Last year, I didn't write as much here. There was much I wanted to say, but I felt I couldn't. I wanted to (go to the bottom), but didn't. Because I was ashamed. But now I'm not.
Last year, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, my husband's video game playing seemed, as far as I could tell, to spike. I had never liked him playing, but much of that was about the amount of money he spent on the software. As the boys got older and saw Daddy- their Pal- playing, they wanted to play too. They didn't play his games- well, I don't think- but letting them use the computer for their own even quasi-educational games was a painful exercise that would always end in tears no matter how long they'd had on the computer. I didn't think it was illogical to draw a straight line from their father's behavior to theirs, so I asked him to stop or at least not play in front of them.
My husband's solution was to lock himself in our room and pretend he was working when it was obvious he was really playing his games. I tolerated this up to a point. Because everyone has always told me how demanding and unreasonable I am. A mature adult should be able to do what he wants. I suppose, I thought.
But there was something about being locked out of my room and trapped in my living room for 90 minutes that made me snap. As soon as he had tired of playing and left the room, I locked the door myself and found his account on Steam.
I looked at the financials and wanted to vomit. Over a period of about a year, my husband had spent over $700 on games. There are many people who don't think that amount of money would be a big deal. I have to presume that the majority of those people didn't go without a stove for almost a year. I have to presume that those people didn't worry about how they were going to get shoes for their growing children. I have to presume that those people didn't accept gifts from parents and siblings of children's winter coats and pants that they couldn't provide themselves. I also have to presume that those people didn't feel a sting on summer days when their young children begged for Italian ice that they couldn't afford.
You see, if you're one of those people, $700 over a year is a lot of money. And I'm not the only one who should have noticed.
I was outraged. I confronted my husband, and he barely registered that he had done anything wrong. Over the year or two before, I had come to accept his flat affect, a symptom of some of his medications, as something I needed to live with, but right then it was unacceptable. But it was good that he wasn't denying or dancing, because now I wanted to press on the other things I *knew*. I *knew* he had to be making more money than he had been letting on. I pressed- I shouted- and he finally admitted that he had a separate bank account that he did the majority of his banking from. And he did this, in part, to hide the two very large credit card debts that he had hidden from me for years.
I didn't think I could feel any angrier, but then he told me that he had done all of this because he had wanted to give me things I wanted. It was my fault. And then he told me that he had changed jobs in large part due to this. I had known something, but I'd had no idea.
I would hope that anyone who has read anything I have written here over the last six years would question his statement. My idea of luxury is having space to move around in and less "stuff", and my idea of being well-taken care of is having enough food.
The next weekend he told me that he'd gotten paid. He knew this because he could see his account information on his phone. Fresh anger; he had always told me that he received a physical check in his PO box, and he had made a big show of going to the center of town to go check. I honestly have no idea what he was really doing during those times.
He said he would stop playing his games- very, very reluctantly- but when I came home less than a week later from the Candy Cane Tea at the Boston Public Library with the children and he took that much longer to come to the door, I knew he'd been playing. He acted like he was a naughty child who had just been caught, but then proceeded to argue with me that he should be able to play; the problem wasn't that he had broken a promise, but that he was lying. If I released him from his promise, then he could get his need to play out of his system and he wouldn't have to lie. Win, win- right?
Obviously, this was hurtful. It was even more hurtful because I had just spent a lot of the time at the tea making sure the kids made some Chanukah crafts out of respect for their Jewish father. He could not pay me the same respect and keep his promise.
It was at about this time that I began to think he wasn't a real person.
He did finally agree to speak to his therapist and stop playing- I think divorce came up, but it had come up a week before, and he had agreed in principle because being around me made him feel bad about himself. I don't remember the trigger, but I suspected it hadn't entirely worked. I knew it when I found him up late one night- well past one in the morning- playing his games. He stopped doing that- well, I think- but when I would wake up to him prowling around and scold him for waking me up, the problem wasn't that he needed to indulge himself, but that I was such a light sleeper.
And you know what? I started to believe him.
For some reason- you really never know what- he started drinking more regularly. When I spoke to him about it, he said that it was because he needed to get to sleep. Now, of course, I realize why he was having so much trouble sleeping, but at the time I was worried because taking alcohol is not advised with two of his medications. He pretended to take me seriously, but I could tell he thought I was amusing more than anything else. Later, when we went out food shopping, he made it a point of putting wine in our cart. I got it: I'm not the boss of him.
I asked him a few times over the year about seeing the therapist and what he said. He told me the therapist had told him that he needed to focus on doing other things, or something like that. I thought the advice was really vague, but I let it go.
