Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Don’t Give Up 5 Minutes Before the Miracle!

Surviving your spouse's alcoholism: don't give up 5 minutes before the miracle!The last thing you want to hear when you’re struggling with an alcoholic spouse is that it takes time for changes to happen. I remember feeling frustrated when A.A. friends told me, “Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle!”

Five minutes?? Are you kidding? It’s been more than two decades. I’ve waited long enough!

How long, Lord? I agonized. I’ve been praying and waiting so long. Nothing seems to change. Have you ever felt that way? You feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. Well-meaning family members and friends encourage you to give up. It’s hopeless, they say.

Giving God time to work in our lives can be the hardest thing…especially when you’ve been hurt, betrayed, or treated unjustly by your spouse. In fact, just the idea that God would ask you to obey Him in something, when it’s your partner who is so out of line in your mind, can seem outrageous.

At one point, all I wanted to do was give up. I would’ve been justified. I’d waited and prayed. I’d gone to counseling and Al-Anon. Randy could not overcome alcoholism. Then a friend had the audacity to encourage me to wait even longer. What??

I want to say that each person’s situation is unique. We all have to make our own choices. Sometimes we have to leave our marriage or file for a separation or even divorce. If you’re being abused and your safety is in question, then you must get help. I never want to judge another person for their decisions.

Yet something powerful happens when we surrender. OK, God, I’m going to trust you with my marriage. It looks impossible to me, but I’m willing to wait longer to see how You’re going to work all this out. By letting go, we give God permission and room to do miracles in us and in our marriages.

What if I had given up? I would’ve missed the miracle of Randy’s recovery from alcoholism and the amazing transformation of our marriage nearly 20 years ago. Even though I made many difficult choices along the way–setting boundaries and even separating from Randy for a while, I’m grateful I gave God and Randy more time. I don’t blame people who advised me to give up. Our marriage looked beyond hope. I almost believed Randy would never be able to stop drinking.

We often make those judgments without considering God’s part in the equation. He is able to do far more than we could imagine. It took more time for trust to be rebuilt, for our relationship to grow and change with sobriety. Praise God, the miracle happened! We still don’t have a “perfect” marriage. News flash: two imperfect people coming together equals something less than perfect. But it’s good , so good doing life together with this man God has given to me.

Marriage is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be…a new and deeper kind of happiness is found on the far side of holiness. Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories. -Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Yes, marriage is all of these. But the rewards of coming out on the other side are priceless. We enjoyed our son’s wedding as an intact family and we’ve welcomed two precious grandchildren. Now I have the joy of watching them interact with their “Pappy.” I almost missed these moments. I’m thankful I didn’t give up.

So how do you keep going when you want to quit?

  • Be willing to wait on the Lord. His ways are not our ways!

Our thinking is limited. God’s resources are infinite.

We think the answer is “A” or “B” and God says, “Oranges!” –Bill Myers

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

  • Ask God to change you.

God uses marriage to change us, to help us become more like Him—if we’re willing. We have to consistently check our attitudes. Am I being selfish? Am I only thinking of “me” instead of “we?”

God uses adversity to refine us and shape us into His image.

When you start thinking of your spouse’s weaknesses, then start asking God to help you with yours…learning to love, appreciate, and be thankful for that imperfect spouse is one of the most soul-transforming things you can do. -Gary Thomas

  • Wait with Expectancy

God usually does the unexpected–and sometimes it’s more than we ever imagined.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

-Ephesians 3: 20 (MSG)

No matter where you are in your marriage, remember, the miracle might only be 5 minutes away!

Other posts in the “Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism” series:

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

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Boot Camp Basics

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Finding Courage to Be Yourself

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving Home: New Amazing Awaits!

Starting a new chapter in my life has always been difficult. About twenty-three years aLeaving home is never easy, but a new amazing chapter awaitsgo, we put our house on the market in Auburn, Washington where we’d lived for more than a decade. I remember the ache I felt when I saw the “for sale” sign in our front yard. Two little boys had grown into high school graduates there, I’d pulled off a surprise 40th birthday party for my husband Randy, and we said good-bye to our Okinawan kitty who had adopted us for 16 years. So many memories! How could any other place feel like home? It wasn’t the first time I’d asked that question.

