I loved Sean, but he was a mean drunk. He'd play mind games and sometimes would get so out of control the kids and I would flee in the middle of the night. I remember one Christmas Eve when the kids and I fled in fear--we ended up at a hotel eating McDonald's Happy Meals while I tried to pretend to them that all was fine.
It wasn't fine.
They were only seven and eight years old when Sean died. They don't remember a lot of that craziness, but they do remember seeing him hanging dead in a closet, watching me cut him down and try to revive him, seeing the paramedics come to our house, having the police everywhere. They remember enough.
Before the suicide, though, is what I remember with more and more frequency. The manipulations and outright lies, the constant state of uncertainty, the fear that he was going to hurt us if he got drunk again. We'd separated for six months a year before his death. I told him to get out and stay out until he was sober. I lied about where he was to people in the PTA, swim team, and the soccer team.
I became someone I didn't know. I was constantly protecting the kids, Sean, and my reputation with a lie. I liked our facade, you see. From the outside, we looked like the perfect family. A handsome and successful husband, a house in the mountains with two cute dogs, money overflowing in the bank account, two beautiful and happy kids, and an educated wife who quit her life in corporate America to attend mommy-and-me gymnastics classes. I became someone who would do anything to protect that facade--even if I cried myself to sleep every night, even when I found liquor bottles stashed in the laundry room, even when I packed the babies up at midnight to escape a raging fit.
After our separation, he came home--sober--or so I thought. He'd moved on from drinking, you see, into some kind of drugs I'll never know the name of for sure. When I'd suggest to him that he was high, he'd smile and say, "I haven't had a drink in two years, when will you trust me?"
So I started doubting myself at every turn. No matter what my gut told me, he'd play the guilt card, "What do I need to do to earn your trust back? Will you forever hold my past against me?" On and on it went until I didn't know what to think anymore.
The confident, educated, independent woman he'd married had become a bundle of nerves and uncertainty. He preyed on the fact that I did love him and the knowledge that I wanted more than anything to keep our family in tact. And, no, he wasn't acting like the drunk Sean--there were no more outbursts, no more crazy ramblings--he was just...off.
Maybe it was all in my imagination. Maybe I had become paranoid.
And then he started disappearing for days. He was a contractor and said he was simply busy working--could he really do his job building huge commercial structures and be drunk? I needed to relax, he said.
But I couldn't relax. Everything about his behavior felt like a lie. But did I know what truth felt like anymore?
The kids and I went on living our lives with kindergarten and second grade, swim team and soccer, filling our time. We smiled. All that money that had been in the bank? It started disappearing, too. There was a month where the kids and I only ate beans and rice while my husband did whatever it was he was doing wherever he was doing it at. But we maintained the facade of happy little family to the outside world and I did my best to shield the kids from my concerns while phone calls went unanswered.
Then he returned from his job up north and took us all on a trip to Mexico. A new beginning, he said. A fresh start. A chance to reconnect. Relax, he said.
He'd pace on the beach in Mexico, staring at the ocean. A SCUBA diver, he didn't dive this time. He paced. He taught our daughter to body surf in the Caribbean. He slept. He fidgeted. He paced some more. He told me how our wedding day had been the happiest of his life. He built sand castles with our little boy. He sweated profusely in an airconditioned room and told me how sorry he was for screwing up, how much he wanted to make things right for our family.
He killed himself when we got home.
We found plastic Easter eggs--you know the kind you fill with candy and hide for the kids on Easter morning?--in his truck filled with white powder and a crack pipe.
That intuition of mine, the one he'd said was paranoid and untrusting, had been right.
Ten years later I am sitting here writing these words and realizing that the effects of living with an addict haven't quite subsided. Yes, I've raised two very successful young adults. Yes, I've written and published nineteen books. But I still second-guess myself, I have a hard time trusting others, I am still stuck in some ways with his words about me being foolish and stupid in my mind. I'm still hiding, afraid to leave and afraid to stay, trapped in a moment of who I want to be warring with all that I've been.
Should I have left him at the first sign of his alcoholism? I don't know. I loved him deeply, we had infants, we'd just moved into a house with a mortgage far from the city where I'd worked. I wanted more than anything to see him conquer his problems. We went to therapy. He went to rehab--three times. We were separated. I fought for him, for us, for our family, for the life I wanted--and it wasn't enough. Sometimes that still really screws with my mind.
It wasn't enough. I rode the lie of perfection to save face and ended up a widow of suicide. No, I don't blame myself for his death. I honestly loved the man with all of my heart and the kids worshiped the ground he walked on. When he was good...he was amazing. And, he was amazing most of the time...which is why I kept fighting.
No matter what I did, it wasn't enough. No matter how much success he achieved, how much money he made, how awesome his kids were, how much love we engulfed him in...it was not enough. That haunts me sometimes...despite all the counseling and the books I've read and the years that pass...I still wonder why it wasn't enough.
Since his death, I've found myself susceptible to other manipulators--people who have taken advantage, who have caused me to second-guess my very nature, and I've become gun-shy with relationships of all kinds. I recognize this and am not sure I know how to change it or even if I want to...you see, I've come to enjoy being alone.
But am I really choosing that for my present and future or am I merely reacting to the past? I once vowed to not let a moment define me, to not be trapped in the shadow of Sean's suicide. But have I inadvertently broken that vow? Did I focus so much on getting the kids through it that I lost my own path? Am I sabotaging my success and forward momentum because I have some guilt that I didn't win the ultimate battle? Am I using it as an excuse to hide away from the world?
I've learned a lot about myself on this journey. I've learned that I love deeply and passionately. I've learned that I am strong enough to stand up to adversity and weather the storm. I've learned that it's okay to tell someone to fuck off when they're saying that your intuition is wrong.
Loving an addict is hard because you see their goodness, their big hearts, their loving nature beneath all the crap. I had a therapist after the suicide who explained the addiction like a mistress. She told me that Sean had a mistress--a powerful, seductive one--and, in the end, he couldn't resist her pull. She told me this not to diminish the destructive nature of addiction, but to reassure me that that good man I loved, that man who loved me back and who could take my breath away with a smile, was real. That, despite all the lies that addiction brings with it, I had known his heart, had known his good nature, and that I wasn't a fool. Beneath the facade, truth existed.
And, after being beat up in the storm of manipulations, betrayals, and death, it's good to know--to believe--that my instinct had been right, that I hadn't been crazy-paranoid, that I wasn't stupid, that I can trust myself to go forward with my head held high knowing I fought the good fight and, yes, I lost.
But I fought. On some deep level, a soul level, I'd known the truth. That matters.
Peace to you.
Amber Lea Easton
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of romantic thrillers, contemporary romance, women's fiction, and nonfiction. She also writes five different blogs, volunteers for children's literacy, and advocates for suicide awareness. In addition, she is a professional editor and mother of two extraordinary human beings. She currently lives in a small cabin high in the Rocky Mountains where she is completely aware of how lucky she is. To find out more about her books, please visit http://www.amberleaeaston.com.