I hadn’t had any real interest in dating anyone since my college boyfriend and I broke up over two years ago.
So when I met Mike* at a new job and I found myself thinking about him all the time, I was in another world.
I felt like I was in high school again; excited to get ready for work, knowing I would get to see him.
Things started off as they typically do. We hung out all the time, had first kisses and butterflies. We shared life stories and learned about each other.
Early into the relationship, Mike shared with me that he had just gotten out of rehab. Talk about a red flag.
But I really liked him and hadn’t felt that way in what felt like forever for a 23-year-old, so we talked about it.
I learned he was an alcoholic.
He had been sober for about a month and a half; it was not a long time at all, but it had been the only time he was sober in the last four or five years.
He told me he never wanted to go back to how he was before and I believed him. I still do.
We continued to date, and everything was going well for the most part. I certainly wouldn’t call it a normal relationship. We had a few extra hiccups along the way.
Mike and I lived completely differently lifestyles. I am a bartender and a waitress. I was around alcohol all the time, and when I finished work, I enjoyed a couple drinks with my friends.
Mike couldn’t step foot in a bar; it was too much temptation, too early into his recovery.
So naturally, our activities and dates all took place in places where alcohol wasn’t a main focal point. This definitely had its advantages.
I cut down on my drinking, we didn’t have stupid drunken fights after the bar like many couples my age do and we got to know each other even better; we actually held conversations.
I had the chance to learn a lot about him in a short period of time.
He told me all about his time in rehab, and how much he hated how alcohol could control him. I watched him struggle. I saw him try to fight his need to drink.
He tried filling the void with other distractions, keeping busy and working as much as he could. I was supportive and there for him, but I quickly learned I couldn’t make him stay sober.
Over time, the lifestyle differences wore at us. I wanted to be able to take him out with my friends, and he didn’t want to worry about what I was doing out on a Friday night till 2 am.
But we made it work as long as we could.
Then on our way to my house one day, he told me he drank the previous weekend. My stomach dropped.
I knew there was a high possibility that he would end up relapsing at some point, but I didn’t think it would only be two months into our relationship.
At first I appreciated the honesty. It couldn’t have been easy to tell me, and that really meant a lot.
Once we were home, I asked him questions about his drinking that weekend: How much did you drink? Are you okay? Do you think you’re going to drink again, or was it a one-time thing?
He wanted to drink again.
I had mentally prepared for this moment. I thought if/when he relapses, he will have to choose whether or not he is going to continue to drink, or if he will realize how stupid it is and stop.
I wasn't prepared for option one.
After talking to him, I decided I was okay with him drinking at dinner that night.
I know this is a controversial decision.
Of course, I didn’t want him to drink, but I also knew I couldn’t stop him. And me telling him, “No, I won’t let you” certainly wasn’t going to stop him or help him.
If it was something he wanted to do, he would find a way to do it. And honestly, I wanted to know what I would be dealing with if he continued to drink.
So I opened Pandora’s box.
I am still not sure if this was a good or a terrible idea.
I wanted a taste of what things would be like if he continued to drink while we were dating, and boy did I get it.
This was, without a doubt, the downfall of our relationship.
I saw the difference between someone wanting a drink and needing one.
Mike couldn’t get them down fast enough, and "one more" was never going to cut it. When we went back to my place, I told him how hard it was for me to watch him drink like that.
He knew I wasn’t going to be able to date him if he went back to drinking. It was never an ultimatum, more of a general understanding. Our relationship would not survive.
We both ignored this for a couple weeks more.
We tried to find the way back to how it was before, but there was no going back.
I had lost trust, and I felt myself being more of a mother to him.
I was constantly worried about whether or not he was drinking when we weren’t together, or if he was already drunk when I did see him.
It was no way for either of us to live our lives.
I tried talking to him about the reasons he may have turned to drinking in the first place, to see if he knew what his triggers were. I'm no therapist, but I thought maybe it would make a difference if it was me he was talking to.
He immediately shut me out saying, “I’ve never thought about what makes me want to drink and I don’t want to."
I was shocked.
And that’s when I realized he wasn’t ready to change.
I remember telling him that I just wish he hadn’t had that one drink, or that he only had a few when we had gone to dinner.
But it didn’t matter what I wished.
I couldn’t make the choice for him.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.