Military Spouse Magazine

NOV 2018

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Page 15 of 35

O U R L I V E S "MY HUSBAND IS AN ALCOHOLIC," WERE THE MOST DIFFICULT WORDS TO SAY. I first uttered those words late last year in the emergency room, as doctors and nurses were working to save my husband's life. In the midst of the chaos, his command called to check on his status. My husband was experiencing acute liver failure. As I unveiled this dark secret, I feared for my husband's future—his life and career. The only thing he loved more than the bottle was serving his country. I kept this secret from my family and close friends. It was a lonely existence. In addition to the loneliness, I lived in fear of losing him to the bottle. My fear nearly smacked me in the face as my husband was transferred to critical care. One of the doctors took me aside and asked if my husband had a living will. Those words shot through me. As I looked around the room filled with doctors, nurses and ma- chines beeping, the loneliness intensified. For the next 72 hours, I didn't leave his side. As the storm began to pass, I realized I wasn't alone. Studies have shown members of the military suffer- ing from alcohol abuse is significantly higher versus the civilian population. I searched for articles and blogs from the perspective of a military spouse mar- ried to an alcoholic. There was nothing. ALCOHOLISM IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM Over the years we've attended countless command functions where alcohol was not only present, but an honored guest. My husband's drinking was tame com- pared to many others. He was keen to avoid raising red flags. He reserved hard drinking for home, away from prying eyes. On a typical night, he'd drink until he passed out. I dreaded weekends and holidays. I resented the extra day of leave tacked onto holidays. He'd binge from the moment he came home to the night before work. I yearned for deployments, just for a break. I felt guilty as I watched with relief as he left. I felt espe- cially guilty as I watched families cherishing every moment. Deploy- ments renewed my love for him. We were closer with oceans between us, and distant when only separated by a bottle. My Husband is an Alcoholic By Anonymous* If I had to choose between my husband having a mistress or being an alcoholic, I would've chosen a mistress. A mistress doesn't seek to destroy and kill, she doesn't incapacitate her lover. I could reason with a mistress, not with a bottle. Alcoholism had robbed me of a good husband; it robbed me of a hero. We tend to place service members on a pedestal. Alcoholism knocked my husband off the pedestal. He was robbed of honor, and the courage to fight the monster in the bottle. Alcohol feeds lies. It disguises itself as a friend and healer. It brainwashes, it demands complete loyalty. It stalks and taunts. It terrorizes all in its path. During the darkest, loneliest hours of my marriage I wanted to walk away. Would I have left him if he had cancer? Substance abuse is a disease. It is the worst disease. It's a family disease. It's the only disease its victims fight for, not against. I couldn't let the disease define him. I had seen him through the bottle, not the heart. Actress and comedian Carol Burnett nearly lost her daughter to substance abuse. In an interview, Burnett shared her wisdom. To help her daughter, she had to be OK with loving her enough to let her hate her. In the struggles to help my husband, I remind myself that it's OK to let him hate me. I care more about his life than my feelings. MY HUSBAND NEARLY LOST EVERYTHING INCLUDING HIS FAMILY, CAREER AND LIFE BECAUSE ALCOHOL PROMISED TO RID HIM OF HIS PROBLEMS AND BRING HAPPINESS. Just as a bad "friend," alcohol promises a good time. But when things go south, it points fingers. The booze-soaked culture of the military promises good times, pledges loyalty and is easily led down a destructive path. When alcohol rears its ugly head, finger pointing begins. Fingers point to anything else, but refuse to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The military lives by the motto, "Never leave a man behind." Alcoholism is a battle, the lon- gest and most destructive battle. The most insidious enemy. In a community that demands strength and resiliency, substance abuse is treated as a moral failing. Admitting our spouses are imperfect human beings not immune to disease can be scary. The shame of the disease, fear of alienation and the destruction of a career isolates us. It's our com- munal silence that allows substance abuse to prey on more victims. I remained silent for 10 years. It took my husband nearly dying to admit he has a disease, but a very treatable disease. It took 10 years and fate to intro- duce me to a fellow military spouse, also married to an alcoholic. When we final- ly emerged from the shadows of our fear and shame, others came forward. We come from different backgrounds, dif- ferent branches; our spouses range from junior enlisted to senior officers. The military segregates us by branch and rank, but we are the same. Just as our spouses are united by their service and a shared disease, we are also united. We fight the same battles, and we rejoice when freed from the chains of addiction. It was a long, lonely, dark path, but when I came to a clearing I found a family. We all started from different places, but our paths were the same, and we all sought the same destination. If this is your story, if you won- der if you are alone, if you feel scared and alone—you aren't. Look around, step out of the shadows and you will find a new family. I am here, we are here. Your loneli- ness ends today. H Ò *Because of the sensitive nature of this topic, the author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous. Illustration from Getty Images 16 MILITARYSPOUSE.COM / NOVEMBER 2018

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