My husband is tormenting me

I'm four months sober, trying to finish a book, and he's playing weird mind games

Published February 9, 2012 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Reader,

This may seem like a strange request, but would the person named Wei Yi from Malaysia who emailed me recently please email me again, at Your return email address did not arrive with your correspondence and so I have had no way of replying to your email. (And no, for curious readers, this was not a letter requesting advice, but another matter entirely.)


Dear Cary,

Hmmm. I won't write this like a writer, more like the utterly confused person I am. I'll sum up. I've been with BF/husband (I didn't want to get married, he did) 15 years. He came with three daughters, all filling pages of the DSM. One is bipolar, one BDP, one ADHD etc., etc. At the time I was 30 and had just lost both my parents very suddenly, I was making a lot of money, had inherited some and was really trying to pretend nothing had happened. We were great. I still think he's the funniest human I've ever met and that we share that thing all good couples do: We think we're better than everyone else. Fast forward. His insecurity has dogged us from the beginning. Had I been more aware and noticing, I would likely have run.

Three years ago we lost our dog. He was our child. The one thing we had together. It was bone cancer and it was awful. It probably triggered for me the memory of losing my parents so quickly -- I went a little nuts. I had an affair, I left, I ended the affair. I was so fucking sad I couldn't stand it. I drank a lot.

Meanwhile, I'm a writer. Literary, but not totally insignificant. I've been sober for about four months, and working desperately to finish this new book I have due.

A week ago I learned that he was setting me up, saying, "Your phone rang and it was a blocked number, is there anything you want to tell me?" All this involves cappuccino and serious face. When I realized he was making it all up, I lost my mind.

I can't take it anymore. Every day is a prosecution. There's more, of course. A lot. I tiptoe around him, he's angry most of the time and his three grown daughters don't want to talk to him without a therapist in the room. He's brilliant and tricky and there is no way to win. I can't fill the black hole anymore.

And why now, besides the obvious? I'm sober, I'm working, this book is good ... why would he tear it out from under me? I know it's not conscious, but it's incredibly twisted.

I love him, and we were better than everyone else, but he's killing me. Dead.


Dear Tormented,

You're four months sober. You're going to have to take this on faith. Nothing else matters. Nothing is going to be the way it was. There is nothing to do but stay sober. This other stuff will get sorted out later.

Four months sober is its own special condition. It may manifest as confusion or certainty, clarity or dullness, energy or lethargy, high or low, but it is an edge; it is a liminal state out of which a strange future is being born.

You can afford to slow down now and not try to figure everything out or fix everything. It wouldn't help anyway. Your old fixes won't work. Well, they might seem to work for a while, but the point is that you need to abandon them because they will not lead you where you have to go now.

No matter whether you finish the book or don't finish the book, stay married or get divorced, as long as this sobriety goes on day after day you are going to reclaim your life, your childhood, your spirit. You are going to see and feel things that were formerly only a dull buzz or murmur. These dull murmurs of being will provide the sinews of a new construct. It will not be the you that you envisioned when you were busy envisioning yourself. It will be different. But it will be authentic and thus suffused with the energy of life.

Imagine looking at what your husband is doing and not needing to do anything about it.

You will shed many illusions. You will shed the illusion of being better than the rest of us -- beneath which has secretly lain the illusion that you are worse than us. These troubling illusions of separateness and hierarchy will go away and you will be reunited with humanity on an even footing.

Guard your sobriety as you would guard your life.

Your husband and others will attempt to get back the old you who would engage their craziness. Observe this from a safe distance. Don't engage their craziness. Stay safe in your four months of sobriety. Finish the book. Take long walks.

Your husband has lost you. You are no longer entertaining him in his madness. So he is reaching out to you. He is trying to get you back.

Don't go there. You will just have to stand firm.

Guard your sobriety as you would guard your life. Finish your book. Take long walks. It will start to make sense.

By Cary Tennis

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