The Enabler, The victim, The Protector

Hello everyone. My name is Zeb Armstrong and I am Dry But Wet founder and amazing human Amy’s husband. Today I’m here to tell the tale of my experience of loving someone so much who has a drinking problem and the guilt, fear and reflection one suffers when they have to take the saddest of drastic action to right a wrong – a wrong they had a big part in starting.

Now without sounding like a wanker, my story isn’t going to make much sense if I don’t give you a bit of background about myself, and writing about one’s self (to me anyway) doesn’t sit right – it’s why I don’t read autobiographies!

Port Fairy is a small coastal town in South West Victoria. It’s where I grew up. As a teenager I wasn’t much of a drinker. Unlike most kids I didn’t really have any self-esteem or confidence issues (don’t worry; I’m not arrogant… I have plenty now!). Girls seemed to like me, school was easy and I played lots of sport and music. There were plenty of parties when I was 15 – 18 but they were usually out at farms or at someone’s house whose parents had gone away. There was lots of drinking and lots of drugs at these parties. I would have a couple of beers but all that mattered to me in the world was getting home so I could be up early surfing. With my idiot mates throwing up in cars and making me stay places later than I wanted, whatever it took, I would get home to my own bed and be up before the sun to surf. Nowadays you can tell a week out if the surf is going to be good, but back in the day, you had to get up, ride your bike to the surf and check it. If we had Willy Weather in the ‘1990s maybe I would have drunk more and risked hangovers because if you could see there was going to be no surf then who cared.

Then high school finished and I chased my high school sweet heart to the surf-less hell hole that is Melbourne. Within the first week of uni, this girl had dumped me and I felt heartbreak for the first time. I had moved away from home (and the surf) now I was stuck in Melbourne.  I couldn’t get out of bed. Let alone drag my sorry ass to uni. But I started hanging around with a group of musicians that were four or five years older than me, and I started to drink more. Fitzroy is ground zero for great pubs, and with a well-tuned pool game, the pub became my new sanctuary.

Me and my mates played in bands, went to gigs and we were traditionalists. A pot of Carlton. A slab of VB none of this new crap. Then I started to notice something. We would meet at the pub at say 4pm, drink until 8pm, then go to the gig, drink there and while I would feel a little drunk, I never got into fights, never raised my voice, never became annoying or obnoxious. My mates would be blink drunk – my mates who had four or five years experience on me by the way. But I would know when enough was enough and trundle on home. And what’s more… I didn’t get hangovers. Never. By 7am I would be texting my mates trying to organise the next night’s adventures and they would be near dead. So year after year I started pushing it. The cricket starts at 10am, I would crack my first can at 10am. The races started at midday; I would be on my stool, form done by 11.50am. This is where I discovered the beauty of daytime drinking. I hated going out at night because of cigarettes at all the band venues, so unless it was a really good show, I would just watch my sport during the day, head on down to the pub at 5pm to meet my mates, have a couple with them, then go home. There was not a person in Melbourne who could drink with me watching a Test Match. Many tried and many were asleep by 5pm. And still, I didn’t have a problem, I only ever drank the same beer, I didn’t really get drunk and I didn’t get hangovers.

Then I met Amy

Amy would drink wine out of a box starting at 4pm and stay out until 4am. I really liked this girl so she needed to be taught how to drink properly.

Job one – I had to get her to give up illicit drugs and to her credit she did straight away.

Step two – Amy was still drinking crap then staying out all night at the start of a wonderful romance leaving me home alone. Eventually she would stumble in at 4am with no recollection of where she had been or what she had done and she would say the most hurtful things to me, then claim to have no recollection of it the next day. I would often be sitting in the loungeroom from 8am devastated at what Amy had called me or said to me, and I would sit there and sit there waiting for her to wake up and say sorry, but she never did. She never had any recollection of anything. We were at the start of a great romance and my girlfriend was out with god knows who doing god knows what instead of at dinner or the pictures with me. I put up with this for six or seven months, then I decided I missed the surf too much and was sick of Melbourne, and if Amy loved me, she might just leave town with me and start acting like a girlfriend. Luckily she did and we moved to Port Stephens on the Mid-North Coast of NSW. I went back and finished uni with honours and Amy got a good job.

Plan 3 – Teach this girl to drink. In Port Stephens there was a bowls club, a golf club and a RSL and they deadset near on paid you to drink. I can still remember. It was $5 a year membership at the Bowls Club and schooners or 15 oz beers were $4. In Melbourne pots which are 10 oz were $5.

