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Ageless beauty Lea Salonga reveals her stay-young secrets in the August 2016 issue (the anti-aging special!) of Good Housekeeping Philippines. Available on newsstands and bookstores nationwide.
At 45 years of age, I was in love again. I was going to have a fresh start in life after 15 years of being alone, and my son by my first marriage was going to have a father at last. Little did I know that, half a year later, I would be wishing I were alone once more
I met my American husband Gene Emmanuel, 47, “through the mail,” I guess you could put it. We were introduced through a letter by a common friend. We started corresponding, he from Germany where he was assigned by the US Navy, and I from New York where I was teaching. After six months, Gene flew to New York to meet me. Nine months later, we decided to get married. He was to retire from the US Navy, and we would wed and live in the Philippines. Happily ever after, I hoped.
But not a year had passed when I began to witness Gene drinking heavily. I never suspected that he could have a drinking problem because during our courtship, I would only see him down the occasional beer or two. He was always very sober and lucid every time we saw each other or talked on the phone. I never heard him slur at all. That’s why I was taken aback when, six months in to our marriage, the bottle or two of beer became a bottle or two of Tanduay, the very potent local rum.
My son Basil and I would come home for lunch from school, where I also taught, and find him sprawled on the bed, unconscious from too much drink. There would be no food on the table, because he would have forgotten to cook the meal he was supposed to have prepared for us. Sensing the problem, my mother would invite Basil and I to eat at her house. But I refused. I did not want her to know.
Sometimes, Gene would remain sober for months. Other times, he would drink but be in control of himself. And although once I got a bruise on my arm where he held me too tight, unaware of the amount of pressure he was exerting, he was never violent. He always stayed away from me when he drank; most of the time, he just slept. That’s why I didn’t think that what he had was already alcoholism.
When I did ask him if he was an alcoholic, he denied it. I asked him why he drank so much. He said, “I don’t know,” then proceeded to give me every excuse he could think of. He blamed my son to whom he had difficulty adjusting. I told him Basil also had problems adjusting to him. He said the language obstacle agitated him. I suggested it was time he learned Filipino, but until now—three years later—he still cannot speak it. He said he had nothing to do. Since he liked to cook, we opened a canteen in one of the towns in Isabela, where we then lived. The canteen did pretty well, but Gene still continued to drink, this time in the canteen premises.
It was during one of our talks that Gene finally admitted to alcoholism. This was around a year after we got married. I found out where there were rehabilitation centers, but he refused to go to one. I suggested going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, but he gave the excuse that the meeting venue was too far. He thought that if we moved to another town, changed our environment, maybe he’d change too.
So we relocated to San Pedro, Laguna in hopeful anticipation of a new life. The high school where I was going to work as principal suggested that we put up a canteen within the school grounds. I told Gene it was a good idea because that way, he’d be forced not to drink and smoke, being inside the campus. He did not refuse, but said we should settle down and fix up our new house first. I agreed. But after we got settled, he said maybe we should wait.
So once again, every time I’d come home from school, I’d worry about what sight awaited me. Would I find Gene smiling in the kitchen, whipping up a delicious lunch? Or would he be collapsed on the bed, dead drunk?
I take pride in my ability to keep my emotions in check. That’s the way my father brought me up. For me, crying never came easy. But ever since I first saw Gene pass out, the tears kept coming. Sometimes I’d cry in front of him, most of the time I’d cry alone. I felt disappointed and frustrated. In my prayers, I would blame God—why me? I couldn’t bring myself to tell my family in Isabela of my problems. When my mother would say, “I think he’s drunk again, I would immediately attempt to cover up for him. What could I do? I loved him.
As principal of a high school, I was supposed to be a role model for my students. Can you imagine my embarrassment when the school learned that the husband of their principal had a drinking problem? I hoped they would never find out, but something happened that forced me to tell them the whole truth.
I came home for lunch one day and found Gene inside the bedroom. I could smell the sickening stench of liquor. I confronted him and asked, “Are you happy being like this?” I thought we were going to have just another of out heated discussions where I would take care not to raise my voice, knowing this would only agitate and cause him to shout back. But miraculously he replied with, “Okay, if I have to go to rehab, I should go today, or else change my mind again.”
Within seconds, I was on the phone to the Recovery Circle Foundation, jotting own their address and admission requirements. I quickly packed Gene’s clothes, and went out to get a taxi. While I was out, gene started to drink another bottle of Tanduay, hoping to pass out and be too difficult to move that I would change my mind. But I dragged him and his luggage to the waiting cab. I still cannot believe how strong I was at that moment. My heart was brimming both with anger and triumph.
While we were on the south Super Highway, Gene tried to get my sympathy and begged me to turn back. He said he would miss me, gave me so many reasons why I should change my mind. I calmly told him that we couldn’t turn around because of the heavy traffic. He threatened to open the car door and get out on the highway. I reasoned that he would only get hit by a car. I felt like I was talking to a child.
Suddenly, Gene asked that we pray the rosary. I was so surprised. Although I don’t usually carry a rosary, I found one in my bag. As we prayed, Gene became sleepy. I let him doze, but he would wake up every now and then. Throughout the three hours it took to get from San Pedro, Laguna to Recovery Circle in White Plains, Quezon City, I did my best to soothe him, I din not go back to school that day.
Gene joined Recovery Circle’s 10-week live-in program. During that period, I saw him twice a week. We had weekly multi-family therapy sessions where the families and friends of the alcohol dependents shared their feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Another weekly activity was the meeting of the co-dependents, or those who lived with the alcoholics. We were educated in the ways of the Recovery program, so we could implement these at home. Thankfully, when I told my school mentor the whole story, she was very understanding and agreed to adjust my schedule so that I could attend the meetings.
Gene’s rehabilitation has been quite effective. After he finished the program, he stayed at Recovery for eight more months, this time as an assistant. He stopped working for medical reasons, but plans to go back soon. I’m very happy to say that he has also voluntarily given lectures in schools and community meetings about alcoholism.
I’m not saying that Gene has made a total turnaround. He has had some major slips since he stopped working and lost his focus, but Recovery has prepared us for that. We have learned that alcoholism is a disease, probably genetic, making it difficult for the afflicted to change his habits and way of thinking. There are no former alcoholics, only recovering ones.
I’m now back to my normal routine in school. I regularly attend AA’s family support group, A1-Anon, which has been of tremendous help in teaching me how to deal with Gene’s addiction. There are days when it still gets me down. Then I chastise myself over and over again for not getting to know gene better before the marriage. Sometimes, I still feel the urge to leave him. I’m not proud for myself for feeling this way, but I find strength in prayers. Each time I pray, I feel like somebody is telling me not to abandon my husband. What helps me go on is knowing that while I love and care for Gene, God loves and cares for him more.