My Husband's Gross Secret Was a Symptom of His Depression

Shannon Ashley

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The first time I found a bottle of my husband-to-be's urine, I didn't think too much about it. It was sealed up, on the floor of his car; a 20-ounce Pepsi bottle repurposed for his pee. Sure, it was kinda gross, but I figured he had filled up the bottle on one of his routine commutes from his dad's house a couple of hours away.

I didn't make a big deal about it, just chucked it into the trash can at the next gas station and we went about our day. Ultimately, I chalked it up to something that some guys do just because they can.

And then we got married.

I was ill-prepared for our new reality.

My husband worked really hard. Our marriage was short-lived, strange, and littered with issues, but his overall work ethic was never a problem in my opinion. He went to school and worked part-time while I tried to maintain the home and figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life to become a "productive member of society."

I carried tons of guilt for not contributing financially in the marriage. It wasn’t particularly unusual, though, particularly in the evangelical circles we were both raised in. Although “homemaker” was probably not the life I wanted, it was the life I thought good Christian girls were supposed to pursue.

Since I couldn’t go get a job without a driver’s license, I wound up selling off my valuables to make financial contributions. EBay was still big in those days, so I sold my professional model Buffet bass clarinet, and all of my sheet music. I never played music after that, but I didn't think it mattered. I also sold clothes, books, and jewlery.

It’s safe to say that both my husband and I had plenty of reasons to feel stressed and circumstantially depressed. We got married because we thought we loved each other, and we had so much fun together when we were dating.

Yet our married life was a musty wet blanket which smothered all of that fun and our high hopes for the future.

Honestly, I don’t even remember when or how peeing in bottles became this big thing in our marriage. It just was. We lived on the Edwardsville campus in family housing at Southern Illinois University and turned one of the bedrooms into a makeshift office with a desktop computer. This was 2003, when desktops were still those big clunky beasts most folks needed just to get on the internet.

My husband and I each spent many hours at that desktop PC. Personally, I read, wrote, and researched. I dreamed a lot about working from home. When I wasn’t on EBay or looking up knitting patterns (for another business I believed I would someday begin), I was blogging on Xanga or consuming YA fan fiction based upon shows like Smallville and One Tree Hill.

Eventually, I began dabbling in writing my own fan fiction, but it inevitably turned out smutty or LGBT and that confused me since I was so immersed in the guilt of evangelical purity culture. I was, after all, a married virgin.

After a while, I began to audibly groan each time I stepped into our little office. Another pee bottle? You've got to be kidding me. I kept finding plastic beverage bottles filled with my husband's pee. Our bathroom was no more than five feet away from the computer, yet my spouse had begun a habit of peeing into water or soda bottles right there at the computer.

I had a lot of questions.

I didn't understand why it didn't bother him to have pee bottles lying around the house. I was also unclear how on earth every bottle was, well, full. What that meant was that my husband was going to the trouble of opening a partially filled bottle just to keep on filling it. Didn't the stench bother him? And what if he had more... volume than the bottle would contain? Were there pee accidents that he was cleaning up behind my back?

After several occasions of finding urine-filled bottles nonchalantly stuck beneath the computer table, I became extremely frustrated. My husband was unable to answer any of my questions about his habit. He couldn't tell me why he refused to empty his bladder in the bathroom. Or why, at the very least, he couldn't discard the awful pee bottles so I didn't have to look at them.

Every question I asked was answered with an exasperated, "I don't know."

"Well, I don't want to keep seeing them," I said.

To be fair, he sort of complied with my wish. I did begin to see fewer pee bottles. Sure, I still found them upon occasion in the car. And every once in a while, he'd forget a few in the computer room.

For a while though, it was definitely less.

But it didn't take too long for me to realize what was really happening. He hasn't curbed his habit. And he wasn't throwing out the bottles after filling them up. He was hiding them.

