24 Oct

My choice

I went to a farewell party for friends on Saturday evening. As I was saying goodbye, I spotted the serenity prayer on the hosts’ fridge door. It was handwritten on a piece of paper, so somebody had obviously liked it enough to make it personal.

I looked around the room. We were, save the children, mostly drunk. Certainly, if there had been a recovering addict in our midst, he or she had definitely relapsed by now. And my sober husband? He had sensibly stayed at home. If he braves a party, he doesn’t make a habit of carrying his Twelve Step programme with him and sticking pages, like propaganda posters, on other people’s property.

“Whose is this?” I asked. “It’s mine,” said my friend. “I’m not in AA. I just like the message.”

You’re probably familiar with it:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference.

You can forget the god bit – and I do because I’m not a believer – but it’s pretty sensible advice. Easy to live by though? Not as much as I’d like it to be.

My husband has been sober for almost three months now. He was helped along by a stint in rehab, support from other recovering addicts and advise doled out by wise, wealthy doctors who drove very expensive cars.

When my husband and I talked on the telephone – him in his white castle of hope and me on the other side of South London in our house – I sensed nothing but positivity. I felt overjoyed that finally something seemed to be working for him. I didn’t want to be affected by how he was feeling – because in the past contentment and pride had often swiftly given way to disappointment – but something in him had changed.

After four weeks in recovery I drove to collect him. When I arrived it was a bit like a scene from a film, where the man sees the woman from afar and drops his bags to run and greet his beloved. They throw their arms around each other in a way that shows a commitment to love and respect, and never doing anything hurtful to each other ever again, till death do they part.

I was Sally, he was Harry. I was Lauren Bacall and he was Bogie. At one point I was Shirley McClaine and he was Jack Nicholson and we were driving dangerously across a beach. Looking back, we were probably more like Miss Piggy and Kermit, but I was living all of the greatest love scenes out in my head as we embraced. It felt great.

It still felt pretty wonderful as we drove away, looking back at the doctor in his crumpled linen suit as we waved. “He has terrible taste in clothes, but I quite fancy him,” I said. I think my husband knew that somewhere, in my naive mind, I believed the doctor had the ability to cure his patients and bring them back to earth for their families and friends to enjoy again.

Here I am, six weeks later, less the eternal fantasist. I have had to admit that in the past, against the advice of the serenity prayer, I have tried to change my husband. When I met him I thought, “Well, he does have a whiff of the alcoholic about him, but that’s alright. I’m sure all of the love and happiness that I can provide will blow that right out of town.”

How wrong I was. For starters, I am not a bottomless pit of joy and purity myself, and even if I was then surely it was unwise for me to think that my presence in his life would change him. People do not, unless being subjected to serious torture, change their behaviour at the will of others. For year upon fruitless year though, I did expect my husband to.  It didn’t occur to me that one day he might want to change his behaviour himself.

It was also a shock to realise that once the drink had gone, the bad in our relationship wasn’t buried at the bottom of the bin with the empties. I’m sure my husband would also like to be able to press a magic button to eradicate all the unpleasant stuff that still remains. But he is a realist and knows that the good/bad switch does not exist, and if it does it doesn’t come with a remote control: we can only change our own behaviour and not other people’s.

Now I’m trying to accept my husband as he is. He’s always maintained that he’s taken me as I come, warts and all, and wants me to set a challenge for myself to try to do the same. That’s not to say I’m not setting myself boundaries. But they’re my boundaries, based on what I will tolerate, and are not dependent on furious attempts to control his behaviour.

There is so much in life that I have fixated on in the past, and when I look back I’m aware that if I had changed my own behaviour, I could have been happier.

Just for fun though, I’m going to list all of the things that I would currently change about my husband if I could. You see, there is still a part of me that believes I have superhero powers.

