By Evelyn M. LeiteNovember 17, 2020
It’s now 7 a.m. on Monday morning. Harold’s been gone four days, leaving me broke and carless. I just had another sleepless night of thinking, obsessing, pondering and furiously calling him names.
I’m exhausted and powered only by determination—and I’ve made a decision. A glance at the thermometer hanging just outside my window tells me that it is 10 degrees outside, and I can see the gray sky is spitting snow crystals. The drafty house is freezing around the edges. I make oatmeal for the boys and dress them in the kitchen near the heat coming from the open oven door. I bundle them up in their warm coats, boots and mittens. Put on my parka, my snow boots and a wool scarf, and walk 6-year-old Brian the eight blocks to school, carrying 2-year-old Eric most of the way. After I drop Brian off at school, I go a couple of blocks farther and drop Eric at a friend’s house. “Could you keep him for a while?” I ask Diane. “Harold’s off on another binge.” She says, “Yes,” and searches my face. The bruises from the last binge are almost gone.
Walking the three miles to my attorney’s office, I barely feel the stinging sleet and freezing wind. I filed for divorce three months ago and delayed it when Harold promised for the umpteenth time that he would never drink again, never hurt me or the boys again, never disappear again. Heartsick and numb, I sign the papers signaling my failure. Then I walk to the pawnshop and borrow money on my wedding rings to take a cab to pick up Eric. I’m done. Thirteen years of trying to fix him and be the loyal wife is enough—alcohol wins. I hate God for letting this happen.
That fateful walk took place in 1972. Life was hard. Only love for my children kept me going. At times I was hungry, lonely and desperate. Fear of being killed was paramount in the early days as I tackled moving (once my brother sat out in front of the house with a shotgun to protect us).
I went to college on a welfare program, graduated and got a job as an alcoholism counselor. (Not my choice—it was the only job I could get.) God has a great sense of humor. I’ve established two counseling businesses and written 14 books on addiction. I’ve presented workshops nationwide on the effects of alcoholism on the family and the alcoholic. I also have 40 years of sobriety, one day at a time.
Awareness (learning all you can about the disease) and compassion (being non-judgmental toward people who have the disease without enabling) are the keys to peace—and surrender to powerlessness over people, places and substances is the window to hope.
Evelyn Leite, MHR, LPC, has 35-plus years of experience in the addiction and mental health fields. Noted for her humanitarian work, she was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2008 and is widely regarded for her seminars in counseling and education. Leite is published by Hazelden publications.