The moment that I decided to leave my ex for good was when he said: “This is exactly what happened with Sonia.”
Sonia was his ex-girlfriend. We were talking about the fight we had a couple days earlier that ended with him throwing me into a table. Those words changed everything for me. Suddenly, the foundation of all the lies he told to keep me around had crumbled. It wasn’t my fault anymore. It didn’t happen because I “provoked” him. It didn’t happen because I was “crazy.” It didn’t happen because I said or did something wrong. There wasn’t something inherently wrong with me. It happened regardless of me. It happened repeatedly. It was just a thing that he did.
Once I knew that, I knew that it was going to happen again. But not to me.
And it did.
He was recently arrested for assaulting someone. While I’m sorry that someone else got hurt, it gave me some closure to know — again, for sure — that this is his problem, not mine.
As difficult as the experience was for me, my relationship with an addict taught me one of the most important life lessons I’ve ever learned: you can’t live for someone else. You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.
I tried so many ways to stop him from drinking. I tried hiding his ID and passport so he couldn’t get into bars. I tried locking him out of his own phone by changing the password so that he couldn’t make plans to drink with friends. I tried leaving him. I tried yelling at him. I tried going with him when he went out. I even tried writing up a list of rules with consequences. This is a real thing that exists! (I won’t even post the essays that he wrote in accordance with rule #4, but there are essays!)
What I’m saying is: I tried to control his behavior — a behavior that he couldn’t control. It was the worst way to handle the situation, and it allowed him to feel even less accountable to himself because I was ready and willing to handle his problem for him.
But I’m not responsible for his actions. I had trouble with this even after learning that he hit someone else. There was still a small part of me that felt like I could’ve somehow prevented it — maybe if I’d warned someone or said something. It doesn’t even make any sense, but that’s how I felt — even though I know that there’s nothing anyone can do; it’s up to him.
What I learned was that it’s counterproductive to try to take responsibility for the actions of another person, and it’s counterproductive to try to shield them from the consequences of their actions.
I think that’s been an especially important lesson in preparing me for parenting, and I’m glad I learned it before I became a mom. Because, let’s face it: My kid’s probably gonna do some dumb stuff. We all do. Hopefully we don’t all jump out of cabs and then assault the drivers, but we all do stupid things. I can only do so much to try to help him make the best decisions for himself. I can’t control him. I’m just going to have to let him live and learn from his mistakes.
Even now, at this age, he has to topple over a bit before he learns to sit up.
The best thing I did to try to keep my ex from drinking was to develop a system that positively reinforced his sobriety. I made a chart that gave him points for every day that he did not drink. He got extra points if he went out with his friends without me and managed to stay sober. After he reached certain benchmarks, he’d get something he wanted. For example, he wanted to go to New Orleans together, and I told him he needed a certain number of points for me to agree to go with him. When he had enough points, we went. He also wanted to move in together. But right around this time, Kerry passed away, and I gave up the point system and gave up on him.
Now, it’s been over a year, and nothing has changed. I don’t know if he’s going to do any jail time; the case is still open. He might get off by participating in counseling or something. And it won’t help him, because you can’t force someone to solve their drug problem. He just hasn’t hit bottom yet. Someone like him might not hit bottom until he’s dead. I can only hope that no one else is in the car when it crashes, and I can just be thankful that I got out when I did.