Episode 123: When You Don’t Feel Safe In Your Own Home
Today’s post is truly one of the most powerful and shocking stories we’ve ever done. You’re going to hear the story of Desiree, a woman who had children with a man that drinks too much. If you’ve ever felt unsafe in your own home, if you’ve ever wanted your loved one to attend rehab, wondered when enough is enough, or doubted your ability to make tough choices that you knew could cost you your marriage, you’re meant to listen to this podcast (or read the transcript below) today.
Michelle: Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story with me today. I’m so grateful.
Desiree: No problem.
How did you meet your husband, and when did you start to see red flags that there might be an issue with his drinking?
Desiree: We were 14, we met at church, and I had just moved here from out of town. I was in eighth grade, and he was my first friend here basically, and then we kind of went out, you know like they do with kids. We didn’t date, per se, but we went out for six months.
He had some anger issues as a teenager, but every teenager has that. I had my own issues with crying all the time. We kind of stayed friends throughout high school. He’s a grade ahead of me, so we went to the same high school. Then I went off to college, and we reconnected. He had some issues. He drank a little bit, and I drank a little bit.
The first time that there was a bad issue was five years after we got married and I was pregnant with my first baby. He had this midlife, I’m scared I’m going to be a father, kind of thing and drank and told me, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore.” I’m six months pregnant with his baby, a first-time mom, and terrified. How are we going to do this? I said to him, “If it doesn’t stop, then I’m done. After the baby is born, if you don’t fix it, then I’m done.” So after she was born, he got better and started working out, doing different things, so I thought, we got through that. It’s okay now. Like everything was okay.
Then it got bad again after the third baby. He quit going to the gym. He just quit being motivated to do anything and started drinking every night. Every weekend. All the time. So I saw some red flags. I probably shouldn’t have had two more kids, but I thought, we got through it. He’s okay now. After the second pregnancy, he was fine. And even the third. It wasn’t until she was born that he just started not being able to sleep. He’d go to the bar. We were sleep-deprived because of the baby and a two-year-old.
Is there a part of you that blames yourself or blames the pregnancies on the addiction?
Was there some part of you that thought, I caused this. My desire to have kids caused this.
Desiree: Maybe a little bit, but overall it was more like, I should have known not to put them in this situation. He probably would have done what he was doing. He moved jobs, and other things changed too. So I don’t think it was all the pregnancies, but I think that it was just everything combined. I do feel like, gosh if I had known, I might not have had three kids for sure. Obviosuly, I wouldn’t trade them for anything, but it’s definitely something I thought about. He would have been triggered anyway.
Desiree: Something was taking over, whether it was me or work.
There was always an excuse. “There’s stress at work, so I’m going to drink myself into oblivion.”
Michelle: There will always be triggers out there, and life is stressful. You have to figure out how to cope with it in a healthy way that doesn’t harm or hurt everyone around you. If your way of coping is through addiction or alcoholism, well we can’t spend our lives going around trying to make their lives as stress-free as possible hoping that they won’t become triggered. If somebody has a drinking problem or drug problem, they just need to learn how to cope with the natural feelings that everybody on this earth has. It’s not your fault, and you’re exactly right when you say that if it weren’t the kids, it would have been something else.
There will always be triggers out there, and life is stressful.
Desiree: I think he has depression and anxiety that he probably needs to be medicated for. I take medication if I need it, and I know that it helps. I don’t want to be that person who’s angry all the time or edgy so I try to change that. Self-medicating with drinking isn’t the answer, but he’s like “I don’t want to take those pills. They make you weird.” I do think that a lot of people that turn to alcohol have anxiety and depression before they even start drinking. That’s just their way of medicating for it.
Michelle: Oh, absolutely. I completely agree, and I’ve read several books about that. It’s so funny to me— and I’m using the word funny, but it’s kind of not. I’ve heard it before that people give that stigma of, “I’m not taking the pills. They’ll make me feel funny,” yet they’ll drink to the point of getting drunk. How does that make them feel?
Desiree: They blackout and they don’t remember anything that they say or do.
