When I first saw Beth Wednesday, she looked like a woman who had just won the lottery. She was grinning from ear to ear and looked as though she might start bouncing off of walls at any moment.
“I passed! I passed! I made it!” she told me, as though she assumed I knew what that meant.
I was in an office on a college campus and Beth had just come out of a computer lab where she had checked her final grades for the semester. She had passed all of her finals and she had excellent grades. She had successfully completed her first semester of nursing school.
She explained all this to me and told me that she was so excited that she had to tell someone — and I was the first random stranger she saw. It made me happy to see her so jubilant, so I asked her to step in and tell me more.
Beth is about 40. On this day, she seemed on top of the world. But she kept telling me that she had been afraid she would “blow it.” I kidded her about whether she has a history of negative self-talk.
“Have you been talking to my therapist?” she asked jokingly. “Seriously, that’s what she’s always telling me, that I’m always expecting the worst and saying bad things to myself, but that’s the way it’s felt since my husband left in the middle of the semester.”
All of a sudden, this happy story sounded much more interesting to me — and more complicated.
Beth explained that her husband had suddenly left her four weeks ago. There’s nothing that unusual about a marriage breaking up, but the reason was interesting.
Beth and her husband have been married for seven years. They met a couple of years before that — while they were both in recovery for alcohol addiction.
“We met through friends when we had both started recovery,” she said. “We supported each other and did a lot of work to escape where we were. It was mostly alcohol, but with some weed mixed in. No hard drugs. But we both reached the point where we couldn’t be what we wanted to be and keep drinking. The alcohol was a crutch and it had taken over our lives. So we were both at the same place. We wanted out of that life.”
Although the relationship was great from the beginning, neither of them wanted to marry quickly. They wanted to make sure they were both sober and sure of what they were doing. When they married two years later, everything seemed great. And their seven years together have been good — as far as Beth knew before four weeks ago.
“He came to me and said he was leaving,” she said. “You could have knocked me over with a feather. I didn’t know anything was wrong.”
It turned out that her husband had started drinking again, behind her back. He’s a musician who plays in a band part-time. He started drinking on gigs, first a little bit, then a lot. He hid it well, but he wanted to drink even more — and he couldn’t do that with her. He also hid the fact that he had met another woman.
“I don’t want to go back to that life,” Beth said. “I’ve come so far from where I was. I’m happier with myself and I don’t want to be someone who has to have a bottle to get through life.
“He said we didn’t have anything in common anymore — and I realized he was right if that’s the life he wanted. When he was sober, he was a wonderful partner for me. But if he loves that bottle more than he loves me, we don’t have anything in common.”
Considering the timing — four weeks before her first finals of nursing school — I was surprised that Beth was able to finish the semester. I’ve seen that kind of pressure throw people for a loop and cause them to put life on hold. Actually, I’ve seen a breakup cause me to withdraw from the world and put life on hold, so I know what it’s like.
“I could either keep on going or I could curl up and die,” she said.
Beth told me she wanted to quit. She was depressed. But she focused on finishing the semester and moving on to finish her program.
“I was doing this for both of us,” she said. “We had a good life, but I wanted it to be even better. He said that’s what he wanted, too, but he loved something else more than me.
“I’m doing this for me now. I made a big change when I got sober nine years ago. I need to finish what I started. I’m proud of myself.”
Since she had already finished all of her non-nursing classes before starting the nursing program, Beth only has three semesters until she’s a registered nurse.
“I’m going to miss him, but a life of sanity and sobriety is worth more to me than any man. My self-respect and my future matter to me. I’m not going back to where I came from.”
I’m proud of Beth — of passing her finals and making decisions that are going to get her where she needs to be, rather than in the gutter she lifted herself out of.
Congratulations, Beth, on both points.