“Want some?” Those were the first words Steve spoke to me while extending a heaping spoonful of cocaine as I stood flipping through the stack of albums next to the turntable. In case you hadn’t guessed, it was the 80s and we were at a mutual friend’s Fourth of July party. While I declined the cocaine, I did need someone who was drinking age to drive to the nearby liquor store and buy me wine. Steve obliged.
Four years later, and mere weeks before Steve’s and my wedding, I came close to calling everything off. The reason I didn’t was because the invitations had already been sent. The reason I wanted to was because I knew on some yet-conscious level that I was about to marry someone with an addiction problem.
My instincts were spot on. Steve passed out on our wedding night before we so much as undressed. Ultimately, his secretive drinking and lying about it would drown our marriage in bitter resentment. That it took twenty years before we conceded defeat says less about my indecision than it does about Steve’s likability. Almost everyone who knows Steve starts a sentence about him with, “He’s such a good guy….” Then comes the “but.”
As his disease progressed, Steve went from a functioning alcoholic — able to hold a job and help raise our two boys — to “high and dry” (all the erratic behavior only without the alcohol — now replaced by weed). After ten years sober, he slipped into the habit of an occasional drink, then backslid to daily drinking while attempting to care for our 22-year old son who’d suffered a massive stroke. It was at this point, 2019, that Steve finally lost a job due to his abuse of alcohol.
Because he’s the father of my children, a good guy, and we’ve been through a lot together, Steve is — for better and for worse — still very much in my life. Unfortunately, so is his drinking. Fifteen years after our divorce was finalized, Steve and I chat regularly by phone about our kids’ lives and health, people we know in common, and his struggles. I encourage him to keep up with his AA meetings, and share articles about various ways to manage his anxiety and depression.
When he invariably insists that his drinking is ‘mostly under control,’ I remind him of his heart problem, the black eyes and gashes he’s suffered from various falls, his most recent liver panel, and how our son found him lying in a heap at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Cue the downward spiral: Father and cognitively-impaired son are evicted leading Steve to drink all the landlord’s liquor and wind up in the ER with a .39 blood alcohol level. I found new housing for our displaced son while Steve checked himself into rehab.
“Infrequent benders,” I recently told him, “is not a drinking problem ‘mostly under control,’ it is a wrecking ball that periodically crashes into the people you love and care about most, demolishing any sense of stability we’ve built since the last demolition.”
Today, on what would have been Steve’s and my 35th wedding anniversary, Steve is once again MIA. I resort to what the kids and I always do under these familiar circumstances: I obsessively check Facebook Messenger to see when Steve was last ‘active.’ His activity (or lack thereof) in turn translates to the only clue I have as to whether Steve is — like Schrödinger’s cat — possibly dead or alive.
Messenger tells me whether one of us should call and ask the police to conduct a wellness check, or whether I should just go to check on him myself to spare my sons having to pound on the door, convince the manager to let them into Steve’s motel room. The possibilities stretch on from there…stench…. coroner….body bag. Far better they be allowed to skip ahead to the memorial service where everyone will talk about what a ‘good guy’ their dad was.
‘Active three days ago.’ That’s a long time for someone addicted to, among other things, Facebook. I log into an Al-anon meeting to quell my resentment and help pass the time. Then check on Messenger, and Steve, again.