Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How I Changed My Life in 200 Days

This morning I surprised Chelle with her favorite, a bakery apple danish. Her response? "You must really love me."

I do. And, she shows me every morning, too. My alarm goes off; I hit the snooze. When it goes off a second time, I sit up, and she's in bed next to me, handing me a mug of coffee. I don't even have to get out of bed until I've got some caffeine in me.

It's the little things.

Of course, we all know that. Seldom do you hear of a relationship ending over some one huge thing--unless it's the straw that breaks the camel's back. It's always the accumulation of little things gone wrong that causes that straw to float down and land on just that spot in the first place, the thing that makes the whole house of cards topple. So take good care of the little things. It's easy to forget them six years into a relationship.

When I was drinking, I was convinced I had mastered the little things. If you had asked me then, I'd spin off an entire list of all the things I took care of to make our house a home. I cleaned. I did the laundry. I did the shopping. I often cooked elaborate meals. I was sexually available. I indulged Chelle in her love of horse racing. I'd taken one for our team by agreeing to move with her to Spokane for a year while she worked on a degree. I even helped her out at games sometimes, for free, by tending the cash bar and preparing plates of hors d'oeuvres.

Yet tension between us heightened, and I started getting resentful.

I was convinced that Chelle was the problem. I was the perfect little wife. And why was our sex life in the toilet?

Two hundred sober days later, I look at it all with clearer eyes. It's true I cleaned, did the laundry, shopping, and cooking. But these were all things I used as a reason to drink. Every trip to the grocery store included buying a bottle of wine or two to share with that fancy dinner, and I'd consume one of them during the process of preparing it. By the time Chelle got home from school and work, tired and hungry, I'd greet her sloshed. She didn't need a shrimp appetizer, pistachio-encrusted halibut, and homemade cheesecake for dessert. She needed me, but I wasn't there. Drunk Joyce was there.

It wasn't altruistic of me to offer to help out at games. It was the selfish desire for the big haul afterwards. We'd bring home leftover beer or Mike's Hard Lemonade, so my "paycheck" was the booze. Next thing she knew, there was Drunk Joyce.

Often it wasn't Chelle's idea to go to the racetrack or the OTB facility; it was mine. The first thing I'd do upon arriving was belly up to the bar and order a Bloody Mary. When the bartender knows you by name, knows your brand of vodka, knows when you're done with one kind of drink and ready to switch to a margarita or Mai Tai and when you're ready for a "sobering beer," you're not just a regular. You're a drunk. Going to the track was a reason to drink. Chelle was just Drunk Joyce's chauffeur.

And our sex life? I ranted over our "lesbian bed death." I cried and insisted to Chelle she must not love me anymore. It never once occurred to me that the least attractive thing on the planet is a slurring, stumbling drunk or a hungover partner reeking of metabolizing booze first thing in the morning. Not to mention the pounds of flab I'd added to my once very fit frame, the bloodshot eyes, the freshly burst capillaries all over my face. Yummy! Not.

I look back over my martyrdom and realize what a jackass I truly was. The signs that Chelle really did love me are stamped all over my three-year bender. She stayed with me. She tried, in the only ways she knew how, to help me rein in my addiction. (I, of course, read that as her trying to control me.) She still brought me coffee in bed. She was 100% supportive of my decision to go to rehab and paid for my treatment in full with her own credit card, not knowing or caring whether our insurance would actually pay for it. (We're still fighting with Blue Cross over that one.) And she still maintains that, even if they don't pay us back one thin dime, that this was a nine thousand dollars well spent.

Chelle calls the last two hundred days the best days of her life. She's got her Joyce back. And now we both understand how alcoholic brains operate, by twisting, distorting, creating an alternate version of reality to justify feeding itself. She has forgiven me. "It's history."

So I'm back to the little things, the apple danish. This time it was given for one reason and one reason only. I love her and wanted to do something that would make her happy. It's such a relief and a blessing to live life so simply, free of hidden or unconscious agendas.

Oh, and our sex life? That constant smile on my face isn't for nothing.

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