Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Finding Life at the End of the Bottle

Cunning…baffling… powerful..The bright side of alcoholism is recovery!. Alcoholics Anonymous uses those words to describe alcoholism. It’s true. I’ve never felt more confused and powerless than when dealing with my husband Randy’s alcoholism. It’s an intense battle—one most of us are ill-equipped to fight. The harder you try to get someone to stop drinking and change their behavior, the more futile your efforts.

During the worst of Randy’s drinking, I had a recurring nightmare. Randy and I were prisoners behind enemy lines in a war-zone. The scene that kept repeating was one in which I had escaped and was trying desperately to pull him to safety. I couldn’t do it. Each time I had to run for my life, leaving him trapped in the line of fire.

That’s an apt metaphor. If your husband or wife has a drinking problem, you’ll understand. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to get through to them.

Why can’t he stop drinking? It seemed easy for me. I could put down a drink after a few sips, and never want more. For Randy, it was impossible to say no to the next drink–even with serious consequences on the line. At first I  thought it was my fault. If only I were the perfect wife, amazingly sexy and beautiful, then Randy would rush home after work to be with me. Wrong! There’s no way to compete with an addiction.

When I finally found Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of alcoholics, I learned about the 3 C’s.

  1. I didn’t Cause Randy’s alcoholism.  Nothing I did or didn’t do made a difference in him becoming addicted to alcohol.
  2. I couldn’t Control it. I didn’t have any power to keep him from taking another drink.
  3. I could Contribute, though. I could act in ways that perpetuated the unhealthy patterns. Or I could learn some new ways to respond that could possibly help Randy want to get sober. Most of all, these new changes helped me.

Before Al-Anon, I didn’t have any recovery tools. All I could do was obsess on fixing and controlling Randy. I nagged and lectured and scolded. To no avail. I threatened to leave if he didn’t change. Maybe you’ve done the same.

Randy promised to stop drinking. I wanted desperately to believe him. We twirled round and round with the familiar dance. Nothing changed. I retreated into magical thinking, pretending everything was okay. Our problems aren’t that bad, really. Randy said he could stop drinking anytime. He promised to quit tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.

In the meantime, I became the “alcohol police.” I checked liquor bottles in the kitchen cupboard, measuring how much was there, how much Randy had drank the night before. I even checked the garbage cans to see if he was secretly drinking outside and then tossing the evidence. Talk about crazy behavior!

I placed inspirational books in strategic places around the house and refrigerator magnets with Bible verses on the fridge. I just knew when saw those verses, he would be inspired to change. I envisioned the scene…Randy would see the light and drop to his knees in gratitude for my help. Deb, I’m so sorry for not seeing this sooner. Thank you for helping me. I’ll never drink again. Then we would live happily ever after.

Reality Check

You know only too well, that never happens. Spouses are rarely the ones who talk their alcoholic partners into seeking sobriety.

After several years, I began to consider that Randy could be an alcoholic. I quickly countered with denial.  No way!  I rationalized. Drinking seemed normal, or so I thought. I looked the other way and pretended everything was fine. If we look at reality, then we’ll be required to do something. That seems so hard, so scary.

Fear looms with its icy fingers threatening to suffocate us. The what-ifs take over our thoughts: what if he has an accident on the way home from the bar; what if she loses her job; what if he kills someone in a car accident… scenarios play ad nauseam in our thoughts. It’s exhausting living on this emotional roller coaster—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I felt alone—even though I had caring friends. I didn’t want to burden them. Besides, what could they do? What I didn’t realize is that you can’t face this battle alone. You can’t be an army of one and expect to survive.

Never Alone

The good news is you are not alone. Others who have been where you are can assure you there is hope! Not merely to survive, but to thrive. You can come out on the other side more whole, more authentically yourself, than you ever thought possible. Addiction has taken a toll, but it doesn’t have to win this battle. There is light and life at the end of the bottle. It takes iron determination to get there, to not give up when things get tough.

You can move forward with your life—no matter what is happening around you. You are not an army of one. You are part of an army of thousands upon thousands who have been where you and I have been and they’ve found a better way to live. As a Christian, I believe we’re serving One who is all-powerful, the God of my understanding, Jesus Christ. A Bible verse says, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) Not simply a few things, but all things. We will have whatever we need, whatever it takes to fight this battle and find healing and hope for ourselves. Maybe in the process, our loved ones will also desire to fight with everything they’ve got to defeat their addiction.

Hope begins when I believe all things are possible with God.

If your spouse has a drinking problem, I have the greatest compassion for both of you. Please let me know how I can pray for you. 

*This is the first in a series of articles about how to cope with your spouse’s alcoholism.

 

Reach Out!

The half hour drive from Meridian, Idaho to Boise seemed like the longest of my life. Late one night, I packed our 10 and 7-year old sons in the car with me to escape the turmoil at home. My husband Randy had been drinking again. I suspected that he was an alcoholic. If I admitted that, then I’d be faced with reality–with the elephant that stalked our house. I felt at a total loss in knowing what to do.

A few nights before, I had accused Randy of being an alcoholic. It was as if I’d thrown gasoline on a simmering fire. He exploded in anger and shoved me against the kitchen wall. I wanted to run away and never come back. But two little boys slept upstairs. I’m sure they weren’t really sleeping– probably terrified of what was happening between their parents. Even after 30 + years, I still remember how desperate I felt.

