At this point, the number of years we’ve spent apart outnumber the years we’ve lived under the same roof.
Despite that fact, I had never used the word “separated”. Anytime I would fill out forms…for the doctor…rehab…insurance…Job applications…anything…I always use our home address.
When he was in rehab the first time, it was just for a couple of months, then right back home again.
When he went to a rehab for 14 months, it was just where we visited him and sent letters to.
The next rehab was only 35 days. It wasn’t going to be long enough. So I found a sober living home for him – 30 minutes from us, close enough to go to church together, spend time together during the week.
When he changed his mind and went to a different sober living house instead. In a different state. Hours away. It wasn’t his home, it was just where he stayed.
Then he moved in with his parents. I’m careful never to call that his home. He’s just staying there.
A few months later we commit to starting counseling again.
We’re filling out paperwork. By default I check the box: ✅ Married
I put the same address down for both of us.
It’s the last thread of our marriage that I hold onto. Putting down somewhere that we don’t have the same address. It means something I am not ready for.
I can feel my face flush as our counselor starts reviewing our forms.
“And you currently live together?”
Rob and I look at each other. For once, I think, please say something first.
My look worked I suppose.
“No. I’m staying with my parents right now.”
The perfect answer. For both of us. It sounds temporary.
He looks at us. Looks at the paper. Scratches out what’s written there. Writes down the address Rob gives him.
Then says, you checked married but you’re separated?
I don’t want to be here anymore. Why is he saying this? Of course we aren’t separated. We just haven’t been living together. For a while. It’s temporary. I repeat this over and over. Silently. In my head.
Rob speaks out loud. It startles me. “Yes we’re separated. We have been for awhile. I haven’t lived at home for probably 4 of the last 5 years.”
The counselor scratches again.
I start to argue. We aren’t separated. We just don’t live together right now. But we’re still married. He’s just been in rehab for a long time. And then the sober living house. And now he’s just staying with his parents.
I think I say most of this out loud. I’m never sure though. How much I say out loud and how much is my inner monologue.
Then he circles it. Separated. “That’s what separated means. I understand you’re still married. But you’re also separated.”
I’m trying to understand why this panic is building up inside of me.
Stop saying we’re separated. I want to scream.
I have stood by him through rehab, relapse, sat next to him as he goes through withdrawals, over and over; wiped his face, held his cup of water so he could drink, held his hand and told him it’s ok, we’ll get through this. Tried to make my face look like I believed him every time he said this is the last time. I’m going to make it this time. Smiled at him. Believed in him. Encouraged him.
I have spent my weekends going wherever rehab was – I have not missed a promotion ceremony or graduation – I show up for every family day – I drive 5 hours each way to spend 3 hours with him so he is not alone on Sundays – I write letters so he gets mail – I arrange my schedule around what time he’s allowed to call – I schedule our whole lives around him.
We do not live in the same house because he’s been in rehab over and over and he’s still not sober. We finally had agreed that he would get sober and then he could come back home after the girls are graduated and moved out. But no sooner. How is this separation?
How can my husband see this as a separation?
I have stayed. Every time. Through every relapse and new hospital stay and rehab and relapse…I have stayed.
Living at two separate addresses is not separated. Not when I put everything that I want our life to be on hold. Every time. I put what he needs. Where he needs to be. What kind of support he needs from me. I put that first. My life happens around his needs.
I. Stay. I have stayed. I always stay.
Don’t tell me that we’re separated now because I made the decision not to let him come home while the girls are still home. Don’t tell me that making sure our girls feel safe in their own home means we’re separated.
I am not moving on. I am not halfway out the door. I am all in. I am waiting for our miracle. Waiting for his sobriety. Waiting to start our marriage over. I am waiting because I have stayed.
So please don’t disregard the sacrifices our family has made by labeling us “separated”.
We are a broken, fragile, burdened family. But we have not given up.
I realize now I’ve said at least half of this out loud. Most of it in a very defensive tone.
It’s time to go. You give us our homework. We set up our next appointment. I reach over for the card and it’s right there. In black and white.