I get this question all the time. I buy a bus ticket with a few pounds and an American accent, and the bus driver wants to know how the hell I ended up here. It’s a valid inquiry.
The answer I always give is “my husband lives here,” which is, ultimately, the truth. We got married and I moved. But I also worked my ass off to get here, and it wasn’t an easy choice to make.
My husband, Si, and I have internet been friends for years, and when we started our relationship, we were long distance and commuted across the Atlantic Ocean every few months. It was far from an ideal situation. We of course knew that one of us would have to relocate if we were going to stay together, so in January 2016 I stepped off a plane to spend 6 months in the UK, which is the longest you can stay without a visa. It was a high-stakes trial to see if I could live in the North East of England after spending my entire life on the East Coast of the United States.
But what started out as a trial ended up as an engagement, because that’s just what happens when a couple of idiots fall in love.
The difficulty with that was I was only eighteen days sober when I stepped off the plane. (See 7 Things to Expect in Recovery for more understanding of the state my head was in during these early days.) I was a complete mess, homesick and still a bit shaky from withdrawals. I was in a completely foreign country and living with someone I’d never spent more than a few weeks at a time with. I’d been to England on one other occasion, and only spent a few days in Newcastle, and suddenly I lived there. I couldn’t work because I had no visa. I knew a few people who were Si’s friends. I was determined not to drink in a country with a pub on every corner and an off-license down every street. I also had no idea how to voice any of these things at the time.
What I did have were meetings. It took a couple of weeks before I was brave enough to leave the house, especially on my own, but I went to one down the street. An amazing woman offered to take me to an all-women meeting the following week, and I went. I just got in this stranger’s car because I needed help, and I had to put all my fears aside to get it. It’s the best choice I ever made.
I got sober in this country, and made some amazing friends. These incredible people loved me and nurtured me and accepted me when I couldn’t do any of those things for myself. And Si was a saint. He encouraged me and loved me through it all, and it wasn’t easy. I was working so hard just to stay afloat, and my last relationship left me afraid of my own voice. It was nearly impossible for me to speak. Domestic abuse does that to people- I now know that I am not alone in that, but I felt broken. I was like one of those old-fashioned dolls where you pull the string to make them talk, but my string was so frayed that I feared another pull, just a little too hard, would shatter it completely.
My new friends threw me a Leaving Do (Americans read: Going Away Party) and I packed up my things. I was so sad to leave. I was concerned for my sobriety and I hated to leave Si and my friends and my support system. Si and I cried together the last night, and the morning I left. We sat together in the airport before I had to go through security. We talked a little about how we’d see each other soon, but we had no firm plans. We were quiet and teary mostly, and although we’d walked away from each other before, that was even harder. It actually got harder every single time.
When I got off the plane in the states it was the end of July, almost my 26th birthday, and the humidity hit me like a ton of bricks. It felt amazing. I got to see my family who I’d missed so dearly. My old employer contacted me and offered me a job. I celebrated my birthday. I spoke to Si every day, as always. I counted five hours ahead on my fingers, as always, to account for the time difference. I kept up with all my friends in the UK. We called each other and video chatted and messaged and never lost touch. I went to meetings in the states and got a temporary sponsor. I got a permanent sponsor who lives in Newcastle, and we did step work over the internet.
And I missed Si. I missed him like I’d miss my arm if I cut it off. He wasn’t there and it ached. It hurt so bad and I just wasn’t sure what to do. Should I move? But what about my family? Should he move? But what about his job? I never wanted to get married before- is this really what I want for myself? I’m not even a year sober- I’m breaking the rules and what if I drink again over this? My mind reeled. We took a break.
I needed time. I knew that I loved him, that was never a question. I can’t even remember a time that I didn’t love him. But time takes time. I was aware that I was a mess. I knew that I was confused. I lived in a state of inability to trust myself, which is a terrifying place to be. I had to get past it. I needed to be completely sure. I deserved it, and so did he.
We never stopped talking. I just took the pressure off myself. And it worked. I focused on me, my step work, my health. I worked hard and saved money and I talked and I thought and then I decided. I loved him. What else was there?
We set a wedding date. We looked into the visa process. We got married. I applied for the visa. I cried myself to sleep a lot. I missed him. My visa came, and he came and got me. We did a farewell tour. I packed up two suitcases and moved my happy ass to the UK.
I complicate everything. I wind things around in my head until they no longer resemble themselves. I talk it to death. I consider all the options. I think of the worst case scenario. The best case scenario. I marinate in it. I can turn what to eat for lunch into a whole ordeal. It’s a talent and a curse. But this decision, the biggest of my life, was the easiest one I ever made.
Why did I move to the UK? Because my husband lives here. Because I love him.