The death of our family fish hit my husband the hardest, and that surprised nobody more than me. One day the lone beta dubbed ‘Catfish’ simply stopped swimming, turned right on over, and floated belly up. It was a quick end. Thankfully the kids were asleep so hubby and I could converse on damage control. (When you have children, a parental pow-wow is necessary before any intense conversation begins. If your precious lovelies may be in therapy 15 years out, talking about how poorly said situation was handled, you’d best get on the same page beforehand.) I was calmly going over our options when the look on his face stopped me. Now he wasn’t keeled over sobbing or anything, but there was a somber sadness reserved for serious occasions lining his face. It was clear that this was going to be more complicated than I had thought.
My husband is not a very emotional man. He is kind and loving but not the type to cry at movies or get overly sentimental – that is more my speed. It is very rare that anything other than me or the children inspire in him extreme emotion. In this way we are personality yin and yang. So for him to feel a loss profoundly while I calmly dealt with logistics was puzzling. Perhaps the death of the fish evoked memories of the recent loss of his father? I know that particular absence has not been fully mourned or addressed, but it still seemed like a bit of a stretch. As I watched him and asked questions it seemed that that I was surely missing something. Finally at the risk of seeming insensitive I simply said: “I had no idea you were that attached to the fish.” He looked up at me and said: “I came home and talked to him every day after work. He never talked back or had a reaction; he always just listened.”
Anthropomorphism aside, here was the missing piece of the puzzle. Unloading about his day/worries/etc. to a disinterested third party was a release for him. Unfortunately men (still) aren’t always encouraged to discuss their feelings, and it’s not his habit to discuss worries with friends or coworkers. He discusses them with me, but I have my own feelings and thoughts that come into those conversations. (And Lord knows I don’t/won’t keep those to myself!) In the course of daily life it’s easy to get wrapped up in my own perspective. I am stretched so thin as a working mom that I sometimes get tunnel vision and focus on my own path, forgetting I’m not the only one with weight on their shoulders.
When I am feeling burdened, I often write, practice yoga or consult a friend. I have had years of cultivating methods of release for pent up feelings. I have learned what coping mechanisms are healthy and useful for me, and I try to lean on them in times of stress. But it seems that perhaps he needs an outlet more than I realized. I see now that in the goal of household equality I should look both ways. It is about more than my professional ambitions or him participating in child-rearing and housework (which he does.) It is also imperative that his emotions and experiences are shown value and have the same space for expression that I give to mine. Fair is fair. I gain ground; so should he.
We are fortunate in that we have a great relationship, but there is always room for growth. I don’t know the obvious solution here – I will never certainly be as neutral a listener as a mute fish! But it may be worth noting that there is power in feeling heard. Whether that means setting aside more time to ask him about his feelings or finding him another outlet/hobby/coping mechanism, the loss of Catfish taught me something about my husband. It just goes to show that sometimes the greatest lessons come from life’s smallest moments and smallest creatures.
Thanks, Catfish. Rest in peace, little buddy.
Easter moved me more than usual this year. I have been on something of a faith journey for the last few months – simultaneously coming to terms with my spiritual beliefs and the meaning of my own personal story. I have always believed in a power greater than myself, yet railed against organized religion for it’s politicized slant and ‘love the sinner hate the sin’ rhetoric. But through some reading and some changes of heart I have felt the presence of the divine shine on me. I’m not sure exactly where it’s taking me but I know I feel blessed and called upon to do SOMETHING. The question is what.
I also know that that because of my own second chance at life (although I am not likening myself to Jesus) I have an affinity for resurrection stories, and his is the pinnacle of them all. This year I found myself drawn to the Easter story and the bible more than before. I’m not sure what is brewing in my spirit, but something is, and it is making me happy. And I am thankful. I still have doubts and questions but I feel like I may be on the right path, whatever that is.
Memory is a funny thing. Some recollections can lay dormant beneath the surface for so long, you believe them to have faded away completely. But then one moment (or in this case one song) can bring them back to the surface and take your breath away.
Most days my addiction to alcohol is like a bad dream. Well, more like a hazy watercolor memory of someone else’s dream from a long time ago. So many fellow recovering brothers and sisters are not so lucky and are plagued by their demons every day. I am so grateful for my present peace.
