The third party in our marriage: alcohol

Emma Campbell and Dave Wilson | May 2021 | 9 minutes

Emma Campbell and Dave Wilson found that their marriage was almost derailed by an unwelcome third party: Dave’s alcohol addiction. Here, they write with brutal and beautiful honesty about how they felt back then, and how Dave going sober has revitalised (and challenged) their marriage.

Emma's story

The tape ran in my head, day after day, when Dave was drinking. Looking back, I was in my own form of denial. Naively thinking Dave could just cut down.

You confuse me, you are confusing. So good by day; decent, funny, kind, gorgeous and steadfast. Then you start to sip sip sip, glug glug glug and your eyes go, your glasses tilt and your hair looks ridiculous. I know it’s the start, that you’ve left the building, except you haven’t and I wish you would but you haven’t and you’re there, watching, criticising, putting us all on edge with your nit, nit, nit picking and your glug, glug, glugging.

Stop drinking, please. No, don’t stop completely because I like drinking with you. I like our shared wine and date nights, the occasional sex and nipping to the pub. But I don’t need five glasses, I don’t need ten. Just one, maybe two, sometimes even three. That warm, fuzzy, tipsy feeling is fine and I cherish that with you but God, slow down, steady yourself, moderate, my darling because I love you and I love us. What we have is so precious and real but the excess, the guaranteed daily excess is slowly but surely destroying our magic.

He stopped and it felt like a miracle.

I was f*cked off at first, when he quit. Hugely proud, but f*cked off too. At how extreme it seemed. Why did it have to get to a point that meant we’d never make drunken love again? Or both breathe out the demands of the day at exactly the same moment? Blurred edges, softened lines making all seem well with the world.

Removing the blurry lens of intoxication, would ‘Sober Dave’ wake up and realise that he’d found himself in the wrong life, with the wrong person?

Overflowing glasses touching and then our lips. The briefest of moments that I told myself were love. Those moments weren’t love though, because those moments always, always, led to love’s opposite. Fear, withdrawal, disconnection.

At first I needed reassurance that what had drawn us together would remain. Removing the blurry lens of intoxication, would ‘Sober Dave’ wake up and realise that he’d found himself in the wrong life, with the wrong person?

No. Dave became present. Reborn, in a way. The ground we stood on as a couple evened out and as I found myself facing a third run in with cancer within days of him quitting, the timing was impeccable. I could lean in, fully and unafraid. Finally.

Dave's story

This was a typical Sunday, when I was drinking…

Another day, another hangover. I feel dead inside and desperately disconnected from my beautiful Em. I’ve lost control. My drinking has become a category five hurricane destroying everything in its path.

The evidence of a lifetime of alcohol abuse is etched all over my face, with the accompanying weight gain expressed by my gut hanging over my loosened jeans as I lean against the desk in our garden office.

Glancing through the misted office window, I can see into the living room - the kids flailing over the sofa, once again squashing the faded navy cushions that, over the course of a day, Em repeatedly fluffs and straightens at least 25 times. She is broken from yet another argument, another night alone in bed probably wondering how things have gone so drastically wrong in such a short space of time.

Suddenly, the garden door flies open and Em’s storming towards me with an expression I haven’t seen before. “I cannot cope with another day of this bullshit!” she yells, her voice cracking. “I just can’t take it anymore!”

I stare at her without saying a word. What have I done? My denial is at an all-time high. I’ve pushed away the woman I adore, cherish and love more than any other I’ve known. My drinking and subsequent behaviour have reduced her to a shadow of the vibrant, positive person I met four years earlier.

I’ve pushed away the woman I adore, cherish and love more than any other I’ve known. My drinking and subsequent behaviour have reduced her to a shadow of the vibrant, positive person I met four years earlier.

When you’re drowning in booze, you slip easily into victimhood and lose the ability to see beyond your own self-absorbed state. It spreads like wildfire; affecting all around you and destroying them far quicker than you because they have no real choice.

Em hasn’t ever given me an ultimatum but I’ve got to say, this feels scarily close to one.

She stands in front of me sobbing and I’m desperate to reach out but I just stand there feeling pathetic. Eventually Em’s tears slow, she wipes her face and leaves the office. I feel sick. I feel like I’ve betrayed her which, of course, I have.

I’ve always been quite impulsive so when I told Em that I was going to stop drinking I did worry that I’d made yet another decision that I wouldn’t be able to stick to. Things were so shaky between us by this point that I knew her faith in me was running out. But, after just a few days of no booze I was already feeling the benefits and that was all I needed to spur me on.

I went for my newfound sobriety full throttle and within a few weeks I’d already attended a big and extremely boozy birthday party without caving. I’d also cooked several Sunday roasts without the obligatory beer. In January, I celebrated two years of sobriety.

There have been tough patches and low points, of course, but with the right tools, support and mindset I’ve taken back control and that feels incredible. Life is good, my health has improved dramatically, I sleep well, my anxiety levels are reduced and all of my relationships are vastly improved. Best of all, I now sleep in our marital bed every single night.