When David and Ellen* married, Ellen never suspected David might be an alcoholic.
“We had a large time with friends and family,” Ellen says. “I knew he drank a lot, but it didn’t cause issues for us. I never felt unsafe. My life looked very normal to everyone around us. David was a good provider and the good far outweighed the bad in our marriage.”
In 2004, David and Ellen moved to Atlanta with their 6-month-old daughter. While Ellen noticed behaviors in David that raised red flags, she didn’t think it was a big deal.
“I noticed David was drinking more at night,” Ellen says. “In addition to David being super-stressed at work, I was terribly lonely and did not want to be away from my family. We had some knock-down drag-out fights which I attributed to both of us having too much to drink. Several times I left and stayed with my parents for a while. When I came home, we both apologized and life went back to normal. The fights were few and far between. We did not realize they were warning signs of things to come.”
In 2008, the couple moved to Chattanooga feeling like this was a great opportunity to advance their lives.
“I convinced myself that a new house, more money and getting out of Atlanta would help our situation. As time unfolded, things remained the same. We had great times and really bad times. Sometimes I wondered if I was crazy because life could go along for so long and be wonderful, then wham.”
In 2012, Ellen began to notice a significant difference in David’s behavior.
“I honestly believed he was having an affair,” Ellen says. “He was unhappy with everything including me and drinking seemed to be the only thing to help him cope and relax. Finally, David acknowledged he had a problem and tried outpatient treatment. Shortly after that he quit his job of 20 years, convinced that was the problem and took a new job in Louisiana. At that point, I was ready to do anything to get my husband back, even leave Chattanooga and friends I loved to support him.”
In Louisiana, David was only home on weekends, and he hid his drinking well. Unfortunately, things went south pretty quickly. After months of living in denial, Ellen finally acknowledged her husband was an alcoholic. Now with two children, she decided she could no longer live with David. She left with the stipulation that if he went to treatment she would commit to trying to salvage their marriage.
“While I was gone, David got a DUI and was fired from his job,” Ellen says. “Once again he entered treatment. When he came home, we made a plan to move back to Chattanooga. David found a job pretty quickly. I knew he was having relapses, but I overlooked them thinking that if I could just be a better wife, I could make him better. I now know that was not true.”
In 2013, David’s life spiraled completely out of control. While David was away on a business trip, his co-worker notified Ellen that David had called to resign from his position – and it sounded like he planned to take his life.
“At this point in our marriage, we are barely speaking to each other,” Ellen says. “I had no idea where he was and I had no interest in going to find him. I was actually determined not to go – I was tired and had rescued him one too many times. My heart was done with him. Something in my core kept saying, ‘Show him grace one more time.’ I resolved that I did not have to be nice to him, but I had to go get him one more time and then I could be done with him.”
Read part two of Addiction and Marriage for the rest of the story, and find resources for those who struggle with addiction in their marriage.
*Names changed to protect privacy