The Other Side of Intimacy – A Guest Infact.
After I wrote my post on intimacy, I received a lot of feedback on twitter. I have been, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been, surprised by just how many people in the scientific community have had their lives affected by alcoholism. Below is a Guest Infact from a female scientist, describing her marriage and the impact alcohol has had on it.
I do need to put a trigger warning up front for potentially distressing sexual situations.
I was deeply moved by the post on alcoholism and intimacy that @Dr24hours wrote. As with many of his posts, it offered me the chance to understand the other side of a problem I’ve experienced. I’m so thankful he is sober and able to blog with honesty and openness so other can learn from his experiences. I’m going to attempt to approach this subject with the same openness and honesty as Dr24hours, but I’m not sure I can. My wounds are still fresh, but I’ll see how this goes…
I have to admit that I don’t know that much about alcoholism. I’m not sure what comes first, the alcohol or the alcoholic. So many of the personality traits that Dr24hours describes sound like my husband. The thought patterns, the self-esteem issues, just about everything. But, he was not an alcoholic when we met. He enjoyed alcohol in the causal way that most people do. We’ve gotten drunk a few times, and had fun doing so, but it wasn’t something that happened regularly. The longer we were together, the more he drank. I don’t think it was cause and effect, but a byproduct of our circumstances. We got married right before I started a PhD program, he got a masters degree, and we had a kid. Lots of life happened has happened in the last 10 years. When kiddo was 3, I defended and we moved for my postdoc. He has never been particularly motivated to find jobs and when we moved, he had even less motivation. We used the excuse that he would be a stay at home dad. But, he didn’t want to stay at home. He didn’t really enjoy it and neither him, nor the kiddo, were thriving. I was stressed and felt guilty for moving the family. He started using alcohol as an escape. He finally got a job that he liked, but then it ended after 4 months when funding fell through (yay soft money science!). That sent him to alcohol even more.
He had little motivation to even look for jobs. He would fall into the thought pattern of not wanting to apply because nobody would want him anyway. He would count himself out of the running before even applying. I ended up writing several cover letters for him and helping him apply to a few jobs. He had interviews, but nothing came through. Then he got a few months of work on the soft money research position again, but he his tasks had shifted and he didn’t enjoy what he was doing, or the commute. Every day he would come home and have a beer in his hand before he sat down his work bag. He would pick up a beer and check out. He didn’t drink till he passed out, but he had a beer in his hand from the time he came home to the time he got ready for bed. If I tried to talk to him about it, he became defensive. At one point I had asked him to cut back on the beer and he replied, “it’s the only thing I have to look forward to at the end of the day.” It made me so sad that he felt this way. Even if he wasn’t excited to see me at the end of the day, how could he put beer above our daughter? My dad had said something similar to my mom not long before their divorce. I remember her telling me how much it hurt. I remember going for a walk and calling her to tell her. We both cried.
As Dr24hours describes, our intimacy started to fade as the drinking increased. He drank as a way to emotionally check out. I felt like it was my duty to “be a good wife and give him want he needs” but his low self-esteem meant that I had to initiate any intimate activities. And, well… as Dr24hours describes, alcoholism is associated with sexual dysfunction. This made intimacy harder for both of us, eventually all aspects of intimacy faded away. There was no kissing, no hugging, no handholding. Alcohol combined with his insecurity and inability to connect on an emotional level also led him to make some very bad decisions. I became an object to him and little more. I felt like shit and I feared him. If anyone else had done it to me, I would have called the police, or left immediately and never returned. But I couldn’t, I had to see him the next day. I had to continue to live with him and my shame. He was not someone I wanted to be with and I didn’t give a shit about being “a good wife” any more, I just went into survival mode. I did what I could to keep it from happening, but it didn’t always work.
I was working my ass off trying to do my postdoc and keep us financially afloat, but I didn’t even have my friend, my partner, at home. I couldn’t talk to him about my good or bad days at work because he didn’t want to talk. He had nothing to say so he just watched TV and drank beer. I felt emotionally abandoned. Conversations about alcohol went nowhere. He’d get defensive and walk away. I knew there was no way I could talk to him about our intimacy problems. I knew he was hurting and would be ashamed, if he was even aware of his actions (I have since learned that he was aware of what he was doing, but at the time I didn’t know if he was too drunk to remember). I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about what was happening. I felt ashamed. I felt like it was my fault.
While all this was going on, we also hit the wall financially. We couldn’t make ends meet on my salary alone, but he couldn’t find a job (in his field) and he didn’t really want to work. I had a few interviews for TT positions, but it wasn’t looking like anything would come through. I had another year of funding, but started looking at other postdocs to see if there was one that paid better or was in a location where he might be happier.
I ended up getting a postdoc that did pay better. I really hoped that moving would get him out of his rut. The next place had a smaller kitchen and no garage, so there was no place for the “beer fridge.” He liked the our location and was much happier. But he still drank and his actions continued. He was having fun staying at home. He went for bike rides, he hiked, he cataloged his record collection. The kiddo had entered school and was gone 6 hours a day. He had plenty of time to do his own thing and really enjoyed himself. I was glad that he was happy again, but it also showed me that his depression and our previous location wasn’t the root of our problem. I was paid more, but it still wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Once again, the credit card was piling up. He deferred his student loans (without discussing it with me). I was stressed about applying for TT jobs, learning new things at work, and working till 1 or 2 am every day. I was frustrated with my work and frustrated with home. I would tell him that I was very worried about my ability to support us. He didn’t think he should apply to jobs till after I got a permanent position. I told him I was worried that it wouldn’t happen for a while, if at all (like many people I’m seriously worried about the current state of scientific funding). I felt crushed by the responsibility of being the breadwinner and having all the financial pressure fall on me. I also felt so emotionally abandoned. I was alone. I was trapped. I hit the wall. I was crying every morning and every night. He would see me crying and say nothing. There are so many different kinds of intimacy, and I had none of them. I can’t say it was all because of alcohol, but alcohol played a role.
I have since entered counseling. My getting help has led to marriage counseling, and now individual counseling for him as well. He is no longer drinking, but our marriage is over. We have not had intimacy for nearly two years. It is hard to imagine it ever coming back. For now, we are working on moving forward and parents and friends.