by Paul S. (Punanai 2011)
She found it while cleaning up.
My wife, sorting through some shelves, found our wedding photo. I hadn’t seen it in many, many years. The last time I had gazed at it, it was on the floor, surrounded by broken glass and a torn frame – remnants of an argument we had one night. A night no doubt driven by, and exacerbated by, my untreated alcoholism.
My marriage was often a barometer for my own mental and emotional health. My marriage was like my drinking – on the rocks and complicated, fuelled by my ego and self-centered actions. My alcoholism had isolated me and kept me distant from the woman I had vowed to honour and cherish for the rest of our lives. I was a fading shadow. A ghost of that young man in that picture.
When I came to treatment, my wife had already asked me to leave the matrimonial home. I was living on my own for the first time in my life. We both didn’t know what was going to happen, but it was clear that working on my recovery was first and foremost. Without that, everything else would crumble at the softest of breezes.
I took the advice from the old-timers who said that my Higher Power would take care of things once I took care of my recovery. I worked the steps, kept open to new experiences, and started the process of gaining clarity and accessing what was previously shut down within. I found a connection to the Creator and found His spirit moving through and throughout me. I started to move towards healing from within so that I might heal without.
My wife needed to do her own healing as well. Living for many years beside the twister of an alcoholic husband does its own damage. It fractures and weakens. Tears and breaks. As we started to heal, we started to talk. We talked honestly and openly for the first time. Gone were the layers of deceit and resentment. We were able to come together and have real heart-felt dialogues. Talks about what we wanted and where we saw ourselves. Unbeknownst to us, the process of coming together in a new and healthy way was starting to happen.
The ironic thing was that during this process, we were convinced at some level that we would not be back together. The betrayal my wife felt through my actions and secrecy took a heavy toll. The anger and hurt that my wife felt through my DUI and subsequent consequences was a burdensome cross. But somehow hope slipped through those cracks. And hope started to bloom and burst forth. Hope stemming from my step work and through our connection to the Creator and my wife’s gradual willingness to work through our issues. I started to see that spirituality and romance could co-exist. In fact, inventory work moved me to write my romantic ideal – how I saw my wife, how I would treat her, how I would honour my commitment to her.
Fast forward a few years now and we’ve continued to grow in our marriage. We’ve had another child since. We’ve learned to appreciate each other in new ways. I see in her now what attracted me to her in the first place. I have learned to practice spiritual principles in my relationship with her. I have learned to see things in a new light, to practice empathy and entertain her ideas and thoughts, rather than bulldozing through her like I used to. We have come together as a real partnership. We have never raised our voices once since we have come back together.
Our marriage is based on full honesty, devotion, patience, understanding and respect – things that I wasn’t able to give way back when. We have learned to walk hand-in-hand through the rough patches and to celebrate the fun times. We’ve been able to come to a maturity in our marriage that we only dreamed of before everything came crumbling down.
Coming back meant doing work, and continuing to work at it. But I have come to learn that it’s not just about coming back to an old marriage; it’s also about creating a new one. It’s a brand new marriage. And if that’s the case, we’re still newlyweds. And it feels like it.
My wife once told me, about a year into my recovery, something that I have never forgotten. While we were separated, she took a trip to see her friend in Florida. And while at the beach, she made a list in the sand of what she sought in a mate. Honest, spiritual, strong, open-minded, etc. And it was about six months into my recovery that she saw in me the very things she carved into the shore that day. That has shown me the power of what is possible in recovery.
That wedding picture now sits in our living room. A bit faded, a bit ragged at the edges, but there is still that bright light that shines from our eyes. Those eyes still shine bright today. But with the knowledge that we come from authentic places, and all pretence and pain dropped and washed away.
We celebrated nineteen years of marriage last month. Brand new all over again.