But it wasn’t a dream. And a few months ago my buried memories resurfaced unexpectedly. I was on my way to daycare after work, driving my SUV like the quintessential middle class mom I have become. The alcoholic girl of yesteryear was but a distant ghost, when from the radio plaintive music knocked the breath out of me. A song cut straight through the years and the pain was back . It was a song of true love ending in resignation: “anywhere I would have followed you. Say something I’m giving up on you.” ( Great Big World feat Christina Aguilera. “Say Something.”) I hear and sing songs every day about walking away from love, but for some reason the wording of this one eviscerated me. The hollow crushing soul ache and hopelessness of every waking moment of my active addiction barreled into me like a freight train. The fatalistic understanding that your people have given up on you because they have no other choice. Seeing that they are about to give up on you and feeling powerless to stop it. Knowing that those who love you to their core are giving up on you is brutal. And I wept. I wept for that college girl I used to be who just couldn’t get it together and lost it all. I wept for my friends who have fallen into the abyss from whom I had to turn away. I wept for my friend Anthony who was lost forever to us because the bottle owned him. I had to pull over in a parking lot to steel myself and catch my breath. No matter how many years pass or how much you change that is a feeling you never forget. The dread. The fear. The loneliness. And thank God you never forget. Because if you’re lucky enough to rebuild your life you need to remember just how precious joy is. And protect it.
Although that pain cut so deep, it was necessary for me to get sober. In my case, alcohol had altered my brain chemistry so dramatically, that just as you think you need to breathe, my brain said I needed to drink. Only the absolute terror of finding myself completely alone in life was enough to inspire me to wage war on my brain chemistry. Of course no two people are the same. I know plenty of people who have turned their lives around with consistent love and support and if that works then that’s certainly preferable. But if you love an addict who is not recovering and not growing, if you’re stuck in a cycle that is hurting you and not helping them, then sometimes walking away is not only a healthy choice but perhaps the best one.
If you do walk away from a loved one and they indeed recover, your relationship with them may never be the same. For instance, there is a slight but palpable distance between my family and myself. I bear no resentment and relationships have been rebuilt, but bonds will never be the same as they were pre-addiction. But let’s be honest – they never would have been anyway. Connections were already transformed irreparably. For myself, so much time spent learning to stand on my own two feet altered me for the better, and things just aren’t quite the same. I have my own life that is healthy and whole. The ex-boyfriend who finally threw his hands up and said ‘NO MORE’ has not seen me since, but we’re both alive and happy. And throwing those hands up probably saved both of us, because he couldn’t fulfill his potential mired in another’s quicksand. When your last hope turns away, there is nobody in which to look for strength other than yourself and your higher power, and that’s when healing begins. That was my turning point.
Even if the thought of losing your relationship hurts you to your core, I promise it’s better than getting the news that they died. In the last ten years I have known three people that died from addiction. Three is a statistically low number most likely affected by the swiftness with which I distance myself from active substance abusers. It is not lack of empathy; it is self-preservation. Let me tell you from experience, relaying word of an alcoholic/addict’s death is dismal stuff. Most people say something along the lines of ‘How sad. But we’ve been expecting this news.’ They then take a deep breath and go along with their day, having already mentally processed the loss long before hearing the news. It’s one of the most tragic things I’ve ever witnessed. Addiction is so scary and tragic. Those of us who rise from the ashes need to thank our lucky stars.
If you are one who is completely alone wondering if it can get better, I’m here to say that it can. It can be amazing, if you fight. YOU must fight for yourself. Nobody else can do this for you. So stand up on your shaky legs and get yourself to the nearest support group. Get there and share, or listen, or knit in the corner; do whatever it takes for YOU to not put poison in your body for that one day at a time.
I have a husband, children, job and life I am ferociously grateful for and protective of. If I hadn’t lost everything and everyone who knows where I would be now. I can’t even bear to think of it.
So if you are on the verge of giving up or everyone has given up on you, I know it hurts. But there is hope. So be kind to yourself, pray, and fight for your life. Sometimes what seems like the end is the very beginning.