Married. . .With Time

By Lucinda Lumiere 04/12/15

Long time sober, long time married. What could possibly go wrong?

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I am in a complicated marriage, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, we look and act like happily married parents of an adorable six-year-old. He coaches soccer, I volunteer with the School Parent Association. We have a cute puppy and our daughter plays piano and does ballet. Perfect, right?  Except that it’s not.

I hope my husband and I can make it through these challenges. But if we don’t, I will at least know I tried my best.

I’ve been sober in AA for 25 years. I got sober young, and was blessed to receive the many gifts of sobriety. Besides the promises (intuitively knowing how to handle baffling situations, comprehending serenity, knowing peace) I got a career, a bit of fame, and a practically impeccable credit score. I have worked the steps repeatedly, both with sponsors and with sponsees. My husband? He’s handsome, talented, responsible, kind, and highly ethical. He is honest, shows up for his responsibilities, and embraces fatherhood wholeheartedly. He dresses beautifully and has great taste in music and art. But there is trouble in paradise.

I am in recovery, and my husband isn’t. I didn’t want to marry (or even date) another recovering person. I was worried that two cucumbers could end up in a pickle. I thought I should be with someone who wasn’t as “damaged” as me. My first relationship in sobriety (if you don’t count the ex who followed me into the rooms to keep me, then tempted me with a new heroin connection he met at a sober clubhouse) was with a guy who ended up getting sober after we started dating: Total turnoff. They say you are emotionally arrested at the age you were when you first picked up, so I was emotionally 15 when I met him. I liked that he dealt LSD in the dorms and made sculptures out of his tennis shoes. It disgusted me when he started feeling things and decided to get sober. Ick! Next. 

My next relationship was with another happy-go-lucky, charismatic guy who wasn’t in recovery. We met on a modeling gig. He was athletic, creative, fun, and a little checked out. We surfed, skied, and raved together (hey, it was the '90s). He did go to therapy and had a measure of emotional availability. We lasted four and a half years before the lid started to peel off our container. He was (and is) a great guy, but had no interest in recovery, and frankly, my sobriety was a damper on his partying. I thought I wanted to move to LA, and when I changed my mind (after he did all the legwork to move with me) something snapped. Despite our great love, we broke up in an awkward and painful manner (I found his soon-to-be wife’s panties in our bedroom). 

Scalded and shell-shocked, I moved to New York. It was here that I decided to give dating recovering guys a chance. One guy was the son of a porn star and given to theatrical flourishes in the boudoir. He loved his Jack Russell Terrier, but couldn’t be bothered to be there for me when I had a pregnancy scare. The next guy was perfect, or so I thought. Referred by a mutual friend, he had eight years sober, was handsome, successful, and active in both AA and Al-Anon. He had sponsors and sponsees up the wazoo. I was impressed by his commitment to self-healing. He told me on our second date that he wanted to marry me. On the following date, Prince Charming told me he was “profoundly incapable of intimacy.” I thought I could change him, that he just hadn’t met the right one. I was off to the races. We did the on again-off again dance for four and a half years (what is it about four and a half years, anyway?) punctuated with bouts of high romance (flying to Paris together impulsively, not once, but twice, gift boxes wrapped in Prada bows) and low drama (he tried to push me out of his moving Econoline Van in a fit of paranoia).

It became apparent he had issues other than alcoholism when he asked our mutual friend to notarize a document attesting that she wasn’t part of the worldwide spy cabal on the web he knew was watching him. To my dismay, it seemed that the recovering guys I dated were sicker than the guys who had no clue about page 84 of the Big Book. 

Cue the “Welcome to Al-Anon” music. 

I had hit bottom on my incapacity to choose healthy relationships. My picker, as they say in Al-Anon, was broken. I was going to the hardware store for the proverbial oranges. And getting citrus oil in my eye every time I tried to peel one. 

Why, I moaned, did I keep picking unavailable prospects? Was it my unavailable father? The negative imprint of growing up with an abusive big brother? Sure, all those things factored in, but at the end of the day, when I let it begin with me, I realized I was unavailable. I repeatedly picked people I knew weren’t going to fit because I was terrified of intimacy. This epiphany was huge. I worked the steps in Al-Anon and took myself off the dating market for a year. 

