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The Most Important Promise I Ever Kept

“No more. Not ever,” I’d said.

Years of warnings, threats, tears, and promises had not changed him, not really. And now we had a child. We owned a home.

We were grown-ups, and far too old to be passing out in the bathroom or on the kitchen floor. I didn’t trust him. I didn’t feel safe. He’d never hurt me with his fists or his words.

No, the threat of him was simply this: Alcohol made him unpredictable.

Namely, I never knew, one day to the next, what version of him I would encounter and at what stage of inebriation. Sometimes he was as sober as a judge. Other times, a beer or two made him giggly. Still others, a beer or two had become six or seven or ten.

These were the bad ones. The passed out on the floor ones. The leaving-the-door-wide-open-all-night ones.

Consequently, to him, to others, I’d drawn the line: No more. Not ever. I told friends and family I’d had enough. While supporting him, while loving him, I also began to realize the isolation of this. The excuses and explanations, apologies and denials had cost me. They, those who knew me, could see the toll. It took me years, but I began to see it too. After several pencil lines had been drawn and crossed, I drew that line in ink.

To him, I warned he could never drink again, not if he wanted to stay married. Not if he wanted to keep our family together. He said he wanted that. He always said he loved me and I believed him.

But, he wasn’t in charge. His love for me, I imagined, was like the proverbial sailor’s longing for home when out at sea. Truly, no matter how much the sailor loves and longs for home, the sea beckons. Neither the sailor nor my husband could deny the siren call.

To be clear though, he wasn’t the alcoholic hiding bottles in closets or drawers. He didn’t drink every night. But these things are not prerequisite for problem drinking. Instead, alcohol acted upon him and upon our relationship like the faulty wiring of an old lamp, always flickering.

That night, the last night, the light died.

On that fall evening, while our toddler, then three-years-old, slumbered, I watched television. But, I kept an eye on my phone and the door. It wasn’t late, only eight or nine; but still, he should have been home hours ago. From long experience, I knew something was wrong. I prepared myself for the worst.

I tried calling him. He answered my fourth or fifth call, his words a slur. I don’t remember what he said, but I know I answered him calmly. He was on his way home. I waited at the back door. When I saw him stumble through the gate enclosing our urban backyard, I moved to intercept him. I closed the door behind me, cutting our son off from what was about to happen.

When I reached the swaying tower of my husband standing befuddled in our yard, I spoke softly, even kindly. I told him he could not come in. He would have to find somewhere else to go, but I would help him. This was the end, I said.

Remember: No more. Not ever.

In the moonlit backyard, we struggled. Me, asking him firmly for his phone. Him, resisting. He didn’t understand why I wanted him to hand it over. Again and again I explained that I just needed access to his contact list. I wanted to find a friend to come and pick him up. Eventually, I prevailed.

Meanwhile, I kept an eye on the back door. I knew he could not set foot inside that house again. I was ready to throw myself in front of that door, blocking his entrance. He could not stay not even for a night, not ever. Too many times before my heart had softened with his pleas and promises. I’d continually heard what I wanted to hear. But not now.

Not any more. Not ever.

Soon, I found a phone number of a name I recognized and dialed. A friend would help him; he was on the way. Then, my husband, unable to understand what had happened, stumbled from our backyard towards the embrace of a couch in someone else’s home. When the gate latched behind him, I returned to our home, dry-eyed and calm. The deadbolt on the backdoor engaged effortlessly. Next, I checked on our child.  Then I called my aunt and my best friend.

Finally, hours later, I went upstairs to my bedroom and stood at the window, looking out over the backyard. The streetlights winked in the distance. I realized, for the first time in many years, I felt different. I felt safe.

Obviously, pain was ahead. I knew I’d be awash in tears in the coming weeks and months as we worked through what it meant to end twelve years together. But, I also knew this wasn’t only an ending.

This moment, the lights twinkling in the distance, the doors locked, my sleeping child nearby, was a beginning too, a birth. I had only to nurture this new thing, this new life. This me, the one that could end a marriage with kindness, with hope, with love, she was strong.