Michelle: What stigma would you like to choose: to have depression, or be an alcoholic? I feel like that’s a smoke screen that a lot of alcoholics or substance abusers use as a way to continue to be able to drink or use drugs.
So, you had your children, and he started drinking every day. Where are you at with your relationship with him now?
We had an incident with our oldest daughter, and he was verbally abusive. It got physical.
He didn’t hurt her, but he was out of control. He was throwing chairs and things, so we decided that we would live separately. He’s trying to say “I love you. I still want you, and I want the family.” We tried this before where I left, and I said, “I’m not coming back until you get help.” He did a week of rehab and said “Okay, I’m better. I want to come home.” I thought, “Okay, well, we’ll see.” He was still going to meetings, but he was still drinking every day and every weekend. The meetings weren’t helping to stop that urge.
Michelle: He had this very scary and serious incident with your daughter, and you said: “we decided.” Who’s we? Was it you and your daughter, or was it you and your husband who decided he should no longer live there?
Desiree: It was he and I who decided he should no longer live there. The police were called, and Child Protective Services got involved. My daughter ran over to the neighbor’s house and was scared. The neighbors were like, “Okay, this isn’t good.” He was yelling, and out of control, so they called 9-1-1. CPS got involved and interviewed both of us and the two older kids. They haven’t come back with any recommendations, but I have always been scared. I have a disability, and I’ve always been terrified that CPS will say “You’re not capable of raising your kids, so we’re taking them away.” He’s still living in the home with them, and there’s a danger.
Honestly, I think that it had been building up anyway for a while since he’s gotten out of rehab, and I think that was just my way of saying
“That’s it. That’s the last straw.”
It’s not just based on that incident. That incident was not good, but every night the emotional abuse of coming to bed drunk at 3 am and ranting and yelling and raving and not remembering any of it. I just couldn’t take it anymore either, so he said “Well, I don’t want a divorce. If that’s what you want, we’ll work it out.” He went to an extended stay hotel until he could find another place to rent that was cheaper than that.
Michelle: Is his rent a month to month or a six month or a year?
Desiree: It’s month to month.
Michelle: So he did a month to month. Or did you find it?
Desiree: He did.
Michelle: Why did he do a month to month rent?
Desiree: Right around this time, prices for apartments go up because of the college kids moving in for the school year. They might go down in the next couple of months. Perhaps he could get an efficiency because right now, he’s just in a room with no kitchen. He has a private bathroom, but it’s just a room.
Michelle: Have you been there?
Desiree: No, I haven’t been there. I think inside of his head he thinks: I’m going to have to be prepared – do I sign on for another month? Or can I come home? I’m going to have to say: “Well, are you still drinking? If you are, then sign on for another month.” At this point, he’s got to be sober for six months or more before I can even start working on my feelings and going to therapy, or whatever I need to do with him. I don’t know if I can get past a lot of it. I really don’t. His record of sobriety has been maybe two or three days tops.
The other thing that kind of worries me—he’s never lied to me before about his drinking, but there have never been consequences. Now that there are consequences and he can’t be here if he drinks, he might start lying to me about it. I try to prepare for that and stay strong. When he’s not here, I can do it. I can say all the right things like “Okay, you’re not coming home.” Then I get in front of him, and I get that scared kind of feeling, and it’s so much harder. I’m really trying to surround myself with people who will keep me thinking that I’ve not just overreacted. When he says to me, “It’s okay; we’ll keep the family together. The baby really misses me, and she won’t let go of me when I see her.” It’s the guilt.
Michelle: They know exactly what to say to get you to feel guilty. So what you’re doing is you are allowing yourself to feel guilty and to be manipulated. You’re also allowing yourself to be bullied. You should be able in any relationship with any person, particularly one that you’re married to, to say exactly how you feel when you’re not around them and then when you are around them. That’s how you know a relationship is healthy. They get in front of you, and you don’t have a problem speaking from your heart or your mind or your thoughts or opinions.
This disease is doing a phenomenal job with you on pushing every single button. You’ve been married for 18 years, so he knows, or the addiction knows exactly what buttons to push.
Here’s what I would say— and I know this is an interview and not a coaching call. So first of all, you don’t need to interact with him. If you’re not feeling strong enough to be able to tell him how you feel and set those boundaries in place, then give them to him in a situation where he can’t bully or guilt you, which is email.
