My ex reverted to Islam and won't communicate

We're both in recovery and we have a daughter -- I wish we could be closer.

By Cary Tennis

Published January 30, 2009 11:31AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have been divorced for four years, at my instigation. My then husband reverted to Islam without telling me, and at the time it seemed the last straw in a dysfunctional relationship in which I had become an alcoholic verbal abuser to his passive-aggressive reformed drunk. We had a child, who became pregnant at 16, six months after we separated (she moved out to live with her boyfriend after we split, over my objections). She has since gone on to become a terrific single mother and student nurse.

After all this trauma and supporting her financially, emotionally and physically with child minding etc., I went into rehab, and have not had a drink nor cigarette for 18 months. (I have resumed smoking pot, however.) My relationship with my daughter and her son is very good, although there is some residual distrust on her part when it comes to my sobriety (she doesn't know about the pot).

My ex-husband is happily involved in a Sufi order that he has helped establish. I dislike his "brothers" very much, as I see that they aided him to leave the marriage and should have at least offered me Islam at the same time as he was investigating it, as I had a right to be a part of his life. He communicates with me only when I instigate it, which for the past year has been very rarely. He is usually very polite, but reserved, wanting me to know nothing of his life, not even his address. I have turned my life around, moved towns so that I am 60 miles away from them and am living on my own and trying to work through my issues.

My problem is that I would like a better relationship with my ex. I find it extremely hard to swallow that, after 23 years together in which I supported him financially and had to deal with his alcoholism (no sex for the last three years of the marriage due to his lack of interest, I believe caused by alcohol and tobacco abuse), he barely gives me the time of day beyond the usual social niceties. I guess I still love him, but don't want the marital relationship or the Islam ... just a friendship that acknowledges the journey we took together, and are indeed still on as parents and grandparents.

My daughter turns 21 in a few months, and the ex and I agree she deserves a decent party after all that she has been through ... but we are already getting snappy with each other, even at the early planning stages. I want it to go well and perhaps even bring us together as a family with a new understanding. Can you suggest how I can achieve this?


Dear Reformed,

Congratulations on your 18 months of abstinence from alcohol and cigarettes.

Having stopped drinking, you are on new ground. Learning to live without alcohol is not easy. It requires not just that you continue living as you were except without the drinking, but that you live in a new way. So for the time being I suggest you narrow your focus to those matters concerned with your own welfare, those matters that are under your direct control. For the time being, consider the possibility that what you think you want does not really matter, that what you think you want may indeed be the enemy of what you need. 

Do you know the term "chipping"? I remember hearing heroin addicts talk about quitting and then "just chipping," meaning, as I took it, to be using but not much, or using but not habitually, or sometimes using but not with a needle, i.e., just snorting. It often led to the resumption of a full-fledged addiction. To my mind, smoking marijuana and keeping it secret is sort of "chipping." It is not drinking, but it is old behavior intended to blur or blunt or mute feelings.

I think you might be a whole lot happier if for the time being you simplified your life, took the advice of those around you, and concentrated on your recovery. When we concentrate only on the recovery we begin to notice what a far-flung and exhausting enterprise of control we had been conducting before, how draining it was, how it kept our attention off of ourselves. It allowed us to delay the making of needed repairs, the making of shocking discoveries, the rummaging about in our houses, the gathering of evidence of our own indiscretions and excesses and the careful examination of it.

What I mean -- I am taking a rather slow pace to get there and hope you can take the time to follow me at this pace -- is that your abstinence from alcohol may be imperiled by the keeping of secrets and the self-medication with pot. I cannot say that you will not be OK. I can only suggest that if you want to live a clearer, stronger, more serene and more balanced life, that for the time being you plunge more deeply into whatever set of principles and practices were used in your rehab process. I would stick close to it. I would get ahold of somebody in that program or at that rehab and I would say, I'm smoking pot and keeping it a secret and I am concerned about where this will lead and so I want your help.

I would forget for the time being about having a better relationship with the ex. I would forget about how my daughter regards me. I would consider the possibility that if I am hiding things from her, then her distrust is quite natural and realistic. I would remind myself that it was by no means assured that I would be able to stop drinking, even for a day, and that therefore whatever sobriety I have is to be grasped with desperate strength, and whatever helped me get this far might yield even more benefit if practiced with reverent intensity.

This would be an act of mercy toward yourself. It would allow you to give up some burdens that you had not even realized were burdens. If you turn your attention to matters more directly under your control, these other things you want -- the better relationship with the ex, and with the daughter -- may then come seemingly of their own accord. It often works that way.

Cary Tennis

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Alcoholism Coupling Divorce Islam Religion Since You Asked