An old French advertisement touting the nourishing qualities of beer for nursing mothers. “This woman drinks beer; this one doesn’t” (Note that these days, one is encouraged to wait two hours after drinking a beer before nursing the baby.)

A few weeks after I turned twenty-one, I fell in love with a recovering alcoholic and, in an act of solidarity, gave up alcohol. Though I wasn’t a big drinker, I fancied Merlot and honeyed ales and was still a bit intoxicated by the novelty of legal drinking. Ben’s sobriety was quite new. Quitting drinking was not merely a monumental necessity for our relationship; he would be the first to tell you that his life depended on it. It wasn’t a hard decision for me to swear off alcohol as well. Indeed, it struck me as a deeply romantic sacrifice, a tangible means of proving my love. When we married a less than year later we reluctantly did not include Communion in our wedding liturgy because the Episcopal priest wouldn’t let us swap out grape juice for the sacramental wine.

Perhaps you caught the red flags in that opening paragraph. Perhaps you noted that I was really young, that we rushed into marriage rather quickly, that Ben disregarded the conventional wisdom about not getting into relationships when one is newly sober. Perhaps you correctly surmised that the first few years of our marriage were incredibly difficult as we sorted through my co-dependence and his underlying reasons for addiction and, well, started actually getting to know one another.

As it turns out, the more I know my husband the more I love him. And one of the things I love most about him is that he is just as stubbornly committed to our imperfect yet utterly remarkable marriage as I am. We have worked crazy hard on our relationship. We have spent gads of time and money on marriage counseling (when we finally “graduated” I briefly considered asking our therapist how many  sessions we’d had, but realized I really don’t want to know).

We celebrated our tenth anniversary last July, shortly before we celebrated Ben’s eleventh year of sobriety. When we toasted our happy family at the funky beachside restaurant on Lake Michigan, there was pop in his glass and beer in mine.

Part of our healing process was rediscovering that we are two separate people. I could support Ben in his sobriety, but I could not do it for him. After a great deal of conversation and prayer, we decided it was safe for me to drink again, after eight years of prohibition.

I had finally admitted that I actually wanted to drink. It seemed silly and dangerous – my husband’s sobriety for a craft beer? – but at the same time it felt powerful and freeing and healthy. I was not trading my husband’s sobriety for a fleeting pleasure; his sobriety had long since been extricated from mine. He was stronger – so much stronger – and most importantly, he had relearned how to walk the steps that have been a life-saving grace for so many formerly-stumbling drunks.

Last night while Ben was at his weekly meeting, I opened a new winter porter. I am unsurprisingly nerdy about my drinking. I want to learn all I can about brewing processes, and drink what the connoisseurs declare sublime. I was curious about this porter, and took to the internet to find more information. The brewery referred to it as nourishing. I found this moving and wonderfully familiar. The same drink that is poison to my husband is nourishing to me. The same drink that could have killed my beloved Ben gives me joy.

I used to despise and distrust the story of Jesus turning water into wine. It struck me as an unnecessary betrayal of my husband. But now I rejoice in the biblical miracle, and the miracle we have witnessed in our marriage: Ben’s whiskey turned into Coca-Cola. My water turned into ale.

Cheers.

And thanks be to God.

13 comments

  1. I love how succinctly but warmly you laid out the journey of your marriage so far. I can’t imagine all of the heavy conversations and emotional complications that must have been involved, but the end result–discovering that you are two separate people and cannot fight the other’s personal battles–is so refreshing. Grace for you, grace for him.

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  2. Oh, how I love this. “Ben’s whiskey turned into Coca-Cola. My water turned into ale.”

    Katherine, your story is so similar to that of an older couple that’s very close to our family, and it’s so affirming to see their journey mirrored back to me in your own, in such beautiful, wise, and grace-filled words.

    Thanks for that.

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    • Thank you, Anne. It is amazing to realize how many people can tell real stories of healing and recovery – of bodies, of spirits, of marriages.

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  3. I am smiling over here – in wonder at God’s goodness and how wonderfully specific it is to each of our funky hearts, and in sheer delight at how beautifully you told this story.

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    • Thank you. I really loved writing this one, to be honest. This is one of my favorite stories to tell.

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  4. I’m smiling, too, Katherine.

    Marriage is hard; I envy (and can’t help but be skeptical) those who seem to never lose the honeymoon.

    When you fight for it, grow through it, know who you are as an individual and as one, those are the best of times.

    Is it wrong that I loved your graphic? :)

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  5. Agreeing with Amanda on this one, Katherine. Congratulations for working through the tough stuff and ‘graduating’ to acceptance and individuality within companionship and partnership. Killer combo!

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  6. Reading your blog was like a mirror of my first marriage. I grew up in an alcoholic family and carried on the “family tradition”. My wife had no clue to the Hell she said “I do” to. Once I turned back to God, he took me off the booze and became my pain killer.

    During the last three years of her life were the best and worst of our lives. Her illness brought an openness and intimacy into our marriage and the strain taxed my physical and emotional limits.

    I remarried without the baggage I brought to the first, and our life is amazing. God helped me heal emotionally and I not having a “need” for pain killers, enjoy an occasional glass of wine with Connye. At ten years, we revel in each other’s presence.

    Continue to enjoy your “honey moon” encouraging other’s it can happen for them also. God bless.

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    • Thank you for sharing your story, Gary. I am so glad you have experienced healing and joy, despite the wounds and losses you have sustained. God bless you and Connye, too.

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