How to Be Sober and Not Hate Your Spouse

Resentments and recovery.

Posted Feb 24, 2021

 Sarah Kilian/Unsplash
Source: Sarah Kilian/Unsplash

It should have been a great evening. I was nicely wedged into the couch with a bowl of popcorn and two slavering dogs, and I was working my way through the entire series of The Queen’s Gambit. I was alone, and it was divine. Brian, my husband, had both our boys on a long day-trip involving socially distanced basketball. He was due to arrive soon, and I felt rested and rejuvenated after indulging in some badly needed alone time. An introvert mom’s longing for alone is never done.

And then, they came home. 

The kid part was fine. They are my children and I missed them and I hugged them hard. I’m not a monster.

The husband, however, was a different story.

I leaned in to kiss him and I sniffed. And sniffed again. My husband had been drinking.

To make a few things clear: Brian is not the alcoholic in the room. I am. He is a totally normal drinker with an annoying ability to have a beer every once in a while without subsequently wanting to drink all the beer, everywhere. In fact, when I got sober, he very kindly got rid of all the booze in the house. I couldn’t even really comprehend this. I found him packing up the bottles and taking them to our neighbors, and I realized I scared. True, this was mainly because alcohol was leaving me. But also, a new form of terrified dawned on me. What if Brian decided alcohol’s absence was equally awful? Would he leave me after one weekend in a house with no tequila? No one in their right mind would voluntarily give up alcohol, right? 

I confessed this to him. “If you take all the booze out of the house, eventually, it will be just you and me.” I grimaced. “That is so much to ask.”

He furrowed his brow and then responded, slowly, “Did you think I married you because of how much wine you drink?” 

Turns out, he did not actually marry me because of all the wine I drank. 

And so, he got rid of the alcohol. And I wondered at it. I felt like he had just told me, “I think I’m going to get rid of all my pants. Let’s just box 'em up and give them to the neighbors. I mean, I don’t really need them. I hardly ever think about them.” And I shivered and felt cold and a bit embarrassed by the analogy.

So, it’s all booze-free around here. Blessedly, pants are still a thing. 

However. Brian still does drink, on occasion. He doesn’t drink around me. But he has a couple rounds with his rugby buddies once in a while. And sometimes there’s Johnny Walker in a heavy glass when he visits his dad. And this night, evidently, he decided to have a beer with his pizza. And I was incensed.

The sour smell set me off. It caused a visceral reaction that made me shrink back. I scowled. And then all the conversations started in my head:

     “He can drink and I can’t.”

     “How could he do that?”

     “Doesn’t he know how hard this is?”

     “He shouldn’t drink around the boys.”

     “Let's go back to that first one. He can he drink and I can’t.”

And so on. There I stood, amidst the tumbling thoughts, and I stirred them about with something terrible called ‘righteous indignation.’ And of course, Brian had no idea any of this was going on. He just wanted a beer with his pizza. Not a segue into marital counseling. Because at no point in our marriage had I said to Brian, “No drink for you!” like the angry soup guy on Seinfeld. I was magnanimous that way. But still, I kind of wanted him to not never, ever drink again. Like, ever. 

And so, within the span of a welcome home kiss, my recovery became all about someone else. And, I had lost my grip on my gratitude, which is every sober person’s superpower. 

Why did I have all these tangled, angry thoughts that were very clearly not on my side of the street and also a little bit nutty?

Because I’m an alcoholic. 

I have been in recovery for a while now, and I have learned a few things about the tangle. When all the feelings hit me, swirling around me like some sort of evil spell, I call up all the best recovery tools I know:

  1. I remind myself that control is only available to me within my own zone. My mind. My body. My actions. My zone. Anyone else is over on the other side of the street. Not my zone.
  2. I get away from the trigger. I step outside. Outside, there is quiet. And stars. And I feel small and God feels big and that perspective is always right. I pray. 
  3. I tell Brian how I feel about it all, but I wait a long time (at least an hour, which is an eternity) to do so. And I don’t expect change. I just tell him. To get my inside-voice on the outside. 
  4. I go to my recovery group and I tell them too because they won’t furrow their brow. They’ll get it. And in that solidarity of just listening, I will heal.
  5. I give myself grace. I still have really nutball, controlling, selfish thoughts sometimes that make me screechy and all off-kilter. So, I repeat steps 1-4 as needed. 

I took an informal poll on social media recently, and more than double of my friends in recovery are in a relationship with a drinker. Many asked, “Do you mean problem drinker? I’ve got that here.” I didn’t even keep track of that number, but I knew the trend was there. In fact, there is up to a 45% chance that alcoholics will marry each other, which obviously makes the road to recovery all the more rocky. 

I am lucky enough to be in a home that is alcohol-free. That, to me, seemed a supreme sacrifice for Brian to make. For those who have a spouse who drinks, how do they manage that constant proximity? What if there was just one really colossally bad day—and there was all that beer, just hanging out, waiting for me? Perhaps I would have caved. Or, perhaps not. All I know is that my recovery needed a cleaning out of it all, and now, even these seven years later from the last drink, I know that is what I need. But not everyone is the same. In my poll, many stated, “My husband/wife drinks. I’m OK with it.” Or, “He has two drinks a night. It’s not a problem for me.” I wonder at it. Is their sobriety stronger than mine? Are they better at recovery than I am? 

And some answered, “My spouse and I are in recovery together. We have five years.” And my eyes fill with tears. How challenging and how wonderful, all at the same time.

Sober living is not a race to win. There is no competition. I slowly untangle the thoughts.

All of this simply reiterates a basic truth of sobriety: Recovery is highly personal and different for all of us. And thank God for that. 

And, another truth: My angry reaction to Brian’s beer and pizza is just a really good reminder to get to a meeting.