My husband is getting all the praise for staying sober after rehab – meanwhile, I’m shattered and seething
It’s my husband’s birthday and we’re celebrating with ginger beer. I would prefer alcohol, and I know he would too, but he’s been almost four months sober and it’s painful counting at times. I hand the presents to the children so they can give them to their father. “Thanks, darling,” he says to me as he unwraps a book.
“Oh, don’t thank me. These are from the children.”
This is something I later see as underhand cruelty. It’s like saying, “I’m not giving you anything because you’re annoying me at the moment, even though you don’t even know it.”
I am angry and it’s nobody’s fault. Everyone is rooting for R, and he has been the centre of attention for weeks. He is still sober, which is a huge feat, so I must be happy.
But I am secretly seething.
He can leave his dirty dishes on the sideboard, excuse himself from parental duties by coming home from work at 9pm nearly every evening (“I need to go to the gym straight after work so it’s probably not worth making the trip home beforehand”) and still be told he’s doing brilliantly.
Meanwhile, I am tired. There isn’t a moment in the week free from dealing with work, children’s needs and demands and the general running of the house. My mind is consumed by a general feeling of guilt because I feel I’m bringing up an emotionally unstable family: I’m not very competent, or available, when I am this shattered. Most evenings my husband is staying late at work, going to AA meetings or letting off steam on the running machine. I want a life.
“Don’t be a victim,” my mother tells me on the phone. And she is right. No one likes somebody who is defined by life’s miseries. They are rarely good company. These long-suffering victims look worried, sad and desperate at all times of the day, even when they are secretly suppressing a moment of good fortune. They might as well wear a placard around their neck that reads “I will bore you to tears with my problems, drink your coffee, waste your time, and never ever ask how you are.”
With this in mind, I am trying very consciously to avoid playing the martyr by consoling myself with the fact that frustrating stages of a relationship, much like those in childrearing, are just phases and will eventually pass. If a babysitter arrived on my doorstep twice weekly to allow me some free time, I would no doubt feel a lot cheerier.
It is time, therefore, to take control and stop wallowing in tired misery. Nobody is going to praise me for picking up pants from the floor, so I will leave that alone and start to deal with the anger I am feeling right now. It is clear that shit happens to everyone, and it is how I choose to deal with it that matters.
First off, I’m having to get honest with myself. What am I really angry about? The dirty boxer shorts that mysteriously land on my side of the bed (have I turned into a man?) or the fact that I am still living, albeit temporarily, as a single parent with a part-time husband?
The latter is partly true, because straight after R went into the Priory, I started to regain control of my life and I was a better parent for it. I thought how relatively easy it was, being the master of my own fort. Then, sensibly, I came up with the idea of a continued separation for the immediate period after he came out of rehab.
However, I failed to mention it in the runup to R’s return home. There just didn’t seem to be a right time to voice my concerns. I didn’t want to ruin his mood or create further financial anxieties with another rent to pay, which seems cowardly and ridiculous now.
It is too late for a temporary separation four months on, I have to admit. The children would be confused, as would R. So I am trying to think like a single person, and it’s something I should have done a long time ago.
I take myself off for a bath and read a book. I give myself an orgasm. I climb into bed feeling satisfied that many things are surprisingly achievable on my own.