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Why I Had To Leave The Man I Love

I never thought my relationship would end on a tropical vacation together, but it did.

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Hand reaching out to alcohol drink with shadow of skull and cross bones
Andre Rucker (Prop stylist: Kelsi Windmiller)
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I saw all the red flags early on in our relationship. They were waving at me, and instead of reading them I draped them all over myself — thinking I could change him with enough love. I had heard that sentiment from other women over and over: The mindset they loved him and that this love held them hostage.

The older I got, the more I’d roll my eyes at the women who said this. I thought it was weak. I thought they were afraid to be alone. I literally had zero empathy for any of them and thought this self-induced pain was ridiculous.

I’d never put up with that. Then, I fell in love with a man who told me on our first date he was a social drinker as he drank four beers to my one glass of wine. He asked me to text him when I got home, which I did — only to hear back from him three hours later. “Cool! I’m at a bar with friends having fun! Can’t wait to see you again.”

When I read his text the next morning, I saw he’d texted back after midnight. I was 44 and thought, Well, I used to party like that in college … but it has been a while.

I was immediately turned off. The next day, however, when he called and wanted to take me to dinner the red flag I had seen the night before was forgotten. I told myself I was being too uptight and needed to live a little. Not everyone was like me. We went to dinner and sat talking for hours, and he had only one drink. You were reading too much into it, I told myself.

On our third date, he brought me to a housewarming party. He asked me to come with him because he wanted me to meet his friends. I was excited and nervous. I could feel myself falling for this man who really seemed to have his life together. He ran his own company, owned a nice home and was a good father.

We were at the party for an hour, and he’d already poured himself three pretty strong drinks. He seemed to have a sense of urgency about drinking and ate very little. I stopped sipping on my glass of wine. I had no idea where we were and didn’t know these people, and the man who had driven me there was getting drunk. I asked him how we were getting home. He looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about, so I told him I’d drive.

We stayed until midnight because I was too polite to say I wanted to go. He kept drinking at a scary pace. When I asked him for his keys his friends laughed, saying how they “didn’t let their girlfriends drive them around in their cars.” I said, “Well, you should because you guys are all wasted,” thinking maybe they were kidding. They weren’t. Something I’ve learned in talking with partners of alcoholics is that drinkers find each other. It’s their lifestyle and has a way of dumbing down the disease so they aren’t able to admit they have a problem. Everyone else around them does the same thing, so they feel normal.

On the way home I mentioned how it wasn’t something I wanted to do — drive him around every time we went out, and I thought it was rude he brought me to a party and wasn’t concerned at all as to how we got home.

He listened to me. He agreed. He said I was a positive influence and a great woman, and he wanted to continue seeing me and hoped that night didn’t ruin anything. He told me he would stop drinking so much. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t have to drink. I’m sorry.”

I believed him.

Our three-year relationship ebbed and flowed like that. He would overdo it with his drinking, I’d tell him it wasn’t OK, he’d stop for a while — sometimes months, but then he’d change. He’d seem anxious, talking about drinking a lot, stare at drink menus when we went out and talk about different drinks with the bartenders. Then he’d go on a bender with his friends and be gone all night. “I’m out having fun. My phone is about to die,” was his go-to text. I knew it meant I wouldn't hear from him for the rest of the night.

“The problem is, you aren’t codependent so keeping him in line and ‘saving him’ isn’t working for you,” my friend said one day on a run. “Yeah! I told him I am not doing this anymore,” I replied.

“But the thing is, you’ve said that a lot,” she told me. “And you are doing it. I know you love him, but you are doing it. When you say that, he doesn’t believe you because you are still here.”

My friend was right, and her words stung worse than my boyfriend staying out all night at the bar after he said he’d come home. He’d be out all night, and I’d stay. He’d blow off his daughter the nights he had her to go drinking, and I’d stay. His coworker called me one morning wondering where he was. “He didn’t show up for work and I drove to his house and he’s not there,” he said.

Even after that, I stayed. I started to hate myself, but then told myself no one was perfect and he was struggling. The tug-of-war going on inside of my head and soul was keeping me up at night, giving me panic attacks and making me recoil in social situations when alcohol was involved.

I went from being happy and outgoing to feeling like I was shrinking. I would think, If I’m not enough to make him change, then what good am I? He doesn’t love me, because he can’t stick to his word. If alcohol is more important than our relationship, I am not enough.

I knew those thoughts were false, but rather the consequence of someone making promises and telling you they are going to give up their addiction for you — then doing something totally different in the biggest mind game you will ever be involved with. I questioned everything … even my sanity.

Things were starting to turn around after we had been together for two years. There was a sense of calm, and I began to see changes. I trusted him. Then he was arrested and spent the weekend in jail for an OUI. That was it for me. I was done. I wanted nothing to do with him. Then, he came begging for forgiveness. He lost his license for over six months and promised me (and my children) he was done drinking for good. He was sobbing and promised this was it, and my love for him won.

Everyone deserves a second chance. This might be the turning point in his life. Once again, I stayed.

It was a turning point for a very short period of time. We went to counseling, got his license back and planned a vacation together. I noticed the anxiety and talking about drinking as soon as we set foot on the resort. We’d talked about how this might happen a few times, and he had promised he had it under control. I went to the bathroom before heading for a walk on the beach. As soon as I disappeared around the corner, I heard him order a drink. I had to stop and ask myself if I heard him right, telling myself I was looking for him to screw up.

When I came back and saw him, I asked him what he was drinking. He told me it was a 7 Up. I took it from his hands and took a drink. Not only did he go back on his promise, but he’d lied to my face like I was some kind of idiot.

I confronted him and he talked to me like I was making a huge deal out of nothing; like I was the one who was lying to his face; like I was the one who was out of line. I never thought my three-year relationship would end on a tropical vacation together, but it did.

You can love someone and know you have to leave them. As soon as you realize you are not the problem, you cannot fix it and you are more than enough and worthy of having everything you want, that will be it for you. This time, I just can’t stay.