So here’s what that looks like, because I hate throwing these things out there and not backing them up with practical stuff. You block his number from your cell phone. That means you can’t receive text messages that will manipulate or guilt you. You cannot receive phone calls that will bully or intimidate you. If you receive an email from him, you can choose to look at it at a specific time of day when you know that you’re at your healthiest, or you can choose to delete it.
Until you feel strong enough and you’ve done the work that you need to do, the only communication that you need to do is telling him exactly how everything’s going to go down. He’s scaring your daughter to the point where she has to run over to the neighbors to ask for help. No teenage girl wants to run over to the neighbors and cause that kind of drama or embarrassment. You have to be scared to your core to do that. So what I always tell moms who are like “Oh, I don’t want to break up the family” because I felt like that too, and “I don’t know if I should let him back.” It doesn’t matter what you want. It doesn’t matter what you think is best. You are your child’s biggest advocate. It’s your job to be in the middle of them and your husband. It’s your job to protect them. You need to say “Okay, what’s in the best interest of my daughter? Is it really having him back in that house? How is that going to affect her?”
Desiree: That was the thing that was hardest for me. We have a recording of part of the incident. He said, “Just punch me. Punch me.” And she wouldn’t do it. He was in her face. I’ve been recording him because he blacks out. I say to him, “Listen to this! This is what you sound like.” When I listened to it again, I was more angry at myself than him because I just stood there terrified. I would say “You guys need to stop,” and he was like “You’re blind, you can’t do anything about it.” I would let him do that to me where I was so scared to do anything.
He thinks just because he didn’t hit me or make marks on her that it’s not abuse. It’s really hard for me to realize that I just stood there. I didn’t get in the middle of it and make it stop – I was too scared because I thought it would be worse for her if I got involved more, instead of telling him “Back off, go sleep it off.” I’m not strong enough to do that, I never have been, I just wait.
It’s like watching a movie. You just watch it, and you wait and see what’s going to happen.
I hate that I didn’t give her that feeling of safety. She did not feel safe. She had to go to the neighbor’s house because I could not protect her. And I hate that. It bugs me.
Michelle: Okay, first of all, I love your honesty. I’m in awe of the fact that you’re taking accountability and responsibility. I love that you’re doing that.
Let me be the voice stronger than addiction’s in your head right now. You are strong enough. You’re courageous enough to do that.
What you said right there is something I want you to listen to later. “I’m not strong enough; I can’t do it.” Yes, you can. You absolutely can. Every time you tell yourself that you can’t, that’s just the addiction trying to create lies about you. You are strong enough. You’re courageous enough, and you don’t need to even say anything to him. If he pulls that crap again, on any one of you, you gather up the kids, and you grab your purse. I don’t care if it’s three o’clock in the morning.
Do you know how many times I drove around my neighborhood in the middle of the night with my kids? You leave, and you go to the police. You drive directly to the police station, and you say “Here’s the situation. There’s a guy back in my house who’s out of control, and I need your intervention.” I’ve done that. Many women have done that, and you know what, you don’t need to worry about your disability being an issue. They’re going to look at you and go, “There’s a woman who’s very capable of being her children’s biggest advocate.”
Desiree: I think that’s how he damaged me emotionally. He says, “You have this disability. You can’t just drive.” That’s his leverage over me. “I have the job, I can drive and you can’t.”
Michelle: Can you not drive? Is that part of your disability? You can’t drive?
Desiree: No, I’m totally blind. I would have to take UBER, so then I’m involving a third party in the incident rather than being able just to put them in the car and go, so it’s harder in that way.
Michelle: Your daughter’s 14, so she doesn’t have a license yet. You know what else you can do? You can make friends with that neighbor of yours to call the police. Say something like, “Listen, I don’t mean to involve you. I’m not trying to create drama here for you, but I need some help. I need a safe refuge, and I need to know I can come here with my kids. Would you mind helping me please?” And you go there.
