August 01, 2007
In retrospect, I knew about her "little" problem from the day we met 13 years ago. Back then, blinded by passion, you kind of just rationalize it. "She'll outgrow it," you tell yourself. "She'll get a hold of herself."
The years pass. Things change, but she doesn't. The same problem, showing no signs of abatement. You learn to live with it – that's the insidious part, you become infected with the same disease. You become the victim; her problem becomes your problem.
Gently, you hint to her that maybe it's time to get some help, but she resists. The neighbors notice; friends notice; our dirty little secret is dirty, but it's not a secret any more.
Desperate one day, I grabbed the phone, my hands shaking, and reached out to her friends. "Andrea, we need to talk."
"Karen's . . . problem."
"I'll be right over," she said. Tearing up, she blurted out the terrible truth. The problem dated far beyond the time I've known Karen. She's been afflicted for decades. We called Mary, another friend, and her sister, Pam. There was only one thing we could do — an intervention. Confront Karen, and make her get help. With steely resolve we decided to do so that evening.
We walked in together. "Oh, hi Andrea. . . Mary . . . what a surprise," she said, yet we could also see the trembling lower lip.
"We need to talk to you," I said sternly.
"About what?" she replied weakly.
"Your problem," Andrea said gently. Karen burst into tears. "I can't help it!" she screamed through a flood of tears. "You think I want to live like this? You think I enjoy this? I can't help myself!" she sobbed, head in hands.
We gathered around her, holding her, kissing her, reassuring her. The first step is to admit it, and she had.
"Karen, look me in the eyes. Karen, please don't take this personally, but we need to say it aloud." We did so in unison.
"Karen, you don't drink enough."
There was silence. The words hung in the air like a thick fog. Then, I had finally blurted out the nightmare that had haunted my life for 13 long years.
"You know what it's like to try and take your keys at the end of a long night at the bar and have you say `I'm OK, all I had was soda?' Do you know the humiliation of ordering a Johnny Walker Black on the rocks and a club soda with cherry juice? Don't you hear the people snickering? You have emasculated me!"
We were all crying. I related how the humiliation drove me to join Al Al Anon, a place where alcoholics who have spouses who don't drink can gather and bond. Sometimes, when I feel weak, I go to a meeting and I come back resolving to help Karen along, but the dream always evaporates when she says, "I'll have a Diet Pepsi." Damn her and her soda. It's killing her and killing our marriage!
She vowed to try. We enrolled her in a Two Step program. Step One: order an alcoholic beverage. Step Two: drink it. Slowly, it began to work.
A week later we went out with friends. I ordered a glass of wine. "Honey, what do you want?" I asked, hopefully.
"I'll have a Diet Pepsi," she said, matter-of-factly.
"Hon, you know that stuff is bad for you. Wouldn't you rather have an Absolut martini? I think that's just what the doctor ordered."
"Are you sure?"
I nodded and smiled. "Easy does it," I said.
We've never been happier. I'm not going to lie – each day is a struggle. Sometimes she doesn't think she can do it. "I'm afraid I won't want to go out tonight," she said the other day.
"Fear is a darkroom where negatives are developed," I said knowingly. Well, we went out and bar-hopped until three in the morning! Thank you, God!
We try to remind each other every day that this is a team effort. "I don't know why you bother with me," she said yesterday.
"Hope is helping other people," I replied.
"I just don't know if I have the strength to keep it up," she moaned.
"Remember, recovery is an inside job," I reminded.
We kissed. "When we go out for dinner tonight, I'm going to have a glass of wine," she vowed.
"We can have a whole bottle," I said. "And after dinner drinks, too!"
I still go to my Al Al Anon meetings, and she does to her Two Step program every day.
Karen and I, we're the lucky ones. We confronted her demons, we looked them in the eye, and we cast them aside. That's what love is.
Yes, we're going to make it: One drink at a time.