Back in 2008, when I was trying to end my marriage, trying to just get my husband out of the house for the second time, a frequent topic of our debates regarding his leaving or not was that a divorce would "ruin" him. "If this gets out, it will ruin my reputation, ruin my business," he said. Who did he think we were? Christie Brinkley and Peter Cook? At that time, Christie and Peter had been all over the news as their marriage was coming to an end. Now, I can tell you, my husband was no Peter Cook, either looks-wise or sleeping with an 18-year-old-wise.
My husband's lover was a bottle of vodka. It puzzled me that he thought our divorce could be a New York Post-worthy social scandal. Page six? I don't think so. True, Christie and I have a lot in common. She and I are both blond. We both have three kids, she with three different husbands, I with just one. We both like horses. She was married to Piano Man; I have a piano. She was a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model; I have a swimsuit. Oh, and we both have a Total Gym, although from the looks of things, she is using hers a lot more than I am using mine. Still, our divorce, no matter how ugly it got, and he promised me it would get ugly, was not bound for tabloid headlines. And there were already plenty of falls from grace to fill the "Wall Street Journal"; besides, would its readers even care about the demise of a family?
My husband thought that no one knew about his drinking, and to a fair degree, he was right. Excess in the world of investment banking was the norm. Remember the 90's? Bankers were the masters of the universe. They were getting haircuts and shoeshines in their offices, blow jobs under their desks and multimillion-dollar bonuses in December. Things were different after 2001, but he was still making a lot of money. My husband was convinced that because he was so successful in business, he could not possibly have a drinking problem. For years, he was able to keep these areas of his life separate. He went off to work each day, sharp as a tack, spring in his step, and capable of speech. My children and I got him home each night, slurry and stumbling and eventually unconscious, if we were lucky. Like any good alcoholic, his disease progressed. He continued to believe that no one knew, but between his drunken stumbling in town as he made his way to the bar or liquor store, ambulances and police cars in our driveway, and my own physical deterioration and frequently tear-filled eyes as I told friends and neighbors that I was fine, I wondered how people could not know. He clung to the idea that his secret was safe and his reputation was stellar.
Sometimes I threatened to "out" him. I thought that maybe if other people knew what he was doing, he would stop. After all, I had seen him stay sober for a business meeting, but not for his daughter's birthday dinner. If there had been a headline, "Managing Director Drunk on Christmas Eve: Can't Put Together Son's Train Table," perhaps the embarrassment would cause him to change. In the privacy and secrecy of our own home, he did not change, except that he got worse. He went from being a fairly benign drunk passed out in a chair to a dark and frightening presence. It was my oldest daughter, 13 at the time, who begged me to call the police. "He's scaring me, Mommy. It's like having a stranger in the house," she said, adding, "If there's no consequence to what he's doing, he will never stop."
I think his imagined anonymity allows him to continue to drink and to behave badly. Despite regular detox visits to the hospital, he refuses to go to rehab. He does not see our children, even though he lives four miles away. He spends thousands of dollars on lawyers, trying to appeal an unappealable divorce decision, but has not given his children a birthday or Christmas present in over two years. He does not pay child support until the very moment he faces jail, arriving at court, check in hand. He denies his reputation as "town drunk," despite this label having been bestowed upon him by local merchants and bartenders. My ex-husband's denial is too big for subtle hints from friends and private pleas from family. His denial needs a bigger audience forcing him to face the truth.
We all remember Christie's interview on the Today Show. Matt Lauer bullied Christie over her speaking out publicly of her ex. Christie had decided to speak out only after her ex's public "character assassination" of her and a desire to set the record straight. I remember her saying, "I just want peace." That is what I wish for, not only for my three children and me, but also for my ex-husband. Why would Matt Lauer ever interview me? I am just an ordinary person, who once loved a man who has been slowly killing himself over the past 15 years and whose children are the collateral damage of his self-destruction. Would my story be compelling? Perhaps. It is one that is shared by millions of people who mostly suffer in silence and isolation. I wish I could sit with Matt Lauer, like Christie did, to finally address my ex-husband's actions, so that my ex would have nowhere left to hide. I would not do this out of spite or some desire to hurt him. I just want him to stop hurting me, our children, and himself.
If someone in your life is an alcoholic, there is help. Visit Al-Anon for more information.