This letter has been cooking on Julie Anderson’s heart for a while…and like a pot of soup that cooks slowly all day, it is full of flavor and feeling. It is a story of love, of struggle, of love, of failure, of love, of hardship….and pure gratitude. Thank you Julie, for sharing your story with the world. We needed this…..
The process of writing this one gratitude letter has been harder than I anticipated. I always knew who it would be to, but the act of putting my words on paper has caused a chain reaction of if-not-for…. thoughts, and I was led to years and moments that most would be less than grateful for. Writing has always been a way for me to work things out on paper that I cannot sequentially process in my head. Feelings that simply exist slowly take coherent shape if I sit with a pen in my hand – or keyboard under my fingers – long enough. And so it has been with this gratitude letter: if this were the one letter I were to write, I would write it to my husband Jeff, and it would be for the hard times. Let me explain.
Jeff and I were married 25 years ago in June. I was young, naive and completely taken by a disarmingly handsome, socially confident and self-assured man. I knew on a cellular level that there was something special about him; I fell hard.
The alcoholism was evident from the start to those that cared to notice. It wasn’t that I didn’t realize the insanity, but the disease embraces those willing to tolerate the fallout. Looking back now I cannot imagine how we survived. For so many years the chaos of that life absorbed us both. The birth of my three sons allowed me the resolve I needed to press toward a better life for all of us.
It wasn’t pretty; it is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life (I am fairly certain he believes the same), but Jeff took his last drink in September, 1997. Anyone that has traveled that road knows that as difficult as sobriety is, the real work comes afterward. Mending relationships often damaged beyond recognition, coming to terms with the destruction caused, learning how to go forward in a humble, sober, thoughtful way when the stressors of your life sometimes prove insurmountable, developing an entirely new network of support to help you live your right life; this is the overview of how to go forward. Jeff forged ahead through the terrifying and the unknown. After serious rounds of counseling and introspection, the hills and valleys of re-building a life, and daily attention to both physical and mental health, Jeff can now proudly claim over 14 years of sobriety. He is a loving, thoughtful and inspirational father to our sons; an engaged and loving partner to me. He counsels clients, friends and colleagues almost daily about living a good life.
And so my gratitude is for the painful and the chaotic. The minefield Jeff and I walked that allowed me to grow up and get real, and allowed Jeff to do the same. It allowed us to nearly run away from each other, so that we could choose instead to stay.
I am grateful beyond measure to you, Jeff, for your steadfast commitment to sobriety, and the love you show me, and our boys, every day. I love our rhythm, our laughter, our too-rare but delicious nights curled up on the brown couch. I love how you handle success, and I love even more how you handle disappointments. I love the compassionate way you see the world. The way you understand when I need alone time absolutely feeds my soul. The way you talk to our boys through the tough stuff makes me fall in love with you all over again every time (and those dear boys have managed lots of tough stuff). Your willingness to listen when you don’t understand, to show up when you’d rather not, to simply give it a shot no matter what it is (and be okay with the fact that I might not want to)…..it all adds up to a beautiful and fulfilling life together, Jeff. I am living a life I never dared dream possible, and if not for the hot coals of our past, neither of us could be. I’ve given you a card over and over again that has this verse on it. I can’t say it any more beautifully that this:
“They could not remember a time – until now – that forever didn’t seem long enough.”
And to quote my very favorite Beatles song “In my life, I love you more…” I love our life together, Jeff.
I love you.