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.