When I was 13, our family moved from Iowa to Pennsylvania. My familiar world ended. My dad, ever an optimist, felt certain I’d love it there. It took a while. By the time I left for college, I felt homesick for the Pennsylvania home where I’d been transplanted.

Home is where you hang your heart

Through the years, I’ve discovered every time we’ve packed up all our belongings and moved, home is the place where you hang your heart. Whether it was Iowa, Pennsylvania, or Okinawa, Japan, I’ve always found “home” in every place we’ve lived.

I’m reminding myself of this (not always successfully) as there’s another “for sale” sign in our front yard. Within two days we had an offer on our house.

“The buyers love your home,” our realtor told us. We love it, too, and that’s what makes leaving so difficult.

The Methow Valley where we relocated 22 years ago, promised an amazing adventure. And yes, it is our home. It’s hard to say good-bye. Once again, I wonder how any other place will ever be home. My head tells me another adventure awaits. As always, my heart is slow to catch on.

Home interprets heaven. Home is heaven for beginners. –Charles Parkhurst

If you’re facing a similar change in your life, here’s a little of what I’ve learned–and need to continue reminding myself!

  • I comfort myself with scriptures that remind me of God’s faithfulness. A few of my favorites:

Jeremiah 29:11– “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Proverbs 3:5-6Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

Deuteronomy 31:8The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Isaiah 41:10So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

  • There’s something to be said for the perspective that comes with age. I still get a little shaky when facing the unknown, but being this age, and not 13, gives me a huge advantage in believing all will work out for the best. My dad would be proud of the progress I’ve made!
  • You are never alone. Years of experience have taught me God is in every detail. He prepares the way for every step I take.
  • It’s OK to feel sad and accept that part of change involves some feelings of loss. Shedding a few tears is healing.
  • Allow yourself to anticipate something new and amazing!

The day our house went on the market, I posted this real estate picture on Facebook. A friend commented, “New amazing awaits!” I can hardly wait to see.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rescue: Seven People, Seven Amazing Stories… (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

The Rescue: Seven people, seven amazing storiesIf you’ve ever wondered if God is at work in individual lives, then you must read The Rescue. This book tells the stories of seven people impacted by the abuse or poor decisions of others– or by their own destructive choices. God’s intervention in their lives is nothing short of miraculous. An invitation to church, the “chance” hearing of a radio or TV sermon, or a flight attendant’s conversation with a passenger reading his Bible all changed the trajectory of their lives.

Once I started reading each story, I couldn’t put the book down. The author has done an excellent job of drawing you in to seven uniquely different and challenging life experiences. Each person faced extreme circumstances. Yet these powerful testimonies of Jesus’ redemption and healing offer hope and encouragement. More than likely, we may know someone who suffers from similar problems: drug addiction, sexual abuse, homelessness, and the negative impact for children growing up in dysfunctional, broken families.

When much of what we hear each day is bad news, The Rescue provides a ray of sunshine and hope. This book is a good choice for anyone who feels hopeless. Anyone who needs a boost of encouragement and the hope of having their life transformed will find good news here.

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Boot Camp Basics

Prayer is the number 1 way to combat alcoholism. Photo by Ben WhiteIn my previous article about surviving your spouse’s alcoholism, I compared the struggle with alcoholism to an intense battle. It certainly is a battle on multiple levels: spiritual, physical, emotional. At first, I didn’t have a clue how to “fight” this battle. I needed basic training. I had to admit there was a problem before I could reach out for help. That’s a huge first step!

When I discovered Al-Anon, a support group for family members and friends of alcoholics, I felt elated. Now I could  find out how to fix my husband’s drinking problem. I looked at the people sitting around the table in the church fellowship hall. I knew they had the answers. When I poured out my pain, everyone listened with compassion. Then one older woman said, “I used to think if my husband stopped drinking, if only he would change, then our lives would be great. What I’ve learned is I can’t do anything about my husband. The only person I can help is myself!”

