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.

 

When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? Indignities, Compromises, and the Unexpected Grace of Midlife (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2017)

A transparent, honest, humorous memoir that looks at the challenges of midlifeAging well is a topic I’m always interested in–and Jennifer Grant’s memoir about her forties is an  honest, transparent, and humorous look at midlife. She’s an excellent story-teller and I enjoyed hearing about her aging experiences–wearing what she thought were “cool” Elton John-like glasses–only to have her teenage daughter weigh in with her more- than- honest assessment. “You look old and weird in those glasses, Mom.”

The author poignantly describes the transitions we go through with our children. Would we want to go back to those sweet early years when they willingly place their little hands in ours when we cross the street, or get excited about something as simple as finger-painting?   Grant says no, she wants to look forward to who those children will become. She doesn’t want to get stuck looking back at those “good, old days”–even though letting go isn’t easy. It seems that one day our children are sweet and innocent and the next you’re looking at college applications with them. I can relate! Even though I’m well past the middle-age years Jennifer Grant writes about, I can still remember the ache I felt when I walked past my oldest son’s empty bedroom after he left for college. Yet this book offers hope of moving past these empty-nest feelings.

The author writes wisely about the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of aging and the changes we face throughout our lives–celebrations, sorrows, and joys. She concludes with the wisdom of Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes: There is a time for everything.

I enjoyed this book, but I am disappointed by the author’s interpretation of the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25) in her book’s final chapter. As a Christian, I believe it’s important to consider the full counsel of Scripture when interpreting passages such as this one.

 

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Moms: Our Real Heroes

Moms: our real heroes

Mom & me

I just spent the past several weeks with my hero, my mom. Diagnosed with colon cancer in December, she chose to  have the surgical procedure–difficult under any circumstances, but especially at age 90.

As her surgical team prepped her on that early Tuesday a.m., they all remarked at how amazing she is for a woman her age. “We don’t see many 90-year-olds come through here,” one nurse commented. “Usually their health is compromised and there are too many risks.”

Mom and I both knew that even though she’s strong, this surgery presented lots of unknowns. We prayed together the night before and attempted to say good-byes–just in case. I hugged her extra long before they wheeled her into the OR. A compassionate nurse called me several times while I waited during the almost 4-hour surgery to assure me everything was going well.

While I helped Mom during her recovery, I had time to think about what makes a mom a hero. A while back, I had chatted with Mom and thanked her (you can never say it enough) for all those little things that made a difference while my brothers (four of them!) and I grew up. Things like always being there, packing school lunches, staying up late to sew cute new outfits for me–and for my dolls, too. Mom’s response to my gratitude surprised me. “I don’t think I did anything special,” she said. “I did what moms are supposed to do.”

Maybe that’s an important part of the mom/hero equation. They don’t think they’re doing anything out of the ordinary. They simply do what moms are supposed to do.

I love this quote from Jill Churchill in her book, Grime and Punishment, There’s no way to be a perfect mother–and a million ways to be a good one.

My mom is the first person to admit she wasn’t a perfect mom. It’s the million other ways that she was and is a good mom that make all the difference. So take heart if you’re in the thick of momhood. Once you accept you’ll never be perfect at it, then you can consider the myriad ways to be the hero/mom who leaves her kids and grandkids a lasting legacy.

Some of my mom’s “good-mom” techniques:

  • Be committed.  Mom was all in. 100% there for us. That’s no easy task day-in and day-out with a tribe of kids. We never wondered if she would be home when we came in from school or playing outside. We never once worried if she would have dinner prepared or if she’d be there to tuck us in at night. She was always there–except for the day she gave birth to our youngest sibling– but we’ll overlook that!
  • Set high standards. Mom insisted that we tow the mark. We learned to be honest, to care about others, to help with chores (without getting paid) and without complaining. We knew better than to be disrespectful. She had a zero-tolerance policy.
  • Give selflessly. When I became a mom, I realized this was hard work–without vacations. You’re always a mom. You really can’t take a break or go on a sabbatical. Mom’s job consisted of being home full-time. She tended to the needs of five uniquely different children, managed mountains of laundry, cooked, cleaned and stayed up late to get it done.
  • Stand up for what you believe is right. Mom loved imparting her wisdom and values to us. In the early 1970s when I was a young adult, Mom expressed her opinions on some of the crazy cultural views–like something called “open marriage.” The purveyors of this philosophy touted the advantages of having multiple partners to”enhance” your marriage. Mom didn’t mince words. Those ideas had no place in our family. Period. (I recently read a review on the book, Open Marriage. The reviewer said it was a bad idea in 1970 and it still is  today). Mom knew what she was talking about!

I’m thankful God’s plan for my mom’s life included more time for me to thank her again for being my hero. You really can’t say it enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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