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Holding on to Hope

She leans over the bathroom sink toward the mirror getting a better look so as to blend her lipstick evenly.  She realizes she only has ten minutes before her daughter wakes up, and not much more time before her husband’s comatose like sleep from last night’s bottle of Smirnoff wears off. This time of day is her favorite as the companionship of silence is peaceful and always cleansing, ridding her of the chaos from the day before, and giving her hope for a new beginning.

As she finishes the last strokes of mascara she glances down toward the counter where she places her rings every night after she brushes her teeth.  She can’t help but think, “God, how the meaning of what they symbolize has changed over the past years. They use to symbolize happiness, eternal bliss and care free love.  Now they remind her of the adoption of his struggles brought on by two simple words:  “I do.”  As she places her rings on her desperately needed manicured hands she asks herself “Why do I put them on every day?  Is it out of habit, or do their presence give me some sense of hope that one day we will be the happy couple we once were, and the family we are supposed to be.  She then thinks, or do I put them on to avoid the questions about separation and divorce that would be triggered by their absence. “Maybe these are all the reasons just on different days.”

As she turns the lights off leaving the bathroom she hears her daughter waking in her crib bringing her thoughts back to the responsibilities of the day.  By this hour she knows she has to take on all the tasks of being a parent and a working mother alone.  This is not how she thought it would be when they discussed having a child. They promised to split the responsibilities and support each other’s careers. They promised to have family time and also to make an effort to sneak away on dates to keep their passion and love alive.  They promised to focus on the reason they had a child, because of their love for the other, not let having a child take away from their relationship.

As she turns the doorknob to enter her daughter’s room she tells herself, “Get it together and look happy for her.”  She does not deserve to see anger, sadness and frustration.”  This is a lesson you learn quickly when married to an alcoholic, always look happy to avoid being asked: “Are you ok?”  People get tired of hearing the same story over and over where nothing changes. She then looks at the clock on her daughter’s dresser as she picks her up. She has thirty minutes to get her daughter ready for day care, feed her breakfast, and leave before rush hour traffic; all while hoping to make it on time for work.  As she changes her daughter’s soaked through diaper and pajamas from twelve hours of sleep she thinks about what the morning would have been like if he didn’t drink the night before. He would have woken up early and prepared breakfast for them as he loved the morning hours; an egg white omelet with tomatoes and onions for her, and a bowl of oatmeal for his daughter. After he prepared breakfast and put the carton of eggs and vegetables back in the refrigerator he would have made himself a cup of coffee and read the paper while waiting for the house to wake up: babbling from his daughter’s room and the sound of running water from his wife’s shower.  They would have all eaten breakfast while discussing the upcoming events of the day. After breakfast he would have played with his daughter, rolling her favorite purple ball toward her while waiting for it to reach her tinny hands and anticipating her screech from pleasure that would come when it finally did. His wife would have watched from the kitchen while placing the dishes in the dishwasher. She would have had a smile on her face from a blissful morning as it was a morning she had hoped to have many of when she found out she was pregnant.  She always asked herself on these “normal,” days: “Why couldn’t it be this way every day?”

He started drinking heavily after their daughter was born.  She never knew that marriage and a baby would be so stressful for her husband, leading him to drink away his anxieties. Work also added stress to his life.  He had a high stress commission based job and feared not being able to care for his family, even though he always did.  She could never understand this fear of his.  All she could do was keep reassuring him that all would be ok but it never soothed him.  She was so angry that this was her reality.  She had hopes of fun, happy times with her new family after the birth of their daughter.  She never thought this would be the family she would end up having and often thought: “Why aren’t we enough to make him stop and he be the husband and father that I know he can be?”

She often reflected back to when they first met to try to understand how alcoholism sneaked into their lives. She remembers meeting her husband and it being love at first sight.  He became her best friend and she became his.  They did everything together before the baby.  They would wake up, go the gym, come home and make sweaty love, and then shower for work.  They would text each other throughout the day, make dinner together when they got home, watch a movie before bed, and make love again. They never fought. They never raised their voices.  Whenever there was a difference in opinion they talked it out in the moment. Nothing negative ever lingered between them.  They called each other the male and female versions of the other.  They had the same values, work ethic, and generous hearts.  People would comment that they were a perfect match.  They both knew it.  She thought, “So what went wrong?” Now it was so different. They barely spoke to each other or had sex.  She resented the fact that she had to do the majority of the household chores and take care of their child alone. She was bitchy to him as a result, which made him distant from her. They never agreed on his drinking habits which always caused fights. He believed he could stop drinking without AA or therapy. She believed he needed them as his failed attempts without support were too frequent.  Now she just focused on the question people always asked her: “Why do you stay if he is not ready to change?” This question was beginning to make her wonder if her usually reply was enough anymore:  “Hope, hope for my husband and partner to return and for him to be the father I know he can be and hope to have the life I always wanted.

Hope. We are all hoping for something in our lives to change: Hope that he won’t leave again. Hope that he will spend more time with his family than at work.  Hope that he will be good enough for the parents.  Hope that he is the right man to marry.   Hope that she will support him through his illness.  Hope that apologies will be forgiven. Hope that she will get a bonus to get herself out of debt.  Whether we are hoping for people or circumstances to change, hope encouraged us to keep going on with our lives but sometimes its also prevents us from doing so in a healthy way.  Learning when to give up on hope or keep holding on is a personal challenge we all face.  

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