Dr. Marry and Me,  Personal Writing

A ripple effect of being married to an alcoholic enjoying sobriety

I slept too long to go to spin class this morning so was walking along the river by myself when a runner ran past me. I said a cursory hello and then realized it was someone I know; someone who at one point in time was quite a good friend of both mine and Dr Marry’s.

The runner had the same realization, and she stopped so we could talk for a few minutes. It was friendly and a little cautious. She and I have a fraught relationship and a lot of tough history to address. Tough history because she chose to be brave and try to tell me about Mazz’s alcoholism long before I understood what was going on, long before I could face what was real.

I went back to our Facebook messenger history when I got home this morning. Even though we are no longer Facebook friends, that thread remains (a powerful reminder that all this content we’re creating never actually goes away). I was stunned to see how long ago she was trying to help me address the giant elephant of alcoholism in our lives.

Looking Back

June 2012 (that’s almost 5 years before Mazz went to the hospital with his nosebleed!):

I hope Mazz is okay. I am sorry if I upset him. I feel badly for not believing that he had an appointment next Friday…he had recently kind of lied about not being able to make a meeting because of a meeting with you last Monday. I hope all is okay.

My response was vague and pretty lame. To be fair, I believed what I wrote because it was what Mazz had been telling me for all the years I had known him. He always kind of fell apart in June, so I thought it was “normal.”

DDV: I think he’s ok. He always gets a little weird in June because it’s the anniversary of when his dad died.

November 2012:

Hey…what’s going on in your house? Mazz is sick again? Sheesk. I hope you guys are okay. Students keep looking for him.

Avoid, avoid, AVOID.

DDV: Not sure. Haven’t been home all day. He didn’t feel great yesterday.

December 2012:

If you want to do coffee sometime next week, let me know when is good for you…Speaking of administrators, there are complaints put in by students and other faculty in regards to not being able to find certain professors because they are never around. I have been asked to document missed meetings etc….along with others. I have also been told I need to document anytime a colleague of mine comes in smelling of alcohol, because of complaints put in by students. It is getting a little ruthless and I don’t like it. However, I have also noticed that a special colleague/friend of mine has missed several meetings and not just with me. When I ask this friend of mine why he misses meetings, his wife and child is usually the excuse he gives….needing to run errands for them. I have reported nothing, but it is becoming a bigger issue – not just with our department, but it has red flags up with administrators. I have also noticed that sometimes this friend of mine does smell like alcohol. I have confronted this person with it (and not taken it further) and excuses are plenty. Take care….I have lots that I would like to talk to you about.

Finally, after this note, I confronted Mazz. I told him I had gotten a number of messages from this person and that she was concerned. He flatly refused any part of the note. He had answers for all of it: he was fed up; she was crazy; people were out to get him because they were jealous, he had been double booked for meetings and had to pick one, etc.

I responded in the best way I knew how with the extremely limited understanding I had:

This is not a conversation I would ever have without Mazz being present, so I am going to pass on coffee.

I remember feeling grown up and proud of myself for unequivocally standing by my spouse. Wasn’t that what adults were supposed to do? Rather than side with someone who I liked but was growing distrustful of, I chose my partner. I had a kind of satisfaction in knowing that even though things were already pretty garbage at home, I was honoring my marriage by “believing” and publicly defending my husband.

You know how you can complain vehemently about your siblings, but if someone else raises so much as a faint criticism, you suddenly defend them like your life depends upon it? That’s how I felt about Mazz. I had complaints up to my earlobes, but I didn’t want to hear them from someone else. That made them too real. It meant that my instincts were correct, and I wasn’t crazy like Mazz was trying so hard to convince me I was, over and over again. If someone else saw what I saw, then I had to deal with it, and I was so utterly ill-equipped to deal with whatever “it” was that it was easier to just live in the mud right alongside him.

She responded: I am happy to have this conversation with Mazz around. I told him as much. He did not want me to say anything to you – so, I held off. It is coming to heads now, so I was hoping you would say something to him. His biggest concern was…you because of your concern for him. He has lied to me many times – and I have called him on it. I don’t know how far the lying is extended – that is, if you cover for him or are just unaware of what he tells me and others. Good luck is all I can say. It will be a long spring semester if the air is not cleared and I am doing my best to do this. I have confronted him and it doesn’t work. As one of my colleagues put it, Mazz does not take heed, even if he were hit over the head with a sledge hammer.

I didn’t write back.


