Three years ago, my boyfriend and I broke up after spending almost eight years together. It wasn't because we fell out of love. It was because in year seven of our relationship, I lost my boyfriend to alcoholism.
Today, I am finally in a place where I want to share that story. There is nothing that hurts more than losing someone you love. There is also no experience that will make you stronger.
I experienced months where I thought I was losing my mind, months in which I trusted a liar and months that I tried to fix him.
At first, he forgot little things during conversations. My boyfriend, studying to become a doctor, suddenly couldn't remember what time of day it was. He was the most supportive person I had in my life at the time, so the more detached he seemed, the more I worried that this living saint was suffering from a serious illness.
But, he was healthy. Doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him, so I was told to not look for anything, either. Instead of worrying, I reminded myself that even though he didn't sleep, he didn't have some incurable disease. Even though he seemed to have lost interest in aspects of our relationship, we had been together forever. So, I assumed that was normal.
He was always there for me, but he just wasn't the same person I fell in love with. He asserted he was fine. I insisted I was there to help. And for half a year, we maintained this stalemate.
We met doing a play in college our freshman year, but we didn't fall in love right away. We were best friends for a whole year before we ever even kissed. But once we got together, it felt like we were in a movie.
This was not something I was looking for, but we liked the same stuff, we had the same sick, sarcastic sense of humor and we made each other laugh so hard I'd pee in my pants. For me, that was love.
With a history like ours, I thought we'd get through anything. We grew up together. We experienced death, divorce, family issues, health problems, big changes and moves, but we still stood by each other's side and knew how to make it all feel OK.
I was scared that at some point in my life, I would want to be with other people or I'd feel stuck. But, I loved this person and thought we could conquer the world together, and that mattered more to me.
Then one day, he broke down. He cried to me and said he had a problem.
He showed me where he was hiding his alcohol. He had hidden himself, his pain and his vodka in water bottles, planted all over our tiny apartment. He wasn't just losing his mind all of the time; he was drunk. He finally let me in on what had been going on.
I didn't know what to say. When he told me he was an alcoholic, I went out for air. And by the time I came back, he was gone. His dad had collected him and returned him to their house in New Jersey. I couldn't get in touch, and his parents (who were not a fan of mine) wouldn't let him speak to me. He didn't want me to know about his problem because he never wanted to hurt me.
What had I done? I agonized over this question, alone in our apartment, listing resolutions as New Year's Day came and went without celebration. I even tried going to an Al-Anon meeting on New Year's Eve to make changes.
It's hard to believe I made it through that day or that week. I was hurting, I was pale, I was too thin and I didn't want to leave my apartment. I blamed myself because no one else could tell me otherwise. I wanted to fix it all, but had no idea where to start.
And despite how unhappy we both were, I thought it would all be worth it if we were together. He commuted in on weekends, we'd see each other and then I'd take him to AA meetings when he was drunk. What kind of life was this?
Finally, it hit me: I wasn't going to be able to make this any better. I had hope that I could make it all OK, but my boyfriend, the boy I met in college, the man whom I lived with for five years, the best friend who ate Domino's with me in bed was gone.
Once you realize you can't change people, the pieces all start to come back together.
The end of our relationship seems like a terrible dream that haunted me for a while. But today, I'm great friends with this other, newer version of my boyfriend. We support each other and love each other, just in a totally different way.
I like to explain it as if it's an overly complicated rom-com: My husband's deceased, he's donated his heart and this man I call my ex-boyfriend was the recipient. It's like the person I loved is sort of there, and I'm excited by the glimmers, but I have to remember he's gone.
Some people think it's weird we're so close. They'll ask if we'll ever get back together.
What I went through made me one tough cookie, but it's not something I'd sign up for again. I believe trust is the most important part of a relationship, and if it's not there, it's not worth it. But, you don't just lose the friendship and memories you built with someone for so long. I knew he'd always still be a part of my life in some way.
He taught me how to be in a loving relationship and to be supportive of someone else's dreams besides my own. More importantly, I learned I wanted to be with someone who isn't afraid to hurt me if it means telling me the truth.
As happy as I am that we're good friends, I'm happier with myself. I'm more spontaneous now. I follow my instincts and go with my heart. I don't put too much pressure on the past or the future, and I try to just "take things one day at a time."
I'm cautious, but carefree. I've gone to the Dominican Republic with a 24-hour notice.
In these past three years, I think I needed to build up my courage again. For a while, I thought I wouldn't know how to live my life without him in it.
But alone? I kill bugs now. I pick up dog shit twice a day. I sleep alone in a big bed. And I'm not closed off to new relationships. Falling in love was one of the best things I ever stumbled into.
At the end of the day, we both want to help people. I want to make people laugh about dicks and death with my love for comedy, and he wants to save the world as a doctor. If our story can comfort people in taking a chance and walking away from something that isn't OK, even if it was once the best, then I'm glad.