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: 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.

 

The Magic Wand: 5 Steps to Improve Your Marriage

A Guest Post by Marlene Anderson

Magic Wand Marriage

If you could wave a magic wand and make your marriage more of what you want it to be, what would you see?  How would you and your spouse be interacting, communicating and relating? Our focus is so often on what is not working, we fail to consider what is working and how to accomplish more of that.

We come into marriage with hopes of living happily ever after. We want to love and be loved and feel safe and free to be ourselves. Unfortunately, we bring with us into our marriages unfulfilled needs and old messages from our past that become triggered and transferred to our spouses.

Some of the reasons why marriages get into trouble are poor communication skills, a lack of commitment, inability to resolve conflict and feeling unhappy and unloved. When our communication with each other is reduced to criticism and attack/defend, we have turned our marriage into a battle field.  When we constantly blame, rigidly refuse to listen, we will become disdainful and contemptuous of our partner.

So is there any hope for us? And if so, where do we start?

First, do you want your marriage to survive? Without resolve our attempts for healing will be sabotaged. Are you committed to doing everything you can to make your marriage work?  Remember, whatever problems you are having now that is not resolved will be taken with you to any other relationship.

Second, if you are committed, then ask God to help you become aware of your own unspoken needs from your past that you are bringing to your marriage. Ask Him for clarity, courage and strength to be honest with yourself.  Sometimes it is a desire to be nurtured, loved and respected.  Sometimes it is a strong belief that I have to do everything right to be okay.

Third, learn the skill of listening and mirroring back what you have heard without judgment or interpretation.  “If I understand correctly, this is what you are feeling…” Understand that each of us wants to be heard and validated.  We want to know that we are loveable and loved by God.

Fourth, be willing to be vulnerable.  We are fearful of being honest and genuine because we fear we will become less acceptable, less loveable. It is easier to blame instead of accepting we aren’t perfect, don’t have to be perfect, and we can accept both our strengths and our weaknesses.

And fifth, accept yourself for who you are.  Develop your core beliefs and inner strength.  You can be loving without becoming a doormat.  You can listen respectfully without having to agree with everything.  You can accept responsibility for your emotional responses without attacking. You can put up appropriate boundaries for what you will accept and will not accept.  This is especially important if there is emotional, psychological or physical abuse.  You cannot fix another person.  If you are in an abusive relationship, I strongly suggest you see a good licensed marriage counselor.

How do we build an open, sharing dialogue with our spouse?  How do we build a safe environment where each of us can share with the other? 

You can’t change anyone.  But we can change ourselves.  We can make choices that are healthy for both us and our marriages.  We can be loving and respectful but put appropriate boundaries in place.  Establish some communication guidelines agreeable with both of you.  You will not have a relationship is there is no way to communicate your needs and wishes.

Relationships that have mutual respect, acceptance and commitment require work.  But it is a work that is joyful because of the benefits that you will receive. It’s worth all the effort you can bring.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

 

My thanks to my friend, Marlene Anderson, for her excellent marriage advice. If you’re interested in learning more, visit Marlene’s website: http://focuswithmarlene.com/ 

 

 

New Hope for MaNew Hope for Marriagerriage Weekend Retreat…for wives who are struggling in their marriages and looking for refreshment and hope. Join Christie Miller and Deb Kalmbach at beautiful Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in Bellingham, Washington, April 21-23. Get ready to be encouraged! Contact: Christie@FreshLookThinking.com or debkalmbach@centurytel.net

Date: April 21, 2017—April 23, 2017
Time: 16:00
Event: New Hope for Marriage Weekend Retreat
Topic: New Hope for Marriage
Sponsor: Northwest Christian Speakers Bureau/New Hope for Marriage
360-966-0203
Venue: Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center
Location: Bellingham, WA
Public: Private

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.

Life Lessons From a Dog Named Kramer

I knew the day was coming, but I didn’t expect it to arrive so soon. “Soon” is relative, because 15 years can seem like a long time or pass by in a blink. It’s the blink side6 I’m experiencing today. We said goodbye to our faithful canine friend, Kramer, two days ago. The years had taken their toll and Randy and I couldn’t bear to watch him struggle. Nights had become nearly impossible. Kramer paced incessantly through the house, getting stuck behind furniture or in corners, not seeing well enough to find his way out. Our hearts ache as we try to adjust to life without him. Anyone who has had a long-term relationship with a dog will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Kramer came into our lives on a July day in 2000, just before our 30th wedding anniversary. We drove two hours to the breeder’s home. We’d planned to only “take a look” at the Jack Russell Terrier puppy who bounded up to meet us. It was love at first lick. And then we were driving home with the unexpected 3-month old pup passenger curled up on my lap. We decided he was our anniversary gift to each other.

And what a gift he’s been! Our lives were turned upside down and our hearts inside out with love for this little guy who we christened as “Kramer.” He needed a Hollywood name since Randy and I owned a video store in our small town. Every day, Randy packed up Kramer and his puppy paraphernalia and took him to our store, much to the delight of our customers. “Is Kramer in today?” they’d ask expectantly.

When Kramer turned one year old, we celebrated with a party at the store. Kramer secretly told me he wanted a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting which was a big hit with his guests. They brought dog biscuit gifts and even called on the phone to wish him a happy day.

Kramer enjoyed stardom in our town’s annual ’49ers Days Parade. We drove the parade route in Randy’s old ’89 Lincoln Town Car festooned with Kramer banners and balloons. Children lining the one street through town squealed, “Look, there’s Kramer!” Randy and I tried not to let it get us down that no one seemed to notice us.

As we grieve our loss, I’m reminded of how much we learned from Kramer’s terrier traits.

  • Live every moment to the fullest!  Kramer lived at”turbo speed,” throwing himself wholeheartedly into  quests for chasing chipmunks, digging holes to hunt for mice, or attacking the garden hose while we attempted to water the plants or wash the car.
  • Don’t ever give up!  We marveled at Kramer’s tenacity and what one small dog could accomplish. One day, he was intent on capturing a chipmunk that was hiding in an irrigation pipe. “Great,” we thought. Kramer was occupied and we didn’t have to worry about him for a while. Only problem was that after several hours of tussling with the pipe, he literally wore off the black part of his nose! Our vet assured us it would grow back.
  • Love without stopping! What we’ll miss most is having this sweet dog with bright brown eyes filled with pure love, greet us at the end of every work day. No matter what kind of day we’d had, it was always better because Kramer was there to welcome us home.

I can’t help but think that God sent him to us at a time when we most needed him. As Randy and I stood by his grave the other day, I realized how far we had come in 15 years. We had learned volumes about what really matters, the value of persevering, and how to love each other well. In this sad moment, we had leaned into the pain together. We stood with arms draped around each other, praying a farewell prayer to our faithful friend. Even though our lives will never be the same, we are grateful for God’s special anniversary gift to us and memories to last the rest of our lives.

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