Oklahoma Bar Journal
I do not know at what age I started thinking about the man of my dreams or the qualities I wanted in a husband. I always loved the fairytales of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, where Prince Charming would come in and sweep the princess off to live happily ever after, but I am talking about when I truly considered who I wanted to spend my life with.
When I was 19, I met a guy who was 27. Within six months, we were married. Almost everyone I knew, especially my dad, tried to tell me I was making a big mistake, and I did not understand what I was getting myself into. I thought I was right, of course. They did not understand, and I would prove them wrong. I did everything I could at the time to make that marriage work, but it was a complete disaster. After seven years, I finally left and knew I was never going to make the same mistake when I met my next potential mate, which brings me back to what I wanted in a partner. I had a checklist: intelligent, funny, thoughtful, good looking, short (I have a thing for short guys) and successful. You get the idea. What was not on my list was … alcoholic.
I met my husband, Clif, at a bank where I worked. There was an instant attraction. He was 5 feet 6 inches tall (I told you I have a thing for short guys), dressed in the sharpest suits and ties and had dark hair, baby-blue eyes and a great smile. He was the bank’s attorney and on its board of directors. We started dating and had so much fun. He was exciting, a little crazy and extremely outgoing. Everywhere we went, he knew somebody. I got swept up in the excitement, and we spent a lot of time together.
After several months, I noticed some peculiar things. He did not sleep much. It seemed like he would stay up for days at a time. I told myself he must be sleeping when I am not around, or he does not require a lot of sleep. He also was secretive at times. I would ask about his day, and at times, he did not have an answer to simple questions. He did not know what he had been doing that day or what had happened at the office. It was a little odd, but I convinced myself he was just busy, the day had gotten away from him, or he had a case or client he could not talk about.
FROM INCREDIBLE TO HORROR SHOW
Eventually, I moved in, and things became more obvious and confusing. He was staying up for days and then would sleep for days. I asked questions, trying to figure out what was wrong. The more I inquired, the more agitated he became. Then the arguing began. He would become extremely angry by the smallest comment or question. He would apologize a little later, and we would go on with our day. These arguments then became more frequent and intense. I tried to find out what was going on with him. The more I investigated, the more arguments we would have.
After two years of living together, we got married. I thought things would get better, but they got worse. Arguments became fights. We were now screaming at each other and slamming doors. The fights grew in intensity and became more frequent. We made the decision to go to counseling. It seemed to help for a while, but the arguing and fighting would start again. It was a constant rollercoaster. When things were good between us, they were incredible. When things were bad, it was a horror show. By this time, I had changed careers and had an excellent job. My husband had not worked in three years, and I became the main financial support for our family. All this happened so gradually I never realized there had been a shift. The man who had been so successful and had a thriving law firm had lost it all and could not show up for work. The burden fell on me, and I was willing to take it.
IT STARTED WITH ME
I do not know how this happened, but I can tell you how it started. It started with me. When my husband could not go to work because he was passed out, I would call the office and make excuses for him. When he could not get a file from the office or sign his name to a letter or document, I would do it for him. When work slowed and he did not have money to pay a bill, I would pay it. I would fill up the cars with gas. I would take the kids wherever they needed to go, and I would get whatever they needed. I took over everything because that is what I was taught. We take care of our own, and we take care of our responsibilities. What I did not know is it made life easier for him. Every time he did not have to pay a bill or go to work, it provided more money and time he could spend on drugs and alcohol. I had gone from being supportive and helping to enabling and controlling.
When I started dating Clif, people who knew both of us would call to talk to me. They would ask if I was dating Clif Gooding. I would say, “Yes,” and I would ask if they knew Clif. They would say, “Yes,” and I would ask what they knew about him. This was usually the reply: “He is a brilliant guy. He is probably one of the smartest men you will ever meet.” I knew this about him. He completed his undergraduate program in three years, graduated from law school as a member of the Order of the Coif and was seventh in his law class. He was first named partner at a downtown Oklahoma City law firm before the age of 30. Acquaintances would say he was a lot of fun, which was true. I had first-hand experience with him, and we had fun. They would continue with, “He is a womanizer, a liar and a cheat. He is arrogant and egotistical. You cannot trust him as far as you can throw him. You need to stay away from him.” During these conversations, what I heard was, “He needs you.” I believed I could get him to change. I believed if I helped him, he would get better. But the more I helped, the worse he became and the worse I became.
