| print this
It started quite casually. Then, almost
before I knew it, my life had become a nightmare.
Was an Alcoholic Housewife
still isn't clear to me why I did it, but at two o'clock
that September afternoon in 1963, I walked into the kitchen
of our suburban home and made myself a martini. It tasted
good. I made myself another, and settled back in my chair
to let the delightful euphoria wash over me. I felt wonderful.
How different this was from the usual 5:30 cocktail, when
I was constantly jumping up to settle the children's squabbles
or to stir something on the stove. And what could be the
harm in it? I asked myself. It was just this one time....
the beginning, I promised myself I would have only two martinis
each afternoon, starting at two o'clock. That would give
me plenty of time to collect myself before the children
got home from school. Within three weeks the promise had
gone by the wayside. Two drinks were no longer enough. I
decided to start at 1:30 so I could have three martinis
and still not be so intoxicated that the children, who were
8 and 11 years old, would notice. Also, the two hours between
their arrival at 3:30 and my husband's at 5:30 gave me enough
time to sober up.
at least to appear sober, which was the important thing.
To be on the safe side, I stopped greeting my husband with
a kiss each evening - a perfunctory ritual which I felt
sure he could take or leave after 14 years of marriage.
I missed it, though.
Weekends presented a real problem. I began to count the
hours until five o'clock, when I could legitimately have
that strong, life-restoring nectar. Soon I convinced my
husband that we should let our hair down a little on weekends
and have two or three martinis before dinner, instead of
just one. He said it was all right with him, and make a
joking remark about our becoming regular lushes. He didn't
know how right he was about one of us. Later, I became desperate
enough to do my weekend drinking behind the locked door
of our bathroom.
My addiction built steadily and, before I realized it, I
had become a morning as well as an afternoon drinker. Well,
so what? I said to myself; plenty of people have drinks
before lunch - just look in any restaurant at noontime.
I didn't have any problem.
truth was, I had several. For one thing, I could no longer
stay asleep at night. I had no trouble falling asleep, thanks
to the soporific effects of alcohol, but I frequently woke
up around one or two in the morning and lay sleepless till
dawn, when I'd finally doze off again. (I didn't know until
later that such wakefulness is common among chronic drinkers.)
Because of this erratic sleep pattern, I seldom got up to
fix the children's breakfast and get them off to school.
And my hands trembled. But several fast martinis, I found,
would take care of the shakes.
Paying for all the gin, yet keeping my husband from noticing,
presented another problem. (By the time I had been secretly
drinking for a year and a half, the liquor store was delivering
a $60 case of gin every two weeks. I told the deliveryman
we entertained a lot.) I wrote cash checks in larger and
larger amounts. When my husband asked where all the money
was going, I told him the children were growing so fast
that they constantly needed new clothes and shoes and...things.
I pointed out proudly that I hadn't bought anything for
myself in ages. He said rather wistfully, "I wish you
would. Frankly darling, you've been looking terrible lately."
burst into tears, something I was doing more and more frequently
now. What really hurt was that I had already come to the
same conclusion, but had hoped it was just my imagination.
As a former campus queen, I found this pretty hard to take.
It didn't occur to me that the enormous amount of alcohol
I was consuming kept my facial muscles sagging at least
16 hours a day. I looked ten years older than my actual
One day I asked my oldest daughter why she no longer brought
friends home. She said, "Are you kidding? I wouldn't
bring my friends into this crummy house." I slapped
her across the face, something I had never done before.
We had a lovely house, and I kept it as clean as my flagging
energy permitted. No, she had every reason to be proud of
her home, I told myself; so it must be something else.
got the shock of my life, therefore, when I overheard a
playmate tell my daughter, "Your mother's an alcoholic."
"So?" she had countered defensively. "What's
wrong with having an alcoholic mother?"
