I spent the entirety of my thirties with Todds. From the ages of 29 to 40 I was either married to, rebounding with or in socio-political-romantic-power struggles with three contiguous Todds. When I found myself alone at 40, I decided no more bad boys, fixer uppers, Republicans, actors or Todds. Since I live in Los Angeles, I was utterly single for five silent years. Tumbleweeds blew nightly through my bedroom. Alone was my new normal, which was kind of a relief from the box of man-shaped broken cookies that had come before.

When I was 45 I met Canada (my name for him) at a garage sale during a heat wave. He’d answered my Craigslist ad selling a drafting table that was taking up serious real estate in my garage. He was late and I was annoyed, but when he clambered out of his ancient Mercedes Benz station wagon, a voice in my head calmly informed me he was going to be my husband.

On our first date I was disappointed to learn he was sober. I was not. By which I mean, I wasn’t drunk at that moment but I enjoyed alcohol at certain times of certain days and he did not, ever.

Now, I’m no Dina Lohan, but I rarely shy away from a second cocktail if the situation demands it. I sought out a Medical Marijuana card so seriously I refused to just go with the catchall health excuse of insomnia. My self-diagnosis of perimenopause endeared me to my Russian she-doctor, dressed and made up like Bonnie Tyler in the “Total Eclipse of The Heart” video.

Her examination room had the telltale janky décor and cheap lighting, as if, in between dispensing medical marijuana cards, it doubled as the doctor’s office set in a porn movie.

Against my better judgment, I continued dating Canada, who I dismissively referred to as Sober Guy to my friends. While intimidated by his calm, boundless sobriety, I was deeply attracted to what made him go sober. His stories of smoking pot at twelve, doing acid at fourteen and being kicked out of college for cocaine-and-scotch-fueled-marauding impressed me. Canada quit everything at 21, when the rest of us were just ramping up. His past dazzled the tiny part of me that still desired danger, while his polite, gentle soberness was proof I wasn’t repeating history.

Dating a sober man had never occurred to me. I couldn’t fathom not splitting a bottle of anything over a meal or watching ‘Jesus Is Magic’ stoned in bed. Until Canada, intimacy and reality were softened by wine and/or weed. What unspeakably private bedtime interaction isn’t improved by a joint or a glass of something deep? Slowly, diligently, Canada became more precious than my well-earned weekend bottle of La Crema.

Because his sobriety was simply an entrenched part of himself, like his old-growth swath of chest hair, I eventually got used to it. Even better, I finally believed him when he said my usage had no affect on him. He truly enjoyed me with some cab sav under my belt and it was habit-forming having a surge-pricing averse designated driver.

Safely past the early awkward days, we started showing each other off to our friends and family. While everyone was ostensibly happy for us, each side worried we were going to taint the other. My friends begged me not to sober up, his friends tried to bring him to meetings. To everyone’s wonderment, our individual problems and preferences didn’t bleed into becoming each others’ problems and preferences, something we had both failed at in previous stabs at love. His sober first marriage tanked as brutally and vividly as my unsober one.

We both confessed to each other, that until each other, we couldn’t imagine being with each other.

But being older, we both were less extreme about what defined us, and what was important about potential mates. I didn’t challenge his sobriety, and he didn’t dare me to examine my lack thereof. It was a lively tightrope of the both of us balancing both of our selves.

We eloped on 10/10/10 at Mayra’s Wedding chapel, a sturdy, unromantic office. Our wedding package included a reusable bouquet and a one size fits all wedding dress. Our Justice wore a graduation robe and took photos of us on my iPhone while we recited our vows, with only ourselves as our witnesses. That morning we had gone to a funeral and after our wedding we visited friends with a newborn. It was a circle of life day.

After two fruitless years in the foster system, and a withering adoption process, which would have driven Jennifer Lopez to shoot up, we adopted our daughter in 2012. Everything fell perfectly askew in that sweaty chaos blend of home, child, work, pets and a continuum of dirty dishes, diapers and dog hair.

