Ian and Esther on the impact of addiction on your relationship

When Esther gets to know Ian, he barely drinks alcohol. But during their marriage he begins to drink more and more and becomes addicted. His addiction has a major impact on Ian and Esther’s relationship. They talk about it candidly: “It’s truly a miracle that our relationship survived.”

We met for Operation Mobilization in Ghent,” says Esther. “We fell in love, but you weren’t allowed to have a relationship there, so we kept it a secret. Until we were caught by our team leader. We were not sent away, but we were no longer allowed to live in one house. Then we could openly admit our relationship.”

Drunk

After a few years, Esther and Ian get married in Holland, they are 21 and 24 years old respectively. In England, where Ian comes from, they celebrate a wedding in his congregation. The couple gets along well. The only thing that bothers Esther is that Ian keeps getting drunk at English weddings. “I found it very strange,” she says, “because he usually didn’t drink much or anything. I thought it was annoying at the time, but a wedding like that only happened once every two years. So I associated it with England and not with everyday life .”

Yet alcohol plays an increasingly important role in Ian’s life. “It started with more drinking at parties,” recalls Ian, “but it gradually went from parties to drinking alone. It really started after my mother died. She died suddenly in 2004 at the age of 61. It was a real big blow, I had a very good relationship with my mother.”

I didn’t drink to numb, but just to feel something

Ian says he has problems with his emotions. “I am very flat in my emotions, I have to make a lot of effort to get to my feelings, only anger is easy. I was very happy that I felt something when I drank. So I didn’t drink to numb, but just to feel something. I couldn’t cry until I had a drink.”

“I was very loving at first when I saw him crying,” says Esther. “Until at one point I made the connection that he had always been drinking. At one point I felt disgusted seeing him like that.”

Ian’s alcohol consumption increases and Esther tries to save Ian. “I just wanted him to stop drinking alcohol. And it was my job to see to that. For example, I had to put stripes on the bottle to keep an eye on it.”

Consequences of addiction on the relationship

Ian’s addiction to alcohol has a major impact on their relationship. Esther: “My trust has been greatly let down. My basic security was gone, I had no respect for him anymore. One minute he was the funny partner, the perfect son-in-law, the funny dad on the soccer field, the talented guitarist. And in the second moment he was drunk in the room. There was also no intimacy anymore, because I no longer had any respect for him.” Ian: “I was supposed to be Esther’s partner, but it was more like Esther was single with three kids instead of two.”

Esther talks about the bottom of Ian’s addiction: “Ian was lying on the landing upstairs and our five-year-old daughter stepped over him and said, ‘Daddy’s drunk again,’ as if it was completely normal. That was really the low point for me. I I felt so hopeless, also because I couldn’t protect the children from it.” This is the last straw for Esther, and she gives Ian an ultimatum.

I thought I could just stop

Ian: “I had no idea how big the problem was. While people around me, even people who were a little further away from me, saw it. I thought I could stop like this. That I could only drink at the weekend, that I could buy alcohol-free beer at home. I had already found so many intermediate solutions, but none of them worked.”

Ian is a guitarist and worship leader at the church. “As an alcoholic, I led worship at our church. From the perspective of: none Perfect. My cry to God felt like a cry to a closed sky, a ceiling. I want to say that we prayed and I felt God’s warmth and then I was healed. But unfortunately that is not the case.”

Rehabilitation

After Esther’s ultimatum, Ian chooses to go to rehab. “The clinic was a very safe environment. I was there for seven weeks. I was very excited to leave the clinic again. There is no alcohol in the clinic, so no temptation. In normal life it is everywhere. When I got home I clung to the AA meetings, I went to a meeting five times a week at first.”

Esther then has to learn to trust Ian again: “I knew that eighty percent of addicts relapse in the first year, so I kept a close eye on Ian. Constantly scanning him for signs of a relapse.”

Ian: “I’ve been clean for eleven years now, but I’m an alcoholic. I am very careful about calling myself an ex-addict or ex-alcoholic. I just don’t drink anymore.”

To trust

When asked how they regained trust, Ian replies: “We’re still working on it.” Esther adds: “Ian is now drinking non-alcoholic beer again after eleven years. When he suddenly ordered it for my birthday recently, I was shocked. I thought: here we go again, couldn’t you have discussed it? I know in my heart, that he won’t relapse, but I’m an addiction expert so I know the numbers. It scares me sometimes.”

That our relationship survived is truly a miracle

“80 percent of couples are no longer together after such severe addiction, so that we survived is truly a miracle. But we still have couples therapy. We are soulmates, we love each other very much. Although we still have a hard time at times, we know that we really belong together.”

You can hear the whole story of Ian and Esther and how their relationship survived in the ‘Hart against Hart’ podcast. Listen to the episode below.

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