Desiree: She has been very good. Her dad was an alcoholic, and one of the best things I did this year was because of the program. I started telling people because I didn’t for a long time. It’s like, Oh, it’s not that bad, he’s okay. Well, he’s just had a little too much today. I told myself that, and would also put up that front with other people. I finally decided I need to build a village around the kids and so that you know it’s not an isolated incident.
So I told people that I trusted and that wouldn’t judge him, who would help me if I needed it, and my neighbor was one of them. That’s probably why my daughter ran there because she knows that I told certain people and they were safe. At the very least, I feel like I provided that out for her, even if I couldn’t stop it immediately.
Michelle: Absolutely. I feel like – and I could be completely off base because this is the first time we’ve talked – but the fact that you’re blind, and you call it a disability. Just because you can’t see doesn’t mean that you can’t do every single thing that other strong, wonderful and capable women can do. Including stand up to him, start a new life, and defend your kids. You know what I’m saying? Don’t allow this one thing to think it defines you in all areas of your life. It doesn’t at all.
You sound like you’re extremely intelligent and very well put-together. I’m sure that there are plenty of things that you’ve been very successful at doing in your life. But the core of you, who you are, is a loving wife who deserves to be recognized as someone who deserves to be cherished and loved and not be bullied or manipulated.
I remember there was a lot of yelling, screaming, and awful violence that was going on in the house that I shared with my ex-husband. Not just with me, but with the people who lived there after me. My kids were witness to that. Police were called many times. And the thing that always got me scared was that they’re growing up witnessing this. What are they going to allow in their lives? If this form of dysfunction becomes normal, are they going to go and seek out this dysfunction like so many other kids who were raised in alcoholic homes and they married alcoholics? Where does it stop?
It’s a cycle because my stepdad was an alcoholic, and my mom put up with it for years.
They’re divorced now, but he was an alcoholic, and they got married when I was 10. My teenage years were scary. He used to get crazy, and she was scared to be without him because he had money.
I think my husband— as much as I hate to admit it, I do believe that part of him was like oh, I’m sighted, she’s blind. I’m going to marry her so I can take care of her. Then society is telling him, “Oh, you’re such a great person for dealing with that. You must do everything around the house.” He knows it’s baloney because he doesn’t do anything around the house. To be honest, I’d be lucky if I got him to take the trash out. Even that I do myself because it has to be done every day. But he hears that all the time and gets questions of, “How does your wife do that?” And he uses it as an excuse. “I’ve got to work from home so I can help my wife with blah blah today.” But he would drink.
I think that there are a lot of underlying issues that we have to work through because, you know what, if you’re not happy, if I’m a burden to you or you feel that way, whether I am or not, then you need to move on. If that’s what’s eating at you, but you feel like, oh, I’ve had these kids with her, and now I have to take care of her, she can’t do this, and it’s hard. Then you know what? I don’t need that, and you don’t need that so move on. I’m okay with that. I would rather move on than continue living the way we’ve been living.
Michelle: What do you want? I love this conversation, and that you’re strong enough to say, “Move on – I don’t need your resentment drinking”. That’s coming from a true place of strength.
And here’s the deal: I believe you. I really believe you. Sometimes when women say it, they don’t mean that. I know you mean that, and I know that comes from a true place of strength. But let me ask you this: Have you ever considered what you want? Do you still want to be married to him? Where do you see yourself two, three, four years from now if he does not get sober?
Desiree: If he doesn’t get sober? Well, even if he does, there’s part of me that just wants peace, and I guess I’m tired. I don’t know that I can do all of the re-building. I know I can’t do it by myself if he’s not a willing party in it and sober.
But even with him sober, I don’t know if I can. There’s a lot of hurt. I want to be able to enjoy my kids. They grow up so fast, and I wanted kids all my life. I don’t want to be the mom who, because I’m dealing with his crap, takes it out on them. I just want to raise them, and I don’t want us to be broke. But at the same time, I’d rather live in a smaller place or do what we had to do to have a safe place and peace with my kids. Maybe that doesn’t include him.
He’s always going to be part of my life because of them, and I do believe that they need him, but they need him healthy. They need him and love him, and he loves them.
