When I say out loud my children won’t grow up in the home of an alcoholic, I say it with every ounce of my being.
This will not be their home life.
This will not be their legacy.
This will not be their chaos to cope with.
I will lose my marriage. I will lose my husband. I will lose my house. I will lose my comfort. I will lose all of it to stop this ride immediately.
I can’t control Chris’ drinking. I already tried.
I can’t control his pain. I already tried.
I can’t control his recovery. I already tried.
I can’t love him into sobriety. I already tried.
If the sheer force of my will could fix this, it would be fixed by now.
The most impactful reactions to my series a few weeks ago were when I heard from adults who grew up in the homes of alcoholics or addicts. This story I’m living isn’t new. This reality has played out for decades in millions of homes. It played out in the home Chris grew up which makes the irony especially brutal.
When you’re a kid living in the chaos of a parent struggling with addiction, you don’t get a voice. Often you’re along for a ride you never agreed to get on and would love to get off of, but no one is actually listening to you. I saw this more times than I can count in the classroom, kids unable to say they are in unsafe situations so their behaviors betrayed their reality because they didn’t have or couldn’t say the words.
It took me almost four months to begin to comprehend the destruction Chris had brought to our life by his drinking. And when he started again–in secret, while still keeping up the facade of meetings and counseling and accountability relationships–I had clearer lenses to view the results. There comes a point when an alcoholic is fooling no one but themselves. Chris was too selfish and too drunk to see it.
I did see it though.
I saw it. I watched. I understood what needed to happen next.
Addicts and alcoholics will lie and deceive and manipulate anyone and anything to continue their behavior. Swallowing that pill–that my husband’s love is alcohol and not his wife or his children–took a few months. When I wrote about a 90-day sobriety chip showing up on my desk, I knew it was a lie. He wasn’t sober. I don’t actually know how long he stopped drinking after he was caught, but I would say maybe thirty days. Maybe. I would ask him about it, but he’s still living a lot of lies and so his answer won’t be the truth.
When I finally had proof–when I was holding the empty beer can in front of his face–I could say without a doubt or fear or regret he needed to leave our home. He couldn’t live here anymore. He wasn’t going to pretend to be sober here anymore.
He had to go.
I think God let me have four months to wrestle with boundaries and realities and truths so when the time came, I could do the best thing for my children and for myself.
Your girls need your resolve to help heal them. I know because my parents were horrible alcoholics. Growing up was a nightmare.
I’m basically saying that I think you taking a hard stance in your marriage and with the girls is awesome. My parents fumbled a lot when it came to the divorce, not talking about it, and dogging each other to us kids.
I believe the best for you, the girls and Chris is yet to come and Jesus will see you through it. I think what you can control is how you deal with the shit. As a kid who saw way too much fighting, thrown objects and hatred, I think the best you can do is be the woman of God you already are. That will last for them. That will build them to be women of God who aren’t afraid of relationships or marriage or letting someone in.
When I hear from adults who grew up like my kids are, their reactions were thank you. Not end your marriage. Not hatred for Chris. Not try longer, don’t ask him to leave.
But thank you. You’re doing what my parents didn’t. You’re doing what I begged for. You’re doing what I dreamed about. You’re doing what I needed my parents to do.
As the son of an alcoholic, I applaud your decision to not be silent. Some of the worst things in my dad’s life came out of me not speaking up and enforcing the consequences of his actions. Our transgressions cannot hide in the light, but they love the dark.
You are doing the very thing I needed and begged my mom to do as a child. Our lives were so secretive and private…I’m not telling you this to burden you, but to tell you DO NOT GIVE UP. You are creating a new legacy of boundaries and healthy choices for your daughters and they will thank you one day.
No one wants my marriage to end. No one is encouraging divorce. Everyone hopes this ends with sobriety and health and healing. But my kids don’t have the voice or understanding to say “get me out of here” so I’m doing it for them, with the support of a lot of people who didn’t get that chance.
As the daughter of alcoholics, I wish someone had plucked me from that situation and protected me like you are your little darlings. The painful, long-term effects of living in a chaotic household of secret-keeping and prioritizing addiction are in the deepest corners of my life and are so hard to undo. That lifestyle has kept me from forming deep relationships, sharing my true self, and understanding my value. I mean, when your dad chooses a trip to the bar over your senior musical, you wonder if you matter to anyone. I’m so grateful you’re strong and you’re willing to hold him accountable for his actions, for both his benefit and that of your kids. Thank you, pal.
People have been throwing around the word “brave” when they respond to my story. It’s a nice compliment to hear, but I don’t think I’m brave. I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel anything but forced to make painful choices by a husband who refuses to address hard things, face the pain of a broken childhood, or stop running to alcohol when things become difficult.
He forced my hand.
I didn’t suddenly become brave. I just ran out of options.
Why share this? Because I know without a doubt, some of my readers have kids who can’t speak up. Whether in their family or in their house, there are kids right now who need help asking to be kept safe, to be able to leave the eye of the storm.
I’ve learned recently that love–a lot of the time–is painful and hard. Love is uncomfortable and difficult. Love is making painful choices with hope in mind. I am so full of hope in asking Chris to leave. Hope he’ll get better. Hope he’ll finally start doing hard work he’s been avoiding. But hope for myself too. Hope I’ll be okay no matter what. Hope I’ll be safe and healthy whether I’m married or not. Hope my daughters will grow up loved well and safely. Hope that my hard work will eventually make my life better. It’s all I can control. I can’t control my alcoholic husband. I can’t control whether he drinks. I can’t control whether he lies.
But I can control my life, who has influence, who has access to it, who is let in. And if you’re not a safe person, you’re no longer welcome in the inner circle. I’m an adult who gets to say that.
If you know a kid who would want to say those things, but can’t, you need to speak up for them. Forget politeness. Forget manners. Forget hurting feelings. We’re adults. It’s our responsibility. We’ll be accountable for our words one day, but we’ll also be accountable for when we were silent.