My father-in-law’s new wife gifted me with this life truth a few months after she married into our family. I had just honestly and gently shared with her that my husband, her new son-in-law, and his brothers were feeling abandoned by their father since his marriage. This was a conversation I had thought quite a bit about before initiating and one that I hoped would bring about a so-far-unseen interest on her part to engage with us.
I have been thinking about this conversation quite a bit lately. With a few years of perspective, I can see now that I did not want to acknowledge that my father-in-law had outgrown his previous role in our lives. And that – right or wrong – his new wife was not open to taking on a greater role in the lives of others.
Both of us were insisting that nothing would change in our lives. And so we found ourselves staring at each other in awkward silence, nobody moving, growing or accommodating.
It is 100 days today. This stretch of sobriety, This Time, is different than Last Time.
Last time I told no one. I hid my sobriety like I had hidden my drinking. I was ashamed of it. Sobriety made me feel different and weak and changed. And I did not want to be changed. I wanted everything (but my drinking) to stay the same – especially my relationships. Not one of my friends or family really knew why I had quit. Not one. Last time I was proud of that – proud at how good I was at hiding things.
For 18 months I said to my family and to my friends: “No worries! There’s nothing to see here! Just making a teeny tiny adjustment that will not – in anyway – affect our relationships.”
I told myself I did not want to burden them. But really I was terrified that I might have to. It will not surprise you to learn that one day, for no particular reason, last time ended. And I was exactly the same, again.
This time I have to do things differently. I simply do not have it in me anymore to hide my struggle, my strength or my voice.
As I let myself change, I am seeing amazing new women come into my life. But I am also seeing long-time friendships shift. These are not drinking buddies. They are wickedly funny, smart women, and we have spent much of the past 15 years supporting and loving each other through babies, postpartum depression, marriage crises, parental illnesses and the everyday minutia that make up our lives.
I am trying not to panic. I know that my friends – my people – are also seeing their own relationships shift. The babies are driving away to school. Marriages and parents are better or gone. The everyday minutia of our lives does not overlap as easily as it once did. I know this intellectually, but I am hurt and feel alone and somedays wonder if I had just stayed the same, maybe I could have kept us all together.
The new wife told me it would be this way. She showed me what happens when we insist on nothing changing. She showed me that when we bring “honesty” as weaponized expectations into our relationships we set ourselves up for a life of disappointment. And she showed me that when we choose not to allow ourselves or others to grow into new roles, we ensure our lives are very small and limited.
Living in these extremes wreaks havoc on my heart and drives my need to disengage, numb and check out. The space between these extremes is where I can allow for – and even encourage – the legitimate needs and beautiful quirks of others. This space is hard to find and even harder to stay in. Despite this difficulty and despite the losses, I do not want to go back into what once felt like safer ground.
So I find myself tiptoeing through a new landscape, sharing my truth, controlling my breath, and learning to accept what happens next.
Erin W. is the managing editor and primary contributor for the She Recovers blog. She lives in Virginia where she has been working on and blogging about recovery since 2013. After years of trying to do recovery alone, she discovered the beauty of connection and friendship through She Recovers in 2017.