But as far as me? I don’t know. He tries to say “Well, let’s just go on a date.” He’s trying to rebuild things but he’s not sober, so it doesn’t mean anything right now. We’ll go out and try to talk, but I told him last week that I need to feel safe in my own home and he’s like “well the world is not a safe place, and people can break into your house.” I said, “But I need to feel safe with you and us as a partnership, and I haven’t felt safe in a very long time.” That, I think, hit him hard and of course, then he went home and drank until Monday afternoon or Monday night. He guilt-texted me saying, “I’m hurting so bad. I love you. Don’t ever forget that.” I wanted to go, “Yuck! Just leave me alone.”
Michelle: I know you took the Love Over Addiction course. Have you taken Love Over Boundaries?
Desiree: No, I was thinking about doing that because it would help.
Michelle: That would really help you. Here’s the deal: Particularly when you have physical distance between one another. Plus, you have your personality which tends to be very compliant and very accommodating compared with a personality that’s extremely aggressive and manipulative. The boundaries are going to save your life. They’re going to save your kids’ lives. I would say boundaries are going to be your biggest work in the next 60 days. They should be part of your life every day. You should be working on boundaries each day. The reason why you agreed to go out with him when you didn’t want to is because you didn’t have that established boundary in place ahead of time.
Boundaries only work when you establish, know what they are, define, and you really understand the definition of boundary. You create your own boundaries, and then you practice implementing them when you’re alone which sounds really silly.
In the back of the program, we’ve listed about 40 different ways to say your boundaries. You just need to get a piece of paper. Print it out and repeat it over and over and over again so that when the time comes, if you’re asked to do something, you can check in with yourself and go “Okay, does that feel right? Is that a boundary? Now how do I feel about that. I’ve already set up that boundary. What is it.” Then you deliver that information to him and what’s going to happen— I’ll give you a sneak preview in your next 60 days if you choose to do this. He won’t like it. He won’t like it at all.
Desiree: No, I know he won’t.
Michelle: He’s used to an accommodating, loving wife, and all of a sudden, you’re saying “no.” Well, addiction doesn’t like being told no. It likes to remain in control. So you’re going to say no, and the addiction is going to flare up. It’s going to try every trick in the book: It’s going to try anger, sadness, being the victim.
Desiree: I guess what scares me is that legally because they don’t have legal separation where I live, it’s divorce or be married. So legally, I can’t lock him out of the house.
Michelle: You can get a restraining order.
Desiree: Right, I can do that.
Michelle: There doesn’t need to be any bruises or any scars. You have a recording. The police were called. You absolutely can go to your local office and apply for a restraining order. I had to do it myself, and that will keep him out of the house. Even if your name is not on it and his name is.
Desiree: It’s in both of our names, but legally, you can’t lock him out of your house until you’re divorced. Even the police, when they were here, they’re like “Well, we can’t remove him from the home because it’s not illegal to be intoxicated in your own house.”
Michelle: Very true. But that’s why you need a restraining order.
Desiree: The police then said to me, “If you want to leave, you can go. But he doesn’t have to. You can’t lock him out. He can come back and can say, ‘I want my house.’” Then it would be up to me. Well, then where would we be? And uproot the kids.
I hope that he doesn’t do that. I think that is one of those reasons, I guess, that I have tried to placate him because I’m scared of him and the repercussions that would affect the kids more. It’s such a hard thing, but I do. Boundaries and more boundaries for sure.
Michelle: Here’s the other deal: If you don’t want to go the restraining order route, I would really encourage you to have a plan B where you’re uprooting the kids.
For me, the idea of uprooting our kids out of our home made me fall apart. I’d just cry on the floor. I’d do anything but that. Just don’t make me move from my house, please.
Desiree: Except for the kids. I don’t care about the house. I would live in a room if I could, but the kids need stability, and I’ve uprooted them before. Of course, it was summertime, but we just went to Grandma’s house in San Antonio. He did have to come and get us, though, because I couldn’t just drive there.
Michelle: Well, then that might be a very acceptable plan B for you. In the end, I had to uproot my kids. I had no choice – I did end up having to hide out in a hotel for two weeks under a fake name. I always pushed to do things that I did not think I was capable of handling.
