Sometimes life’s just unfair, isn’t it? I don’t really need to tell anyone that. We’ve all experienced our own upsets and deep pains and frustrations. It’s what drives many of us to drink, and once we become addicted to the drink, our pains and deep hurts and angry thoughts are the things we’re most afraid to face in our efforts to get sober.
For me, the biggest source of deep hurt and anger is my failed marriage. I’ve written about it before and how it has impacted my drinking habits. I’ve had strong surges of anger and pain rear their heads during these first few months of my sobriety, very similar to what I felt in the early days of my divorce.
It is a pain that’s hard to articulate to my friends, none of whom have ever been divorced. During the whole ordeal, I hid my drinking so well that I really believe that most of my friends had no idea about the depth of the pain I felt, and how I masked it by constantly numbing. I think I came across mostly as angry and indignant, but stable enough to make something better of my life despite my circumstances. Beneath that facade, however, was someone truly devastated.
I felt replaced. Erased. Humiliated. Betrayed. I felt as though I had been my ex-husband’s biggest mistake. Like perhaps I was too quick to jump into the identity of “wife.” I felt stupid that I couldn’t see in my ex-husband’s eyes how desperately he didn’t want to be with me. Or maybe that’s just my exaggerating at this point.
And every now and then, I will see the face of my ex-husband pop up in a picture somewhere on Facebook. He’s often with his wife and their child in some happy, lovey-dovey family photo – his wife’s smile big and toothy, my ex-husband appearing happy as well, with their child often sandwiched in-between, grinning a gummy grin at the camera. When I see those photos, it’s hard to imagine that I ever had a place in his arms before she came along. And let me just say, it’s fucking weird to look at the face of an ex-lover’s child, now old enough to be cognizant of cameras and other human beings, old enough to be forming a personality and probably saying words. It’s weird. It’s humbling. And for some reason, it still feels unfair.
To be clear, I don’t want children. At least, I’m 95% certain that I don’t. I’m 27 and in graduate school, so things could definitely change for me over the next few years. But for now, that’s how I feel. This is something I made known to my ex-husband and something that I thought he agreed with me about. Turns out, he was lying. One night, a few months before we officially separated, my then-husband came home from drinking at a concert and tried to convince me that we should try to start conceiving. He was plastered. I was also drunk but not drunk enough to go along with it. Thank god. I pushed him away and told him no.
A month after we separated, his now-wife moved in and they conceived a child only a month later. In the bed I bought for my ex and I, mind you. In the apartment still leased under my name.
Better her than me, I thought. Good luck to them.
So why does this feel unfair? Why do I still feel like I was robbed of something that I didn’t even want? My ex has found someone with whom he can live out his desires to have a child and a family. I am free to pursue my own interests and to date people who will more closely align with what I want – marriage, perhaps, or just long-term partnership without the constraints of parenthood. I know at my core that there were fundamental differences in what he and I wanted, that weren’t honestly discussed before getting married.
Yet still, I feel slighted. Like he lied to me knowingly, but was too chickenshit to admit it. And maybe it’s partially caused by feeling as though my ex tried to erase all forms my of existence from his life once our relationship was over. No pictures, no contact, no words or apologies. Nothing. To most of the people in his new life, there’s probably no whisper of my existence. I’ll forever be the once-off, random ex-wife who didn’t really make much of a difference in his life. After 7 years of my life knowing him, 5 of which we were together, that fucking hurts. And for a long time, I drank to simply get rid of that pain.
I drank because I was so. fucking. angry. I was so angry. And I had people – well, one person in particular, a friend who is also a “friend” to my ex-husband – who told me that my anger had no purpose. She said I shouldn’t get angry with my ex for trying to do what was best for himself. That my anger was unproductive.
First I got angry with her. But then, silly me, I conceded. I convinced myself that I should be open-hearted and compassionate toward my ex-husband, and wish him well in his new life with his new love. I convinced myself that there was no reason to be angry, and that the best thing to do would be compassion, loving kindness, and forgiveness, even for the man who lied to me, betrayed me, hurt me, and then tried to erase my existence from his life.
Surprise surprise, it never made me feel much better. I tried, though – and I drowned myself in alcohol while doing it.
Later, when I was first seriously considering re-homing my cats, I heard from this friend that my ex would be willing to take them from me. He apparently considered them children and would’ve loved nothing more than to bring them into his home.
After thinking long and hard on it, and going through the phases of anger and guilt and sadness about giving up my cats, I thought that perhaps it’d be worth it. I knew how much he cared for the cats and accepted that perhaps he would be the best fit. So, I emailed him.
