Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Friends for the Journey

You cannot survive your spouse's alcoholism without supportive friends

Photo by Hannah Rodrigo on Unsplash

God still sends angels: ones with skin, hair and belly laughs. Angels like our friend, Jim. I met him at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where I was the speaker for Al-Anon. I remember feeling at a loss for encouraging words. My situation with Randy and his alcoholism seemed impossible. What could I say to offer any hope? Jim came up to me after the meeting and introduced himself. He told me how much he appreciated what I had to say.

“You know, Randy’s story is like mine.” He pulled a business card out of his pocket. “If I can ever help you or Randy, please call me.”

And I did. So began a friendship only God could have orchestrated. Jim lived an hour from us, a ferry ride across Puget Sound from our Seattle suburb. He was always a phone call away, always ready to listen to Randy or me, always ready to offer support, and even some humor.

One night I called Jim in a panic. I had invited some friends over for a basket party…perfect, I thought. I’m the one who’s a basket case! I told Jim that Randy had come home drunk and had fallen asleep on the bedroom floor. What should I do?

Jim asked, “Is Randy causing any problems at the moment?”

“Uh, no,” I answered.

“Can you just cover him with a blanket, close the bedroom door, and go on with the evening?”

I hadn’t even considered that. I’d been frantically thinking of ways to contact everyone, cancel the event, and then seethe with resentment.

“I know you can do it,” Jim calmly advised.

And I did. My friends arrived, not having a clue that Randy was passed out on the bedroom floor. We had a good time and I managed to forget about our problems for a little while.

Jim kept reminding me. “Randy is a child of God. He needs your love and support.”

I wasn’t so sure. After all that had happened, I wondered how I could ever love Randy again. I wasn’t even sure if I liked him.

Have you ever felt like that? Your spouse has broken all the rules, caused so much pain, financial hardship, and even embarrassment that you can’t ever imagine feeling any different.

And then God has the audacity to send an angel, someone like Jim. He sends someone who speaks truth to you, who tells you about love, the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient, love is kind. Love doesn’t boast…You’ve heard it at weddings and you don’t want to hear it now. It’s impossible, you think. Well, think again.

Real Love

Through people like Jim, I had to reevaluate my definition of love. Even though I hated what had happened because of Randy’s alcoholism, Jim was right. Randy deserved to be treated with dignity—and mercy. That didn’t mean I accepted everything he did with a smile. Not at all. But I learned to take a step back emotionally and not react in the same way. I learned to love my husband with God’s kind of love. I covered him with a blanket of mercy and compassion–just as I had done the night of the basket party.

People like Jim are more than friends…angels, perhaps? His compassion had helped to penetrate the coldness of my heart, my inability to love. Only God could come up with such a plan, just the right person at the right time to help us.

Many years have passed since I took Jim up on his offer to help us. Just last week, Randy and I visited Jim who is in a nursing home. Even though he has dementia and didn’t remember who we are, his eyes still sparkled when we walked into his room.

Randy and I both choked up with emotion. “Jim, it’s because of you, we’re here today. You saved Randy’s life.”

“I did?” Jim blinked, hardly able to believe what we were saying.

I noticed the Christmas photo card I had sent on top of a stack of books next to Jim’s chair.

“See? This is our family. Our sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.” I pointed to the pictures.

Jim might not have understood why we were there or what we were talking about, but we did. We couldn’t have made it without him.

Hope begins when you realize you are not alone. Don’t forget to watch for God’s angels!

Interested in reading more about this topic? Check out these posts:

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: 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.

 

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.

 

New Hope for Marriage Retreat

If you or someone you know is struggling in her marriage, I’d like to invite you to consider New Hope for Marriage, a small group retreat to help wives find hope for their hurting and conflicted marriages.

We’re now taking reservations for the Spring Retreat which will be held at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center, just outside of Bellingham, Washington, April 29-May 1, 2016.

Christie Miller, my co-facilitator, and I are passionate about helping other women come to the Lord for a transformation and healing of their marriages. We know–we’ve been there!

For more information, visit: www.nwspeakers.com

 

Marriage Advice for Wives: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Got Married

Randy & me just starting on our marriage journey

Randy & I  starting on our marriage journey

Yesterday my husband Randy and I traveled to Wenatchee, our nearest “big” city–only two hours away. I had an appointment with the endodontist (dentists who specialize in root canals) and found out I need to return to have the troublesome tooth pulled. Boo hoo! It’s not a big deal, but not fun either.

But what made the day so pleasant was having my best friend with me. I could’ve made the trip by myself. No problem. Yet Randy insisted on taking the day off to come with me. On the 4-hour round trip, we  chatted about our family, the weather, world events and politics, our budget, and dreams for our future. We escaped the snow and enjoyed spring-like temps, taking a walk on the trails by the Columbia River. We topped off the day by shopping at Costco–really fun when you live hours away from shopping opportunities.  In spite of the disappointing dental news, we had a great time together.

That’s what I love about being married to Randy. We just “do life” together. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Being in the ordinary days, for the long haul–and enjoying the day-to-day moments. It wasn’t always that way, though. We’ve certainly experienced our share of marital struggles.

Recently, a friend who was hosting a retreat for young wives, asked several more “seasoned” wives to write 5 things we wished we’d known when we got married. She compiled our advice and presented it to the younger women.  I would’ve loved to have this help when I got married!

