Life as I knew it ended in November of 2013. My husband’s drinking had been escalating for months, culminating in his suicidal depression and his being admitted to a locked psychiatric unit. Our marriage was in its final stages, and I watched it deteriorate like a train wreck in slow motion. During the day, I dutifully put on my “professional face” and gave out medications and advice and 12-step slogans to alcoholics and other addicts in all stages of recovery. At night, I was no longer an addiction psychiatrist but a frightened and overwhelmed mother of two preteen girls. I blamed myself for what was happening to my husband and marriage, and I was too ashamed to ask for help.
The Danger of Looking Outside the Self
For years, I held onto dangerous hope—hope that my husband would change, hope that his most recent binge would be his last, hope that our family would go back to normal, hope that he would see how his behavior was affecting his daughters, his parents, his brother, and me. This hope of mine was dangerous and misplaced. It was colored with denial, the benefit of the doubt, and feelings of responsibility imposed by a 20-year Catholic marriage. I had made a vow to stay in the relationship in “good times and bad, sickness and health, till death do us part.” I had taken the vow seriously, so at the time, I saw no way out. There were no other choices for someone like me. I believed that staying in a dying and empty marriage and hoping that things would change was better than subjecting my children to the disaster of divorce. I set my jaw, held my chin up, and put one foot in front of the other, willing myself to keep going no matter the cost. I didn’t include myself in the equation—my feelings and my dreams for a reciprocating relationship of mutual respect and support—because I felt that I didn’t count.
Eventually, the strain and emotional burden were too much. I began to resent the flutter of hope in my heart. To me, hope became a farce and an empty promise, and still, I hoped beyond hope, like Charlie Brown trusting in Lucy to hold that football down while he tried to kick it (though she never did).
The Daring Shift in Focus from External to Internal
I am not exactly sure when it happened, but by the grace of God, I began to trust in a different kind of hope. I stopped hoping for external change. I stopped hoping for my husband’s behavior to change. I stopped hoping for the good old days. I stopped hoping for an end to the pain. Instead, I started to hope for my own internal change. I started to believe in a Higher Power’s ability to change my behavior. I started to have hope in the gift of making different choices for myself. I began to walk by faith along an unknown and terrifying path of personal freedom and emotional self-determination without a partner. I couldn’t see two feet in front of me on this path, so I did something extremely unusual for me: I began to ask for help from people whom I trusted. Incredibly, I would have guidance along the way. All I had to do was ask for it.
"I am not exactly sure when it happened, but by the grace of God, I began to trust in a different kind of hope. I stopped hoping for external change... Instead, I started to hope for my own internal change."
Life did not get easier all at once. Mixed in with accomplishments and milestones was heartbreak and grief—dreams to discard and doors that closed for good. I had to contend with the realities of legal separation, the division of money and material things, and living in separate places. I never wanted to be in my mid-forties and divorced: that was for other people, not me. I didn’t want my children to spend holidays and weekends divided between two households: that was for other children, not them.
Hope was still in my heart, but it began to shift more and more away from the dangerous kind to the daring kind. This time hope became powerful and transformative, because it shifted from the external hope of him changing toward internal hope of me changing, even if that meant reimagining my life. Hope that included me in the equation, hope for better days ahead, hope for the ability to accept life as it was occurring, and hope to change it courageously. This hope did not leave me empty and disappointed inside. It gave me the sense that healing was possible, not only for me but also for others like me.
Creating a Community of Daring Hope
In 2018, I started Club HOPE—Healing Opportunities Possible for Everyone. The reason was simple. I did not want anyone to go through a struggle with addiction alone. I wanted a safe place in the community where individuals and families could turn when they felt overwhelmed, lost, and afraid. Club HOPE would be a starting point, a turning point, and a connection point for anyone impacted by addiction. It would be that important first step in understanding the disease. Club HOPE could turn that misplaced dangerous external hope into daring internal hope based on self-love and self-transformation.
It has been 18 months since my divorce became final. My older daughter started graduate school this year and my younger daughter completed her senior year of high school. I am in a transition point in my career, and I am in a new, unexpected, and supportive relationship. I still attend two Al-Anon meetings per week, and I have a Sponsor and friends in the program. I started to practice meditation four years ago and yoga three years ago, and I am learning more about myself every day. I am happier and healthier than I have been in years.
I wish you daring hope. I invite you to join the Club HOPE community and connect with others who dare to take the same kind of internal journey and to support each other along the way.
Editing by Paul M. Kubek of PMK Consulting, LLC.