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.

 

Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2017)

FinishI admit it. I’m a procrastinator. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve struggled with getting things done–not to mention actually finishing them. I was the student pulling the “all-nighters,” trying to get reports and term papers finished on time. Now why didn’t I start this weeks ago instead of waiting until the last minute? I routinely asked myself.

I’ve been learning a lot about my procrastinator tendencies and why it’s so hard to finish  projects with the help of Jon Acuff’s excellent book  Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. 

This book is especially timely with the beginning of a New Year. Did you know 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail?  In fact, Jon Acuff says you have a better chance of getting into Julliard as a ballerina than you do at finishing your goals. I guess I’m in good company–not that I’ve ever attempted to get into Julliard. It didn’t take long for me to realize the limitations of my ballerina aspirations!

Not only is this book chock full of great information, but it is laugh-out-loud funny. I love that about Jon Acuff’s writing! Even though we may struggle to finish what we begin, at least we can laugh at ourselves as we learn new ways of accomplishing our goals.

For years, I thought my problem was that I didn’t try hard enough. So I started getting up earlier. I drank enough energy drinks to kill a horse. I hired a life coach and ate more superfoods. Nothing worked, although I did develop a pretty nice eyelid tremor from all the caffeine. It was like my eye was waving at you, very very quickly.  -Jon Acuff

How many of us can relate? We tend to think, “I must be lazy or I’m not trying hard enough.” Acuff talks about the real culprit being perfectionism. Maybe a lot of us don’t even begin because it’s too hard and we know we’ll never be perfect. He says Day 1 is not the most important day of a goal. Instead, it’s the “day after perfect.” We have to power past this “day after perfect.” We’ll feel uncomfortable in the process, but we’ll be able to make progress. We don’t have to be perfect. The goal is finished, not perfect. That’s a relief!

When setting goals, as many of us are inspired to do in January, we need to be realistic. Acuff recommends cutting our goals in half because we tend to set goals that are foolishly optimistic. Also, many of us believe we can do it all. According to Acuff, “You can’t do it all. I’m here to tell you that you can’t.”

He also recommends goals that have an element of fun woven into them. We tend to think that working toward any worthy goal has to make us miserable. Not so! In fact, we’re more likely to get it done if it’s fun.

So if you’re anything like me, always procrastinating and never quite finishing, you will find Jon Acuff’s book a breath of fresh air–and an inspiration to make this year the one you finally give yourself the “gift of done!”

 

 

 

 

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 Awakening of HK Derryberry: My Unlikely Friendship with the Boy Who Remembers Everything (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017)

The Awakening of HK Derryberry: an unlikely friendship with a special needs boyIf you’ve ever wondered if one person can make a difference in someone’s life,  read The Awakening of HK Derryberry and you will know the answer is a resounding yes!

The unlikely friendship between Jim Bradford, a senior business executive, and 9-year old HK Derryberry, a boy with multiple disabilities, begins on a cold October morning in 1999 when Jim stops at Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits in search of a cup of coffee. He almost misses the small boy sitting at a table at the back of the restaurant. When Jim sees HK, he feels an unusual emotional tug. He walks over to talk with the boy–something he almost never did. Jim writes that his encounter with HK that day revealed that he was a “pickpocket,” because he had stolen Jim’s heart.

And I would have to say they have stolen my heart as well. Jim Bradford’s story reeled me right in from the first chapter. We learn that HK was born prematurely under tragic family circumstances. It is a miracle the baby boy survived, but he is blind, has cerebral palsy, and countless other challenges. As I read about the enduring friendship (16 years!) between Jim and HK, I felt my emotions welling up inside. It is inspiring to see how Jim and his wife, Brenda, invested their time and love for HK–and how many amazing possibilities opened up for a lonely little boy who needed a dad.

This is a must-read book. The touching story between a man and a special-needs boy will have you laughing one minute and in tears the next–and learning to look for the unlikely to cross your path.

 

You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir (Walden, New York: Plough Publishing House, 2017)

I saw my graMelissa Ohden memoir about being an abortion survivornddaughter Lucy’s face for the first time on an ultrasound when her mom was about 20 weeks pregnant. The clarity of her facial features took my breath away. I fell in love at first sight!

I couldn’t help but think of my experience with baby Lucy when I read Melissa Ohden’s powerful memoir, You Carried Me. Her birth mother was farther along in her pregnancy than when my daughter-in-law had her ultrasound. The circumstances were tragic. Melissa’s mother had a failed abortion. Instead of dying from the poisonous saline solution administered to abort her, baby Melissa was born alive, weighing in at 2 lbs. 14.5 oz. She was adopted by a loving couple who were willing to take on the special needs Melissa might have as a result of the botched abortion. Miraculously, Melissa had no long-term medical complications. 

She discovered at age fourteen that she was an abortion survivor. Melissa had known from an early age that she had been adopted. Finding out that she was aborted and then survived, threw her into an emotional tailspin. Her courage to persevere in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances is inspiring. As a young adult, Melissa began a decade-long search for the truth about her birth and her birth parents. The outcome is nothing short of miraculous. At times while I was reading this book (which I could hardly put down), I had to remind myself “this is a true story.”

Melissa is honest and straight-forward as she tells her story, yet she’s careful to protect the identity of her birth parents. The level of healing and forgiveness the author has experienced in dealing with circumstances clearly out of her control, is a testimony to her faith. It seems Melissa’s life was spared for a greater purpose–to become a voice for the unborn and an advocate for women, men, and children impacted by abortion.

A Spectacle of Glory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

I’m always excited about receiving a new devotional book, and this book by Joni Eareckson Tada is no exception. In my opinion, she is one of the most qualified individuals to write about showcasing God’s glory. Joni Eareckson Tada devotional bookShe has done this beautifully as she has learned, by God’s grace, how to live with the chronic pain and suffering of quadriplegia for nearly 50 years. I can’t imagine…

Her inspiration touched my life profoundly when I read her book, Joni, in the late 1970s. She wrote about the diving accident that left her paralyzed as a teen and how she wrestled to accept that God could use her life more  to impact others from a wheelchair than if she could walk. Her faith and wisdom has only matured through the years. Her latest book, A Spectacle of Glory, is a 365-day devotional that offers comfort and hope to anyone who is struggling with difficult circumstances.

Each devotional focuses on a Bible verse, followed by a short reading that encourages readers to allow God’s light to shine through them, no matter what they’re going through. The daily offering ends with a heartfelt prayer.

In one reading, Joni refers to Psalm 46:1. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” She writes: When you are in trouble, God doesn’t just send help; He is your help. And this help is ever-present.

Joni’s writing is transparent, real, and encouraging. There’s a calmness and simplicity in what she shares, yet a gentle authority. Her daily insights will help you discover how to put God’s glory on display–how to say “no” to complaining and “yes” to following God as you walk the most difficult paths. I like this book because I feel like I have a friend accompanying me on the journey–someone who really knows the ropes when it comes to dealing with pain and suffering.

Handlebar Media provided a free copy of this book for my honest review.

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