When Daddy’s Been Drinking
Hi Amy –
I love love love your column and your blog and all the sound advice you’ve dispensed over the years.
I have a heavy situation here: I am two weeks from my due date with my first baby. My husband tried to quit drinking when we got pregnant, so nine months ago. We’ve been together nearly ten years and his drinking has been something we’ve talked about and worked on the whole time, but he never actually took the leap to quit outright until the baby. It has… not gone well. He has relapsed half a dozen times or more. He has anxiety and depression on top of the alcoholism. He was suicidal and spent a week in a mental hospital where they recommended an outpatient rehab program. He has been attending that and sporadic AA meetings, but still has been struggling mightily with suicidal thoughts and relapsing. He has started hiding vodka bottles everywhere and lying constantly about whether or not he’s been drinking. He calls in sick to work more often then not. He doesn’t answer his phone.
I just can’t do it any more. I spent last night with family because I just can’t be around him if he is like this.
He mentioned that he might want to try a residential (inpatient) recovery program, but when I tried to discuss it further he said he didn’t want to go because he doesn’t want to miss the birth of his baby girl. However, I don’t really feel comfortable with him being there – certainly not if he’s drunk, and if he doesn’t answer his phone how will he know I’m in labor anyway? And we have this huge chasm between us now of distrust and hurt feelings and I don’t think I can be vulnerable and in labor and trying to deal with him too. I feel so bad about taking this experience away from him, but then I remind myself that he made these choices and this major consequence of missing his daughter’s birth may be what he needs to get his head on straight.
I guess my question is: do you (or commenters) have advice for me? I know that only I can know how much I can put up with, or where to draw the line, but I just don’t know what to do. I do not want to leave him, I really really believe he can get better, and I know that when he does he will be the most loving, caring, devoted spouse and father. I know he can do it. I just don’t know when or how or what I can do to make that happen.
I keep reminding myself that I need to take care of myself and the baby and make sure I create a loving, safe home environment and if that means he can’t be there that is just the way it has to be. I’m just scared to death of being a single mom with a newborn and where he is going to go and what might happen to him. I only have enough paid-time-off to cover about half of my maternity leave and I was counting on his financial contribution to make this all work, and by the looks of things he won’t be able to keep his job much longer. My family has helped out a lot already with medical bills and other support, but I don’t know how much more I can ask of them.
I’ve been going to Al-Anon meetings and the family therapy nights at the outpatient program he is in, so there is support there. I just wish someone could say “do x” and he’ll get better. Even if people just have stories that they have been here before, that they survived, that being a single mom of a newborn is somehow a survivable experience, that would be much appreciated.
Stranded Between Hopeful and Hopeless
Every once in awhile I get a letter like yours in the Smackdown queue — not this exact circumstance, or anything — but a letter that I realize I need to publish even though I have absolutely no advice or insight or words of knowing experience/camaraderie/whatever. Even though I’ll be lucky if I’m able to string together two or three coherent paragraphs of filler. Even though it makes me feel so wildly helpless and out of my depth because I want to HELP and FIX and ALL THAT.
But I need to publish it anyway because someone out there, in the wilds of the Internet commenting system, might have the words that I do not.
I don’t know what you should do. I have no idea what the right call is, here. His drinking is not your problem to “fix,” obviously, and there are no guarantees for either course of action: Let him witness his daughter’s birth and hope that he’ll come to his moment of crystal-clear clarity and responsibility on his own…or stick to your guns and bar him from the birth and hope that the tough-love look-what-alcohol-cost-you approach is what does it. (Can you videoconference a birth from rehab? Or would that basically undo the Whole Putting-Your-Foot-Down Point of it all? GAH I DON’T KNOW.)
He clearly needs that inpatient rehab, and I hate to think of him using his child’s birth as an “excuse” to delay going when in reality it’s possible he’ll simply spend the next two weeks (and your labor and her birth) in a last-hurrah-style bender. But success at inpatient rehab STILL requires a great deal of effort and motivation on his part, and I feel your hair-pulling frustration that he is still dragging his feet after almost nine full months of chances and relapses and come-to-Jesus-moments between the two of you. At this point it sounds like his drinking is so officially out of control that he could miss the birth anyway because he’s stuck in the drunk tank at the police station.
I don’t think anyone would blame you at all for putting your foot down and not wanting to risk him showing up drunk (or not at all) at the hospital. You are absolutely correct that he’s made his choices (or as much “choice” as addiction, dependency and mental illness allow) and it’s time for you to protect yourself and your own sanity and focus on giving your daughter as peaceful of an entry as possible. I don’t think anyone would think you are terrible for “denying” him the chance to let you both down, again. Or for going at this alone, at least for the next 28 days or so, at which point you can introduce him to his daughter and take it one day at a time, together.
But I also completely understand how terrifying that is. Even if I may suspect you have more than a little Superwoman blood in your veins, for remaining upright and level-headed and strong — YES YOU ARE STRONG — to be dealing with all of this while pregnant for the first time. I was prone to falling to pieces over missing baby swing parts and stolen recycle bins at 38 weeks pregnant. An alcoholic, absent husband would probably have broken me, and your letter is Exhibit A in the case that you are not broken, or anything close to it. I’m glad you have support, both from Al-Anon and your family. Please lean into that support with no guilt and as little worrying about the future as possible, for now.
One last virtual back-pat before I hand things over to our lovely community of commenters, for THIS:
I do not want to leave him, I really really believe he can get better, and I know that when he does he will be the most loving, caring, devoted spouse and father. I know he can do it.
I hope one day, no matter what happens over the next couple weeks, your husband will look back and read those sentences with a clear and sober head, and realize what a wonderful and amazing woman he’s married to, and that you and your daughter were more than worth getting help for.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
Here’s an update (from 6/11/2012) from the original poster.Published January 23, 2012. Last updated March 12, 2018.