The day before he entered rehab, the breath worked. It was a miracle in two ways: first, that I got a chocolate souffle up 5,800 feet, and second, that my partner was taking action to end his alcohol addiction. A few days ago, I thought both were impossible.
I’m far from a professional baker, but last year I wrote a cookbook called “50 things to cook before you die” a collection of dessert recipes from amazing bakers like Christina Tosi, Joanne Chang and Duff Goldman.
A few months prior, in late 2020, my partner had contracted COVID, and the effects were not going away. He had become massively depressed and he attempted to cope with his overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness by drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol.
For a moment, I was in denial. He was not an alcoholic. He drank every day, which wasn’t so strange in 2020 – a lot of people I knew drank every day. He was just depressed. He was a COVID long hauler. It was something easily fixable. His problem would go away as quickly as COVID had arrived, and I would get my partner back.
But the depression and alcohol use got worse. While he was still there physically, he was no longer available to me. He couldn’t see beyond himself to realize how much he was hurting me. Or, if he could see it, there was nothing he could do to stop the drinking, which fueled the depression.
The man who fixed my broken heart, who showed me that it was possible to love again after my painful divorce, who befriended my children – this man was indeed gone, retired in his apartment on the other side of town and the handful of vodka he drank every day.
The more he withdrew, the louder I cooked. I had all these recipes to try: cakes that crumbled, puddings that didn’t harden, pie crusts that crumbled when touched. As he crumbled, I crumbled too – only my breakdowns were for sugar, flour and eggs. Collapsing cakes are easier to deal with than a collapsing relationship.
I continued to deny, prolonging the inevitable breakup because I felt too weak to bear the pain. But then the kids and I came home to him drunk on my couch at 2 p.m., and that was it. I could find excuses for his disrespect towards me, but exposing my children took me too far. I kicked him out for the last time, a long-awaited break in our pattern of feeling better and in control of his drinking when he was around me, only to crumble and fall into the bottle of vodka when he was alone.
I told myself that I would never see him again unless it was to drive him to rehab, which I knew would never happen. I avoided both his calls and my cooking, doing nothing but mourn the loss of my once good relationship.
Two recipes from the cookbook had particularly escaped me. The first was a very daunting baking, Courtney Rich’s ultimate s’mores cake, a recipe with so many components it was a two day process. The second was Rise’s chocolate soufflé, notoriously difficult at first, made even more difficult by my high altitude in Colorado. I had walked through an egg carton trying, unsuccessfully, to get my soufflés to rise. I had blamed the altitude and given up.
One day I got up off the floor and decided to tackle this two-day-old s’mores cake, never imagining that my marshmallow topping would actually turn out, or that my chocolate cake would be perfection. absolute. But it was.
I was shocked and incredibly proud of myself. I felt like if I could make this cake, I could do anything. The kids and I celebrated with s’mores cake like it was a birthday; I had finally found some joy and pride in my new reality of being single again.
Buoyed by the success of my s’mores cake, I returned to the chocolate soufflé recipe, determined to ensure that at least one would rise above its ramekin rim and allow me to feel that I got something good in my life. I whipped my yolks, scalded the milk, beat the egg whites. I very delicately folded the egg whites into the pastry cream, and filled my sugar-coated ramekins three-quarters full. This time, somehow, they worked. They got up. My soufflés puffed up like little clouds of chocolate, pushing up what felt like the most important few inches of my life.
At the same time that I performed this miracle, another happened: My partner decided he was tired of feeling awful and wanted to go to rehab and rehab for help. He wanted to get sober.
I was still mad at him for destroying my life and sad how weak he had become. At the same time, I was so happy that he decided to get help and stop drinking alcohol which was aggravating his depression. I was skeptical, but agreed to be his emergency contact and talk to his regular psychiatrist. Maybe things would get better.
Yet so much confidence was gone. I had a lot to think about while he was in treatment, and so I thought while I was cooking cookie and cream macaroons, peeled rhubarb strips for a cheesecake top, and browned butter for a peach cobbler. I contemplated our future over pans of salted caramel fudge brownies, and wondered if I had the guts in me to trust her again while burning glassy crusts on cremes brulee.
I got better at baking and I got better at being alone. I participated in Zoom Couples Therapy, where I learned a lot – they were uncomfortable, but they were things I had to learn. At the end of the six weeks, I was both excited and scared that my partner was leaving rehab.
I still wasn’t totally determined to pick up where we left off, but I was willing to try. Regardless of what happened in our relationship, I could make a s’more cake and a soufflé. I would find out.
It was hard, especially in the beginning. Every time I wasn’t near him, I was scared and afraid that he would drink again. But instead of fighting those negative feelings, I accepted them as a necessary part of the process. Rebuilding trust involves fear and anxiety, and while I opened myself up to the good possibilities, I knew I had to be ready for the bad ones as well.
To make it easier for me, he brought home some saliva breathalyzer test strips, encouraging me to test him whenever I felt uncomfortable. He did another six months of outpatient rehab, and he continued therapy to unpack his past so we have a chance at a future.
It’s worked. Over the past nine months, he has shown me that I can trust him more than ever. That he’s committed to staying sober and being the man my kids and I need him to be. He also gave me a reason to keep baking beyond the cookbook recipe tests ― without the sugars in the alcohol, he became a real sugar fiend, gobbling up cookies, brownies and cakes as fast as I can cook them.
It feels like a miracle how much our relationship has improved in those months since he sought help for his alcohol addiction. And this miracle is even sweeter than chocolate soufflé.
Need help with a substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the United States, call 800-662-HELP (4357) for SAMHSA National Helpline.
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