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.

 

What a Good Time Costs: Why Every Teen Should Consider the Risks of Drinking and Driving

My friend shared her concerns on Facebook. The other night, a carload of teens sped past her house. Kids hung out the car windows, obviously drinking. My heart sank. Of course, with graduation coming up and the end of another school year, who doesn’t want to have fun? When you’re 17-years old, you feel invincible. Your whole life awaits. But what if every teen considered what a “good” time can ultimately cost?

No generation is immune to the deadly combination of drinking and driving. Mine included. The summer after I graduated from high school, we lost a classmate. The news of Rick’s death stunned everyone with a sick feeling of shock and disbelief.Why every teen should consider the cost of drinking and driving

Everyone loved Rick. His blue eyes lit up his boyish features, hinting at his mischievous nature. Rick and my boyfriend Randy (now husband) were buddies and teammates on the high school track team. Their relay team had made it to state that year. The newspaper photo showed the jubilant foursome with arms draped around each other’s shoulders, elated with their accomplishment.

Now, Rick was gone. Forever.

I struggled to accept the incomprehensible. Rick had been at a party drinking that night. Driving home, he failed to make the curve on a winding Pennsylvania road. His car slammed into a tree, killing him instantly.

It’s sad that times haven’t changed much. During the 21 years I’ve lived in this small town, we’ve lost at least three teens to accidents involving drinking and driving. Hand-made crosses on the roadside still remind us of lives tragically cut short.

I remember driving past the accident scene several days after two teens had been killed. Limp helium balloons flapped and spray painted messages faded into the rough wooden cross. I noticed a group of friends with numb expressions huddled there. I longed to comfort them. But what could I say? That time will ease the pain but never take it completely away? I cried for these innocent kids confronted with the harsh realities of drinking and driving. Painful memories of our friend Rick who died so long ago, surprised me by resurfacing.

The Reality

Even today, I ask myself what could make a difference. How can teens be encouraged to count the cost before engaging in such risky behavior? During the past two decades, public awareness of DUI issues has heightened.  Groups such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) have made a difference. In the United States, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half since MADD was founded in 1980. Yet, the stats for teen drinking and driving still cause alarm.

  • Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. About 1/4 of those crashes involve an underage drinking driver.
  • Alcohol is a factor in 1/3 of all teenage auto fatalities.
  • Young drinking drivers are involved in fatal crashes at more than twice the rate of drivers 21 and older.
  • Alcohol is linked with an estimated 5,000 deaths in people under age 21 each year–more than all illegal drugs combined.

Have Fun without Alcohol

Too many people, especially teens, embrace the belief that drinking is the only way to have fun. It isn’t easy to get beyond this in a culture steeped in this ideology. And there is the problem. Programs (alcohol-free parties/events)  can have a positive impact, but changes in behavior are the foundation to providing alternatives to the drinking-equals- fun equation.

Dr. Henry Cloud often talks about “playing the movie” of your future. You project what could happen in your life based on possible choices you make. You “play the movie.”

If I go to a party and ride in a car with a driver who’s been drinking, we could get in an accident. Friends could lose their lives. How would I cope? Or I could lose my life. How would that affect my family and friends? If only teens “played the movie” of the grief and loss that follow a fatal car accident, better choices might be made.

What should a good time cost? A few dollars and a few hours? Or perhaps priceless, irreplaceable things, even a lifetime? Is the “fun” of drinking and driving worth the risk?

You only have to look into the blank faces of mourning kids at an accident scene to know the answer.