Originally from North Carolina, USA and now anglicized in Ipswich UK for 31 years.
Many of my friends call me the Positivity Queen. They always talk about how much energy I have and how enthusiastic they find me. They know that if they need a lift all they have to do is give me a call. They know they will walk away feeling better than they did before the call.
Others have said, “Once met, never forgotten.” “The word impossible doesn’t exist in her vocabulary and she doesn’t allow it in the people she encourages to join her either.” “Wicked sense of humour.”
These words always make me feel warm inside because I didn’t always feel this way or act the way they describe me.
Imagine living for ten years with a secret.
It happened again. The same conversation. The same argument. The same outcome. “Why are you so late?” “Where have you been?” “Why won’t you talk to me?” Internally, my conversation is the same again as well. “Was it something I did?” “Have I pushed him away?” “Can I fix it?”
These conversations had been going on for a long time, but for some reason, they were different now. The distance between the two of us was growing on a daily basis. I can’t even remember the last time we went somewhere as a couple, much less as a family. Something had snapped but I didn’t know what.
I thought it was an affair, until that ominous day when he came home and, instead of waiting to have dinner with us, he went straight to the pub. He didn’t go to let his hair down or de-stress. No, he went to drink. To drink until he fell down. To drink until he forgot. To drink and never stop. Those were his words.
“Was it something I did?”
Instead of dealing with reality, he decided to escape into the depths of alcohol. When I finally realised it wasn’t another woman, I started having the internal conversation again. “Was it something I did?” “Did I push him away?” “Can I fix it?” You see, even though it wasn’t another woman, it was a mistress – alcohol coupled with gambling. They say the one being cheated on is the last one to know and they are right. The only difference in my case was I was being cheated on with Jack Daniels and One-armed Bandit machines.
Dealing with alcoholism is tough enough, but when it’s coupled with gambling both just tend to add fuel to the fire. At this point the fire was burning dangerously hot and the flames were lapping at the threads of our marriage and family life.
I found myself imagining the day the nightmare would stop and I hoped and dreamed it would be soon. Then another week passed and I find him at the pub again. Drinking to take the pain away; drinking to escape reality; drinking to hide his crimes.
Ten years I worked with him to help sort out the problem. However, until he could recognise that there was a problem to begin with, nothing changes. After two separate stays in rehab, staying sober long enough not to lose his job, he comes to me again with his hands out begging for my help. Asking for more time; needing more money to clear his debts again; saying it would be the last time. It’s never the last time.
Debts like his don’t just disappear. They don’t disappear even when he takes all the retirement savings. They don’t disappear even when he takes the children’s university funds. They don’t disappear when he tries to borrow against the house without my knowledge. What does disappear is patience, trust, love, and respect. What takes their place is hate. A really horrible emotion no one should ever want to live with day in and day out.
Find a way to smile again
And that is when I had to find a way to smile again. I had been so sad for so long that I felt like there was never going to be a day I would ever smile for real again. But that’s where love and heartbreak make us even stronger.
Many people thought my new-found smile came from progressing my career and becoming a strong woman. Reaching the pinnacle of my career by being on a board of directors when everyone said I didn’t have what it takes. In reality, my smile turned out to be from my children, their futures, and their ambitions. My energy was refocused on ensuring that they would never worry about their home being taken away. That they would never worry about money if they wanted to go to University. That they would always have someone they could trust and depend on, no matter what.
I look back at those days and realise all the times I made excuses for his absence, or I hid the pain my kids and I were going through, that we were living a lie. It becomes really difficult to keep the lie alive when it’s eating away at your soul.
The decision we made to part ways was in the best interest of all of us. My daughter, my son, myself and my husband. In order for him to get the help, he needed we had to step apart. He had to find the strength to deal with his problems without us.
The day I felt the weight lift from my shoulders was April 2001 when I had to say these words: “I can’t fix it.” “I didn’t push you away.” It’s time you do something to help yourself.”
It took ten years for this to happen. Can you imagine living for ten years with a secret? Hiding all your pain and heartache? Closing the door to anyone who wanted to help?
On that day, it felt like life was just beginning. I remember walking to the park and taking a deep breath and when I exhaled it was as if all the lies and pain and heartache blew away! I was looking forward to having the freedom to deal with a positive way forward for the kids and myself, without a façade. Everything I worked towards was to benefit them. Becoming financially stable so they could go to University if they wished. Finding my voice, so they were encouraged to use theirs. Becoming strong, so they had a role model to follow.
I now look at these two beautiful young adults today. They each have found their way and are living lives that are true, good, and honest. They make me smile every day. Even more than that, they make me feel happy to be a part of their lives. I know that if I ever needed anything they would be there for me and if they needed anything I would be there for them. We are a team!
They say time is a great healer and I know that is true – for me at least. Now, when I pass by a mirror I purposely stop and turn around. I look at my reflection, I smile and say “There she is – Teresa Dukes.”
Nothing is Impossible – no matter what you are going through. Find what makes you smile. Once you do – you’ll look in that mirror as well and you will say “There you are!”
First published at https://behindmysmile.co.uk/teresa-dukes/