But even sweatier was when Canada decided he didn’t want to be sober anymore.

In the midst of all this, Canada sought therapy. Excavating his past, he realized that his sobriety had little to do with his drinking. A lot of it had to do with his father, a man I had only known as a sober and droll WASP.

But Canada’s childhood was deformed by his father’s fury drinking, which led to abrupt job and state changes. Canada attended four different high schools in four years. Finally his father was arrested for driving the wrong way on a freeway in a Cutty Sark blackout. He went to AA and found the rest of his life. When Canada drank himself out of college a year later, he seized sobriety as an opportunity to have something in common with his remote father. The Big Book was their significant bond for twenty-six years.

But now, Canada was chafing at the ill-fitting connection. Sober Guy had outgrown the need for his father’s approval and respect- at least on those terms.

On his 48th birthday I was solo sipping pinot noir when he told me he wanted to drink again. He felt strongly that he could drink occasionally and reasonably. He even wanted to try marijuana again. He wanted to know what I thought.

I was nervous, having grown up in a family with more than one angry, grabby drunk. But, for once in my life, I felt my opinion was not only not needed, it was completely unhelpful. If I told him he couldn’t drink, then I’d be refusing to allow him to discover who he might be outside of his father’s shadow. If I poured him a glass, then who would I be? His master enabler? Would his family and friends blame him or me? The decision had to be his and his alone. But we agreed that if I felt his usage was becoming a problem I would speak up.

We both felt excitedly renegade. No one defies AA and gets away with it, I silently worried. I had privately thought AA was a strange construct. AA is globally regarded as the only proven cure for alcoholism. It is a deeply noble institution that has rescued entire families, including members of my own.

Yet I’d always wondered if alcoholism was a disease, how could sitting in a room with other victims and ceding control to a higher power be the only cure?

And isn’t a symptom of the disease the ironclad belief that you don’t have it? Was Canada in denial now that he thought he wasn’t an alcoholic or were the past twenty-six years of his life the denial?

Even though the 12 Steps and The Program had been his Ten Commandments for half his life, he was chafing at the dogma- the ‘either you’re in or you’re out’ extremism of the faith, which is essential for the addict in recovery. Perhaps, he reasoned, it was because he really wasn’t an alcoholic.

It was unnerving for us both to be that politically incorrect.

While he was questioning his ‘faith’, I’d see him eye the artisanal gluten free pumpkin beers and the locavore gins made from foraged juniper berries in restaurants and liquor stores. “There’s just so much more of it now”, he’d utter in awe.

It took Canada months to actually have his first drink. It was a beer, in Seattle, with his brother and me. We tried not to watch as we chatted about anything else we could think of. He didn’t get drunk. He didn’t even finish the pint. It was reasonably anticlimactic, but I felt an old delicate thread of tension silently snap.

Canada was unleashing himself from a lifelong obedience to what used to matter and what others might think. I didn’t want to tell him that he seemed more adult, more in control of his controls. Then he said it. He turned to me after his first scotch and said, ‘I finally feel like a man.’

My family was scared and whispered their fears to me. His family did too.

My answer was my mantra. “Watch him and see. Does it look like a problem?”

It’s been nearly two years since Canada broke up with Sober Guy. He’s gotten tipsy once. It was at home, with family. He told a story. And he was funny, eyes glittering with glee. While enthralled by the glimpse of bad boy, I was relieved the next morning when dutiful, responsible dad woke up early and made pancakes with his two year old girl.

My new normal is I drink less. A lot less. I let my medical marijuana card expire. My gentle sobriety is a lot like my lazy veganism. I’m too old and maximized by motherhood to be extremist about anything. On some weekends I eat eggs and some weekends I drink tequila. My husband occasionally tries a new micro brew while cooking dinner for the three of us.

This is, for now, our newest normal. Or, there is no new. There is no normal. We shift and change and stay the same, just like a river. The riverbanks remain relatively familiar, yet the water is always new every time you step in.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Kathleen Dennehy’s story.