Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: This week I discovered that my spouse has been hiding daily drinking. Spouse cops to drinking a fifth of vodka per day for the past year; I think the reality is probably more. Six months ago I called an ambulance because I thought Spouse was having a stroke; turned out Spouse was drunk.
At that time, Spouse swore it was a one-time thing. In the past week Spouse had a similar episode, which prompted me to search until I found hidden bottles. Upon confrontation, Spouse acknowledged a problem and agreed to make an appointment with a counselor. I am so angry and scared I can’t think straight. We have school-age kids and I travel for work, and I am now petrified to leave for fear Spouse will drive drunk and hurt someone. How do I move forward?
Angry and Scared
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You go into emergency mode. You make a sick-visit appointment with Spouse’s primary care physician and both of you go; you discuss the options for immediate treatment. This is high level self-destruction you describe.
Since spouses do get sick and since emergencies happen, presumably your employer has a way of dealing with people who cannot travel due to a family medical crisis. That’s you now, so figure out what channels you have to go through to suspend your travel duties temporarily.
You can’t trust your spouse to care for your kids, so don’t, and make all necessary arrangements to account for that.
I realize this may seem like a lot of logistics for someone who is reeling, but it’s really three steps: call the doctor, call your boss, call for child care. If you have them, call in dependable friends and family.
And as soon as you have a workable arrangement for the kids, get some kind of counseling for you — be it a support group like Al-Anon or private counseling with someone who specializes in alcoholism. It’s going to be a process, as you know, so taking care of yourself is essential to taking care of your family. Best of luck.
Dear Carolyn: I’m a busy professional who, despite trying desperately, is not a mother. My sister frequently says things like, “Just wait until you have kids, you’ll understand then.” And, “I know you can’t relate because you don’t have kids of your own.” And even, “Enjoy it (freedom? life? travel?) while you can, because your life will never be the same when you have kids.” She doesn’t mean anything by it, but each time, it’s a tiny knife in my side. Er … uterus. I’ve mentioned it a few times, but she brushes it off and the behavior continues, so guess what? It makes me want to talk to her less. Just food for thought for people who use what you call the “maternal A-bomb.”
Not a Mother
Not to stir the sisterly pot, but I do think people mean something by comments like this: They’re securing their position and self-regard at the expense of others. It’s smug and it’s a cheap shot. Would she tolerate it if anyone said, “Wait till you do more than drive kids around, then you’ll understand”?
You can’t fix her, but you can tell your truth: “Wow. What a divisive thing to say.”
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.