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Married to the Bottle
It’s hard loving an alcoholic
Samantha Flowers
headshot

Names have been changed.

Soon after I met Joseph, I invited him to a poetry slam to see what type of personality he had and how well we connected. During that first night together, as Joseph told me about his interests and hobbies, I asked him, “Were you drinking? Your breath smells like liquor.” He told me no, it smelled like that because he’d been chewing the same gum for a long time. Sadly, this was a foreshadowing.

Joseph came off so charming that I put my suspicion in my back pocket. He was such a gentleman. He took me out on dates to nice restaurants and paid for everything. He held me with delicacy as if I were a doll. Although he was sweet, he was still very serious. He seemed like a man who knows what he wants and won’t stop until he gets it.

My past relationships had been with dishonest guys who didn’t respect me. I was tired of guys thinking I was so gullible that I would believe anything they told me even when I caught them cheating or taking advantage of my kindness. I was tired of the lies and being used just for sex. I was tired of giving them money for train fare or their weed habits. Yeah, I seem to attract potheads.

But Joseph was different. He treated me like a goddess, and I fell in love with him. I thought “Wow, this is a guy I can see myself with for not just a few months but years to come.” He really cared about me. He didn’t expect anything from me sexually—for someone five years older than me, that felt like a miracle.

Joseph and I connected the old-fashioned way. We didn’t just jump in bed right away but instead got to know each other first. We shared the same commitment values in a relationship and we knew what we wanted out of ours: trust.

We didn’t have that much in common but I wasn’t intimidated by him. I was into nighttime drama shows like Law and Order and Joseph was into comedy. I was into anime; he was into The Simpsons. One thing we did have in common was that we were both huge movie fanatics. And we just naturally connected with one another. Joseph didn’t judge me or see me as inferior, even though he came from money and I came from foster care.

Early Signs

When we were first dating, Joseph and I worked for the same organization, which sent volunteers into schools. We were both assigned schools in the same area, and our teams always met up and did stuff together.

That’s where I first noticed his drinking. When we met at work in the morning, Joseph avoided kissing me on the lips. Instead he would half-hug me. He thought no one noticed it, and maybe our co-workers didn’t. But I did. I also saw him stagger on a flat surface and slur his words sometimes.

I remember the first time he had beer when we were out together. We were at a new café and while I was ordering, Joseph walked over to the refrigerator and came back with a bottle of Bud Light. I thought, “Are you serious?” I was only 18 and not a drinker, and I didn’t understand why he was drinking beer when I couldn’t. I felt awkward and out of place.

He said that beer was nothing to him, that it was like drinking water. And so I believed him and didn’t bug him about his beer. But over time I realized that he never ate much. It was as if he was trying to avoid putting anything in his stomach but liquid. I thought that was strange but I pushed away my doubts.

A month into us dating, Joseph wanted me to meet his parents. At first I thought, “Is he out of his mind?” But then I thought, “Might as well get it out of the way.” His mom seemed welcoming and open-hearted, while his dad was more stern and serious. But all in all it went well. Joseph told me they liked me.

This brought me and Joseph closer. We now felt that neither of us was playing games and it was OK to take it to the next level.

I loved him, but I did notice incompatibilities. I grew up in foster care working to get what I needed, while he came from a well-off family and had everything handed to him. I never was jealous of Joseph for having more money or an easier life, but I did get annoyed sometimes that he hadn’t learned to be independent. For example, he’d always offer to pay for my train out to see him in New Jersey instead of coming to see me in New York City. But then he’d get the money for my train ticket from his mom, which was embarrassing.

I would suggest to Joseph that maybe some time he should take his parents out for dinner to show them he cared. He said nothing, as if that idea was preposterous.

Cold Water

Two months after meeting Joseph’s family, Joseph was scheduled to go to a friend’s wedding down south. That morning I came over to his house to see him off. It was early in the morning, and he was still asleep, so I got into bed to cuddle with him.

As the time passed, I tried to wake Joseph up, but he wouldn’t move. I tried tapping on his head or lightly punching him, but he kept sleeping. His little sister came into the room and tried to help me wake him up, but nothing was working. Finally, we threw a huge bucket of water on him, and he started to move and moan.

I realized Joseph was passed out from alcohol. And although he woke up, he couldn’t stand or stay coherent long enough to get ready to go on his trip. He was so out of it that his mom canceled the trip.