She drew a line and held it. She said, “No more. Not ever,” and meant it.

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Angela Noel Lawson

Angela Noel Lawson lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her son, husband, and elderly golden retriever. She writes personal essays and short fiction, occasionally working on a novel or two. You can find her at You are Awesome. Or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

22 Comments

  1. Oh my goodness! What a fabulous post, Angela and one I totally resonate with. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to act as calmly as this, nor control my situation with as much grace, but drawing that line and uttering those words ‘no more, not ever’ is powerful in itself.

  2. My step-dad is an alcoholic I know first-hand how truly devastating an impact alcohol can have on a person, their family and their friends. You are so brave for saying no more. I’m in awe actually. I only wish my birth mother could have that strength.

    1. Hi Rachel. Thank you so much for sharing your own experience. I never thought I’d be in the situation I found myself in–even though from the outside all the signs were there. But it’s so hard. I can’t imagine how my friends and family–like you–wished I could see through what was happening and make a different choice. What I can say is, when I was ready, I did. Perhaps the best we can do for others is to wait in the wings, ready to lift them up when they are ready to take the leap.

  3. Angela, I hold you in my heart. What an incredibly courageous and strong person you are. Often, it is so difficult to walk away from so many years spent together. I wish you strength. Much love.

    1. Thank you, Rachna. So many people helped to support me through this, I think the courage came from them. And it helped that my ex is fundamentally a nice person. We were two people caught in an epic battle with circumstances beyond our direct control. Thank YOU for your love and support.

  4. I can’t believe I haven’t read this post before. Angela, this confirms everything that I’ve ever thought of you- you’re strong, inspiring, kind and ohmygod just awesome. YOU are awesome. What a woman.

    1. This is the first place it has ever appeared, so you can be forgiven for never having seen it. 🙂 In a very real way I was saving my own life. Not that I was ever in danger of physical harm–I wasn’t. But, I was trying to save the woman I knew I could be from the circumstances she’d found herself in. I am grateful for the experience. And grateful that both my ex and I have learned a lot from it all and each other.
      Your support and kind words mean the world to me.

      1. Ha oh that’ll be why then- phew. Sometimes in life we have to be these deeply difficult and brave decisions. Not just for our children, but for ourselves. I’m so glad that you and your ex are in a much better place now x

        1. Yes. Oh how I wish we didn’t have to make them–and yet they MAKE us in a very real way. I don’t regret the choices I made, though the pain was enormous. It is cliche, but true–what doesn’t kill us….

  5. That’s some awesome writing. This was an interesting read since you’ve hinted around this in the past. I was tacitly given the same ultimatum when I met my wife. Luckily I got things under control. It’s *sobering* to read about an alternate outcome.

    1. Thanks, Jeff! That is an awesome compliment coming from you–a writer I admire very much. Alcohol is a many-headed-hydra. The mistake I made for years was assuming “problem” drinking was any one way. I, too, have made my share of errors and suffered the consequences of my own poor judgement or lack of self-control. We all have our demons. I am glad you got yours under control. These are not easy things for anyone to do.

  6. Congrats on drawing this line! I’m sure it was tough but we do come out stronger on the other side, don’t we? Thanks for sharing your story – I hope many others draw courage from your strength.

    1. I wrestled with this for a long time. It’s been several years since the event. I only wanted to share it when I felt I’d let go of the emotional pain and had only the story left. That way, it wasn’t charged with resentment or fear, but could just be what it was. My ex is a different person now, and so am I. Our stories might make us, but they don’t define us.

    1. Thank you! I remember the events and the feeling of this day so vividly, almost like an out-of-body experience. This is odd as a correlation, but I recently fell down a ravine while I was skiing. The whole fall and extricating myself from the trees, climbing out over rocks and a frozen stream felt like a slowed-down but hyper-real experience. It took only fifteen minutes from slide to recovery. But, the passage of trees and the feeling as if I’d never stop falling was immersive.
      This night was the same way, completely immersive, completely present, charged with electric energy.
      I’d never wish it on anyone–neither the fall or the experience with keeping my promise, but it’s unforgettable.

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