Apparently, I don’t always have the best judgement. When I was eleven, I liked Tonya Harding and thought for sure she was innocent. Now, she does shit like celebrity boxing. When I was in the 5th grade and watched the white Bronco speeding down the highway, I didn’t think OJ was a murderer.
“Why would he do that?” I thought.
I wanted to believe the best in people and did not know how cruel the world was.
As an adult, I still pretty much see the world that way. For years, I hid myself from the truth in front of me because I wanted to believe everything my husband told me—about his anxiety, about giving up liquor, about drinking less than one beer. It hurts that I almost let him break that good spirit in me, and for that alone, I knew I could never be with him again.
Even though I knew I couldn’t be with him again, in the back of my mind, I was always left
wondering, “But Ashley, what if he never takes a drink again? What if you ruin your kids’ chances of having a two-parent household because you’re stubborn?”
Having a protective order really helped me keep my resolve through everything, and I know that’s not something that a lot of women have the “luxury” of having as they go through a divorce. If I’d been communicating with him, we may have gotten along or maybe we would have fought. He may have broken sobriety sooner. I have no idea, but I hypothesized that dinner once a week would turn in to spending all day Saturday at the house. And then it would be picking someone up from daycare, and it would feel like we were still us. Still broken. Still sad. Still uneven.
I desperately needed to hold on to the fantasy of a good and thoughtful and hardworking man who could love me and my kids, because if I didn’t, I’d for sure lose it. I’d been surviving on fumes for eighty-one days at that point. It felt like forever, but in reality—it was nothing. I had so much work ahead of me. So much exhaustion, and so much strength to find.
But I knew I could do it, and I knew I could make it on my own. The problem now is that I knew how awful and hard it was to be a single parent, and I just didn’t want to do it. But I had to be strong because it was the right thing for all of us.
At this point, I think he was still sober—or at least, trying to be. I stalked him in countless ways to try and get a sense of where his head was and how sobriety may or may not be going, but without seeing him and talking to him, it was a lot harder.
Next up, it was time for our court hearing to discuss custody and child support. Our guardian ad lidem (GAL) was involved, and I felt good about how things would go. Jeff hadn’t gone to rehab as we’d discussed. He barely had a job. Was living at home with his parents—and we could both agree we’d never let the kids stay there overnight because they smoked. For the short term, I had no concerns about the safety of the kids or the court allowing them to stay in my care one hundred percent of the time.
But I was still so concerned how it would turn out. It felt shameful and sad to turn our kids over to the courts. That’s what I’d done. Yes, Jeff caused it, but I did it.
Court was unbearably awkward, and Jeff was in a simply jubilant mood. It was odd—and off—and made me feel like he’d taken a few shots before getting to court to settle his nerves. He rambled on and on when the judge would ask a question and never really made any sense.
I spoke to the GAL about Jeff’s behavior in court, and he said, “Can I tell you something? I thought the same thing [about him being inebriated], but I didn’t know him enough to know if that was just his personality.”
When I told him, no, that definitely wasn’t normal. He said, “Damn, I wish I’d known. I would have had him breathalyzed right then.”
I was so mad at my lawyer. Why didn’t she tell me this was something that gets done? We could have done it day one when we went back in June. We could have done it in August. What a mess. And now I’ll never know if he was drinking before court those days.
A few days later, I woke up to some urgent texts from my mom because Jeff called her at midnight. He appeared to have been his usual drunk self and was agitated, aggressive, and generally made no sense. She was on the phone for an hour with him complaining about the PSA and how he deserved $125,000 from me, how he is going to get custody of his kids, and on and on. Just a general mess.
Obviously hearing all of this confirmed my gut instinct, and I felt proud of myself for trusting it for once. That day, Jeff went to Peyton’s daycare to have lunch, and the toughest part is that the visit was great. Her teacher said that their visit was adorable. He was engaging with her and she had a blast. Once it was time to come in for nap, she started crying and he rubbed her back—and then he started crying too. One of the older assistants came over and sat with her while Jeff was there. Her teacher rocked her after he left and said it caught her off guard how emotional SHE got. For anyone involved, even on the periphery, it was heartbreaking to watch someone fall apart, and it was so obvious he loved his kids, and he could be a great dad. That was the horrible part. He was just throwing it all away.
All that said, I know this teacher dreaded me coming in to pick up Peyton that day and having to tell me all this. She started so positive with how great the visit was… then she got to the “but.”
“Welllllll, I don’t know for sure since I didn’t experience it, but Miss K said she smelled alcohol on him before he left.”
Great. Bless her heart.
Then she said, “But they were outside and so sweaty. It could have just been in his pores from last night.”
Okay, even so. This was someone who was supposedly ninety days sober.
Next, I picked up Ryan, who at this point was still at another in-home nanny and not at the same daycare. Jeff showed up there after his lunch with Peyton, and my nanny said he was an emotional wreck. He came in and just put his head on her shoulder and cried and cried. Eventually she got him to calm down, but she said that was the worst ever.
“I almost offered him a drink just to calm him down,” she joked.
Great, again. Once he was calm, she said he had a great visit with Ryan too. Great dad, bad alcoholic. The nanny finally admitted that she thought she caught a whiff of alcohol too when he was leaving.
His brother tried to remind me not to focus on speculation and only on fact. But let’s be real—that’s how we got into this mess. I knew in my gut what was going on, but until I caught him at 7AM pouring whiskey into his Diet Coke, I didn’t KNOW. Is that really what I wanted to wait for again?
It’s hard to catch a manipulative alcoholic like him. He put all his energy in to hiding it. After that incident, he went radio silent for a few days, and I was worried.
Would I always feel this way?
Would I always wonder if he was drinking?
Did I hope that he was drinking?
That night I rocked Ryan to bed and just cried and loved on him and didn’t want to let him go. All I could do was focus on those kids who needed me to keep a clear head and keep trusting my gut each and every day.
Excerpt taken and modified from my book, The Other Side of the Door