I started therapy last month. My therapist suggested I do some reading about “co-dependency”. The word still irritates me to no end (more on that later), but it has given me a different perspective. Maybe as a result of that, maybe just because this is years coming, I wrote an email to my husband. It’s the most honest I’ve ever been with him. Here it is:
I’m not even sure how to start this. I have a lot to say, and it might be messy and it might be hard to hear. I can assure you it was damn hard to write.
In some ways it’s hard to understand why all this is coming out now. Things seem to be going well. Luke’s almost done with treatment. We have food to eat. There is nothing majorly wrong with the house or broken appliances and we have 2 working vehicles.
But maybe that’s it. Maybe for so long I was barely holding on and every breath was focused on survival and I was too desperate to look around and think about why I was drowning. I just had to get all of us to the next day.
Well the next day has finally come. And now I am looking at everything that has happened and the future and it’s terrifying. Because I can’t go back to that, Andy. I can’t. I can barely talk about what things were like. My whole body tenses up and my stomach cramps and I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep breathing. But I’m going to try saying what I need to in this email. Because we need to talk about this.
I can’t do this anymore. I know you have been better lately and you have been waking up in the morning and doing chores and helping with the kids. I know you even started selling those damn cards on eBay. But that’s not enough. That’s basic functioning and I’m glad. But I need a partner. I need someone who knows what it means to be an adult. To be independent and functional in every way. Yes, I know about your mental illness and I know I can’t even imagine what it is like. I’m not you and I will never know what it’s like in your head. But I know that people with anxiety and depression get up and go to work every day. They provide for their families. They make careful, adult decisions and they handle their finances. They look for help and they follow through. Sure, not all of them. But there are plenty of people all around you every day who deal with shit just as debilitating as yours.
I know you are probably thinking that I just don’t understand. I’ll confess I think that same thing about you. I don’t think you can possibly understand the weight of carrying 3, precious, growing children and 1 dysfunctional, addicted adult through life on my back. I don’t think you can imagine what it feels like to make choices that you know are going to tear you down a little bit more just to lift up the people you love every. single. day. To recognize that gas money means no laundry detergent, so instead you get on your bike, put on the nasty, torn up neon vest you found on the side of the road for safety’s sake and bike to your first job, the one with the creepy, cross-dressing priest that you found on craigslist, who drives you an hour to an antique auction while telling you stories of the time he met an alien. But you put up with him because you desperately need the money and he bought you a meal once, which you desperately need because otherwise you aren’t sure your body will have the strength to bike to the next job. And at the next job, you rub off your sweat in the bathroom with wet paper towels and walk out with a smile and give it your all because it’s the one place you actually feel like you are doing things right, even though you sometimes have to sit down because you haven’t eaten in a couple days and you get dizzy and it’s really hard to walk in the room where the kids are having their free snack. But you are super grateful whenever there’s food in the break room, even if it’s always dessert. You ate ice cream every day for a week last summer until the leftovers from the ice cream sundae party ran out. Some days that was all you ate. And you were grateful for it. And at the end of your shift, you get ready to bike home, in the dark, on a horrible road with no bike lane, stopping a couple of times because you feel lightheaded, and you get a message from your husband asking you to stop and pick up some booze on the way home. Can you imagine what that is like? Or what it is like to ask your children to poop at school because you can’t afford more toilet paper? Or to carry a toothbrush in your purse whenever you go to a friends house so you can sneak in the bathroom and use their toothpaste because there isn’t enough in the bank account to buy more, because it’s overdrawn, because of a charge for $10 at UDF and you know your husband bought beer but you don’t want to say anything because having him drink makes it easier to live with him? Or what it’s like to run out of food stamps and be so thankful we have a food pantry close by but you know your husband won’t go, so you have to rearrange your work schedule to make sure you can get food for your kids? Or what it’s like to ask other parents to switch snack days with you because you can’t buy snacks for 25 kids unless it’s right after the 14th, when food stamps renew? Or how about the day I drove myself to the emergency room because I was having trouble breathing. All day it kept getting worse, the air got heavier and heavier and finally on the highway I wasn’t sure I could make it home so I drove to the ER and they surrounded me with nurses and checked my vitals and I gave them a friend’s number so you wouldn’t worry if they had to call someone and they brought me water and snacks and tucked me under a warm blanket and I broke down completely. I wanted to stay there forever and be taken care of. I was overworked, overstressed, underfed. There were so many days I left work and sat in the car and sobbed. Then I pulled myself together and drove home, stopping for booze on the way, and tried my best to make life feel okay for our kids. There were few months that I could actually pay all the bills. I had to time them and rotate and make lots of pleading phone calls. I tried, 3 times, to set aside enough money to open my own bank account so I could save $ in secret that you wouldn’t spend, just so I could pay the bills. But there was always something, something desperate that I had to use it for. One time I managed it. I opened an account with $100. But I wasn’t using it regularly and they fined me and I had to close it. Because I never had extra to deposit.
