I Had To Divorce To Get Sober
I rolled over and looked at her sleeping face, eyes fluttering as if she knew I was watching. My daughter was sleeping peacefully, her chest rising and slowly returning, fingers twitching with dreams. The divorce had been a long time coming. Five years of separation and desperate attempts to save my marriage. It was like holding sand in my hand, losing him, losing myself. I just couldn’t lose my daughter.
The good times made me want to stay and work harder for the family I imagined we could be. But the bad times were extreme. I finally left so my daughter would not grow up tiptoeing around mood swings or broken glass. I wanted her to forget the words he called me before she understood them.
I never want her to remember those fights or feel those feelings.
Like when I locked us in the bedroom praying he wouldn’t break the door. I sang louder as I rocked her faster, willing her to sleep. She still howled all night. He did, too.
I nestled myself somewhere between “protector” and terrified, usually finding that place with a drink or ten. The utter isolation and loneliness of my situation were more than I could bear without being properly wasted.
At the time, I did not see my drinking as a problem. All the proper boxes were checked and it was easy to justify. I was educated, fully employed and my baby was healthy. I still looked good enough to pull it off with the right clothes and makeup.
“Getting by” didn’t last. I found myself wandering the house in the morning trying to recall the night before. Had I given the baby a bath? Fed the dogs? I checked my texts and phone calls. Had I called anyone? Did they know?
Bruises appeared and there were more excuses for them. The fighting (and falling) escalated as the drinking increased. My status went from functional to a hot mess to hospitalized in less than a few years. Pregnancy and breastfeeding kept me sober for a year-and-a-half but personal tragedy paired with old habits was a dangerous combination.
I was an alcoholic and not the fun or functional kind anymore.
Not drinking made me sick but drinking made me sicker. In an odd twist, my failing health saved me. After years of battling my husband’s ailments, I confronted my own. Liver damage, pancreatitis, ulcers. My choice was to stop drinking or die and I didn’t want to die. I quit drinking with medical help, nutritional supplements, group therapy, family, friends, and online support, and a strong desire to recover.
Until sobriety, I focused so much on his addiction and his failures that I failed to recognize my own. Blaming him saved me from blaming myself. I had not yet connected the drama in my marriage to my own alcohol use. I saw fixing him as a fix for us without seeing how far my own cracks stretched.
Once sober, I realized the starring role alcohol played in the negative aspects of my life. Nearly every injury, every accident, breakups, and lost friendships could be linked to drinking. When alcohol came between me and my relationships, it created more space for booze to move in. Strife, heartbreak, anger, and sadness were excuses to drink. Near the end, I did not allow myself to see anything over or under or around the bottle, only through it.
When I finally gained a clearer view, it was easier to make better choices and even enjoy what I used to call boredom but now see as life.
Drinking, fighting, crying, hiding, lying, drama, and anguish faded away like the bruises. My healing allowed a rediscovery of the possibilities of right now. I’ve stayed sober through tremendous loss but none more profound than my divorce. I grieved over a long period of separation but the formality and finality of the pronouncement brought forth all the emotions I pushed down for too long and washed over me like a massive wave of loss.
Gaining sole custody was the bittersweet lining of the dark cloud of divorce. Our daughter is safe and lives in a harmonious home. No yelling, no uncertainty. I want my daughter to have a clean, sober, healthy family including her father, but I am infinitely grateful I can provide for her on my own as long as necessary. One of sobriety’s greatest gifts to me is my ability to be the mother my daughter deserves. When I choose me, I choose her. Every. Single. Day.
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Dr. Leandra Preston is a single mama, women’s and gender studies professor, and overcompassionate world saver who finally figured out how to save herself. She got sober and reclaimed her life in July 2017 with the support of her family, an extensive sober community, and the neverending love of her sweet baby girl.