first week of December. Then he’s on his own. The house he’s staying in is a dry house – no alcohol allowed. And the rehab centre offers permanent aftercare. But what he does with his time once the programme ends, I really don’t know. I wonder how easily he might slip back into drinking. Then I decide there is no point in wondering. As long as he’s not here, I can deal with it.
Ben stayed over this weekend, to observe Rosie’s behaviour and try to talk to her. I’ve found myself turning to him more often than I’d imagined as I’ve tried to cope with her tantrums. Watching him manage her issues with clothing was educational. Ben is calm where I am not. His strategy is to keep calm and keep talking. It worked to some extent. He has a way with her that calms her down. I only seem to wind her up.
There wasn’t much to Ben staying over. Although we complained during our counselling sessions that we don’t get a chance to actually speak, and therefore have no way of evaluating where we are in our “relationship”, we had a whole night in which to do just that – and didn’t.
Instead, we watched The Killing (the original Danish version, of course). When we weren’t watching TV, Ben was on the computer and I was pottering. We said nothing to each other, apart from, “What did she say?” or “What happened while I was in the loo?”
Later, when I went off to bed, I tossed a while, thinking I should be in the other room chatting to Ben. And then I fell asleep and the opportunity slipped away with the night.