Well, I have it now. I have my own bank account and I am trying my best to be financially responsible with it. This past year has given us breathing room because of the amazing people in our life who have given to us after Luke’s diagnosis. They couldn’t have known that they were giving me a lifeline. I have an account you can’t touch and I’ve never felt more secure. That is not how it should feel. But it does and I have to say it.
I expected you to be upset or to ask questions when I opened that account and moved our money to it. But you didn’t. You just kept on spending. Because you still have access to our business account. The account that had over $5000 last August. The account with funds to promote our project in festivals. So that I could attend and make connections and talk it up and meet with distributors. I won’t be able to do that anymore. Because there is now less than $500 in our business account.
It’s fair to say you have a right to it. I know you worked hard on that project and that could be considered your pay. But we had a budget and a plan and you claimed on our tax return that we were using $5000 for festivals so I think I can be pissed about this. Also, if they audit us, you will have to pay them $5000.
Here are the facts. Our monthly utilities are roughly $1000. That doesn’t include things like gas and food and clothes and school supplies, etc. I need you to come up with half of that. So far, in the past 7 months, you have spent about $430 per month. That is how much you need to be coming up with for expenses. So if you want to keep living the way you are now, you will need to double it. You need to use your own money for your entertainment. And your alcohol. If you want to spend $10 a month on a MoviePass, find a way to make $10 a month first. Don’t come to me asking if you can spend money on something. I’m not your mom and I don’t want to give you an allowance.
You need to start understanding the value of every dollar you spend. If I EVER have to stand in a conversation with you and friends where you talk about the new shows or the movies you have seen lately I think I will throw my drink in your face. I can’t tell you how many times I smiled and nodded at one of those conversations, watching you drunk and laughing about whatever-the-fuck you had done on the internet lately, and I had just come off a HELLISH week of desperately trying to make ends meet. I nearly canceled our internet multiple times. But it was the one chance (I thought) of you actually finding a way to make money, through online job searching or video editing jobs or eBay. Next time you want to Netflix and chill, work on finding an income instead.
I have transferred money into your overdrawn bank account for the last time. I’m taking my name off the joint account. I have a copy of the bank policy on overdrafts I can give to you. You will have to monitor it and if it goes into the red it is your turn to make pleading phone calls or to go to friends for loans or to troll Craigslist for weird cash-paying gigs. I’m done doing that. I don’t ever want to dress up as Tony the Tiger at a Walmart again. It’s all you now.
I’m sure you have a lot to say. The truth is, I will listen to it. But I won’t believe anything you promise or say you will try. You can stay up late tonight and get drunk and write an impassioned email to everyone you know that is thoughtful and moving. I don’t really care. I just want to see you do something. I want to see you going to therapy and AA meetings and making good choices and thinking about the future and modeling what it means to be an adult for our kids. I want you to live like you know how good you have it. And like everything isn’t about you and your issues. I want you to look at what you have as if you’ve seen third world poverty, and as if here, in our first world you know what it’s like to live with no plumbing and not enough food and holes in your shoes. Because you DO know what that is like! You have been there. Yet somehow, this is still not enough for you. I want you to be grateful and kind and generous.
I feel I have become less grateful and less kind and less generous with you. I don’t want to be with someone who pulls me down. I want to live a life of giving back, of making a difference and changing lives. I want to be involved in our community, in our neighborhood and in our city. I want my children to see that as part of what life is, not just ideas we talk about when we see them on the screen. I want to be active and live out my beliefs. I used to think we had the same beliefs, but I don’t see any of that in you. Not right now. Not in actions. Not IRL.
I love you. But it’s harder and harder to see that as a good thing. I have dreaded saying all this for a long time. I think because I never wanted to be with someone I would have to say all this too. I have wanted you to see this, to see me, to see what I’ve been living through, without me pointing it out. I’ve wanted you to see and to lift me up and hold me and say it’s okay. To tell me you will take care of me. That you will fix it.
I have never gotten that message from you. Ever. You have never made me feel cared for, or safe.
I have dreaded admitting that. But there it is.
I’m not sure what’s next. I guess that depends on you.