I can see in retrospect, and with so much more knowledge about Mazz in particular and alcoholism in general, that I was making my own sets of excuses. I was desperate not to believe what this person was saying about Mazz. In re-reading these exchanges, which I haven’t looked at it in nearly 10 years, my stomach is tight, my anxiety is ratcheting up and I am immediately back in the swirl of knowing something is desperately wrong but not being able to articulate it.

I don’t know this because I haven’t spent enough time with spouses of addicts or those in recovery to prove this theory out, but I believe that those of us who live with addicts suffer from our own sets of delusions, our own rhythm of lies, excuses and justifications. Spouses, children, parents must fall into the same patterns, the same cycles that Mazz talks about addicts falling into. If he were co-writing this, he would say, “That’s what makes it a disease. Everybody responds the same way in the given circumstances.”

I do remember feeling righteous indignation when I read the sentence, “I don’t know how far the lying is extended – that is, if you cover for him or are just unaware of what he tells me and others.” I wasn’t covering for him. There was nothing to cover for. She was mistaken, not me! How dare anyone question my integrity?

But of course I was compromising my integrity all the time. I was working so hard to create an environment where Mazz wouldn’t get “caught.” Where I wouldn’t have to explain away his erratic behavior or where I could control the circumstances. I was talking myself into believing the preposterous explanations Mazz was giving me for any number of stupid circumstances, all of which I knew were lies. I was covering for him time and time again. I wouldn’t have called it that because I didn’t truly understand that that was what I was doing, but of course it was. I had easy answers for all of his fumbling, angry, dull behavior. I was under as much delusion and denial as he was.

In all the writing and talking about alcoholism I have done, in all the ways Mazz has helped me understand this disease from his perspective, I will never really feel like I can adequately explain how someone with as much intelligence as I have (don’t misread that, I’m no Rhodes Scholar, but I can get in out of the rain) couldn’t understand what she was living with. Doesn’t that sound stupid to you? It always rings hollow in my ears when I say it out loud. But it’s the truth. I honestly had no idea I was living with an alcoholic. All the whiskey bottles, all the passing out in front of the tv, all the glasses with an ice cube and amber liquid at 7 in the morning, all the unexplained ATM withdrawls, all the slurred conversations where his mouth moved in awkward, cartoon-like ways, all the puffy weight gain, all the blotchy skin and bloodshot eyes, all the…all of it was not enough to make me confront the reality of my life.

Moving Forward

And that’s the direction I want to pursue going forward. There are countless avenues for addicts to take, and I’m so grateful for that. One of the best things about our Daily Dose #guestThursday conversations is that we’ve learned about and shared alternative paths to sobriety that Mazz and I have no experience with, and that’s excellent because it’s imperative that people who want help have options to find the best fit for them.

But that doesn’t help me explain why or how I chose to live with this disease, right under my nose, for so many years. It doesn’t alleviate the guilt I feel that I put my beloved boy into this environment. It can’t erase the fact that I compromised my integrity and sacrificed my own instincts over and over again. It doesn’t take away the trauma I have from living with an addict, even one who was absolutely never violent. And I know I’m not alone in the complexity of this.

Seeing this woman, for 90 seconds this morning, interrupted these incredible years of joy and healing and brought all of this right back to me in a tsunami of emotions that I have to unravel and somehow swim out of. Going back to read our exchanges plunged me into some darkness I thought I had worked through. I was wrong.

As I’ve said many times before, we have the ability to experience complex emotions simultaneously. I can be both grateful beyond measure for the partnership I have with Dr Marry AND still be nursing the near mortal wounds of the desperate years before 2017. I can be proud of his recovery and our public sharing of it AND still have much to uncover about my own journey.

I have thought for a number of years now, because I am blessed to live with an alcoholic who has enjoyed 4+ years of sobriety, that I need to reach out to this woman and tell her how much I appreciate what she tried to do for me, for us, even though I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time. But I haven’t done that. Until now.

I missed spin class this morning so that I would be walking by the river and have this exchange. I believe the Universe never puts people in our paths unintentionally. It’s long since time for me to acknowledge the bravery, the compassion and the intention of this woman.

But even more than that, it’s long since time I set my own intentions for how I’m going to address what I still need to uncover for myself about myself and my part in this journey. I tried to do that last August, but that didn’t work at all (perhaps a post for another day), so I’m committed to exploring other options. And I’m grateful to this morning’s gift to remind me to get going.

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.

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