Eventually, after a few emails exchanged, I stated that I wouldn’t allow him to take the cats and just disappear. That I would want to at least get pictures of them every now and then. Because I loved them to the very depths of my heart, and he knew it.
After that, he sent a one-liner email saying that he no longer thought it would be a good idea for him to take the cats.
And that “friend” of mine said she wasn’t going to comment – she was going to stay out of it.
So what did I do?
I apologized for being curt with him. I told him the offer was still open. I explained how it was such a difficult decision for me, and that I would understand if he still didn’t want them.
My friend said she was so proud of me for doing that.
He never responded.
There are a lot of deep hurts that made me want to drink. To forget. To just let go of everything.
There was the abusive boyfriend who I dated from 19-21, who forced himself on me in his aunt’s basement and whose uncle molested me. Who blamed me for his behavior. Who kept me sleep deprived. Who accused me of infidelity all the time. Who would berate me, then try to comfort me as I cried. Who yelled and screamed and wouldn’t let me break up with him until the 20th try.
There was the bullying in middle school about my weight. About being the chubby girl. I remember distinctly during a Home Ec class one day, a girl named Julia who sat at my table announced to the other girls that I was stupid, just very matter-of-fact. There were friends who were no longer friends once they found boyfriends or girlfriends. There were boys who went very close to toeing the line between “yes means yes” and “no means yes” and “no means no.”
There was the loss of family and community I experienced when my parents brought me from Colorado to the Midwest when I was 7. I barely know any of my extended family on any kind of deep or meaningful level, and I doubt I ever will.
But the pain that hits me the most is the pain I feel when I think about my ex-husband. Most days I am okay. Most days I don’t think of him. His hurtful words no longer reach me. But on the rare occasions that I do think of him, I get sent into a spiral of anger, sadness, and a feeling that it’s just not fair.
It’s not fair. I don’t even know what “it” is. But it’s not fair.
But the difference this time around, now that I’m sober, is that I’ve grown tired of feeling like I can’t be angry about it. For a while, I convinced myself that nobody would see it as reasonable for me to be angry, because there’s nothing I can do about it anymore. It’s over. The past is the past. He is living his life as he sees fit, and I should be doing the same.
But the more time I spend sober, the more I realize that I need to get angry. Sometimes, I need that anger. It’s not fair to myself to keep it down. It’s not fair to tell myself there’s no use in feeling it. It’s not fair to let others tell me I should be over it already.
Because deep down, I believe there’s power in anger. There’s a productive side to that flame. You can be consumed by it, you can suppress it until the pressure blows things apart, or you can use it to fuel yourself, to push toward a life that defies everything the anger is caused by.
For me, being angry had helped me evaluate my deep feelings of fear around being abandoned and erased by those I love and trust. It has helped me understand that in a lot of ways, there was truly nothing I could do to keep my trainwreck of a marriage from falling apart; by the time I actually felt the wheels falling off, it was already too late. It has helped me see my ex for who he really is, and it has helped me solidify my stance that the ending of our relationship was the best thing that could’ve ever happened.
My anger has helped me trust myself again. It has told me that I can’t let others walk over me, and that I shouldn’t suppress my needs in order to cater to others’ feelings.
My anger has pushed me to become a better, faster, stronger, fitter version of “old me.” It has shown me that there is a lot of power within me that I can either harness or waste. It has moved me to build my body into something I can be proud of, instead of feeling weak and meek. It has given me the energy to push forward, even when I felt like I couldn’t take another step.
My anger has helped me speak out against my most recent ex-boyfriend, who tried to demean me on public social media posts, who tried to paint a picture of me as someone who is fundamentally broken. It allowed me to stand up for myself when he tried to call me paranoid, when he tried to gaslight me and tell me my feelings were invalid. It shook my body and put me in flight mode the last time I ever ran into him in public. It’s keeping me primed to defend myself verbally if I ever see him again.
Instead of being afraid of my angry sober self, I’ve embraced it. I don’t lash out at others or yell, scream, or get physical. Rather, I allow the energy to be drawn inward, and I let it push me forward. In a weird way, my anger has even allowed me to become soft again. I’m not angry all the time, but when I am, I know that I shouldn’t deny myself the exposure. I run with it. It pushes and pulls me in all directions. And when it’s over, I sink into a deeper form of comfort, and contentment.
Really, all it is is feeling things again. Really feeling them. Really letting myself go there, and knowing when to pull myself out again.
The difference between a drunken angry me and a sober angry me is the fact that, at the end of the night, I have clarity and focus, and I can aim my angry energy toward progress, rather than contempt.
It’s made all the difference in the world.