Eventually, I found pee bottles stashed behind couch cushions. Or, toward the back of high shelves. There was one time in particular when I was boxing up belongings for our upcoming move and I found yet another Pepsi bottled filled with his urine. This time, it was hidden inside of a Nightmare Before Christmas stocking in the linen closet.

On that occasion, I lost it, knowing I could never look at that stocking without seeing a bottle of pee. I yelled at my husband and demanded to know why the heck he insisted upon hiding his urine around the house. I didn't think I could take it anymore, and that became one of those definitive moments where I chose to check out of the relationship.

Our marriage was troubled for multiple reasons, and I was hardly the picture of a sound mind. But I also felt that I was done trying to fix things at that point.

In those days, I never thought to Google the issue, because Google simply wasn't the knee jerk answer to everything back then. Which, of course, is both good and bad. People tried to talk to each other more, which was good. But sometimes, Google could have helped me better understand difficult things.

It wasn't until after my husband's affair and our subsequent divorce that I watched The Aviator, a film based on the life of Howard Hughes. There's a scene in the movie where Hughes is seen peeing into milk bottles, and that was the first time it occurred to me that urinating into bottles might be more of a "thing" among men than I ever imagined.

Today when I Google "peeing into bottles," I come up with a slew of stories on Reddit and all across the internet about guys who for whatever reason went through a time in their life where they habitually peed into bottles.

Some men describe dumping and reusing the bottles, while others admit to hiding them, or at least, collecting a bunch of them before a final disposal.

Plenty of guys say it's a habit they developed in the midst of depression or mental illness. But others insist it was just easier to do when they didn't want to get up from the computer or whatever else they were doing. Some dudes even talk about it much like a self-soothing habit while others say it helps them better track their urination.

They cite characteristics like volume and color.

Had I ventured over to Google, it's hard to say how I would have handled things in hindsight. I was a very different person in my early twenties compared to who I am at nearly forty. I'd like to think that if I'd better understood depression and the importance of positive metal hygiene that I might have been more helpful than horrified.

But I really can't be certain.

Ultimately, it became one of those secrets I didn't think I could tell anyone until I began making a living by spilling my secrets and I discovered that other people have been through this issue themselves.

That's still the most shocking part of my writing career. It never gets old for me how I can reveal these seemingly embrrassing or shameful secrets and discover that I’m not alone.

For a long time, I internalized much of my husband's behavior. After we divorced, he married his high school sweetheart, the woman he cheated on me with during our marriage. I took on his issues and thought that it must have been all my fault that he peed into bottles, lied to me, and cheated. Sometimes, I was ashamed of him too. As if I was just this weirdo who only attracted damaged men, as in men who were bound to treat me poorly.

But I believed I was to blame for his behavior simply because I thought that marriage was the end game back then. And I believed that for a very long time. Whenever an ex moved on and got married, I thought that meant "they won." Worse yet, I thought it meant that all of our relationship woes were my fault. Like I was always going to be the dysfunctional common denominator.

I had to grow up a lot to finally understand that couples have secrets and marriages aren't perfect. That's just a given in life.

Does my ex-husband still pee in bottles? I have no clue. His life is not my circus. And that's the beauty of moving on. Sure, I've got to live with whatever happened between me and my former partners, but I also get to glean good lessons from those experiences.

I was a bad wife. I was young, naive, inexperienced, and burdened with undiagnosed mental health issues. My lack of life experience showed up in every one of my choices throughout my young adult years.

There are a million different things I could have done in my marriage to have either dealt with it better or to have ended it sooner. In hindsight, maybe I wouldn't have married him at all.

What I should have done was sort out my own stuff first before hitching my trailer onto someone else's life. That's just good advice for anything we do. I dropped out of school and put my personal development on hold to play the role of a housewife for two and a half years.

Where did that get me? In a sexless marriage with a man who peed in bottles and hid them around the apartment.

My life has been a cautionary tale.

But goodness, it feels good to come out and say it.

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN
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