The line between wants and needs was often blurred by desires, cravings, denial, and alternating hopes and fears. I made demands, he made promises, and we both wanted to believe in the possibility of creating the family we envisioned. We had taken all the steps to lead there, but the door at the top of the stairs seemed to open onto rough seas rather than a peaceful home, and we were precariously close to being swept under. Then a lifeline appeared, in the form of a residential rehab program. It would mean another separation of over a month, our son now six months old. I had returned to work part time and solid daycare was in place. The choice was to dive in and swim like hell, or surely drown. We could not remain balanced on this crest of uncertainty without eventually careening to an end with no return.
I was alone again, but this time on steadier ground. The fussy infant had grown into a rosy cheeked, curly haired, bright eyed little boy who still cried, but also smiled and giggled and played and explored the world around him. We had found our way into our daily routines as parent and child together. Total responsibility for getting us both up and out on work days was daunting but doable. The most challenging task was simply getting a child, gear, groceries and whatever else needed to be transported to and from the house all in the same place at the same time. We had no garage or driveway and I often had to park a block or more away. I couldn’t leave a child in the car alone while I transported the other items and couldn’t leave him in the house alone while I carted things to or from the car, so we took multiple trips back and forth with the stroller and as many packages as could be carried. This part never got easier. But we managed. Then there were the visits to the rehab center, two hours away. Wooded surroundings with a lake and mountain views greeted me as I drove through the gate on my first visit. Resentment started to blossom again as I took in the vacation like setting. But it did not take long to see past the bucolic backdrop to the serious challenges mirrored in each face that drifted by. Ron seemed happy to have us there, but also distracted by the veil of emotions that hung around him. We sat outside and talked about little things. I complained some about the struggle of being left alone again. But those feelings softened as he did not complain of the obstacles that fell in his path each day, simply said that he could not talk about it yet, that it was hard to explain. The things he didn’t say, and the way he didn’t say them, communicated more than any words. I was relieved to be able to return to my home with my arms filled with the innocence embodied in our son.
Six weeks passed by at a pace that only the care of a rapidly growing child can define. Ron returned with a diagnosis of PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder – a term unfamiliar to most at that time. He was also drug and alcohol free. The atmosphere was tense, but in a different way. Neither of us knew how to respond to the other. We either tip-toed around each other’s fragile emotions or found something to argue about. We had met in a bar, gone to bars while dating, even owned a bar before we were married. Alcohol had connected us and separated us all the way to the altar. Then, along with drugs, become the elephant in the living room whose weight had finally pinned us to the ground. He continued attending meetings at the Vet Center and also went to AA meetings for a while. I tried Al-anon meetings and once again felt like an outsider, as I always did in groups, so did not continue for long. But I did last long enough to hear the term ‘enabler’ – the person that encourages or enables negative or self-destructive behavior in another. I knew that was not me, I had been doing everything I could to stop Ron’s addictive behaviors. I was certainly not encouraging any of it. How could I be enabling?