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)

 

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.

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.