When I asked her if she thought it was wise for her to go on drinking since her father had become diabetic and that alcohol turns to sugar, the look on her face said “You are now the enemy.”
She had been such a winner before, accomplishing so much. Now, she was more and more a boozer, giving over so many good things in her life to a negative force- alcohol, that was pulling her down.
I had never questioned her drinking before. It was a totally innocent remark. But I now look back at that moment as the beginning of the end of our marriage. I had been her wine steward, always making sure she had plenty on hand. To suggest to her that there was something wrong with drinking was, as I see it now, a threat tantamount to having one’s air supply terminated.
Alcohol wasn’t something I personally took pleasure in. My wife expressed a wish for us to both drink together, but it never caught on with me. I would have a drink at a party, and most often leave the nearly full glass on a side table. In my wilder days when I was in the Marines, my buddies and I stopped regularly in every bar on the long strip of town that was Jacksonville, North Carolina. There were endless bars along there serving the Marines at Camp Lejeune.
But that was a young man’s ritual and though I drank more than my share, I didn’t crave it. Not like my wife who drank nightly. She had been a drinker long before I knew her. When we first dated, one of the first things I noticed was that in a bar or restaurant or even at her place or mine, her hand was wrapped around a glass. Her favorite then was vermouth on the rocks, but she eventually switched to white wine, good, bad, or mediocre, it didn’t matter as long as it gave her what she needed.
After a few months of steady dating, I felt she was growing tired of me. I had to come up with something fast to stall that. The “something” was boilermakers. A Beer with a whisky chaser. We would go to P.J. Clarke’s, a famous watering hole on Third Avenue in New York and I would throw down three or four boilermakers with great abandonment and daring. And she would be watching me, admiring me. If she was growing tired of me before the boilermakers, she certainly wasn’t after. We were married, and booze was our constant companion with her as the sole consumer. But I didn’t mind because I had no awareness at that time as to how alcohol would one day destroy our lives. My wife never got plastered, never slurred her words. That came later.
Her background was Scottish. Born and bred there.
In Scotland, as in Ireland, drinking was a national past-time. No one seriously thought of it as an addiction, although as the years went by, I learned that her maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother were taboo subjects. Both had literally drunk themselves to death, and had created continuous mayhem and grief in the family. As it turned out, she was going to follow in their footsteps although it didn’t become apparent right away.
As a young woman in Edinburgh, she had a fine operatic singing voice. Her mentors were mapping out a great career for her, but more important to her was partying with friends where the drinking was non-stop.
Her singing potential was cast aside so that when she tried to go back to it, the quality of her voice was far less than what it had been. One day she would blame me for this failure of hers even though it was years before we even met. How I was to blame she never said. There was a time when she would blame me for everything in her life. As a man who loved her deeply, I suffered greatly at her decline. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
After her disappointment in Edinburgh, she went to London, entering the thrilling world of the theatre and arts. Drinking was as natural in that environment as breathing. New York followed London where we met, married, and had two sons. She was drinking heavily while carrying them and who knows if that’s the reason they had a propensity for substances themselves. Vastly talented as an interior designer, there were many hours with associates in meetings and lunches and dinners where massive amounts of alcohol were consumed.
New York was heady and exciting but then my career opportunities took us to London, my wife’s old tramping ground. The alcoholics in our lives became constant fixtures, and I still didn’t see the dangers therein. After a few years, we moved to Cambridge, a beautiful city where we bought a large Georgian house and there followed a social setting that was nothing short of astonishing. We knew everyone from famous writers, artists and composers, and even some of the Pythons. There were dinner parties and afternoon get-togethers virtually every day and we were host to many as well. Our ultra-erudite circle was made up of what I have termed “winners and boozers,” people accomplishing enormous feats while imbibing vast amounts, with my wife a central figure.
It was around this time I began to see how all that accelerated drinking was getting beyond control, and I would caution my wife on drinking too much, not that she ever recognized alcohol as a culprit. It simply didn’t enter her head that there was a problem.
She was in that select group of winners and boozers and for the longest time she was able to balance both her work and her addiction. But then there appeared to be cracks in the foundation with her losing, over time, the ability to function normally. I would witness her abandonment of me and even the children in order to spend all her time with her preferred mate: the bottle.
I would, in time, become educated in the ways of the alcoholic. I would even write a guide for parents of drug and alcohol addicted children since my own two sons had fallen by the wayside (now recovered, thank God,) but that book which has helped thousands of people wouldn’t be for a number of years yet.
Meanwhile, my wife was entering a dark, never-never world that was going to engulf her, engulf me, engulf our children. She would lose all semblance of normal life and we would lose her. It was a scenario that afflicts a great many families all over the world, the ravages of alcoholism being one of the most complete and thorough agents of destruction to the human soul. She died a few years ago, leaving a gaping hole where there had once been a rose garden.
Charles Rubin is the author of a number of books including “Leaning on Thin Air” and “I’ll Get Right Back to You and Other Annoyances.” He is also the author Of “Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You: A Guide for Parents of Drug and Alcohol Addicted Children.” He lives in Sonoma County, California. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vCu44C3Fkc