Keeping the Family Together Through Cancer, Alcoholism, and Adultery
Life Keeps Going
Sometimes life seems to be perfect—like when you find the love of your life, get married, and have hopes and expectations of what the future will hold. Often this occurs in your early to mid 20's. Everything is possible at this time in your life. Enjoy every moment of it while you can. Other times. life will knock you down and continuously stomp on you until you think you cannot take any more. This article is not meant to be a downer; quite the opposite actually. If you read my history you will see that I am a 6-year brain cancer survivor with an amazing daughter and a wonderful husband. Here is the rub though: we all make mistakes. This is about some of mine and how I am choosing to deal with them.
No matter what life throws at you, remember that tomorrow holds new hope, and your response to the situation will play a major part in how you come through the situation. (Note: This is not to say that the situation will end the way you want it to. That is called delusion, and after what I have been through I highly recommend not living in the world of delusion as it will only lead to other issues, as you can read below.)
Cancer is a dreaded word for legitimate reasons. It dramatically affects not only the person diagnosed, but also the entire family and any friends you may have. Do not underestimate the importance of getting immediate help for all of everyone in the family. No matter where the cancer is, or how your treatment goes, you will still need professional help, as will those closest to you.
For my family the biggest issue that arose from my diagnosis was the fact that we lost our sense of invincibility. This affected my husband as much if not more so than me. Being diagnosed so young—I was only thirty-three years old—altered every plan we had. We were unable to have a second child as we had planned, and we could no longer work together as we had previously. We spent so much time on my illness that we forgot to live. We neglected our marriage, and we had to help our daughter get back up to grade-level in school. Everything changed, and it was nothing that either of us had done.
Cancer will erode everything you once thought to be true, and it creates a fear and anger that cannot be addressed on your own. Yes, there are the 5 stages of grief, and I recommend reading anything you can, but each of us responds differently. When you are in the middle of treatment, there is very little way to see your way through the trees while you are simply struggling to stay alive.
Take the time to get treatment both mentally and physically. Make sure everyone involved gets help no matter how well they seem to be handling things. The stress will lead anyone to crack—and people may deal with this rupture in one of the following ways: self-medicating (alcohol or other drugs), porn (yes, I know this is a taboo subject, but it is a stress reliever that is readily accessible online and cannot be ignored), or an extra-marital affair.
In our case, we fell prey to each and every one of the above. This is what cancer did to us...
Alcoholism is defined as a broad term for when drinking alcohol results in problems. This is incredibly vague and please do not think that if you have a drink this is you. In our case a drink a night turned into two drinks a night, and from there it escalated until I was drinking a box of wine a night, and my husband was drinking 9-12 beers per night. This is clearly a problem by any standard, but we were so busy trying to survive that there was no guardrail for us. I will start with myself and then talk about what happened to my husband.
Shortly after the surgery I started drinking. When I say drinking I am not referring to a glass a night but rather a box of wine a night. This was not a good way of handling things, and not only did it make me irritable at that time, but the next morning, as well. I would be dehydrated, hung over, and for some reason after the surgery it is almost like the alcohol gets stuck in my scar tissue. Overall, while I was having a great time in my own world self-medicating, my husband was left trying to make sense of whether my randomness came from my surgery or the alcohol. I am not proud to say that I did this for almost a year. I simply could not handle the reality of what I had to deal with. I chose to drown my problems, and while it did not actually get rid of any of them, the results caused another set of problems with my husband.
When one family member has a problem with alcohol, other family members sometimes follow suit. Our family was no different. As I drank, my husband did as well. When I stopped, he could not face reality without it any longer. In turn, he began to drink even more. We are all aware alcohol lowers our inhibitions. I was on sleep medication at this time, so he was up alone at night, confused and frustrated, and he found other lonely people online to talk to. I was so wrapped up in my own care that I lost track of him. This is not an excuse, but it is reality.
The alcohol created a situation where he believed he was having deep, meaningful conversations with these people online, and in turn he would drink more to stay up longer and continue this feeling. The alcohol created a perfect storm for yet another crisis to enter our family. (Now don't think that it was the only factor, it is simply one of the contributors.) It was not for many years that everything came to a head and we were able to start addressing his issues.
We have been told that when a crisis occurs people will resort to any means in order to survive. In today's world, many people turn to alcohol, porn, or adultery in order to cope. All allow you to escape reality for a short period of time. In our case we hit the trifecta, but I will combine porn and adultery because in my mind (which for this article is what matters), they are completely linked.
After enough time alone at night due to my sleep medication, my husband turned to looking at porn. This is not something I am proud of, but I am sharing the reality what happened when our family didn't deal with issues surrounding cancer. I must be honest, even when it is embarrassing. Porn is not what it was when I was growing up 40 years ago. It is not a magazine tucked under the bed—it is online, constantly accessible, easily hidden, and virtually impossible to track unless you are watching your significant other as you would your child with software. Maybe I should have done that. I was too worried about myself at the time to do so.
