The Event: Getting Sober


It’s announced like an open house, an engagement, or a new job. Announced as a self-published press release. The Ex is Trying to Get Sober. This is celebrated, in some parts, as good news. It is, I suppose. It’s encouraging when someone decides to turn over a new leaf. Proclaimed change is full of hope and promise.

My Handsome Man shared the status update with me. The Ex had called or texted to inform him that she is now “working on getting sober,” or “really focusing on her sobriety,” or something like that, conveyed with conviction and with the attending qualifiers that “from now on everything is going to be different.” Big news. Old news.

I should be excited, supportive, enthusiastic . . . something other than skeptical. But I am . . . skeptical. The fanfare accompanying the announcement – elated and energized kids, a panicked and co-dependent Dear One who rushes off to stay with her mother because The Ex can’t be alone when she’s trying to get sober – all indicates an expectation that everyone will rejoice in this enticing turn of events.

I feel alone and isolated in my circumspect reaction. All I’ve ever known is The Ex Getting Sober. That this is “NEWS” somehow eludes me. I thought that was what she’d been doing during these many months of probation, during the post-incarceration-electronic-ankle-bracelet-house-arrest summer, throughout the 10 months in jail for multiple DUIs, during the repeated stints in rehab, all those mornings after Little One called crying because mom was passed out from drinking, sleeping pills, or some other pain-relieving escape-inducing cocktail.

This idea, that an effort toward sobriety is just now being launched, strikes me as odd and untrue. But the family marshals its resources, mainly Dear One – the eldest, in support of this quest. It is the Great Hope of Recovery. It is also the anticipation of The Ex’s snowbird parents returning home to roost. The Snowbirds who have, approximately quarterly, threatened to toss her out of their Northern nest where she has been residing for about a year and a half. The timing of this renewed commitment to recovery, where any disruption to her routine would be imminent cause for collapse does, conveniently in my view, shift responsibility for her success to those around her, and does so a few short weeks before the Snowbirds’ ETA. The Ex must not be left to fend for herself and, Please! No one do or say anything that might shatter her serenity, security, or support because that would surely tip the scales against her.

And, though I’m skeptical of this bout of sobriety and suspicious of her motives, I can’t actually cheer against it, nor do I want to. Yet, I find my heart breaking in the shadow of that hope. Breaking for the enthusiasm that this proclamation gives rise to in the hearts of the children. Breaking because it’s a wish that has been promised so many times before and simply hasn’t come true. Breaking, also, because it comes with so many devastating strings attached.

Mom can’t be alone if she’s ever to get sober. That means when The Ex is not at AA meetings, or with her (award-winningly faithful, truly!) sponsor, Dear One must be at the house. When The Ex gives up on sobriety it’s always the fault of circumstance or someone else. 

She drinks. Or uses, though drugs dont really seem to be the confessed addiction. My outsider perspective hears admissions about alcoholism, but the sleeping pills are needed because she can’t sleep, the pain pills are needed because she hurts. I empathize, though it likely doesn’t appear that way, yet still I wonder, how can any of us recover from those demons we refuse to face? 

She drinks when she misses the kids, when her parents threaten to kick her out of their house, when she takes a financial hit because of all the costs associated with her legal troubles. She drinks because she’s alone in the world with no one to take care of her and life is hard. When I think about it, I want to sit down and have a drink with her because life is hard, insufferable at times. Again, I sound as if I’m mocking her, but truly I’m not – very much. My life, too, is at times lonely, cruel and exhausting, so I recognize her toil and know that I also labor with how to cope.

I simultaneously resent her struggles, because every time she falls apart I see our kids struggle. I see them less trusting of the promise, but still hopeful, and I anticipate their emotional crash when, once again, her commitment to sobriety fails. Maybe this is just life though, because I see them struggle with my moods and failings. Therein lies my resentment. When I look out at the world as a limited pie, it feels like she eats up some of our piece, My Handsome Man’s and mine, of the margin of error. When one parent is so in need of caretaking from her own kids, the other parents get to shoulder more of the responsible load. There’s less room for volatility and immaturity; less room for being uptight, not being available, and dropping the ball. It feels like there’s less room for being human. 

But maybe if I wasn’t quite so nervous about whether she succeeds or fails, if I was more confident in the kids’ resiliency and less frightened that they will own her recovery, or the blame for its failure, maybe I’d be a sturdier partner for My Handsome Man and these lovely children. Maybe I’d worry less about how and whether The Ex is managing her life and be able to enjoy my own. Most of us don’t get it right on the first try, if ever, regardless of how sincere and earnest our desire is to do and be the right thing. Does that mean we shouldn’t make the effort, or that we should keep any aspiration to reform a secret?

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