Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers from the season 2 premiere of This Is Us.
Being married requires a ton of effort. You walk down the aisle and commit yourself to someone for the rest of your life, assuming everything will feel like it does at that very moment. It’s impossible to grasp just how many times you will be asked to bend without breaking, when you hear the words “for better or worse.” But when one of you develops an addiction, it can test your relationship down to its core, and leave you questioning whether you can live in the “worse” every single day.
Watching the season premiere of This Is Us last night brought me back to a place I hadn’t revisited in a long, long time. Because while Jack’s drinking problem was weaved throughout the first season, Season 2 looks to be hitting it head on. And as I watched the pain it was causing in his marriage to Rebecca, I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to a time not so long ago when my own marriage found itself under the same strains.
I’d known before we met that my husband had issues in his past. He’d had a DUI and when he was in his early twenties, and had been thrown through the windshield of his car after driving home drunk from a bar. He survived with injuries that would leave him hospitalized for a month.
After that initial scare, he stopped drinking for a long time; but by the time we met, he’d started back up again. He was honest about his past, promising to never repeat his mistakes, and only drank occasionally — at least, from what I saw. I believed him because … well, I wanted to believe him. Plus, I thought, “He rarely drinks anyway.” The promise of love and a family would surely be enough.
The truth is, it was. Until it wasn’t.
The problem was, when he drank — even if it was occasional — he would get enormously, violently drunk. He either had zero beers or 20; there was no in between. His demeanor would change so suddenly, I couldn’t reconcile the person standing before me with the man I’d fallen in love with.
We eventually got married, and those first years were happy ones. But just as with Jack and Rebecca, the toll addiction takes on a marriage was inevitable. There was yelling, and there were fights. There were moments I felt like I was living in a nightmare.
We got in a particularly nasty fight one night, and he chased me up our stairs. I spent the rest of the night locked in our spare bedroom, frantic and sobbing as he slammed his fists on the door to let him in. I woke the next morning, as always, worried about him rather than really looking at what it was doing to me. He didn’t remember we’d had a fight at all.
Fast-forward four more years and two kids, and the stress of an unhappy marriage was beginning to show. Instead of seeking help, I started traveling more for my job. I was the first to volunteer to visit clients, because I couldn’t stand being at home. We drifted further apart, communicating mostly through sarcastic quips or silence. Toward the end, the few times we managed to have sex left me frozen afterwards on our bathroom floor, in floods of tears wondering how we could have possibly gotten to this place.
But the part that struck me most in last night’s episode was when Jack and Rebecca were both trying to figure out what they would tell their kids if they lived apart. When my husband and I realized we couldn’t find our way back to each other, we sat our kids down to tell them we were divorcing. Our son was just 3 at the time, and didn’t comprehend what we were even saying. But our daughter, almost 5, understood the magnitude perhaps more so than I did, even all these years later. She started to cry; a cry I’d never heard before and said, “So we aren’t going to be a family anymore?”
Still to this day, it was the single worst moment of my life.
I’ve seen what addiction can do to a marriage and a family. Wanting to get better and having the maturity and support around you to get better are two very different things. I just wasn’t — both mentally and emotionally — to help my ex-husband, and by ignoring it, I was just as culpable in our demise as he was. Alcoholism is all-consuming and pervasive, eventually seeping into every single part of your existence.
Although we’ve both moved on into happy marriages and continue to stay good friends and coparents, I will always regret how things turned out with my first marriage. Our children expected their parents to know what they were doing; to find a way to keep it all together, and to make it work. But the truth is, we were both drowning in the darkness of addiction, and the pain it often leaves in its wake. I’m just happy we’ve both since found the light.