That was when I knew that Joseph had a serious drinking problem and that he needed help. I cared about him, though, and felt that if I stayed by his side and supported him, it would be enough to not make him want to drink. Part of me thought that my love was stronger than his addiction and that I could be his motivator to quit.

image by Axel Almendarez

Joining the Team

Joseph’s parents and I started to discuss his drinking. Joseph’s pattern was to stop drinking for three months or so and then relapse. When he did drink, he would get so wasted that he would lose his wallet, his iPhone, or even his job. He would also get angry and rough with me and with his parents. He would yell, curse, and sometimes try to push me. I didn’t think he would ever beat or hit me, but his father warned me that all alcoholics eventually become violent.

His parents and I would tell Joseph how proud we were of him for stopping, but then he would relapse. Then his parents would send him off to either rehab or intensive outpatient treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings.

Every time Joseph was sober, I’d pray he would stay that way for good. But of course that’s not how it works. Only Joseph can control his drinking and stay sober.

I accepted that I was dating an alcoholic. My part in our relationship was to be a supportive girlfriend. I told Joseph I would always be there for him and was not intimidated by his disease.

I did a lot of covering up for him, whenever he’d show up somewhere drunk. For months, it seemed like all I did was cover up his messes. I was starting to feel as if my life was not mine anymore. Everything revolved around him and his addiction. It was getting worse, and I started to question if his commitment was more to the alcohol than to me.

Valentine’s Day

Our first Valentine’s Day together came ten and a half months into our relationship, when he’d been sober a few months. I was so excited—I wore my cutest outfit and got him a nice gift. The rest of his family had gone away on a trip, so we had the house to ourselves. I took the train to his house the night before, but right after I got there, Joseph went straight to bed. I figured he was tired.

The next morning, I was all excited for our holiday. I went to Joseph and he was still sleeping. I finally got him up and we exchanged gifts, but then he went back to sleep. Half the day went by before he finally got up, staggering and with his eyes half shut. No second guesses, Joseph had been drinking the night before.

I asked him, “So what’s going on? Are we even doing anything today?” and walked away pouting: My perfect day was going down the toilet. About two hours later, Joseph said he was feeling better and could he take me to see a movie.

He did look sobered up, so I thought “Why not?” Before the movies, we went out to eat—and then Joseph wanted to go to the liquor store! I thought “What!? Why the hell would he want to drink again?” But he gave into his cravings: He bought the liquor and if that wasn’t bad enough, started drinking it in the car. Fortunately we made it back to his house, where Joseph passed out again. I was left wondering why I even bothered coming over.

Sent Away

Soon after that, Joseph’s parents sent him off to rehab in North Carolina. At first I thought that this was best. But after a month, then two, then three went by, I started to feel lonely and as if I was single. Everyone kept asking me if Joseph and I had broken up. I kept finding new excuses to explain why he hasn’t been around.

Joseph was in North Carolina for three and a half months. We stayed in touch through e-mail and a phone call once a week. It was nice to hear from him but it made me miss him more. I got depressed and gained 40 pounds.

I only got to see Joseph for one week after he got back from North Carolina. Then his parents shipped him off to a sober house in Maine. His parents believed that this was Joseph’s last, best hope to stay clean. Joseph called me every day from Maine, and I was hopeful too.

But eight months later, Joseph relapsed and got kicked out of the house in Maine. Then I didn’t feel so patient and connected to him. It hit me that I was not in love with Joseph anymore. I couldn’t see myself just being a supporter and cheerleader for him any more.

Last Chance

I didn’t want to be just waiting on the side for when he finally became clean, because I knew deep down it would never happen. I kept hearing his father’s voice in my head saying, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.”

I wanted to be free from all the drama and feel like a regular 20-year-old, not like a wife just waiting for her sick husband to get better. So after almost two years of dating, I broke it off with Joseph the day after New Years. He was crushed, upset, and angry, but I didn’t care anymore. I wanted my life back, and I needed to think about my options.

Looking back, I think the family money could have contributed to his drinking. His parents always gave him everything and took on all his responsibilities. And I believe that knowing mommy and daddy would help clean up his messes kept the door open for him to drink without consequences.

I may sound harsh, but at every AA meeting or rehab support group I attended with Joseph, the counselors all said that in order for an addict to fully get better they first need to get a taste of the real world. They should have to fend for themselves and learn that they can’t survive just drinking all day. But Joseph’s parents would always say that they couldn’t do that to him. And I wouldn’t want that either. It could backfire and he could end up a homeless drunk.

I understand that I can’t win a fight with this disease. It has more control and power over Joseph than I do. I would never date another addict again. But I do still love Joseph and am not quite ready to give up yet. I hope that he will finally get sober and that he knows my love is waiting for him.

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(FCYU-2011-04-10)

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