Here’s the truth: It’s been ten years now, and my kids are the most well-adjusted children. They are not perfect. They’re typical kids. But, for example, my daughter is in high school. She’s in a brand new school, and she just started asking me yesterday if she could write a paper about her father’s addiction to read to the class.
When I was hiding out in that hotel under a fake name and scared of him finding me – I had three babies, three young kids and hadn’t showered in like four days. If you were to tell that woman, “Hey, in ten years from now, your kids are going to be using addiction as a topic to openly speak and help other kids in their life,” I would’ve said there’s just no way.
But this can be used. You’re at a point in your life where you can pivot your children’s future and yours. You can turn this into something that actually helps them and brings them safety, peace, security, and a wonderful, beautiful future. You could be the role model to them because all it takes is one parent to be consistent, to be good, to stick up to this disease. That’s all it takes. You don’t need two, you just need one. All the power is in your hands. You don’t need to wait for him to decide anything – you get to decide.
Desiree: Saying, “This isn’t working. You’re not doing it. So we’re done. Let’s just cut our losses.” Honestly, I do feel like sometimes that’s what I want to do. But then other times I’m like, Okay, I’m not the best decision maker right now. I’m still in the thick of my own process of thinking about it.
Michelle: That’s your biggest issue. Here’s the truth about doubt: the only way that you can change that doubt is by making hard decisions that have good results. That’s it. The only way you’re going to feel the confidence that you’re looking for or lacking is not by sitting there and thinking about it. It’s actually by making big choices, sticking with them, and then going back and saying, “That was a darn good choice. It was really difficult to do, but the next choice will be easier.” And the next choice will be easier. And then soon making tough choices won’t be tough at all. It will just feel like second-nature to you because you’ve had so much practice at it. There are your confidence and self-esteem. And there’s your healing. And all of those choices for you circle back to boundaries.
Desiree: Yes, they do. I can’t believe that. If you had said even four or five weeks ago, “Oh, he’ll be out for you. Something will happen. I prayed hard, please I can’t live this way anymore. Please make this stop. Just over and over and over, make me stop feeling so helpless and trapped. Whatever needed to happen happened, and now it’s like, “Okay that’s my chance. It’s like a chess game. Now do I wait for him to move? Or do I move?”
Michelle: No, you don’t. You blow up the board. You toss all the pieces.
Desiree: And win the game. Throw it away.
Michelle: Yes, you say,
“This is my life. These are my kids, and I’m not playing anymore. I’m making the rules, I’m setting the tone, I’m making the decisions, and I’m not playing with you. You’re not an opponent, and you’re not an equal player.”
This is you. You’re in charge. He’s the child. You’re the one who sits here and says, “I’m going to dictate what we’re going to do because I’m the sober one.” And eventually, you’re not playing with the man. You’re playing with the disease. The man is gone. He was gone after you had your third kid. The person that you’re playing with is a disease. So stop playing with it.
Desiree: I guess that there is always a hope that if he sobers up, maybe we’ll get back to where we were. You know, it’s that same talk about being in love with the potential of what they were or what they could be or what you think they could’ve been when you married them. Now, I’ve had 18 years of being married to him, and I don’t just want to toss it away, but I’ve worked and tried everything that I can do to the point of losing 40 pounds in six months, you know?
I want him to get sober for himself, but at the same time, I’m scared if we’re divorcing then he’ll lose his job and then what am I going to do with the kids? So I keep trying to plan. It’s never going to be the right time; you know what I mean?
Michelle: The right time is now. When he starts to do that to your daughter, the right time is now. And here’s the deal. This is the truth. I know for sure that this is a man that’s skimming his sobriety. He’s doing everything to look good at getting sober but actually not getting sober. He’s cheating everyone into thinking that he’s making an effort. You can’t go to AA meetings and then go to a liquor store. Why even go to the damn meeting? He wants to look good.
Then, you sit there and move out, and he has moved out, and he’s texting you, ‘woe is me.’ Then you say, “What about woe is your daughter? What about woe is the other kids that don’t have a dad living with them because of your disease? How do you want to change? If you really felt the pain and suffering that you’re causing your kids and your wife, you wouldn’t drink.”
