If there’s one thing I want my children to learn from my mistakes, it’s not to get married too early in life.
I was barely 21 the first time I got married and was most certainly not ready to make such a commitment. But at that age, I was a rebel without a cause and I didn’t trust my parents. So when they decided they didn’t like my boyfriend (for very good reasons like he was disrespectful and had a very bad smoking habit), I clung even tighter. He was four years my senior and to this day I’m not sure what I liked about him. The smoking habit should have been a tip-off that he would have addiction problems later in life, but I was too young to know that and too stubborn to accept it when other people warned me.
By year two, he had taken up drinking as a hobby, which was hard to take issue with since so many other people in our age group were doing it too. And as long as you went to work every day and paid your bills on time, no one would admit to having a problem that was potentially damaging in so many ways. He did go to work every day---in a car detailing shop where the beer often came out by 5 p.m even if there was still work to be done. Every night was another party.
I was working full-time as a reporter at a daily newspaper and taking night classes at Rutgers University to continue working on my degree. I had two years to go and the work felt endless as I chipped away at it. At night when I got home, there were papers to be written and exams looming large. Too often I went along with the crowd to the local bars and was ruined the next morning. Looking back, I want to kick myself for being so easily persuaded.
By year four, we were divorced. The more he drank, the more irresponsible he became. One day the mortgage company called to say they hadn’t received payment. When asked if I had received notices from them, I hadn’t. But instantly I felt that warm sensation in my head when I knew something was very wrong. After hanging up, I searched the house and found an armful of old unopened mail, including letters from the mortgage company that our house was in foreclosure. My husband had been hiding it from me and very likely from himself too. It was amazing in the first place that we were able to get a mortgage and own a house at our age. None of our friends did.
But here we were in foreclosure and I wasn’t even aware of it. When it was certain that we could not recover, I told him I wanted a divorce, got an apartment and moved out. His parents were so mortified over the whole situation because they were completely unaware; they demanded he return home to the house they bought in Pennsylvania. He did, but not before getting three DWIs and losing his license for good.
Just writing about it I am able to conjure up the same anxiety and sensations of horror that emotionally strangled me then. I was too overtaken by depression to even realize I was in an unhealthy relationship until it was completely out of control. We both needed rehab at the time, but neither one of us would ever go. I didn’t have an alcohol addiction, but I believe it was depression that pushed me underneath the current of denial. You know what they say about hindsight, but knowing what I know now, I needed rehab for depression. At the time I didn’t even know it existed, and no one who cared about me would have ever thought that was the case given the happy face I painted on every day.
Fortunately, I am happily remarried, though it took a lot to get here. Years of therapy helped, as well as writing. In fact, every time I write about it, the bad feelings lessen, though I don’t believe I have completely forgiven the younger me. I still beat myself up for being so reckless with my time, my love and other things I’ll never get back.