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At my support group, I finally realise how my life has to change

I am thinking about separation.The abortion is thankfully over, and R was initially supportive, loving and attentive. It was almost as if we had just had a baby: we watched films, ate crap and read the papers on the sofa together. I felt safe. Now, just three days later, it is the morning after he has been on a major binge. He spills boiling water from the kettle on his hand and I almost smile: he is moody, indifferent and distant towards the children and me as he leaves for work.

Nothing and nobody is curtailing his drinking, and while I am still recovering he is shirking his responsibilities at home. As the day progresses, I feel despondent and deflated. I need to go to my support meeting for families affected by addiction.

“You can live in the grey for a long time. It is something we all do, and some of us do it for ages and are OK with it,” says one woman.

“I’m not comfortable with living in the grey any more. In fact, I’m exhausted by it,” I say.

“Well, then you need to make a change.”

All eyes are on me. I say the thing that has been on my mind for days. “I don’t think I want to be with R at the moment, but I don’t want to break up the family.”

Every time that I think of a separation, I imagine the explaining I’ll have to do to the children, our families and friends. I am terrified of diving into the unknown, and I don’t want to act impulsively. If I am wrong, then I will be blamed for the fallout of my decision. Our middle child is so sensitive to change, so close to his father, and I keep imagining his reaction when I break the news; I don’t want to be the one to ruin their relationship.

“But you’re not destroying anything,” says another woman in the circle. “R is continuing to drink. He is choosing that and, hard as it might be for him to stop, he has to feel the consequences if his addiction is more attractive to him than his family.”

She is right. It is not just me who would spoil the family unit, but there is something about my outdated idea of the mother holding everything together – and being held responsible if things go wrong – that stifles my ability to make a change. The alternative to life in the grey seems to be a bold leap to black and white. One of the men in the group almost reads my mind.

“Just because you decide to separate from R, doesn’t mean that you have to make any bold statements or grand ultimatums,” he says. “This doesn’t have to mean the end of marriage, and a change of emotion from compassion to indifference, if you don’t want it to.”

“No. I suppose you’re right … because I still love R, and perhaps naively I do see a possible future for us together,” I say, speaking as I think.

He continues: “What I’m hearing is this: that the only thing you are sure of at the moment is that you don’t want to be with R when he is drinking. And that is enough. You don’t need to know anything else.”

I reply: “Yeah … I could actually say to R: ‘Listen, I don’t know anything other than this. That I am never going to be in a relationship with you while you are still drinking.'”

Just repeating and strengthening the man’s line has further reinforced its wisdom and simplicity. I have never felt more clear-headed.

On the half-hour drive home, I have time to assess and digest everything that has been discussed. I am dazzled by the power of others’ suggestions, and the change in my recent muddied, confused thinking: at 7pm I entered a room with an idea of what I wanted, but I didn’t have the clarity to arrive at any solution. When I left at 8.30pm, I had been galvanised by the group’s insight. My thoughts may still be jumbled, yet the practical advice has surpassed the emotional tumult and given me the power to act.

I walk through the front door, into the living room, pretending I’m in a film, with a camera on a dolly following me as I walk. It is easier to pretend that I’m looking down at someone else, an actor playing my role. I feel composed, ready and sure of my words when I start to speak to R. It feels dramatic but necessary.

“The kids were great tonight. Went down without any bother,” he says.

“That’s brilliant,” I reply.

And then for the second time in an evening, I repeat the line that makes most sense of my thoughts on our situation: “I don’t want this as it is. I’m not sure of anything, but all I know is that I don’t want to be in a relationship with you while you are still drinking.” © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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