TThere are not many little girls who aren’t captivated by the love stories introduced to them by Disney and other sources at an early age, myself included. We dream of flowing gowns, glass slippers and knights in shining armor. Falling in love at first sight with a Prince on a white horse desperately searching for true love. This fantasy is a cultural fable presented to us in a world where few have horses, sneakers are preferred over slippers and armor is worn under over-priced clothing. However, our perception of love transcends all reality and contemporary fantasies evolve.

After being married for almost 15 years, Summer Poole embarked on a new journey to finding love and raising a family. Unlike many, Summer and her ex-husband, also the father of her children, remain a united front as parents and friends. They co-parent well together and provide each other support when and where boundaries allow them. Summer also enjoys her role as a teacher at Fabra Elementary School and has made Boerne her home for the last 7 years.

In the Summer of 2017, a few friends gathered at a local eatery in Bergheim to unwind and spend some time together. It was this fateful night Summer would meet someone who may as well have had a white horse hitched up to the post out front. He was handsome, charming, kind, and generous and looking for a princess, “He had a landscaping business, seemed mature and knew his email passwords.” What more could a girl ask for, right? “He appeared so responsible and acted like he wanted to take care of us. He took us out to nice dinners, got to know my girls and our families vacationed together. I fell in love with what seemed to be much of what I hadn’t had before.”

Summer and her prince embarked on what some may say was a “hurried” relationship but to her it felt so good and right. They enjoyed time together, dreaming about their future, establishing roots together and looking forward to a love like never before. On May 19th of 2018, after celebrating her mother’s birthday, Summer and her prince were slow dancing when he got down on one knee and proposed to her. Without hesitation she said yes was honored to be his only bride, “He hadn’t been married before. He said he was ‘too picky’.  I felt well taken care of, safe and swept off my feet.”

“I never suspected anything during all this, but a few weeks after I moved in, I woke up in the morning to find him still drinking from the night before after I had gone to bed,” Summer recalls. “He never drank around the girls and didn’t drink every day so I knew he had some control. But I knew it was a problem when he would drink and was too far gone, because I became invisible. He would separate himself and just drink. It was easy for me to forgive him because I knew he had endured a trauma when he was 16, but it is hard to believe an alcoholic, even the smallest things. I started to think everything was a lie.”

Summer held on to the fairytale a bit longer and did everything she knew to manage her relationship with him and figure out how to help him with his obvious alcohol addiction. “It came to a head when we were in New Braunfels for trivia night with some of his friends; he was just belligerent. He would accuse me of things that were not true and I assumed were issues he encountered with ex-girlfriends or in other relationships. He embarrassed me beyond repair.”

In as fast as he swept her off her feet he left her on shaky ground. All Summer had been lead to believe of the man she fell in love with slowly and voraciously began to distort. “I was unfamiliar with those behaviors so I took it: the name calling, accusations, lame threats. But he would apologize and cook for me and rub my feet. It was so hard because when he was good, he was SO good. I kept thinking ‘If he could just stop drinking it would be perfect’.” Time and time again the comfort of remission would grace the scene only to unexpectedly be interrupted by the vicious cycle of alcoholism. Addiction comes in many forms, but the cycle is the same. The impact on a person and those around them, whom they love, is the same. Some vices manifest outwardly indications to the world around them there is a cycle of addiction engrained or in process with a person. However, many Americans live with a silent addiction, one that can be hidden from most, covered up, rebound from, managed, functional. A person is often more resilient than they realize, but a relationship is often less resilient than we would hope. As broken trust and boundaries begin to rattle the coziness of hopeful dreams, partners and loved ones are left with unimaginable scars.

“Another time we had dinner and when I was driving us home he asked me something that I didn’t answer like he wanted, I guess, and next thing I knew he kicked me out of his truck and left me standing in a parking lot then drove himself home. It was the angriest I had ever seen him.” But there she was, gentle, sweet, kind and lost, left in a parking lot with a broken heart and frightened outlook.  In a state of shock, she called her mother, who in the middle of the night, swiftly ran to the aid of her daughter. But Summer dug deep within herself and tapped an inner strength, much like her mothers and all the women in her family who came before her, and she had enough. A line was drawn that night and Summer knew she would have to abandon the hope of a fairytale ending with this prince. “The next morning I went back to his ranch with my sister and brother in law to get a few essentials and he didn’t remember anything, he was in tears as I packed my things.”

