Why didn't I see it? Perhaps because of my own struggle. When I met Ray* in 2007, I was in the final throws of a 16-year battle with food. My eating disorder had started as a teenager, when an innocent diet morphed into full-blown anorexia. I recovered from that only to move into the world of bulimia, which would plague me through two in-patient hospital stays, many more out-patient treatment plans and a marriage that, like most of my food, went down the drain.
Ray cooked wonderful meals for me with so much love, and he helped me see food as something positive. He turned me on to new interests, new books, and new music. Slowly, I realized I didn't need bulimia any more. I just needed him.
My love for him lulled me into a complacency. His usual tumbler-a-day regimen of straight whiskey expanded into a 750 mL bottle a day habit, and then the 750 mL bottle of cheap whiskey plus a tumbler of Jack Daniels.
In the spring of 2015, we were on a tropical holiday. On our third day there he insisted on driving from our hotel to the beach, and he hadn't had a drink that morning. That was an unusual move for him and it delighted me. I was thrilled he planned to spend the day sober, breathing in the ocean.
We walked up to the edge of the water, dipping our toes in and walking up unto our shins. The current wasn't strong, but it barreled him over. I grabbed him, trying to get him to stand, and I noticed his hands were shaking like I'd never seen before.
By the early evening he had begun drinking again, but the amount of time he had gone without booze had taken a toll. At around 10 p.m., we walked to a 7-Eleven next door to the hotel, in search of snacks. I was looking for cereal in the next aisle when I heard him call my name.
I ran to him, and saw that his right eye was bulging out of his head, and blood was coming out of his mouth and nose. His head began to jerk with more abandon, and I saw him begin to fall. I was so scared. I called out: "Stay with me!" as he fell backward into the lolly rack.
In the emergency room, the doctor told us that Ray had an enlarged liver, and that his seizure was due to alcohol withdrawal. He gave Ray a prescription for Librium, a benzodiazepine, to prevent further seizures. "It won't be easy, but if you don't stop drinking, this thing is going to kill you," the doctor said.
The Librium worked for about 24 hours, and then Ray stopped taking it. I begged and pleaded. I stole the bottle of whiskey he bought at the liquor store and while he was taking a nap I poured it down the drain. It was no use. When Ray wants to drink, there's not a thing in this world that can stop him.
Several months after that trip, I tried to convince him to get some help. He said he wanted to taper-off on his own, which worked for about a week before he relapsed. Then he went to a doctor who prescribed him Naltrexone, which was supposed to take the pleasure out of getting drunk. It made Ray nauseous and incoherent, and caused hallucinations.
Those were some of the worse weeks in my life. Ray became desperate and needy. He couldn't stand for me to be away from him. He needed to be held constantly. He was delirious and didn't make any sense when he talked. It was like the man I loved was no longer there, and in his place was some other person, a child that couldn't care for himself. I couldn't work; I couldn't see my friends. I was miserable.
In October of 2016, he agreed to go into detox at a hospital near our home. He was in-patient for a week, and then sober for six months.
A number of things immediately changed. After years of navigating a life through his frantic drunken escapades and his moments of despair, there was a sudden calm. He was quiet, reflective, and actually listened to things I said instead of always talking over me.
But there were disconcerting new layers to deal with, as well. Between quitting drinking and taking anti-anxiety drugs, his desire for sex had completely disappeared (illness is one of the 8 times when a sexless relationship is completely normal). There also appeared in Ray a melancholy, a somber hopelessness.
Then, after six months, I found a bottle underneath the sink. Later I found one behind the microwave. I found bottles in the cupboards, underneath the stairs. I found them in the recycling bin. I started to find them daily. No matter how many times I confronted him about it, he insisted it was no big deal, that it wasn't like before. But soon it was worse than before, because he was trying, badly, to hide it from me.
Ray tried to taper off again on his own. That worked for a few days. He went back into detox, and he was sober for a week. But it became clear to me that he had no interest in quitting drinking. He likes his whiskey too much.
My friends and family told me to leave him. I joined online groups and had women chastise me that my co-dependency was killing him. The only way he was going to get better, they said, was for me to cut him off.
But I love his sweet smile and his strong arms. I love the food he cooks for me and his passion for poetry and literature. I ride the waves of his ups and downs now.
I hope one day he'll come around, that he'll decide to go back into treatment and really stick with it this time. I fear there will come a day when his body shuts down, and that I'm going to have to care for him in ways that go beyond what I'm already doing. I'm scared about his liver, and what will happen when it finally begins to fail. I know that's on the horizon, and like a wave coming toward me, I have no power to stop it.
*Names have been changed.