‘We Are Playing a New Game Now’…. Married and in Recovery
‘We are Playing a New Game Now’…. Married and in Recovery
Copyright Fiona Purcell – May 18, 2015
“ I actually stood over his bed while he slept holding a kitchen knife in my hand”
Frank and I started going to marriage counseling in 2012. It was a suggestion given us from my first rehab (sleep away camp as my brother-in-law calls it). It was dreadful. Frank was so angry and I was so beaten down by my own shame and guilt that I don’t think I could look people in the eye at that point in my life.
Our marriage counselor works with addicts and alcoholics and has done for years so he has been a huge resource. He is able to point out where we are going astray and does so without judgment. I utterly respect his opinion and so does Frank. He is professional and caring but takes no prisoners. He listened to our sick dynamic for a few months and then challenged me to stop acting like I was less than if I wanted not to be treated in that fashion. He challenged Frank to get over his anger because coming to therapy and railing at me was not getting us anywhere.
Slowly things got a bit better between us and we embarked on a tentative peace. But it rutted. It stalled. It started to backslide. We hadn’t really changed anything other than that I wasn’t drinking anymore. Yes, we had moved and yes I was not working, but nothing else had changed. I still acted less than; Frank still responded to this by trying to fix me.
“It was very much a parent-child dynamic and that really isn’t much of a marriage.”
Then I relapsed for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that I had not changed, I just wasn’t drinking. I had given up my coping mechanism and to be sure there were moments of serenity and sanity, but when I started to get uncomfortable for any number of reasons, I was miserable. I had no other way out of my discomfort, or so I thought, so I picked up a drink and then another and then another and back to sleep away camp I went.
I already mentioned that this time I was much more humbled, much less arrogant and much more open-minded. I had attained the gift of desperation. When the counselors suggested meditation, I tried it. When my sponsor suggested praying I tried it. Anything that was suggested I gave a fair shake. Except when Frank suggested that he wasn’t ready for me to come home.
When he said that in marriage counseling I thought my heart was going to beat outside my chest.
“I wanted to break a chair, a door, a window. I wanted to rage in a fashion I have only once before desired. I pictured myself scratching his face with my fingernails. I was a barely contained banshee.”
I did not handle it well. I did not make it look pretty by any means.
I am not an angry person. I have had moments for sure, but I am afraid of my anger. I have been for a long time. I have always recoiled from its brilliance, as though allowing it out is like trying to stare at the sun. I do this because during a particularly torturous phase of my childhood I contemplated murder. I wanted to stop my brother and wanted to end my pain.
“I actually stood over his bed while he slept holding a kitchen knife in my hand. I was twelve.”
Every cell in my body pulsed with the idea of being free from my nightmare. Adrenaline careened through my veins and my hands shook as I held the knife aloft. I stood there for minutes that felt like hours until I turned and walked back to the kitchen, returning the knife to its slit in the block. It is an indescribable moment when you come to the realization that you are utterly capable of killing. I shudder now to think how close I came to bringing that fantasy to fruition. Since that night I have swallowed anger, burying it with little pieces of my soul each time. I am working on having healthy anger now.
So to say that I felt rage when Frank asked me not to come home illustrates how strong my feelings were. He didn’t really handle it all that well himself. Neither of us were at our best at that time. We kept going to marriage counseling every week and some days it felt like we were clawing at open wounds that were still seeping from the last session. But we didn’t give up. We kept going back. I began to change and Frank began to change. And slowly we were able to start seeing things more clearly and we started to get along and then we started to tentatively enjoy each other. Now I am not trying to say that we are there yet, but I will say that we are in a good place and several months ago I would have said that was impossible.
I fully believe that the reason we have gotten to this place is because everything changed. I did not come home. I got an apartment and a job instead. I started taking care of myself and doing the work of recovery which includes, for me, paying bills and fixing things and being responsible, all things that had been Frank’s role. Frank shoulders the job of a single parent at the moment and does the things he hasn’t had to in years because they were my role. He does laundry and cooks, makes lunches and organizes play dates. He does all the other things as well and he has had to because I have been away.
“What at first unleashed my anger, turned out to be such a gift.”
I have had the luxury of the time to self-reflect and Frank has not. It is a most cherished present and I don’t think he even realizes that he has given it. People don’t normally do these things. They don’t normally take these kinds of drastic steps. Our marriage counselor said the other week that he was amazed we were where we are. He told us that months ago he thought we were doomed and that he wasn’t relishing that he had a front row seat to our destruction. He says we didn’t just move the players around on the game board, we threw it away and are creating a whole new game. I like that; refurbished players, new rules, new game, new prize at the end.
Honestly I am amazed at what I see when I put aside my pre-conceived notions and my sad desire to protect my self concepts. Frank might just be a better stay-at-home parent than me. Of course he doesn’t have the luxury at the moment, but given the chance… He is particular about laundry now, cooks much healthier meals than me and teaches the kids to be self-sufficient when I simply did things for them all the time. He teaches them to fish as it were which is a far more valuable lesson than seeing Mummy follow behind them and pick up after them so our house looked picture perfect. Me? I quite enjoy being the parent they crawl all over and want to play with when I walk in the door. That was always his role because I was always with them and barking instructions in their general direction.
And so I have hope today. We have made it through the death of a child. We have made it through Frank’s cancer diagnosis. The odds of us surviving as a couple after being wrenched apart by addiction are not good, but the statistics haven’t taken into account that we are playing a new game now.