THE BREAKING POINT
I awoke one day to find my husband passed out in our guest room with empty bottles of vodka and wine by the bed and some cocaine on the nightstand. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. He was drinking so much he had been blacking out. He then used the cocaine to keep himself up so he could drink more, and the endless cycle continued. I told him he had to leave our house that day and made a phone call that changed my life. I contacted someone about a program for the family and friends of alcoholics. She asked if I would be willing to go to a meeting. I said I would go not because I thought I had a problem or needed help, but because I was desperate and all out of ideas.
I had tried everything to get Clif to do what I thought he should do. I begged, cried, screamed, threatened, pleaded, tried to reason with him, but nothing worked. I always believed if people would just listen to me and do what I say, we would all be OK. I have always thought I was right about everything. I thought I knew what was best for everybody. I always have been able to figure out what to do and get the outcome I wanted in any situation. More times than not, these things worked. Not when it comes to alcoholism.
I went to meetings and started participating in this program. I learned about alcoholism and myself. I learned alcoholism is an illness but did not believe it at first. I thought it was a choice. I believed you could take a drink or not. All you needed was willpower, but that is not true. Alcoholics physically react differently to ingesting alcohol than do non-alcoholics. Once alcoholics start drinking, they have no control over the amount they will drink or what will happen when they drink. I repeatedly have heard about alcoholics who tried to quit on their own swear they will stop. At some point, they drink again and have no idea how it happened. True alcoholics need help. Most must experience some amount of pain to be willing to get help because if they can keep drinking without any consequences, they will. There is nothing I can do to stop an alcoholic from drinking until he is ready. It is not my fault, even if he blames me. I did not cause him to drink. All I can do is set healthy boundaries to take care of my family and me and limit my exposure to the effects of their drinking. This is what happened with us.
There had to be a boundary and a consequence for his drinking. He had to take responsibility for his decisions, and I had to quit taking care of him. I also had to take responsibility for my actions and behaviors. I had to own that I had a part in contributing to his alcoholism by lying for him, covering up for him and making it easier for him to continue drinking. I fought with my husband on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, I fought with him in front of our kids. Each time Clif could not show up for something we had planned as a family, I made sure the kids knew he was to blame. These are not my proudest moments, but it is what happened. I looked at the mistakes I made and realized I could not blame Clif for everything. Alcoholism is a family disease because all are affected. Everything we say and do leaves an imprint on our kids and the ones closest to us. I need to make sure I am leaving a positive imprint.
I met Clif one day after work and told him I would do my part to support him in any way to get help, whether it meant participating in counseling, treatment or going to meetings. He also had to do his part in getting help. And if he could not, I could not stay in this marriage. The next day, he went to a meeting for people who have a problem with drinking and asked a man for help. Clif was willing to do whatever was asked of him, whether he agreed with it or not, whether he thought it was stupid or not. He did those things and has been sober ever since. That was 20 years ago.
Alcoholics are complicated creatures. They are some of the smartest, funniest, kindest, most talented, successful people I have ever met. Yet, when they are drinking, they become self-centered egomaniacs with an inferiority complex. When they tell you they are never drinking again, they are not lying. They mean it. However, they fail to realize they do not have the ability to stop and stay stopped on their own.
I also have been in my program for 20 years. In that time, I have learned much and continue to learn. I am forever grateful for my program and Clif’s. I am so glad I attended those meetings. Had I not, I do not think our marriage would have survived. I had my own work to do, whether he was sober or not. I am now able to help other people who have a relative or friend with a drinking problem. I can share my experiences and maybe give them some hope. I have a great life and marriage today. I finally found my Prince Charming and my happily ever after.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lori Gooding is the office manager for The Gooding Law Firm in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 93 Vol 4 (April 2022)