But he doesn’t want to get sober right now. He shows no signs of a man who wants to get sober anytime soon. He shows no sign of a man who has reached rock bottom even though you have.
So what are you going to do? Are you going to keep sitting around week after week waiting for him to have this epiphany? Or are you going to take back your power and the control that you have been the advocate that you know you can be? Will you start making changes in your life, regardless of where he’s at, that are healthy for you and your kids? And you know what? If he gets sober down the line a year or two or three years from now, great! Talk to him then. But don’t sit waiting for it to happen.
Desiree: Yeah, and then things are in place for when he can see the kids. Exactly. We can get remarried and reconcile all of that.
Michelle: Yes, you can get remarried. It’s not unheard of, but you can’t wait around anymore. Eighteen years is enough.
Trust me; I know the fears of not having money. Look, I was a mom, I had no job. I hadn’t worked for seven years, I was not college-educated at the time, I had no friends, and my family didn’t offer for me to come live with them. I’m sitting here going what choices do I have? Well, I got out a phone book, and I called the shelter. I said, “How many nights can you take a woman with her three kids?”
The point is, the answers will show up.
Everything did work out for me. One step at a time. Every time you say your fear talks where you tell yourself I don’t know what I’m going to do support myself. I don’t know how to. That’s just the addiction trying to keep you stuck. It’s just the addiction trying to say, See? You can’t make it on your own – You’re not worth it – You are not a survivor – You need this – You need the income. You need him around. That’s you believing lies. Those are lies. And then you need to replace those with I’m very capable. I am for this family to where it is today. I don’t need a babysitter or anyone to go around telling people they’re babysitting me.
Desiree: Yeah, exactly. I never thought of it that way — the babysitter thing. That’s exactly it, though. That’s what he does. “Oh, you didn’t pick up this trash.” Or little criticisms here and there. “Well, thank goodness you have somebody who can see and do it for you.” It’s the underlying things that he uses, and that’s what keeps him feeling like he has control, when he has some leverage because he has lost all of his control and everything else.
Michelle: One more thing. I want you to know this because I wish someone had told me this. When I was going through my divorce— and it probably would’ve made me feel a little cringy, and it might make you feel a little cringy – but I’m still going to tell you anyways. There is a man out there for you and your kids that won’t do that. That will not act like you are a pain in the butt, that you’re incapable, that you’re not good enough. There’s a man out there that will come home from work and adore you and tell you he misses you and asks what he can do to help you. There is a man that will give your kids the father that will embrace them and lead them and teach them. And be patient with them and love on them.
Here’s the deal: There’s a man out there that can do all of this consistently, not depending on the day, the hour or the drinking or the whatever.
Consistently. There is a man out there that’s going to be your rock, your safe place, your home; he’s out there. But you will never find him – and your kids will never have the opportunity to be raised by him – if you don’t make the changes today.
Desiree: That’s hard to believe, and it’s kind of cringy because I’m laughing out loud. I don’t want any more men in my life. I’ll raise my girls, and we’ll just be right. Then they’ll grow up. It’s scary because I don’t trust myself in making the right choices because apparently, I don’t choose well. The red flags were kind of there, but I pushed them back. So I don’t trust myself to make the right decisions on who I should be with, you know. Maybe that will come with time. Not right now
Michelle: It will come with time. You could wait for five-ten years, and you’d make the same mistake if you don’t do the work. It will come you. I can hear you, and I know you. I know that you’re willing to do the work. You know that you’re a very capable woman. There are some women out there that don’t do the work. That just feel very comfortable playing the martyr their whole life. Then they wake up at 70 and go ‘wow, what have I done?’
I met someone yesterday who was about to turn 70, and she had made changes to her life. It’s never too late.
Desiree: My oldest doesn’t want to talk about it right now. I try to get her to Al-A-Teen or speak to us elsewhere, and she’s told a couple of her friends that she trusts. But she’s like, “I don’t care anymore. I don’t want to talk about it. He’s gone, and I don’t want him to come back.”
But then she’ll say “I want to talk,” and I’ll say, “Okay, what do you want to talk about? Right here. Talk to me.” And she’s like, “Well, you talk.” I want her to talk to me, and she’s not ready. I try to talk about it, and she zones out on the phone.
