I was 24 when I met my partner. He was working in a local shop. Our eyes met, I left the shop then went back into the shop and started chatting to him for hours. A few weeks later I went back into the shop and we chatted again for hours. I asked him to go for a drink. Soon we were dating, and he moved in with me some weeks after. One of his ex’s was trying to hurt him so he needed somewhere safe to stay. It was awful, I remember seeing him getting attacked, the police had to get involved, it was even in the local press. After six months, we decided to get a flat together, but sadly three years later, we were evicted because we were a gay couple. It wasn’t so easy in the 1980’s to be in a same sex relationship.
We often drank socially, we had fun, but I never thought he was an addict. It now makes sense why when we were out for dinner, he would usually think about ordering a second bottle of wine before we had even finished the first one. He would often disappear to the loo and whilst I thought he had a bad stomach, he was nipping out to an off licence, buying booze, drinking it then coming back to the dining table!
He wasn’t a violent person, but he did get aggressive a couple of times whilst drunk, although I made sure to put a stop to it. The first was three years into our relationship, my sister had taken us out to dinner, he had too much to drink, became agitated and before I knew it, he punched me in the arm. I can’t remember why he did it, but I remember that it hurt! The second time he got aggressive was the day I realised he had a problem, when I found a bottle of vodka in his bag. We had a house in Scarborough and a flat in York and after I confronted him, he stormed out and made his way to our flat. I was worried so I made my way to the flat too, arriving a couple of hours after him. When I got there, he wouldn’t let me in, and when he did open the door, he was drunk. It was one of the few times I actually saw him drunk. He suddenly dived into me as if to tackle me, but as he got closer, I just wrapped my arms around him as he sobbed. It was heart breaking; I really saw his struggles that day.
It took 10 years into our relationship for me to realise that he had a problem. I tried everything to support him. I attended open AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, to help me gain a better understanding of what he was going through. I found I had compassion for the alcoholics at the meeting. I even made a few friends who I opened up to. I remember once calling one of them in a panic, telling them about what was happening only for them to bluntly tell me that my partner was lying to me. Part of me knew that they were right, but I think I also didn’t want to believe it. We then went to couple counselling at a drug and rehabilitation centre in Westminster. They suggested one to one counselling and that I should also try Al-Anon for extra support. I soon realised that I needed both to cope mentally and emotionally.
The irony was that after his last relapse I had made a threat that if he ever took drugs again, I would leave him, and I meant it. In the end, it was his decision to walk out of a 23-year relationship leaving me high and dry. It couldn’t have been worse timing, my dad had just died, and I had lost my job.
My world was collapsing, and that was when Al-Anon became substantial for me. I went to my first meeting and boy I talked and talked, and then I cried. I had fallen into a dark and scary hole and went through depression. It felt as if my partner had died. I needed closure. I can remember going to a new group in Greenwich for the first time fearing that I would face prejudice and homophobia for being a gay man. In the first few meetings I referred to ‘my partner’ until I realised that Al-Anon is not a judgmental organisation and what I did receive was love, friendship, support and a grand cup of builders’ tea! Al-Anon saved my life. The people I met supported me through the darkest of times. The first person I called when my Mum died was my late sponsor who came into my life just when I needed her most.
The problems and impact of alcohol and drugs are no different for gay men than for straight men. The hurt, betrayal, frustration and early belief that I caused his alcohol dependency, the attempt to control his drinking and failing, and the need to be loved, are all things that no matter your gender, you are likely to feel if you love an alcoholic.
I’m now working, I have a new home and a circle of friends I made in Al-Anon, who are always there to listen and support me. Those friends I made are for life. Whether it’s an Al-Anon convention or a holiday abroad, I know I’m not alone. I even started dating again!
My ex is now sober and in a civil partnership with someone he met in AA. I was very hurt to discover that he was in a civil partnership, not because it wasn’t me, but because he hadn’t told me about the wedding. I thought we were in a good place, we had reconciled and tried to remain friends. I have compassion for him, acceptance and forgiveness. I still love him. But his walking out was the best gift he could have given me. I have a lot to thank him for; we had some happy times.
I actually like our friendship now, when we do talk it’s kind and loving. I have learnt to keep the focus on myself and my own life. I’m moving on!