I made the brave decision to take Chris and Jeremy with me to a women’s shelter at the YWCA in Boise. A kind woman greeted us at the door when we arrived. She showed us to a neat room with three roll-away beds. She assured us we would be safe. I hugged and kissed my sons and tried my best to reassure them. I’m not sure I slept much that night, but I felt some relief. We stayed there for a few days. After having several counseling sessions and discussions with Randy, I decided to go home.

Even though it would be a long time before our home was a peaceful place, I had learned some important truths. I was no longer alone. I had been directed to Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of alcoholics. There I would find tools and resources to help me deal with our problems. The journey toward my own healing and wholeness had begun. I will always be grateful for the YWCA in Boise and their caring staff who took us in that night. I also learned that no matter how bleak a situation appears, there is always hope for change.

How often I’ve thought about the need we as women have for a time-out when circumstances get crazy. Maybe you’re not dealing with alcoholism and a spouse who is physically or verbally abusive. But you’re tired, weary. You need a place to just be quiet and hear yourself think. A place where you feel loved and can be reassured that you are going to be all right.  

Remember, you are not alone. Help is only a phone call or internet click away. The YWCA was only my first step of support. I could write pages to list all the friends, counselors, and support groups who have been part of my recovery journey.

Today, I can hardly believe I’m the same woman who made that impossibly long drive to reach out for help. I can hardly believe Randy is the same man who desperately needed to check out of reality by drinking. Today we enjoy the gift and miracle of sobriety in our lives and peace that comes from knowing we are in the center of God’s will.

When you are called out of crippling fear…you will be amazed at what God has planned for you. There is a world of breathtaking wonder wrapped up in trusting God with everything you have and everything you are. You will discover that you are free! –Sheila Walsh

Let me know if you need to reach out for help. I’d love to help you take a step on your journey to freedom!
  

Carrying the Message

I’m always amazed to see how connected we are online. A couple of months ago, I wrote a tribute to

my friend Doris, who had recently passed away. Doris had encouraged me during those tough times of dealing with my husband Randy’s alcoholism. Reminiscing about my friend felt healing–and I’m sure she would have been pleased to know how her life had made a difference for many others. That’s all I intended when I hit the “publish” button on my blog site.  

Then a few weeks ago, I received an email from the person who is the program analyst at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Really? She had discovered my blog and read some of my posts. She thanked me for sharing my recovery stories and encouraged me to submit Doris’ story to their website. 

I contacted Doris’ daughter to make sure her family was O.K. with this. I enjoyed a heartwarming conversation. She was enthusiastic about her mom’s story being posted on a national recovery website. My story is one of many voices you’ll read on the SAMHSA site. What a privilege to offer encouragement and hope to others like me who have struggled with a loved one’s addiction.

My contact at SAMHSA asked me to invite you to submit your own recovery story. Here’s the link to my story (Deb K.) and more information: http://www.recoverymonth.gov/Voices-for-Recovery/Stories.aspx

Let’s help carry the message of hope!

The bright side of addiction is recovery! –Neil S.

   

A Tribute to my Friend: A Life Well-Lived

Doris was the first person I met in the community where I’ve lived for almost 18 years. She passed away in May at the age of 92.  I chided myself for not visiting more during her last months. Doris suffered from dementia and other ailments, so I’m not sure she completely recognized me when I did come to see her. I could have done more, I thought. I felt better after writing a sympathy note to one of her daughters. Knowing Doris, I was convinced she wouldn’t want me to spend time or energy feeling guilty. Doris wasn’t like that…she lived her life to the fullest and didn’t keep a record of offenses.

I met Doris at the Thursday night Al-Anon meeting at the “The Barn,” the local gathering place in our small town. I was a newcomer when I hesitantly entered the cavernous building and walked to the small back room, “The Hen House,” where weekly meetings were held. I instantly felt like I belonged.

That’s the way it is with Al-Anon. No matter where you go, there’s a sense of connection and support. All those years ago when I was dealing with my husband Randy’s alcoholism, it felt good to find a place where I was accepted and understood. Doris was so good at that. She had a quiet way about her as she shared her own story; her experience and hope. Somehow it was hard to believe that she’d ever felt as stressed or had been an emotional basket case like me. She assured me she had been exactly where I was… and that if I kept coming back, I’d also make my way through to a more positive place.

Every time Randy and I left the city and came over the mountains from Seattle, I made it a point to show up at the Al-Anon meeting. I can’t remember a time when Doris wasn’t there. Her faithful presence gave me courage and helped me decide to move to the Methow Valley with Randy several years later, in spite of his tenuous sobriety. I knew I would never be alone–no matter what happened.  

There are people who come into our lives and we are never the same. Doris was one of those special friends who gently and profoundly touched my life simply by living hers. When she became too frail to live on her own, her family moved her into a group home in another town several hours from here. Last fall, they brought her home to the valley she loved to live out her final days. I miss Doris–but I know she completed the work God had given her. The same work I feel privileged to pass on to others who are struggling in much the same way as I did.

If you’re feeling in despair because someone you love has a drinking problem, why not try out an Al-Anon meeting? I can almost guarantee you will find a Doris there who will help change your life. 

What I can give is never as much as I get from the giving. ~ Al-Anon Family Group