Michelle: I’ll tell you why she doesn’t want to talk to you about it. It’s because she doesn’t trust you. I know that’s hard to hear, but she doesn’t trust you because you’ve been his biggest advocate, not hers, and so you have to earn that trust.
Here’s the deal. The reason she asks you to talk to her is because she’s the child, and she wants that connection with you. She still desires to trust you. It’s kind of like you read about these kids who have been abused by their parents, but they’re still loyal and love them. It’s like that. You never lose your desire to be accepted and connected to your parents. So her sitting there saying, “Mom, talk to me” – it’s her way of trying to form a connection with you. I think she wants you to open up to her about how you’re feeling. She’s looking for you to rise up into the woman and mother that she needs you to be.
Desiree: I did the same thing to my mom. I said,
“Let’s just leave. Why are we living this way?”
And she said, “Oh, because I can’t take care of you any other way. We have to do this.” I didn’t trust that she was looking out for me. Even though that’s what she was said she was doing, it didn’t feel like it. I had to be my own advocate in school and talking to my teachers when I would start school about how to best help me. I can do this, and I can print this out, and this is how I do homework. In some ways, that was good because I learned how to spell advocate in those situations, but I never learned any assertiveness in my personal life. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
Michelle: It makes perfect sense.
Desiree: “I need this accommodation. I need this,” but then when it comes to feelings and emotions, it’s like, “Oh, okay, well that’s how you feel, and I feel a different way, but I’m not gonna tell you.” That’s crazy talk, but that’s what it is.
Michelle: Well, that’s because your mom made you feel every feeling that you had was wrong, so you grew up not trusting your feelings. And you still have that. You’re still not trusting your feelings, so it’s time.
Desiree: And you learn to do that. You don’t learn to trust yourself and say, “Is this the right thing?”
You do the work by setting boundaries and making decisions one by one, and then doing the uncomfortable thing and waiting and looking back and saying, “That was a good choice.”
There’s no therapist, no small group; nobody can give you the ability to trust your feelings. There’s no person or program that you’re ever going to find that can give that to you. The only way you’re going to get that is by action and giving it to yourself through hard decisions. It’s work. Now you’ve got work to do, but you’re capable, and you can do it. I completely believe in you. I wouldn’t be telling you all this and turning this into more of a therapy session instead of an interview.
If there’s anything you leave with this conversation, I want you to understand that you’re a very, very, very, capable woman and you are strong and courageous. You can make hard decisions. You are smart. You’re capable and your future with your kids, your girls and you, that future is going to be fan-freakin-tastic. Are you going to go through some bumpy roads to get there? Yep. Is that going to take some time? YEP. Are you going to have to do hard things? Sure, but you know what? The end game, which is not that far away, is going to be wonderful. Your relationship with your girls is going to be restored and stronger than ever before.
Desiree: And that’s what I want. That’s really what I want more than anything else.
Michelle: You’ve needed to do this work since you were a five-year-old girl. And I don’t know how old you are now, but I know that it’s time.
Desiree: I’ll be forty this year.
Okay, so it’s time. You’ve done this for thirty-five years. It’s not 18 years. It’s 35 years. It’s time you get to live the next half of your life.
It’s like what I said to my husband the other day – I’m like, “I think my life is probably half over. Not sure, but you get to live the second half of your life.”
Desiree: Forty more years. I want that peace.
Michelle: That’s what you’re going to do. Do it for your girls.
Desiree: With or without anybody else, because I know that I have to be happy with myself before I can even think about letting anybody else in, and I know that. I’m going to do that. I’m going to do the Love Over Boundaries program.
I love Desiree. Even though she has a physical disability – she’s refusing to give up. And we, you and me, are going to be her loudest fans cheering her on. It is scary when you don’t feel safe in your own space. We hope that you found hope and inspiration from her story.
Join me next week when I will take questions from women in our community about drinking, parties and supervised visitation during Superbowl weekend. As you all know, the Superbowl is one of the biggest weekends for drinking, DUIs and drug use. So let’s prepare for it together. Talk to you next week.
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