‘I’m going to tell him to stop.’ Our son said the words I dreaded. I prayed he would sleep through this.’: After divorcing alcoholic husband, woman says ‘I have hope for love and happiness on my own terms’

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“It has been eighteen months since I walked away from the life I thought I deserved. It has been eighteen months since I lost a part of myself, but it has also been eighteen months of finding a strength my previous self would never have imagined possessing. In so many ways I look back and wonder if I ever knew myself in my previous life. From the outside, it seemed I was blessed. I had a home, and a family and a great job working in social work and with families. But as we all know looks can be deceiving. Truth be told, I was living a double life.

To co-workers, acquaintances, and clients, and even some friends and family, my life was pretty great. But when looking inside, if someone looked closer, I lived on eggshells constantly waiting for the next ‘episode’ from someone I both loved and feared. I did not move subtly into change. The day I left my life behind, I had no intention of leaving, but we all know what they say when you are busy making plans.

The day started out like many others. That morning was spent taking the dog to a training class. ‘Family time’ as it was referred to by my husband. Truth be told it was an awkward 45-minute drive where our son and I freely conversed, and my husband rarely engaged. Later that afternoon I felt a migraine surfacing. I attributed it to the fall weather and faked a smile as I moved through the day. Looking back, it was probably tension induced and not weather-induced.

My husband’s friend was in town and my husband wanted to spend time with his friend. I encouraged this. It would keep him out of the house, and I could sleep early and avoid another Saturday night of him seething on the couch next to me and having to wonder what I did to offend him and how I could make him happy again. If he was with his friend, I knew I would have a quiet night and could avoid conflict, or so I thought. It had been several months of no major incidents. My outlook was positive, until it wasn’t.

I put our son to bed around 9 and crawled into bed. This was a trick I learned early. Often if he came home drunk and I pretended to sleep, I could avoid conflict. Self-preservation at its finest. Sleep came fitfully that night. I would occasionally peek my eye open at the clock, the later it was, the more nervous I was. My eyes were closed when I heard the front door slam and the heavy footsteps.

He was home. I closed my eyes tighter, praying for the darkness of the night to protect me. Then I heard the angry mutters. I knew that tone even if I could not make out clearly what was being said. He was angry. I heard the hallway light turn on and could feel the light. I kept my eyes closed and stayed still. Maybe he would realize we were sleeping and ignore us. The footsteps moved back down the hall, and then the muttering turned into angry swears. I heard him banging dishes in the sink. I was instantly angry at myself, I forgot to put the dishes in the dishwasher, and my drunk husband did not like coming home to a mess.

I let out a breath I did not realize I was holding, in the darkness as I heard the garage door open and slam shut. Then the loud rock music started. Still lying in bed with my eyes closed tightly I prayed our son would sleep through this. The door opened again. I heard him say ‘wake up mother f**kers it’s time to clean.’ I knew this was bad. I heard heavy footsteps heading down our basement steps. Part of me was relieved, I hoped naively he would stay downstairs to sober up. Then I heard a loud bang. It was a noise that was not familiar. Then another bang. I could hear him, soundly mildly amused at whatever was causing the bang that was repeating itself.

Courtesy Danielle Kowalczyk

Suddenly, I felt I was being stared at. I knew my husband was downstairs and my heart sank, and I realized who the stare belonged to. Our son was awake. Quietly he asked, ‘Is dad drunk again?’ ‘Yes’ was all I could whisper. In an angry and defiant and determined tone our son said words I dreaded, ‘I’m going to tell him to stop.’ ‘No, go get your shoes and jacket out of your room, we are leaving, try to be quiet.’ I watched our son walk back to his room and quietly got up and found shoes. Then our son was back waiting for me to lead.

I motioned for him to be quiet praying he understood as we snuck down the hall. I could hear the banging still coming from the basement, but what if my husband suddenly came upstairs? Thankfully I knew exactly where my car keys were. The walk to the front door seemed to take forever but then cold night air hit my face as I opened the door. I rushed our son to my car. I didn’t even wait for him to buckle in as I started my car and pulled down our driveway. I looked in my rear-view mirror expecting to see him on the porch or worse walking to his truck to follow us, but I saw none of that.

As I pulled out of the driveway, I looked at the clock. It was 3:30 in the morning. I drove to my parents. Thankfully my mom was awake and as we walked quietly into their house, I remember telling my mom firmly, ‘I’m done.’ My mom looked at me, and my son very casually for his nine years of age, told his grandma ‘Dad is drunk again.’ My mom looked at me with questioning eyes, but simply said ‘Okay’ and ushered us into the living room where I set my son up to sleep.

I watched as my mom moved through her kitchen putting coffee on. Somehow, she knew it would be needed. To pass the time before I was ready to talk, I opened my phone to Facebook and scrolled to see if there was any angry post from my husband earlier in the evening and a rant about family. My eyes rolled. Then my blood turned cold and I was once again holding my breath. It was a picture my husband posted. It was closet doors in our basements that had knives and swords sticking out of them. I realized while we were sneaking out of our home into the night, there was a drunk man downstairs throwing knives into closet doors. Looking at the pictures was an out of body experience. I wondered how things got to that point, and the more chilling thought came, what if my husband would have come up those stairs that night.

18 months later and life is different. We are divorced. For the first few months after that night, he claimed sobriety but that was short-lived. He is drinking again, but I no longer have a front-row seat to the show. I cannot say the last 18 months have been easy. I have spent sleepless nights angry, grieving with every emotion in between. My son and I have a home where we created house rules together to reflect our values and to set a new standard of normal for our lives.

Courtesy Danielle Kowalczyk

Living on the other side of that life and now removed enough to reflect, I’m grateful to be safe. I’m grateful for the strength I have found, and to the loved ones and friends that have been more supportive than I ever dreamed. I am stepping towards healing, one day at a time. Now Ex-husband is dating, and I wish him well. I wish whatever plagued and haunted him has healed. Only time will tell. For my son, I pray he makes peace with that night, his father, and the events that changed our lives forever. For the future, I have hope for love and happiness on my own terms. I take things day by day, and lately, the good days seem to outnumber the bad.”

Courtesy Danielle Kowalczyk

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Danielle Kowalczyk. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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