Live and Let Live

I didn’t grow up thinking, “One day I want to be a single mother, raise my daughter on my own, provide financially for her with very little help from my ex-husband, venture out in the dating world for the first time in twenty years, figure out to repair things around the house, and pretty much do everything that a husband and wife achieve together when raising a family, but do it entirely by myself.” Of course not. No one does. I figured that I’d marry a man and spend the rest of my life with him, just as my parents had, but shit happens in life, as they say, and divorce is one of those unpredictable, life-altering events.

My ex-husband and I met in college and dated for five years before getting married in our twenties. For several years, we were, in fact, very happy – we bought a house, we traveled, we owned a beloved golden retriever, who, like a lot of young, married, twentysomethings, was the center of our universe.

My ex-husband had always drunk a larger-than-normal quantity of alcohol every day, but I grew up in New Orleans where everyone drank too much so I didn’t think of my ex-husband’s alcohol usage as an issue. But, then, we had a baby daughter and my ex’s drinking got worse, perhaps because of the stress of being a new father or maybe it was due to his workload. Alcoholics, after all, drink too much for any reason at all, just fill in the blank.

I had quit drinking alcohol years because I always had a low tolerance for it. One or two glasses of wine gave me a depressing hangover the next morning, so I stopped drinking.  Still, my husband continued to drink and drink and drink, and, on top of that, he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. It wasn’t the cigarette smoking so much that bothered me or even his considerable consumption of alcohol – it was his terrifying, I-can’t-believe-he-just-said-that-to-me rage and emotional abuse. When he was drunk (and even when he wasn’t), he’d say things to me like, “You fucking bitch” (his favorite term of endearment), and “Shut your pie hole”. His tics of rage were so random and uncontrollable that sometimes I wondered if he had Tourette’s Syndrome. He was not the man I married 15 years ago. Sadly, alcoholism, I later learned, will do that to a person.

By the time the financial crisis of 2008 hit, our daughter was 5-years-old, my ex-husband lost his job, refused to find another job, and he was going out to bars every night, getting blasted and then sleeping all day. Meanwhile, I was working for a friend’s business, answering the phones and replying to emails all for a measly $14/hour.

It was during this time that I experienced a reoccurrence of my autoimmune disease, a serious illness caused in part by a copious amount of stress. I lost 20 pounds off my already thin frame, I cried every single day from anxiety and worry about the fate of me and my daughter, and, to make matters worse, I didn’t have much of a support system. Unfortunately, my family of origin discarded me when I reached out for help. Single motherhood, it seems, was a badge of dishonor that I brought upon myself and they didn’t want to deal with this level of hardship (I will cover this topic later in my blog).

In short, I was literally on the verge of a nervous breakdown until I a beacon of hope lit its shining torch at my first Al Anon meeting in October 2009. For those of you who are not familiar, Al Anon is a 12-step program for family members of alcoholics, “who share their experience, strength, and hope in order to solve their common problems”**. The women in my group literally had to scrape me off the ground I was such a miserable mess.

With the help of Al Anon, a few supportive friends, and a kind therapist, I got my life together, and I finally found the courage to leave my marriage.  It was a defining moment in my life. After being with my alcoholic, emotionally abusive husband for 20 years, I felt like I could finally breathe again without choking up with tears. Once I landed a full-time job and moved to an apartment with my daughter, I was truly free. It was one of the most exciting times in my life as a single mom. Let the journey begin!

**It’s important to note that my experience in Al Anon inspired me to design “Sex and the Single Mom” as a forum for single moms to share their common experiences. As I learned in Al Anon meetings, the shared experience has amazing healing power! I believe that when we read the stories of people in similar situations as ourselves, we feel less alone with our feelings and more empowered to handle problems that come our way. I hope that my blog will evolve from me as the only storyteller to other single moms contributing their own struggles and victories.