What? You’ve got to be kidding. You mean there’s nothing I can do to change Randy? And you can’t be serious that it’s partly my problem. My problem is him! If only he’d stop drinking, then our lives could be normal. I wanted to  blame Randy for everything that was wrong in our world. At that first Al-Anon meeting, I had no idea I had embarked on a boot camp of personal growth and discovery that ultimately changed my life.

Have you ever felt that way? You see your husband or wife as the problem. If only she would stop drinking, then you could be happy. It takes a lot of courage to evaluate our own behavior, the ways we’ve contributed to our problems. When we stop trying to control our spouse and stop playing into negative behaviors (such as arguing with someone who’s drunk and irrational), then the familiar, unhealthy cycle is interrupted. A counselor once told me alcoholism is like gears moving in sync with predictable behaviors. When the non-alcoholic spouse stops doing what is familiar, then the gears don’t move so well and may eventually come to a halt.

If any of this were easy, we’d figure it out quickly and then go on happily about our lives. Healing is a process and unlearning years of learned behaviors takes time and more time. But it’s so worth it! And sometimes, changing our behaviors can motivate our loved ones to want to change, also. There are no guarantees, but the good news is that we will change. We will be different if we go through the “recovery” boot camp.

I used to lament to a friend that I felt stuck. Nothing seemed to be changing in my life. I was worried that I’d be in the same place several years in the future. My wise friend said, “No, you won’t. As long as you’re taking steps toward growth and change, there’s no way you’ll be in the same place because you’re moving forward!”

Moving Forward

So how do we start the process?

  • Tell yourself the truth.  I found it impossibly difficult to finally say the words, “My husband is an alcoholic. Our marriage is in shambles. My life is a mess. And the most important words…I need help!”
  • Stop pretending. Yes, there’s an “elephant” in our homes wreaking havoc and destruction. We have to acknowledge that truth. I remember keeping a smile plastered on my face and telling people I was fine—when in reality, I felt broken. I barely kept myself afloat emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s okay not to be fine.
  • Find supportive people. We have to be willing to take off our masks and trust a friend, a counselor, or a support group with our truth. Not everyone will understand, so it’s important to find people who are trustworthy of helping you carry your pain.
  • Believe in a Power greater than yourself. I came into Al-Anon believing in a Higher Power, Jesus Christ. The challenge for me was to deepen my faith. I admitted I couldn’t handle Randy’s alcoholism. I surrendered.

Surrender

In a battle, surrender is seen as a position of weakness. You call it quits, wave the white flag, and put yourself in the enemy’s hands. When we surrender in the battle that is alcoholism, we take a position of strength. We admit I can’t do it. But there is One who can. I will let Him. I have been relieved of trying to do it all, to make someone change, believing it’s my responsibility when it isn’t. Only God can change a person’s heart.

Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. -John 8:32.

Truth gives us the ability to walk into the light instead of staying forever hidden in the darkness. Truth brings freedom and relief. Some days it will feel like boot camp. I didn’t sign up for this. How come I have to do all this recovery stuff when he isn’t doing anything? That’s how I felt at times. The hope is that we are growing into the men and women God created us to be. We’re not stuck any longer.

How do we learn to respond differently? Prayer, practice and time. Three steps forward, two steps back. But always moving forward. Being open and teachable. Recognizing what we’re doing that isn’t working or helping us or our spouse get well.

Hope begins when I tell myself the truth.

 

When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? Indignities, Compromises, and the Unexpected Grace of Midlife (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2017)

A transparent, honest, humorous memoir that looks at the challenges of midlifeAging well is a topic I’m always interested in–and Jennifer Grant’s memoir about her forties is an  honest, transparent, and humorous look at midlife. She’s an excellent story-teller and I enjoyed hearing about her aging experiences–wearing what she thought were “cool” Elton John-like glasses–only to have her teenage daughter weigh in with her more- than- honest assessment. “You look old and weird in those glasses, Mom.”

The author poignantly describes the transitions we go through with our children. Would we want to go back to those sweet early years when they willingly place their little hands in ours when we cross the street, or get excited about something as simple as finger-painting?   Grant says no, she wants to look forward to who those children will become. She doesn’t want to get stuck looking back at those “good, old days”–even though letting go isn’t easy. It seems that one day our children are sweet and innocent and the next you’re looking at college applications with them. I can relate! Even though I’m well past the middle-age years Jennifer Grant writes about, I can still remember the ache I felt when I walked past my oldest son’s empty bedroom after he left for college. Yet this book offers hope of moving past these empty-nest feelings.