I’d like him to make eye-contact with people when he talks to them

I wish he could still have the occasional drink

I wish he still went to his AA meetings

I’d like him to start the day with conversations that don’t relate to our lack of money

I wish he would dance with me at parties

I’d really enjoy it if he didn’t slope off to bed when something annoys him

I wish he didn’t like Belle and Sebastian

I’d like him to laugh more

I’d like him to be able to see that money is not the only way to happiness – that good health is far more important

I’d really like it if he would learn to drive

I’d like him to be able to pick his battles with our daughter

I wish he was kinder to himself

And again, just for the hell of it, I’ll take a guess at what he’d like to change about me:

I wish she wasn’t such a push-over with the children

I wish she’d realise that money doesn’t grow on trees, and stop insisting that shopping at Waitrose is the same as shopping at Morrisons

I wish she’d come to bed earlier, with me

I wish she’d understand that I don’t enjoy taking time off work

I wish she’d stop insisting that the only thing I ever do around the house is the occasional bit of washing up

I wish she’d stop nagging me to drive – if I did get my license, she’d be a terrified passenger

I wish she’d watch big budget Hollywood action films with me at the cinema

I wish she would start earning some proper money

I wish she’d give me a reflexology every now and then. I paid for her to do the course, and everyone else seems to benefit

I wish she was less lazy about sex

I wish she’d stop hassling me for sex late at night, usually when I’m half asleep

I wish I could tell her that I miss drinking, without her thinking I’m going to pick up a drink

I wish she could trust me again

I wish she’d understand that antidepressants are better than alcohol

I wish she wouldn’t wear that awful stripy jumpsuit in summer

I wish she’d stop trying to change me


9 Responses to “Changes”

  1. rosieswaffer October 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    I absolutely LOVE this post. I saw it on Esther Walker’s Twitter and I’ve just sat at my desk reading it fighting back tears of laughter, sadness and empathy.
    I could list SO many things I would like to change about my boyfriend, and him me, but the one thing I wouldn’t change is the fact that he is a decent man and I need to remember that. (Despite the fact he doesn’t make eye contact with people, can’t do DIY, is shit at choosing presents etc etc etc)
    Thank you for posting this, I’m going to follow you on Twitter now so that I can be updated about your future posts x

    • mothersruined October 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

      Thanks so much Rosie. Yes, I think most of us have a desire for others to be able to fulfil what we can’t at times. Thanks for following, and if you want to follow the blog so you get emails when I post, please do click on ‘follow’ on the blog.

  2. Rosie F October 24, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    Hey.. I love that jumpsuit! X

    • mothersruined October 25, 2012 at 6:57 am #

      I KNOW! Me too… he calls it my moomin suit x

  3. Caroline Smith (@PlaygroundOnlin) October 25, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    You’ve noted so many things that remain unsaid between women and their partners. ‘I wish he’d dance with me at parties’ struck a chord, although mine did dance wildly with me a 1970’s disco night. On change, the older one gets, the harder it is to change, but we mustn’t give in to that – there are many things I’d like to change about myself (and my partner), very few people have the perfect ‘give and take’ marriage. Your writing is beautiful, touching and sad with a glint of humour.

    • mothersruined October 25, 2012 at 7:00 am #

      Thank you! So great to hear that you can relate. Yes, marriage is a bag of very mixed emotions, and it’s hard to handle at times. But I have realised that at every point when I’ve felt frustrated about a situation in our marriage, rather than pointing the finger of blame immediately at my husband, I’ve had to look at how I can deal with it… It sure is hard though. As for the dancing – I’m still holding out some hope.

  4. Swazi October 25, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Thanks for this post – it certainly made me think.

    When my oldest friend returned from his second bout of rehab he was completely committed to change. Part of that meant that his ten year marriage ended and I felt for his wife who had stuck by him throughout the years of heavy drinking and (as he later admitted to me) domestic violence.

    What struck me most about the new him was that he had been through so much therapy that he was now able to observe her behaviour and tell her to look at what she needed to do differently. It was his view that he was not responsible for how she felt and she had to change as he had done. In her mind, however it was the drinking that had been the problem between them and now that had gone why wasn’t everything better ?

    There are so many characteristics and behaviours that make or break a marriage and being honest can be so hard. Especially when we are so hard on ourselves. Has your husband read your list of things you think he thinks ?

    (and while we’re confessing: I wish my husband would stop leaving his dirty socks all over the house – he thinks I’m kidding, but it genuinely drives me crazy !!)

    • mothersruined October 25, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

      Interesting comment… thanks for sharing. Yes, my husband read the post and thanked me, which was strange. But now I understand why… I think he always believed that I thought everything that was bad in our relationship was his doing. He may have been right, but I think he’s happier now that I understand that I am responsible for me own happiness.

      BTW, totally understand the sock thing. My whole family leave their underwear and socks scattered around the house. Infuriating!

  5. CSG October 26, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Very thought provoking post. Thank you for sharing your experiences so honestly.

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