It was a great year. I performed in a Salsa dance company. I developed a groundbreaking idea for a workshop that formed the nucleus for my first book deal. I bought my own apartment. And then I decided to try again. 

I put a profile up on a dating website (following the advice of my sponsor, who had found her husband that way). It felt good to be in the driver’s seat, to have the power to pick and choose rather than wait for someone to pick me. I was direct about what I wanted, clear, and open. I had a bevy of good choices, and after a little interviewing, plunked myself into a relationship with my now-husband. I continued to go to Al-Anon, but stopped checking in as frequently with my support network. I was in my late 30s and the proverbial clock was ticking. I wanted a husband and a child; I was on a mission.

My new beau wasn’t in program, but he was conversant with it (he grew up in an alcoholic family and had been to a few Al-Anon meetings). He even had a copy of the Al-Anon Daily Reader. This was, surprisingly, good enough for me. He seemed functional, but there were warning signs. The way he talked to the cab driver was controlling to the extreme (but hey, in New York that’s a skill). He erupted in unexpected bursts of temper. I found out he had been sent to anger management by a judge after a road-rage episode. He silently raged when I was offered a backstage ticket to the Beastie Boys by my best friend. I didn’t go, caving to his black mood. Once, he erupted at me for unloading the groceries from a cab the wrong way in the rain. Did these facts give me pause? Sure, then I went back into the trance. I saw red flags but wanted so desperately to be married and have a kid that I painted the red flags white. To go with the picket fence, of course.   

If relationships put Miracle-Gro on our defects of character, I had started my own hydroponic jungle. 

Fast forward 10 years. I sold the co-op because he didn’t like Queens. We had a kid, and I spent my nest egg on her private school tuition. My book was published to great success, but I was so busy changing diapers and combatting post-partum depression (never mind the rapidly emerging fact that my husband didn’t want to support me as an artist when I wasn’t on a roll) that I couldn’t produce a follow-up. My husband’s anger, controlling behavior, and unpredictable outbursts all intensified.

At my urging, he has gone to therapy and hit some meetings, but it is clear we are on separate trajectories. To be fair, I am not perfect, and whatever sabotaging behaviors I am prone to are definitely in the mix. I tend to avoid confrontation, and bury my true needs and wants, in an effort to mimic a version of the way I think he wants me to be. I have lost major chunks of my authentic self in this paradigm. My earnings have dipped to an all-time low as I struggle to be a mom, wife, and working artist. It has begun to feel like I lost my mojo. There’s a moment in the film, The Game Stands Tall, in which a character experiencing great loss says to his best friend, "I feel cursed by God.” His friend says, “You feel cursed, but you’re not cursed." It’s a key distinction, and one I have to remind myself of when I slip into self-pity. 

I don’t know if we will make it as a couple. In the meantime, I have struggled with the hydra of low self-esteem and self-doubt that seem to sprout new heads with every whack. Despite my many years of recovery and all my accomplishments, I have been sidelined and gobsmacked.

Things are really different than I had hoped they would be. And you know what? It’s ok. Because I still have recovery. 

Yes, I have no idea what’s going to happen with us, or with my future. But I have tools, I have support, and I have a program. Well, actually, several. And I know that, ultimately, it will be ok. Because the main relationship in my life is with myself, and that is a person who is in recovery. For every crisis, every unexpected nosedive, and for the sudden gifts, I keep coming back. It’s an inside job.

I see now, looking back, that my reluctance or enthusiasm to find a partner in recovery wasn’t really the issue. The issue was with how committed I was to my own recovery. 

As I continue to recommit to my recovery, and to spiritual solutions such as the steps, service, and sponsorship, I get myself back. I have written two television pilots and am putting myself out there again creatively. I am helping other women, no matter how mired in "Self" I get sometimes. And you know what? It works. I’m hopeful and optimistic, and I like myself again.  

I hope my husband and I can make it through these challenges. But if we don’t, I will at least know I tried my best, showed up clear-eyed and sober one day at a time. I can continue to grow regardless of what he chooses.

You know what? It’s kind of ironic. All these years, I was looking for the one person who would love me unconditionally, never leave me, and make me feel safe. I never knew it was me. 

Lucinda Lumiere is a pseudonym for a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about her healthy addiction.

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