My list could have included way more than five items, but here’s what I came up with:

1. I wish I’d had a better understanding of what it means to love.

I thought all we needed in our marriage was love, but my model wasn’t the selfless type of love described in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13. My concept of love was being married to a man who wanted to look into my eyes (on a daily basis) and tell me how much he loved me. I had watched way too many romantic movies—especially the 1970s Love Story where the main character’s words of wisdom were “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” A more experienced wife could have asked me, “And how’s that working for you?”

2. I wish I could have accepted and appreciated my husband for who he was and not for who I thought I needed him to be.

I thought marriage was all about being happy every moment of every day. Talk about unrealistic expectations! Some of Randy’s most endearing qualities are the ones I thought he needed to change. I’ve learned that love isn’t always expressed in words. If I’d been paying attention, I’d have realized that Randy’s actions spoke volumes about his love and commitment to me.

3. I wish I’d had the spiritual maturity to understand that God often uses difficult situations and relationships (especially marriage) to reflect who we are and to help us grow to be more like Him.

God uses adversity to refine us and shape us into His image…if we are willing to partner with Him and wrestle through the tough times. It’s way too easy to quit before we have run the course. Our marriage is much stronger today because we didn’t give up, even though there were many times when we both wanted to throw in the towel.

4. I wish I’d had the courage to speak truth (in love) to my husband. 

I was too afraid to rock the boat, to tell Randy how I felt about issues in our relationship. Instead, I expected him to be a mind reader and guess what was bothering me. When he asked, I’d say, “Oh, nothing’s wrong” instead of being honest with him. Learning to communicate has made all the difference in our relationship.

 5. I wish I’d had enough faith to really believe “all things are possible with God”–even seemingly impossible marriages.

It’s true that hindsight is 20/20. I can see a lot today that I couldn’t when we first married. There’s no way to compare the maturity of a 19-year old with the woman I am today who has grown through life lessons experienced through 45+ years of marriage. Yet, having even a mustard seed of faith to hang on and believe God is able to do far more than we could ever have imagined, would’ve gone a long way to find hope in the tough times.

It’s impossible for us to know everything about marriage when we first start out. So much is learned along the way, by trial and error. The good news is that no matter where you are on your marriage journey, God is faithful to see you through. And a little advice from others who have been there is always appreciated!

What is one thing you wish you’d known when you got married?

 

 

 

 

A New Hope for Marriage retreat is an opportunity for a woman to come to a safe, nurturing place to be encouraged in dealing with her hurting and conflicted marriage.

Our goal is to give you a new hope as well as a definite plan to partner with God to see your marriage and your own heart healed through the power of Jesus Christ.

Retreats are limited to 8 women so we can more intimately come alongside you and the issues you are facing.

It is our great privilege to offer the same support and comfort that we ourselves have received from God!

Date: October 23, 2015—October 25, 2015
Time: 04:00 p.m.
Event: New Hope for Marriage Retreat
Topic: Help and Hope for Wives in Difficult Marriages
Sponsor: Deb Kalmbach and Christie Miller
360-966-0203
Venue: Methow Valley Ranch Ministries
509-996-3635
Location: 255 E Chewuch Rd
Winthrop, WA 98862
USA
Public: Private

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Your Marriage

I heard the news that a young couple in our community is getting a divorce after only one year of marriage. What went wrong? All I know is this is a tragedy. I remember the wedding announcement we received with their bright smiling faces, their eyes so filled with love for each other.

Being silly at Lucy's birthday party!

Being silly at Lucy’s birthday party!

I want to tell them, “Don’t give up! Your story isn’t over yet.” In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say: “Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle.” Sometimes 5 minutes can seem like an eternity, but when the miracle comes, you don’t want to miss it.

My husband Randy and I are celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary in a few weeks. When I look back, I remember the tough times we faced in our marriage. It seemed hopeless. Struggling with Randy’s alcoholism loomed like a never-ending problem with few solutions. In retrospect, it was 5 minutes. The miracle of Randy’s sobriety and the years we’ve enjoyed since then, have truly been a miracle worth waiting for.

I’m looking forward to being the Keynote speaker at this event!

Date: March 14, 2015
Time: 09:00 a.m.-02:00 p.m.
Event: Olympic Cluster Spring Celebration
Topic: "Bear One Another's Burdens"
Venue: Christ Lutheran Church
Location: Belfair, WA
Public: Private

God’s Extravagant Love

Before Christmas, my boss and his wife treated my co-workers and me  to an afternoonExtravagant_0 of extravagance. Each of us was pampered with a massage, facial and manicure. As I lay on the massage table having the yummiest-smelling creams applied to my face, I suddenly felt overcome with emotion. This is pure extravagance, I thought. Something we as women don’t often treat ourselves to–especially all in one afternoon! Tears welled up and one escaped down my cheek. I hoped the aesthetician hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t just the spa treatments that got me teary, but  reflecting on God’s extravagant love.

New Hope for Marriage Women’s Retreat

I’m excited about the NEW HOPE FOR MARRIAGE women’s retreat I’m co-facilitating with Christie Miller. We have a few spaces available for the Feb. 20-21 date. Know someone who is discouraged in her marriage and needs some new hope – new energy – and a new plan? This is a great weekend opportunity. Small, private, encouraging!

For more information: www.nwspeakers.com