The author writes wisely about the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of aging and the changes we face throughout our lives–celebrations, sorrows, and joys. She concludes with the wisdom of Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes: There is a time for everything.

I enjoyed this book, but I am disappointed by the author’s interpretation of the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25) in her book’s final chapter. As a Christian, I believe it’s important to consider the full counsel of Scripture when interpreting passages such as this one.

 

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Learning to Embrace Change

change-is-goodChange is something I’ve always resisted. From the time I was 13- years old and my dad announced we were moving from my small Midwestern hometown to a quaint “village” in Pennsylvania, to all the current changes, including retiring from my day job. Change is hard no matter what the circumstances. Even a positive change, such as retirement, can be challenging.

Twenty-one years ago, Randy and I decided to move from the Seattle area to the tiny town of Winthrop, Washington. I remember the combination of excitement and stark fear as we took on this new adventure. I also recall how hard it was to put the “for sale” sign outside our familiar home, the one where our sons had grown up. It was tough loading up all our belongings into that Ryder truck on a late November day. Then we drove across the mountains to an unfamiliar place where the only person we knew was a real estate agent. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve never regretted that decision. I had to let go of what was familiar in order to embrace what was new and ultimately best for us.

The perspective of hindsight is so interesting–and encourages me to welcome future changes. What I see as I look back through many years, is that most changes I’ve faced have impacted my life in a positive way.

It’s often hard to see at the time, though. At 13, I thought my world had come to an end when I left my dearest childhood friends. My dad had tried to point out the positive aspects of this move which I stubbornly refused to consider. In retrospect, Dad was right. Even though I loved Iowa, moving across the country gave me more vision for what might be out there in this big world.

When I married Randy and we began moving around the country–and the world–with the Air Force, Dad never lamented that he’d miss us and his grandchildren. He was always a cheerleader, saying how great it would be for us to explore the Far East and the other stateside places where we were stationed. “Now we have another new place to come visit,” he’d say with so much optimism I almost believed him.

Of course, there are changes that are anything but positive. Illnesses, job losses, and the loss of loved ones are beyond difficult. In the past decade, Randy and I have lost both his parents and my dad. And we’re all too aware of my mom’s aging–and ours as well!

I’m finally learning to accept that change is inevitable. Since that’s the case, why not embrace change instead of fighting it? I learned a long time ago  in Al-Anon that acceptance is the answer to most of my problems–especially those situations I can’t control.

So what does embracing change look like?

  • Look back, but don’t stare. Instead of wringing our hands about those “coulda/shoulda/woulda” experiences, we can consider what we would do differently, what we can learn from those situations. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move forward.
  • Be intentional about treasuring moments with loved ones. Losing someone we love will always be difficult. Instead of fearing what is inevitable with aging parents or other loved ones, by being intentional with our time, we will have an abundance of memories and gratitude for the ways this person has impacted our lives. A beloved physician who practiced in our town for several years, recently passed away from cancer at the age of 62. A friend wrote on her online memorial/tribute page how she had told Cynthia how sad she was to be losing her. Cynthia reassured her, “Yes, but just think of how lucky we were to have had this much time together.”  What an amazing perspective–and one I want to remember!
  • Remind yourself that change can be good! Sometimes when an unexpected change comes and knocks us off our feet, there’s ultimately something positive that can come from this experience. A job loss can lead to an unexpected opportunity, one you wouldn’t have considered before, or an injury that sidelines you for a while can give you perspective on the direction you’re headed with your life.

I’m all too aware as we embark on a new year, change can be expected and even welcomed. I’m telling myself, Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t get so settled into your comfortable routine that you miss new opportunities.

So when the trapeze of change swings in your direction, have courage to grab hold and then let go. It might be the best thing that’s ever happened to you!

What changes are you facing right now that seem scary?  Let me know…it will be a privilege to pray for you!