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.

 

Forgiven: Accepting God’s Amazing Grace

In 1992, artist Thomas Blackshear II, painted a picture titled Forgiven. It took my breath away the first time I saw it. The image is a contemporary man wearing a T-shirt and dirty jeans, holding a mallet in one hand and a nail in the other. The expression on his face is desperation and exhaustion. Standing behind him and holding him up, is Jesus. His nail-scarred hands appear large and strong. His face is tender as he embraces this man, a picture of God’s love and forgiveness, the real message of Easter.      He-is-Risen-from-StudioJRU

Tears welled up in my eyes. The man in the painting reminded me of my husband Randy. He had tried over and over to stop the deadly spiral of alcoholism that he was caught in. Sometimes he broke down in sobs of desperation and anger. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop drinking–even though it was destroying him.

But this painting gave me hope. Though Randy’s addiction seemed hopeless, as a Christian, I had to believe that Jesus was right there loving Randy, and that his arms wrapped around him would never let him go.

One week before Easter in the early 1990s, Randy agreed to have our pastor and others pray for him. Pastor Mark and several others placed their hands on Randy’s head and shoulders and prayed. It was powerful. We all felt the intensity of God’s presence. Pastor Mark turned to me and said, “Deb, here’s your husband back.”

I noticed Randy’s eyes seemed clear and at peace, no longer tormented. He felt free! Sadly, after a week of experiencing this miraculous freedom, the old patterns crept back in. Randy struggled with his addiction until 1998 when he finally came to believe that God loved him and had forgiven him. Grasping that truth made all the difference for him. He has been free in Christ since then!

Today, on Good Friday, my thoughts have turned to this painting and the picture of a defeated and desperate man. Tears come to my eyes as I realize once again, the power of forgiveness. Maybe Randy needed that very real taste of freedom he experienced in order to ultimately be able to accept God’s unconditional love for him.

Really, Randy is no different from any of us. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all have held the mallet and nail in our hands, demanding our own way, instead of humbly submitting to God. I like to think I would never have been part of the crowd shouting, Crucify him! I know better, though. Without God’s amazing gift of grace and forgiveness, I’d never have submitted my life to Him. Only through the pain and heartache of Randy’s struggle with alcoholism, was I finally able to surrender.

I can’t do this.

God can.

I will let Him.

Whatever challenges you may be facing today, the promise and hope of Easter always follow the desperate darkness of Good Friday.

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 3:20,21 (MSG)

 

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

Reach Out!

The half hour drive from Meridian, Idaho to Boise seemed like the longest of my life. Late one night, I packed our 10 and 7-year old sons in the car with me to escape the turmoil at home. My husband Randy had been drinking again. I suspected that he was an alcoholic. If I admitted that, then I’d be faced with reality–with the elephant that stalked our house. I felt at a total loss in knowing what to do.

A few nights before, I had accused Randy of being an alcoholic. It was as if I’d thrown gasoline on a simmering fire. He exploded in anger and shoved me against the kitchen wall. I wanted to run away and never come back. But two little boys slept upstairs. I’m sure they weren’t really sleeping– probably terrified of what was happening between their parents. Even after 30 + years, I still remember how desperate I felt.

I made the brave decision to take Chris and Jeremy with me to a women’s shelter at the YWCA in Boise. A kind woman greeted us at the door when we arrived. She showed us to a neat room with three roll-away beds. She assured us we would be safe. I hugged and kissed my sons and tried my best to reassure them. I’m not sure I slept much that night, but I felt some relief. We stayed there for a few days. After having several counseling sessions and discussions with Randy, I decided to go home.

Even though it would be a long time before our home was a peaceful place, I had learned some important truths. I was no longer alone. I had been directed to Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of alcoholics. There I would find tools and resources to help me deal with our problems. The journey toward my own healing and wholeness had begun. I will always be grateful for the YWCA in Boise and their caring staff who took us in that night. I also learned that no matter how bleak a situation appears, there is always hope for change.

How often I’ve thought about the need we as women have for a time-out when circumstances get crazy. Maybe you’re not dealing with alcoholism and a spouse who is physically or verbally abusive. But you’re tired, weary. You need a place to just be quiet and hear yourself think. A place where you feel loved and can be reassured that you are going to be all right.  

Remember, you are not alone. Help is only a phone call or internet click away. The YWCA was only my first step of support. I could write pages to list all the friends, counselors, and support groups who have been part of my recovery journey.

Today, I can hardly believe I’m the same woman who made that impossibly long drive to reach out for help. I can hardly believe Randy is the same man who desperately needed to check out of reality by drinking. Today we enjoy the gift and miracle of sobriety in our lives and peace that comes from knowing we are in the center of God’s will.

When you are called out of crippling fear…you will be amazed at what God has planned for you. There is a world of breathtaking wonder wrapped up in trusting God with everything you have and everything you are. You will discover that you are free! –Sheila Walsh

Let me know if you need to reach out for help. I’d love to help you take a step on your journey to freedom!
  

