Marcy S., age 47, North Carolina

Insights often come when I get up in the night to go to the bathroom — when I’m not quite awake. This popped into my head the night before last — I’m afraid to be myself in the most basic relationship of all — with Harold. Just as I was afraid to be myself with my parents as a child. Because every time I tried to assert my independence I was punished — often by the “deep freeze,” which was the most devastating form, I guess. Everything was fine as long as I was a sweet, docile, obedient, completely dependent little girl. No wonder I lost my identity and began to feel like an appendage of my mother. There was often a sense of unreality about everything.

Which is the way I feel now with Harold. We’re playing a game about ignoring his drinking problem — pretending it doesn’t exist. Even when I have faced it and confronted him, he denies the problem and we start playing the game again. We’re both acting like children. The other day I determined that the next time I saw him coming out of the closet with a glass or heard him closing the drawer where he keeps his bottle I was going to tell him very calmly and without anger or judgment that I knew what he was doing and that I just had to be honest about it. But did I? — no, it was like it always has been — he looks like a little boy who thinks he’s getting by with something and it would be cruel of me to make him face reality. I’ve always been chicken-hearted — could never bear to show anyone up or see them put on the spot. At least not someone I cared about so maybe I really do love Harold.

No, maybe it’s not that I care so much as it is that I’m afraid. Because we played games when I was a child — Mother and Daddy and I — but being a timid, insecure child I never had the courage to call them. I feel the same way now, even though I’m a grown woman and Harold is my husband, not my father.