So we made some friends and on Saturdays I would play golf at 7am, finish at 10.30 and Amy would meet me in the clubhouse. We and our mates would have a couple of beers, then we would walk next door to the bowls club to get our usual table and be there and established by midday or ‘before the first’. Amy and I drank beer all day and bet on horses all day. The beauty was at the end of the races, they drew out 6×6 free schooners. All you had to do was put your name on the back of your betting ticket if it was a loser. With Amy betting $1 a race we had stacks of tickets and week after week we would win a minimum of 18 free schooners. They changed the rules because of us! From now on you were only allowed to win one set of six.

Nelson Bay was great to us. We met some great friends, got married, and I had taught this immigrant what Australian pub culture was and how to drink to honour it. I still never got drunk really, never got hangovers, and because there was nothing to do at night, Amy would come home with me. Amy got back into loving sport and we would watch the cricket, the races, the footy all the while Amy was drinking with me at my pace. I didn’t know it but I had created a monster. But her blackouts were rarer, her abuse and anger was almost non-existent and all seemed well. But Nelson Bay had crap surf and I wanted to come home to Port Fairy, back to my beloved surf spots, my golf course and the once great pubs.

Scheme 4 – How to stop this train. For the first little while in Port Fairy Amy was just ‘Zeb’s wife’ and this must have been hard. Now in 2022 Amy is the queen of this place and the roles have definitely changed. But as time wore on, Amy was making new friends and while she was drinking and going to the pub with me, she was then going out for dinner with her new friends, and because she never had an off-switch she was back into her old habits. Work trips where she couldn’t account for where she had been for 12 hours with me ringing hotels, hospitals and staying up all night calling her and looking for her, then she would get home the next day and have no explanation and no memory. This was no way to live, but I had moulded this girl to suit myself. Sure I would go out at night with her on occasion and we had some great times at concerts and so on. Then baby Violet came, but Amy kept going to Melbourne, kept blacking out and kept coming home with no idea where she had been or what she had done. But I had invented this. Amy was drinking like I taught her, then going out for dinner, then going to a club, while I was at home with our daughter just wanting to know she was safe. Yes I had taught her the beauty of daytime drinking, but I also taught her to never go to a second venue, and to leave and call it a day when the races or cricket or footy had finished. But both in Melbourne and in Port Fairy where Amy had now her own group of friends, she was taking the daytime skills I had taught her, but midday to 7pm was just her warm up. I was done and home by 6pm, Amy was just starting, and she was blacking out, she was always so angry and she was saying the most horrible things to me then claim no recollection the next day.

Step 5 – Gotta stop this. So I’ll skip a few steps. I was trying to have the best of both worlds. I was trying to enjoy drinking watching sport with Amy, but stop her from going on with it. All this did was lead to tension. Amy resented the fact that I was trying to control her and her blackouts, abuse and hangovers were getting worse. It might have been my fault and I lived with the guilt. But Amy was a role model for a beautiful young girl and I couldn’t let Violet keep seeing her mum like this. It had got to the point where I wouldn’t even drink with Amy watching sport because see was getting angry, abusive and blacking out earlier and earlier. Me- I still hadn’t changed but I was responsible for a child. I still drank beer but rarely at the pub. I was always looking after Violet.

Plan 6 – It couldn’t get any worse. I couldn’t be talked to or called anything worse so yeah I was stepping in and doing something, setting some rules and if Amy resented me for it then that was just bad luck. Firstly I would not socialise with Amy if she was drinking. She would humiliate me in-front of my friends, then I would wait in bed until she got home while in the meantime answering Violet’s ever expanding questions of ‘where’s mum’.

The Final Solution – Sorry for the horrific WWII reference there, but it was horrific. Amy was mentally abusing me and crushing any confidence I had without even knowing she was doing it. She was endangering Violet by swinging her wildly drunk dancing and failing on her. So enough was enough. I might have built this, but I could demolish it as well. I told Amy that if she was to consume alcohol, Violet and I would spend the night somewhere else. That was it. If Amy wanted to drink, she could have our big dream house to herself because I wasn’t going to take anymore hate from someone with no idea what they were doing, and Violet was not to see her mum passed out blind drunk and stinking of cheap wine. If you want to drink Amy, go for it and we will come home, we just will not be anywhere near you for the duration you are drinking.

And now today we have the most inspiring women in the world. Stone old sober. A hero to her daughter and on a biblical-like crusade to get non-alc choices in pubs and restaurants. Dry But Wet will end up being a segment on Oprah (does she still have a show?) or Ellen. My mates are coming to our house to watch the races with me to sample Amy’s non-alcoholic beer recommendations!

As for me. I’ll never change. I still know when enough is enough, I still abide by the ‘never go to a second venue’ rule, I wouldn’t have had more than 15 different beers in my life and its been years since I’ve been out past 9am.

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