Park Bench

Park Bench

Early on in our marriage I began to suspect my husband had a problem with alcohol abuse. It was obvious with my father-in-law. He had been in and out of rehab a few times by the time I knew him. He had been fired, so I was told, from his last job before he retired for good, for drinking. Or so everyone hinted. My husband’s family was never direct, especially with an outsider like me.

That firing occurred when my father-in-law had been working for the branch of the family that had a very successful business. The one belonging to his wife’s sister. He had been given the job after he was laid off (fired?) from another job he had had. I got the feeling they gave him the job because they felt sorry for him. He needed to support his family, after all.

“We don’t hire family” was the directive I heard. A directive that was written in stone after the firing. Was that story told to me so I wouldn’t have aspirations of working for them? Funny thing about that, most of the other “family” worked for the business. The thought had never passed through my mind to work for them. Whatever my father-in-law had done must have been pretty bad, I thought.

It’s not like I didn’t come from a family where people drank like fish. I remember a time when my parents were having a party and I asked my father to make me a drink. Yes, I was of drinking age at the time. He handed me a gin and tonic. I took a sip. It tasted like he had poured mostly gin, and maybe waved the bottle of tonic over the top. “This is too strong, Dad,” I said.

He shot me a funny look and said, “If you can’t drink that, you’re not my daughter,” and walked away. I went to the kitchen and poured half the drink in the sink and filled it with tonic myself. It was a daytime party. It was a time in the early ‘70s when DUIs were practically unheard of. Certainly nobody thought twice about driving home from a party after they’d had too much to drink. Nobody sued anybody for serving too much booze. My parent’s friends made it a block from the house in their car. Apparently negotiating a left turn was too difficult. They hit the tree on the opposite corner from the stop sign. Fortunately no one was hurt. The car and the tree were a little damaged, but nothing else.

I tell this story so you might understand the context of what I considered “normal” drinking. For me to begin to question my husband’s behavior meant it had to be pretty outside my box. I’d been to an academically excellent college, but it also was known as a “party school.” Drinking seemed to be a way of life. We were young, wasn’t that what everyone did?

It was the focus of the drinking that got to me. Everything we did revolved around being somewhere where you could drink. We went out to dinner, and it was a place with an active bar scene, or the very least where you could drink a lot. We went to a friend’s house, and the discussion was how much should we drink before we went…just in case there wasn’t enough booze there. There was never a second when our house lacked some form of drinkable alcohol. Eventually this got to me. I literally woke up one day and thought, “I’ve had enough.” I stopped going out with my husband.

The proof of the pudding about substance abuse came to light after I’d had a minor surgery. I was prescribed Percodan. Look it up. It’s aspirin and oxycodone. I took a few as prescribed, and mostly slept a couple of days. I stopped when the pain was manageable. There were probably twenty left of the thirty pills I had been prescribed. “Can I have the rest of the prescription?” my husband asked me. Just in case I was still wondering.

There were many years when my husband never touched anything. He lived a substance free life for a long time and totally turned his life around. Toward the end of our marriage I suspected that wasn’t true anymore. Certain behaviors cropped up I hadn’t seen in a long time. Still, I didn’t want to believe what on some level I knew was true. I couldn’t deal with it anymore despite therapy and a hundred other things I tried. I finally filed for divorce.

Shortly after I left, our 16-year-old dog had reached the end of her life and needed to be put to sleep. She had been prescribed Tramadol for her arthritis. It’s a narcotic analgesic like Percodan. She took a lot. Human beings can take it, too, usually for back pain.

The dog went back and forth between my ex-husband and me, so both households had her prescription meds. The day we went together to put the dog down, I told my ex-husband I had just refilled her prescription a few days before. I had had surgery myself a couple of weeks before and could not yet drive, so he picked me up to go to the vet’s.

He dropped me off at my house afterwards and followed me into the house. Both he and the woman he was living with at the time had back problems. His were from a car accident we had been in long ago. As far as I ever knew he had never taken anything stronger than ibuprofen for the pain. Part of his swearing off substances. “Can I have the rest of Lucy’s (the dog) medicine?” he asked. “Humans take the same stuff, too. Sometimes we used to give Lucy human Tramadol when we ran out of hers. It works great on back pain.” The word “we” stuck out for me.

“Really?” I thought. “You’d take dog medicine? How do you know the dose?” I handed him the vial of Lucy’s medicine. I watched him walk out the door. It all became crystal clear as the behaviors clicked into place.

Just in case I was wondering.