My Way or the High Way

I used to think it was all Randy’s fault. If only he’d stop drinking, then we (or most importantly) I could be happy. I also thought I could change him. I could make him want to stay sober. I used ultimatums (you’d better stop drinking or…I’ll leave you…I’ll file for divorce, etc.) I thought he would be motivated to stop drinking. Wrong!

I launched my personal mission to get Randy sober. I placed inspirational books in strategic places around the house and refrigerator magnets with Bible verses on the fridge. When Randy popped open a can of beer, he would see those verses and want to change. Suddenly he would see the light, drop to his knees in gratitude, and proclaim his desire to stay sober. Wrong—again!

It is so tough to love your husband well in circumstances like this, finding the right balance in loving him that reflects Christ’s character. Maybe you’re dealing with a situation where you’ve tried everything you know to love your husband. Nothing ever changes and you feel angry and frustrated. You’ve lost all hope.

I know how you feel. For the longest time it was all about me. I don’t deserve this. Why am I going through this? It isn’t fair. Author and Women of Faith speaker, Patsy Clairmont once said, “Fair is where you buy cotton candy!”

I needed that reminder. The truth is, life isn’t fair. It’s how we respond to life’s inequities that determines whether or not we will find contentment. Looking back, I can see how my reluctant choices to take the “higher road” in our relationship, helped our marriage survive.

Maybe what we need is a road map to guide us, some cues to encourage us to let go of “our way” and become willing to choose God’s “high way.” I thought of the acronym H.I.M. I had to intentionally follow Him (Jesus) to become more Christ-like in all of my relationships.

H = Humility 

Jesus is humility personified. He had a way of zeroing in on a problem and speaking the truth in love. He had a posture of gentle strength. Humility doesn’t mean accepting or condoning your spouse’s bad behavior, but it does mean treating him the way Jesus treated others.

Dangerous Detours that almost derailed me:

1. Self-pity—Why me? This isn’t fair!
 2. Blaming—It’s not my fault.
3. Comparing—The grass is greener myth.

I shifted my thinking. I learned to admit where I had been wrong. Who me? I learned to accept responsibility for my actions.

 Humble yourself in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you. James 4:10

 I= Integrity

Integrity is courageous honesty, speaking truth in a compassionate way to ourselves and others. Jesus was also a master of integrity.  

Dangerous Detours where I often got hung up:

1. Denial—Refusing to believe or accept what is true.
2. Fear of confrontation—Lack of boundaries or inability to set limits.
3. Disrespect—Treating your spouse in a discourteous manner.

 I needed to honestly confront Randy (and myself) with reality. Truth gives us the ability to walk into the light instead of staying forever hidden in the darkness. Truth brings freedom and relief.

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

M= Maturity

Maturity helps us extend grace to others and give up the need to be right. Maturity requires that we’re grounded in reality and that we do our best to make wise choices.

Jesus knew how to reach people. He asked probing questions and told stories to make his point.  

Dangerous Detours that kept me stuck: 

1. Unforgiveness—Bitterness and resentment, the desire to punish the person who has wronged you. 2. Selfishness—Insisting on your own agenda.
3. A hardened heart—Stubborness and unwillingness to change or accept instruction.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

I almost gave up on Randy and our marriage. I’m so thankful the Lord gave me friends who pointed me toward a “higher way.”

• Toward humility so my heart would become tender instead of critical.
• Toward integrity so I could confront the lies I’d told myself and have courage to confront my husband in love.
• Toward maturity so I could act unselfishly, desiring to awaken the goodness in my husband.

By attempting to follow Him, I have truly experienced God’s grace.

Grace is undeserved generosity. It’s a hug when I deserve a slap. And that spirit of forgiving is the soil from which grow words that impart grace to those who hear. Only tender hearts produce words that heal rather than hurt. –Jerry Harvill

Where are you on your journey to follow H.I.M.?

Carrying the Message

I’m always amazed to see how connected we are online. A couple of months ago, I wrote a tribute to

my friend Doris, who had recently passed away. Doris had encouraged me during those tough times of dealing with my husband Randy’s alcoholism. Reminiscing about my friend felt healing–and I’m sure she would have been pleased to know how her life had made a difference for many others. That’s all I intended when I hit the “publish” button on my blog site.  

Then a few weeks ago, I received an email from the person who is the program analyst at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Really? She had discovered my blog and read some of my posts. She thanked me for sharing my recovery stories and encouraged me to submit Doris’ story to their website. 

I contacted Doris’ daughter to make sure her family was O.K. with this. I enjoyed a heartwarming conversation. She was enthusiastic about her mom’s story being posted on a national recovery website. My story is one of many voices you’ll read on the SAMHSA site. What a privilege to offer encouragement and hope to others like me who have struggled with a loved one’s addiction.

My contact at SAMHSA asked me to invite you to submit your own recovery story. Here’s the link to my story (Deb K.) and more information: http://www.recoverymonth.gov/Voices-for-Recovery/Stories.aspx

Let’s help carry the message of hope!

The bright side of addiction is recovery! –Neil S.