The children had known all along! Then a terrifying thought
struck me: Had they told their father? Was it possible that
he, too, knew, yet had never once mentioned it? I had no
easy way of finding out, for I couldn't bear the indignity
of asking the children. I decided then and there to stop
lay awake most of that night, and by noon the next day every
bone in my body ached. Every fiber of my being cried out
for the panacea I was denying it. In a blind panic, I frenziedly
poured a wafer glass full of gin, my hands shaking so violently
that I spilled half the bottle. As I gulped down the glistening
liquid, I could feel the agony gradually subsiding. Then
I finally knew the terrible truth: I was hooked. I couldn't
degrading episode followed another. When people stared at
me in public, I now knew it wasn't a tribute to my good
looks, but curiosity about why a woman like me reeked of
gin at 11 a.m. No longer was I under the delusion that frequent
mouth washing and chlorophyll tablets did the trick - especially
after my dentist rather pointedly donned a surgical mask
halfway through filling one of my teeth. I vividly recall
the night I fell down in the middle of the country-club
dance floor. Even in my drunken fog I was mortified. I had
several close calls on the highways. Once, while driving
at.65m.p.h. with one eye shut (a measure I found increasingly
necessary to compensate for double vision), I came within
an inch of sideswiping another car. It may seem incredible
that anyone would attempt to drive in that condition, but
that's an example of how little judgment drunks have. Besides,
I didn't feel drunk; I just was.
worried constantly about my health and about my husband's
increasing rejection of me. I no longer drank for pleasure;
I had to do it to be able to function at all. Unless I had
a stiff eye- opener the moment I got out of bed, even a
simple task like brushing my teeth was too much for me.
But my mind kept returning to the afternoon, several years
before, when my husband and I had sat at the bedside of
a cherished friend, age 40, as he suffered through the final,
hideous throes of an alcoholic death. I knew what was in
store if I didn't stop drinking, and soon. But How?
answer came in a most unexpected way.
I was not fully awake that Wednesday morning when I heard
an odd, muffled clatter at the front door. Befuddled by
sleep and a thundering hangover, I dragged myself out of
bed. Then I heard my husband's voice pleading weakly, "Help
me..." Incredulous, I ran to the door and found him
sprawled there. "Can't see... hurry," he gasped.
I called an ambulance and ran back to him. His face and
neck were swollen beyond belief. When the ambulance arrived,
the attendants took one look, told me to call our doctor
at once, then sped off with my husband, siren screaming.
the phone, our doctor told me that my husband had been in
to see him earlier that morning about a facial swelling.
The doctor diagnosed it as an infection resulting from the
extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth two weeks before.
He gotten my husbands assurance that he was not allergic
to penicillin, given him a massive injection, and sent him
Suddenly the situation came clear to me: my husband was
in penicillin shock! I knew it could be fatal in a matter
of minutes. I was shaking all over and not just from a lack
of alcohol, as I sped to the hospital (with both eyes open
for a change). I stopped at the admission desk long enough
to find out where my husband was, then flew down the corridor
and burst through the emergency-room door. The small room
was filled with doctors, nurses and orderlies working over
of the doctors gently led me out into a corridor while I
peppered him with questions. Yes, he was in penicillin reaction
- one of the most brutal he had ever seen. My husband couldn't
breath; the inside of his throat had swollen shut, and they
were just about to do a tracheotomy.
stood in the corridor, listening to the terrible racking
sounds my husband made as he fought to survive. My knees
began to buckle. I sank down in the nearest chair and cried.
Then I began to pray. "Dear Lord, please don't take
him away from me. I'll do anything if only you will let
him live." I paused for a second to search my soul.
"I promise never to touch another drop of liquor as
long as I live if you were to spare his life and help him
get well again. You alone know how hard that will be but
with your help I can do it. Dear God, please let him live."
About ten minutes later, the doctor came toward me from
the emergency room, I ran to him. He was smiling. "His
blood pressure and respiration are improving steadily,"
he said. "It's amazing. Until a few minutes ago, we
didn't think he had a chance. Now we have every reason to
believe he's going to make it. It's almost like a miracle."
he was talking, I sent up a fervent prayer of silent thanks,
ending with "I'll keep my part of the bargain, Lord."
And I did.
those first few weeks three years ago were agony, there
was never any question in my mind that I might break my
promise. How could I fail a God who had given me back my
beloved husband - and subsequently the love and respect
of my children, my health and, finally, my own self-respect?
To throw away such priceless blessings twice in a lifetime,
one would have to be the worst kind of fool. And that, thank
God, I no longer am.
Reader's Digest, September 1968)