Right after Thanksgiving this year, my son showed me that Daddy was still playing. I confronted him last week- ironically, the day they had this year's Candy Cane Tea. He tried to deny it, but I didn't let him. He knew I was angry, but what did he do? He sent me a text message begging me not to delete his games. Yeah- no.
I got onto his account and found that he had spent considerably less for this year but then he hadn't been able to keep his promise for even six months. Well, I'm going by what he bought- I didn't check the logs to see when he played. Yes, I Uninstalled and I did not speak to him except to tell him that I now knew he had never spoken to anyone about the games. He didn't deny it.
He started sending me apologetic messages while I was out. At one point, he even said that I was right. Forgive me, I took this to mean that he knew he had screwed up and betrayed my trust. When I did finally agree to talk to him, he went back to where he had been last year: the problem was that I had made him make a bad promise; if I released him, he wouldn't have to lie anymore.
As much as I have may have doubted myself before, it was obvious to me that he was the problem. I told him fine- he could play for half an hour per day in my house- the games he liked wouldn't work on the laptops- if he was out of my house for at least seven hours per day. No way, he replied. I insisted. He offered two. I made him agree to three. Fine, he said. I sent him an email spelling out the terms, and he replied back in the affirmative. This was going to be a good thing, because this would force him to get exercise too. Win, win, win.
Since this point, I have known that I am not dealing with a real person.
The first night of our agreement, I looked up the symptoms of video game addiction. Of all the symptoms he had, it was the headaches that made me feel sick to my stomach. He had been complaining about them over the summer, so much so that he had gotten new glasses, even though his old glasses were fine. And, of course, the irritability when his games were taken away.
I called a friend who told me to follow my gut, then I called him and told him that he was an addict and that he needed to get help by the end of the week or get out of my house. I have no idea why, but he agreed and made an appointment for two days later.
Another friend reached out to me and told me that it was important to remember that I wasn't talking to my husband but his addiction. And that was the most perfect statement anyone ever made, because as I said, I've known for a long time that I haven't been talking to a person but a thing.
He went to therapy- I know this because I went with him at his request. The therapist isn't arguing- there's a problem. But I still don't believe that my husband thinks there is anything wrong with him, or that he feels any remorse for what he has done to me and our marriage. He is brought to tears in front of his children- yes, that's just wonderful- but with me- nothing. But it doesn't matter, because he isn't anything close to the man I married.
Some might wonder why I wrote a blog post instead of handling this privately. It's two things. First, I did tell people privately about this last year. But there wasn't really anything they could do other than express sympathy- and some people couldn't even do that. According to one person, it was understandable why someone would lie to me, specifically, and instead of being upset about how my husband had so badly mismanaged money for years, I should focus on what I could do to make more money. (Obviously, I will never tell this person anything again.) And then there was the genuinely well-meaning person who said that I shouldn't try to control what another adult does.
And you know what? That person is absolutely correct. I have better things to do with my time than micromanage someone's computer habits. I also have better things to do than worry about someone who can't do the dishes without watching an episode of his newest obsession on his smartphone. I have better things to do than get upset because someone can't take their eyes off of a television show for fifteen seconds while he puts something away. At the end of the day, it isn't my problem if he drinks when his medication says he shouldn't. And really- really- I don't want to spend my life worrying that someone is lying to me about everything.
The second reason I'm writing this? I'm tired of being ashamed and being sure that things are going badly because I did something wrong. It's not my fault he has done these things to me, and I need to say that. It's not my fault I never have any money, and it's not my fault I've been miserable. I'm not so demanding that I want more from a relationship than having to tap someone on the shoulder to pull them out of whatever little world they fell into, and I don't have to feel sorry for someone who's compromised their already limited memory by jacking up on addictive stimuli. It finally makes sense why almost every plan I have for my family doesn't work out. It's not my fault, I didn't do this. He did, and I'm not going to enable him with my silence anymore. I don't care who knows, but this is too much of a burden for me alone to carry. Writing this makes me feel a little bit better, even if it's only by a quantum.
Well, maybe it is my fault- I trusted the wrong person, didn't I?
Deb in the City
PS And in case you're wondering: yes, I make more money now, and now that I know (a little?) more about the finances, I was able to pay off one of the very large credit card bills. If I stay with this man, I will be able to pay off the other by next spring. Had I known earlier, the balances would have been smaller, and the time would have been shorter. Things I'm never going to get back, but I won't let anything else be taken from me.