The difficulty we have as humans to abandon potential in something or someone we love is often a product of expectations we feel others have of us or even of ourselves. For the sake of children we can find strength to do just that. Summer knew her place as a mother and what she wanted to model for her girls so she relied on those around her to lead her toward a place of peace and security with where her future would go from here. “I am a strong and resilient woman. I come from a family of strong women. We came together and helped each other. Also, the very few people who knew what was going on chimed in and encouraged me to move on because they knew there was something better for me.”

So what does one do when their partners’ addiction compromises the health and well-being of both individuals and the relationship? “I knew that if I loved him as much as I did that I couldn’t help him by staying. I had to leave. I had this realization that if I stayed with him it was a reward for bad behavior. Losing me was what I thought he needed to hit rock bottom,” or so it was as Summer would convince herself in an effort to bring some sense to an insensible situation. Thankfully, other events occurred that ultimately lead to him engage in treatment.

In retrospect, Summer never saw this coming. She isn’t a trained counselor, a psychic, an addict, or even been around the cycle of addiction in this capacity, so there are regrets and questions she felt she had to answer for herself because she felt those around her whispering in judgement, “I think I felt judged because I was a single mom and I rushed into it, or so I think other people thought. I heard a lot of ‘Maybe you should have gone slower’, but at the same time I thought I had found this perfect guy  and was ready to give it my all, so when it started to crumble I felt like everyone was thinking ‘I told you so, you shouldn’t have gone so fast’.” And as expected, that’s a hard pill to swallow. Suffering the unexpected loss of a relationship is painful enough, but thoughts of judgement can add salt to wounds where healing is most needed.

“I am proud of myself for what I have done in starting over. I am the queen of starting over. I feel like I have been through multiple recreations of myself,” despite tears provoked by recounting the details of something so intimate, Summer has proven her boundaries, strength and resilience continue to force an evolution within her beyond expectation or prediction. Like princes of the past who sweep in and ruffle our skirts with promises of fairytales and Disney dreams, are kings of a future we have no capacity to realize.  Summer’s experience is one I hope her prince of the past can mimic, or as Darwin predicts, “It’s not the strongest or smartest who survive but those who can adapt to change.” So fear not, the fairytale is not lost, it is adapting.

The hardest challenge we may face from forced adaptation or evolution is being able to grow from it. “I think the biggest thing I learned is how to set boundaries for myself. I had never been challenged like this before so knowing when to say enough is enough and identify what I am willing to put up with for the sake of someone else was what I learned.” Like Summer, many of us feel it impossible to sit back and watch those we love struggle, but Summer’s experience is an eye opening depiction of when wanting to help someone comes at the risk of your own destruction, “I wanted to help him so bad but I NEEDED to help myself first.” For anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation, please remember, there is always going to be good and bad  in every relationship, but the level of  bad is what needs to be measured. Normal frustrations are vastly different than fight or flight responses. The intense feelings and severity outweighs all good. Get out. It is hurting you and it’s it not worth it, “I still feel haunted by some of the experiences despite all the good.”

The reality is addiction is a cancer of systems. It does not just effect the one who consumes it but the entire network of people who love and care for them. The longer loved ones allow behaviors that are hurtful to them and the consumer, the cancer only grows. Sometimes staying in a situation only feeds what needs to be eradicated. The way addiction feeds on loved ones of the consumer can rob them of qualities, characteristics and functions that were one in place to ease and regulate positivity in their life. Reclaiming what Summer lost due to the addiction of someone else slowly has begun to sprout like a lone dandelion through the cracks of worn concrete, but only once she let go of the fairytale ending she thought she knew.

“When I was sad, my girls knew it no matter how much I tried to pretend. When I moved into my new place I didn’t decorate and hang pictures and thought it would be temporary because he would get it together. But then I began to realize I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to hinge my moving forward on whether he would get better or not. When I accepted we were safe and began nesting and settling in to our new home, I felt victorious.”

There is a little blue dresser in Summer’s home that serves as a reminder. It was a project she left unattended for years with ideas and hopes of using it to display her creative and artistic abilities. She got distracted by a prospective path suited to be her happily ever after. It got forgotten. But when she let go of what she knew would not allow her to evolve into her truest form of authenticity, a fairytale began to unravel and the little blue dresser’s strength began to shine through with a fresh coat of paint and shorn up legs.

In this fairytale, ever after is Summer with mended wings, caring for her young, building a cozy nest, perching on a little blue dresser and soaring the blue skies of possibility. Forever surrounded by those who love her and will never let her fall, Summer continues to recreate her happy ending.