Over time he progressed from looking at pictures and videos to watching a webcam. This allowed some interaction, but he found quickly that the sites were geared toward making money. He knew better than to spend anything that could be tracked, so he moved to online chat sites. Again he was only looking to escape for a little while. This worked, too. He would wait until I took my medicine, then build his courage with the alcohol and go online. From this two different issues arose. He was able to set up one meet where he held a one-night stand with a woman he had met online. In addition, he formed a bond with another woman that he was not able to meet in person, but this was the one that brought things to a head. He engaged in cybersex frequently from what I found later, which, blessedly for us, I don't consider to be real sex. (Yes, there are differing opinions on this subject, but for my sanity and for my family I choose to keep my position that talking to someone about what you would do if you were together is just a fantasy. A fantasy is what he was looking for, anyway.)
Over time he got sloppy and was caught with the girl he had formed a bond with. She was young (of age, but when you are my age anyone under 35 seems young), and he had all the time in the world to talk while I was asleep. He filled a place in her world that was easily paid with a few cute duck lip pictures of herself and a couple of pics in a swimsuit. He was able to avoid life on a constant basis until the night I caught him on the phone with her at 4am.
I had just switched my medications, and the new one was not working. He had become so accustomed to his patterns that he never thought twice about talking late at night and long into the morning. He was still going to school and his life was crap, as far as he was concerned. I knew all of this but had no idea that he was perpetuating the situation by talking to people who would commiserate with him and allow him to stay in that world.
Ironically I was not mad at the time. I was hurt and frustrated, but I was also calm. The only fight we had was when I took the phone from him. I had to do so forcibly, and I do not regret that decision. It did not take long for her to call back and for me to put all the pieces together.
He was beyond furious. I had taken away his outlet. She now knew about me. (News flash ladies, a young woman who is infatuated does not care if a man is married. I knew this; he did not yet.) She believed I was dead and that he was going to be moving in with her shortly. He wanted out of everything and just wanted to be left alone. It was a brutal night where many things were said that could have completely destroyed us. He told me about the alcohol, the one-night stand, the cyber sex, the woman he was planning on leaving me for, the horrendous experience that had become his life. (Make no mistake—roles could have easily been reversed. Any spouse, male or female, could have fallen into the trap he created for himself.)
What YOU Have Control Over
This brings us to the crux of the situation. At this point the spouse who has been hurt has multiple options, and how you respond can and will affect the outcome. As for us, our future is still uncertain, but no matter what happens now it will be done from a place of logic and reason, not emotion.
The night everything blew up I had a couple of options. I don't know how it is I chose to proceed the way I did, but I consider it to be by the grace of God. About three days prior to finding everything out I began reading Steven Covey's book, Desperate Marriages. I firmly believe this is how I was able to reason my way through the situation. I knew one thing he did not realize: He was still here with me, not with her. Even though he'd had ample opportunity to do so without my intervention, he chose to not go the extra step that would have formed something there.
He was in a place of sheer emotion, driven by sex and alcohol. There was absolutely no way to have a real conversation at that point in time. I was fully aware of this and refused to jump in emotionally myself. I listened to everything he hurled at me, and I wrote it down to come back to at a later time, but I did not rise to the bait. After two hours of hearing every reason he could come up with about why he should be allowed to leave me and go be with her, he finally came back to reality.
The second reaction I could have had was to yell at him, break things, kick him out, and tell him how worthless he was. This would have only contributed to his belief that he was justified in what he had done, and that he should continue to pursue his relationship. Had I responded that way I believe he would have left our family, he would not be in counseling, our daughter would have lost her father, and he would be on a downward spiral for many years to come.
The reality is that once you are married with a child, there is no way to separate completely and you are truly bonded for life. This does not necessarily mean that I will be able to save my marriage. It does not necessarily mean he will come to terms with the new role of provider that life has given him. It does not necessarily mean that I know what tomorrow holds. But I do know that he is the father of my child, and that he was hurt at the same time I was. He did not get professional help at the time, and now I have two options.
Option 1: I can give up, kick him out, and get a divorce. I have every biblical and legal reason to do so. I could kick him out today, let him figure it out on his own, watch his downward spiral, and enjoy watching him hurt the way he hurt me.
Option 2: I can choose hope. I can help him get the counseling he needs in order to address the trauma he suffered during the time of the tumor and its aftermath. I can support him, love him, and let him get out the things he needs to (even though they are hurtful themselves). Then, even if it does not work out, he will be in a better place to be a better father to our daughter.
I choose option 2.
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