Fliss Baker, 34, has been in a relationship with her boyfriend, 43, for two years. He has a successful career in the music industry, but is secretly battling alcoholism. Here, with refreshing honesty, she shares their journey and how it feels to love and live with an addict
I am in love with a tall, handsome, hilariously funny and thoughtful man who loves me back with all his heart.
I know how fortunate I am to have a man like him: a great career in the music industry, a good salary and a wide circle of friends. But he’s also battling secret demons that make the relationship feel, at times, impossible.
Looking back, despite him being totally functional in every area of his life, the signs of alcoholism were there from the beginning – the mood swings; the lies when his eyes used to dodge my own; the day he went out to ‘buy milk’ but returned an hour later argumentative and defensive – I just didn’t know how to spot them. There were so many times I questioned my own sanity.
When he drank, he became angry and critical, ridiculing me for my flaws. His work in the music industry had exposed him to drink and drugs, and normalised his reckless behaviour. It was only six months in when, after a particularly heavy drinking session, the admission came coldly: ‘I’m an alcoholic’.
I initially thought, ‘Great, he’s admitted his problem, things will get better now’, but I was hopelessly naive. An admittance is far from a resolution and I was advised by AA family support that his addictive behaviour was ingrained; his father was a heavy drinker, too. Even if he could abandon the drink, the pattern of behaviour was likely to continue.
He might perform well at work, have a wide social circle and appear to be functioning in every way on a high level, but he was secretly battling an addiction that was ultimately tearing him apart.
Addiction was not part of my family background, but my dad battled depression, which really affected me. Some say you are attracted to those who resemble your own parents and I think I have grown up always trying to see the good in people. Maybe this led to me being a ‘fixer’ and wanting to help others, often putting their needs before my own.
After the admission he began counselling. He’d be totally dry for weeks and we’d celebrate with a lovely evening meal. But the following day, he’d slip back again, a false sense of security and a desire to celebrate his success triggering another episode. One such occasion began at 8am after a perfect night together. As I woke up bleary eyed, I watched him stumble into the room and fall into the chest of drawers, whisky bottle in hand. You think you’ll cry with disappointment but the truth is, you don’t. A numbness takes over as your fear becomes real and you’re forced to accept it has happened again.
I love my boyfriend dearly, and want to have children with him, but we live life on a cycle of unpredictability, constantly wondering when he’ll turn to drink instead of loving me. I used to question why I wasn’t enough until I accepted one simple fact: he’s an addict – I never will be.
I’ve learned that part of being with an alcoholic is cutting yourself off emotionally when the shit hits the fan. It’s being supportive as well as recognising when to walk away. I’ve lovingly cuddled him while he cries with frustration but I’ve also angrily walked out the door when his drink has spewed negativity and self-destruction. I am there for him, but I have to protect myself.
The thing is, I know I could walk away at any point but I have chosen to stay. Why? Because I accept that he’s battling an illness and that the positive things about his personality outweigh the bad.
Thankfully, I’ve had excellent therapy and have amazing friends and family, all of whom are broad-minded, insightful and supportive. They have helped me to realistically set my expectations, reminding me to look after myself, and I’ve developed great empathy as a result. I now respect that every day is a challenge for him and I truly believe we can win the battle together. As his therapist says, it’s one day at time. Not just for him but for me, too.