There are some things that people just don’t talk about. We all curate our lives on social media, posting the highlight reel of our days and shoving everything that can’t be made pretty by an Instagram filter back under the bed, don’t we? I was as guilty of this as the next person—posing for the perfect ring photo not even five minutes after getting engaged, spending thirty minutes picking a filter to showcase my designer wedding dress in the days and weeks after my dream wedding. My life was a happy, newlywed bubble, and nothing could stop me from sharing that with the little part of the world that followed me online. And then, the posts stopped. The lull in my social media accounts started to tell a story that I was desperately trying to shove back under the bed. A story that wasn’t supposed to be talked about or shared, as if it was a contagious disease, ready to infect all those exposed.
After 103 days of marriage, my husband admitted that he was an alcoholic and compulsive spender that drained our joint bank account and accumulated $20,000 in secret credit card debt.
THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN, NOT TO ME
There were warning signs, of course. The drunken nights leading up to our wedding that were becoming more and more frequent. The secrecy when it came to finances. The fights over the fact that my salary supported 80 percent of our joint expenses as he worked the overnight shift for little more than minimum wage. The elaborate lies to hide the fact that our money was being spent on alcohol seem as thin as lace now. Many may call me naïve, blinded, and I might do the same. I never knew my husband was driving forty-five minutes to work each night, drunk enough to be arrested. I never noticed that the credit card in my name was carrying a larger and larger balance each month, even as I was making payments. I never thought twice about it when my husband insisted on depositing all of the checks we received as wedding gifts into an account that only he controlled.
The night my husband confessed, I drove him to his parents house to stay. At the time, I thought he would be there for a few days to allow the hurt and pain to pass and then we would jump right back in to being newlyweds. My husband has now been living there for more than six months. Every time I consider allowing him to come home, to restart our first year of marriage, I remember what it felt like to hear “all of the money is gone” slip past his lips. I remember the ice that sprinted through my veins and the shock that almost stopped my heart. I remember the phone call I had to make to my parents, asking for money to buy groceries that week. I am from an upper-middle class family, college-educated with a great job that I love. I have a 401K account and a basic understanding of how to do my own taxes. This isn’t supposed to happen to women like me. I had a perfect marriage and I had the social media accounts to prove it. The feeds told a happy story, a story that doesn’t match up with the ugly currents that pulled me out of the life I had created for myself and left me out in the dark to die.
Misery with no company
In the aftermath, the days and weeks where I was desperately trying to keep myself afloat, I spent hours online trying to figure out what women like me did in situations likes this. I Googled “alcoholic husband newlyweds now what” and “divorce after three months of marriage.” While I found lots of helpful legal advice and a great therapist, who I still see today, I found no personal accounts from women who spent their first year of marriage in the kind of hell I found myself in. I realized then how serious of a problem we were facing. No one feels comfortable coming forward to bear the ugly side of marriage, the disastrous consequences of alcoholism and spending addiction.
We are more comfortable with hiding behind the truth that we not only tell the world, but that we tell ourselves. While I have great respect for resources such as Al-Anon, I found that even there, no one was talking about what it means to consider leaving your spouse of three months. There were plenty of resources for those who wanted to make a marriage work with a substance abuser, and even support groups for those who struggled in these kinds of marriages, but none of that correlated to how I felt. I felt alone to my very core and like I deserved to be punished for what I let happen in my marriage.
And so I punished myself with isolation. I stopped picking up the phone for anyone but my parents. I was living alone for the first time in my life and found comfort in a rigid, controlled routine. I cried at the thought of being around “commoners,” people too perfect and happy to ever be able to relate to me. Even people who loved me were now a threat, attempting to draw me out of my comfort zone, to offer unconditional support that I knew I didn’t deserve. After all, I was in the kind of marriage you only hear about on soap operas. I threw myself into the things I could control—exercising to the point of exhaustion and obsessing over my work, earning a promotion two months into my separation in the process.
This only served to fuel my belief that I needed to keep this secret. Successful women do not share what happens behind closed doors, and so I didn’t. I woke up every morning and slipped on my diamond engagement ring, terrified that someone would guess what was going on if I didn’t. I spent the day feeling that ring like a literal weight on my left side, a physical reminder of the illusions my husband painted for me. I spun elaborate lies about my life, telling stories about how my husband and I spent the past weekend, when in reality, I hadn’t seen him in weeks. I kept the wedding photos on my desk at work and hanging on my walls at home, a museum to what I thought I had. If I pretended to still be married, then maybe my husband wouldn’t be an alcoholic. Maybe my husband wouldn’t have stolen from me. Maybe my husband would love me enough to stay sober and stop blaming me for his own disease and shortcomings. And more importantly—maybe no one would have to know any differently.
Let’s share—I’ll go first
This mindset prevailed until today. Today, I woke up and decided that I can’t be silent for a moment longer. I cannot contribute to the notion the only life worth sharing with the world is the one in which you are holding your Starbucks cup perfectly with your manicured hand and just so happen to capture it all at the right moment. My story is worthy of being shared because this is my life. This is part of my journey and I am better for it. My story doesn’t define me, and it isn’t even unique to me. Women around the world struggle every day with what I struggle with. We make mistakes, we marry alcoholics, we trust compulsive spenders, we turn a blind eye to bad behavior, and we pay the price. By sharing my story, I hope that even one woman, in some corner of this Internet world, feels a little less alone. I hope that one less woman feels the shame and isolation that I did. To women everywhere who are drowning in silence: I am here, I am struggling too, and we are going to be okay.
If you or a loved one needs help with a drinking problem, you can find your local Alcoholics Anonymous location, information and learning resources here. For Public Assistance options please click here.