The Perfect Life
I had a perfect life. That’s what everyone told me. I was blessed. Lucky. Other women envied me, wishing even for a slice of my life. They envied my handsome successful husband, my three beautiful children, my large home in the best neighborhood. I was quite attractive and always dressed in the latest styles. I never had to go to work. I was free to enjoy the kinds of activities women of leisure enjoy.
I should have been happy. I had what everyone else wanted; what everyone else was sure would make them happy. I felt there was something deeply wrong with me because even though I had all this, I was profoundly dissatisfied.
I was happy enough when my babies were small, until the youngest started school. Suddenly, my days were unfilled. I didn’t quite know what to do with my time. My husband traveled frequently on business and was often gone for days, weeks at a time. I didn’t particularly miss him, but it did leave me lonely for adult company.
I joined a club and met some other women who also needed to fill their days. We gossiped, complained, and bragged over cards, over lunch, in the pool. I needed a challenge so I took tennis lessons, and risibly fell victim to that utterly predicable and clichéd story line: attractive but bored, unhappy housewife has affair with handsome, raffish instructor.
I craved emotional diversion. I was desperate for my blood to run with passion again, to feel that yearning in the heart and loins. I rejoiced to feel alive and desired. I hungered for it like a drug. He began to appear frequently in my dreams and always in my fantasies. I touched myself, imagining it was his hands on me. Everything reminded me of him. I lived for our weekly trysts. He became the main focus of my thoughts and attention. I needed him like oxygen.
The weight of my need was more than he was willing to bear. I was too attached, too needy. I became demanding and weepy. I wanted things from him that were ridiculous to expect from such an ultimately meaningless relationship. I became undignified. And so he broke it off.
I was devastated.
I could not go back to the club. I could not bear to see him with other women. I could not even bear to be out in public, so raw and so vulnerable.
In the beginning, I would have a drink or two in the morning – enough to help me tolerate the empty hours, but early enough in the day so that I would be relatively sober and put together by the time the children came home from school in the afternoon.
After a while, I’d drink just until the moment the first one walked in the door. I thought they were too young to notice. (I was wrong.) Eventually, I didn’t even care enough to hide my drinking — not from the children who seemed not to need me, not from the housekeeper who was smart enough to do her work and mind her business, and not from my husband when he was around. He didn’t seem to notice me much anymore anyway. Other than civil dinners lacking all intimacy, we mostly stayed to ourselves, him in his part of the house and me in mine.
The drinking transformed from something I did to numb my sorrow and loneliness to a genuine addiction. Early on, when necessary, I was capable of functioning out in the world — go to the market, the shops, bank, the hair salon. I’d have just a quick one before setting out and I could tolerate it for a few hours. I didn’t think anyone knew my secret. (I was wrong.)
Over time, it became more important to me to be able to drink at will than to be able to hold myself together for the sake of others. I was aware enough to recognize that in my usual condition. I was too sloppy to be in polite company. When drunk, I was prone to doing embarrassing things. I did not want to bring that humiliation on my family. So I stayed at home. Besides, daylight and other humans had begun to bother me.
Once, while in the middle of figuring that out, I picked up my youngest son and some of his friends at an after-school event. I was quite drunk. The teachers must have noticed my condition, but they dared not stop me from driving. Although it would have been the reasonable thing to do, it was not their place. On the way home, I swerved off the road on a sharp S-curve and came perilously close to a fatal accident. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but the children were terrified and I was deeply shaken.
To my credit, I learned from this incident never to drive in that condition. And since I was almost always in that condition, it was easier to remain inside, curtains drawn.
As my appearance deteriorated, so did my health. I grew soft and sloppy. My face puffed and my muscles sagged. I looked years older than my chronological age. I had gone from the envy of all to the person everyone pitied, including myself.
Towards the end, when my condition was too awful for my family to continue to ignore, they tried to get me some help, but I was already beyond the point of salvation. I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to change. I just wanted to remain numb until I died, which I expected would not take long. I knew it would kill me. I hoped it did so quickly.
My children cried because I loved the bottle more than I loved them. My husband felt guilty for not having gotten me help earlier, when possibly I might have been saved.
But it was not the drink, itself, that did me in. That was a symptom. What destroyed me was my guilt over not being happy despite all that God had given me. According to everyone else, I had everything a woman could desire to achieve maximum satisfaction. If I was unhappy with all this, clearly there was something wrong with me; there was nothing that could make me happy. I was too damaged and undeserving of happiness. If I could have assuaged my guilt by giving those slices of my life to whoever could take benefit from them, I would have. Such advantages were wasted on me.
I had made the grotesque mistake of believing what everyone else did: that money and possessions and status and appearances were the source of happiness. I could have been happy in that my situation, just as anyone can be happy in any situation, if I had simply placed the greatest value on the smallest things.