Progression of a Disease

Facts: Alcoholism is a progressive disease. I did not cause it, I cannot control it, and I cannot cure it. The true alcoholic must actively combat the disease to stop progression.

Watching this progression scares me.

My husband started AA, and I, Al-Anon, in August 2016. He’s attended as many meetings as he can, and he reads the literature and listens to speakers, but he’s still had relapses. I don’t pretend to know what is going on in his head. I do know he is always fighting something I can’t see.

Over the past two months in particular, I’ve watched changes for the worse. In particular, he has started hurting himself. In one ugly fight, he started this prolonged, wild yell and then accused me of equating him with the devil (I never have. The equation was his own) while punching a household appliance as hard as he could. The other night we had another fight in which I employed as much program as I could to not escalate my part. He still ended up banging his head repeatedly on the dining room oak table, where he was sitting. I have never seen that from anyone, anywhere.

He knows, as do I, that it isn’t him when he bashes his own head atop the table. He knows he needs more help and that I am not the person to provide it. In weak moments, I have reminded and pushed him about needing a sponsor, and working the steps with that guidance. He has said numerous times now he will find one. I told him last night that I was scared about what it might take for this to happen. He told me he was scared, too, and that he knew it was getting worse. He repeated that he’d find a sponsor.

He said, “It’s so hard, having part of my brain logical and functional, and then there’s this other part that goes against EVERYTHING I’m trying to do.” I can’t imagine it, to know the healthy path and to continually thwart myself while going in the opposite direction. But this isn’t like a diet where you eat things you’re not supposed to: for true alcoholics, this is life and death. This is him one night possibly deciding to hurt himself so he doesn’t hurt anymore.

I know I can’t push for what he needs because I would be pushing my own agenda, my skewed perception of how things need to be fixed. My program needs to be stronger for me to be able to stand beside him. Close friends have suggested that I leave the relationship. If I felt I was in physical danger, or if I knew he wasn’t going to try to get better, I’d contemplate it. Hell, I’ve contemplated divorce numerous times before, but what it comes down to is I love him and committed to him in sickness and in health. He’s sick. Unless he becomes a threat to my life or to our children’s life, I will stay and work alongside him. I will do things to keep myself healthy and pray that he and his higher power find ways to mend his sickness. That is what can be done for today.

Please keep him in your prayers, if you pray, or send good energy. Thank you.


Vodka, 1. Santa, 0.

Alcohol won tonight over family night and Christmas lights. Somewhere between helping out a friend the first half of the day and attending a Christmas celebration tonight, my husband decided to ditch recovery. “I’m going to get some chapstick from the car,” he said, while we sat and waited our turn for a Santa picture. My daughter wanted to walk around outside instead of waiting, so we followed shortly after him. He had the trunk open and was digging through his storage bin with his infamous stainless steel mug in front of him. I’d wondered what happened to that mug.

“Having a drink?” I asked somewhat casually. His immediate reaction was to sheepishly say, “No, no I’m not drinking.” Hello, liar. Even caught in the act, alcohol makes him lie. I hate that part. Will he ever be able to admit it?

We headed home early. There was no fighting, nor was there conversation. When we got home, he dropped us off and said he was heading back out to find a meeting. Who knows if he’ll make it to the meeting or stop and tend to the vodka hiding in his trunk. I am thankful to my program to not be obsessing over that part, which I have absolutely no control over.

What I do think about is how I know I cannot stay with an active alcoholic. I equate active alcoholism with nonstop lies, instability, and complete assholishness. Yes, I have my program, and I have choices. I love my husband. I love how hardworking he is, and how hot he is. I love how he makes so much effort for us. I choose him for as long as he is committed to recovery. I do not choose the active alcoholic and the liar.

Having trouble understanding what this all is. Is it considered a relapse if he’s been drinking on the sly for awhile? Is it still considered recovery? And I know these are all ultimately words, and figuring it out is not a step. I hate this disease. Tired.

Listening to the Little Voice

I don’t always equate the little voice to my higher power, premonition, or to conscience, but a mixture of the three. It’s an underlying sense of balance or the lack thereof. I’ve been thinking about my little voice and when it’s come into play.

The first time I really paid attention to my little voice was before we understood we were dealing with alcoholism. We had gotten into one of many horrible fights, and I was crying in bed, feeling hopeless. I do not recall consciously thinking it so much as hearing it: “You are made of stronger stuff. Get up.” It wasn’t even in line with my thoughts at the time, which were full of self-pity.

This past Labor Day weekend, we were out camping, having a good time. There were a few signs leading up to relapse, but when I saw my husband’s vehicle return to camp one day after a visit to the grocery store, I heard clearly, “He drank.” In the bustle that was happening at camp, I promptly forgot the voice and was later baffled over how we got into a huge fight later that night. The next morning he knew something had gone wrong but couldn’t remember anything except that he had downed nearly a whole bottle of vodka after buying groceries and before coming back to camp.

Most recently the voice has told me to hush at times when I wanted to be an ass (because I perceived that he was being an ass first, of course) and rock the boat. I’m relieved that I’ve listened more often than not, and I want to make a conscious effort to pay better attention to it. It has not misguided me, and I wonder how many times I’ve been too bull-headed or emotional to hear it above my own selfishness.

What has your little voice told you? What is that source of voice to you?


Figuring it Out is Not a Step

One of the best things I’ve ever heard at an Al-Anon meeting came from an old-timer: “Figuring it out is not a step.”

A common trait that Al-Anons share before entering the program (and that we tend to struggle with while we are STILL in program) is our racing brains: obsession. We worry, create possible scenarios, spend lots of time being fearful of said scenarios. We create more difficulties for ourselves based on things that may never happen. Our brains constantly are running a marathon with our emotions at the helm, trying to understand, trying to control, trying to direct fear away from our lives.

If we follow our program, which uses the same steps as Alcoholics Anonymous, we practice letting go of what we have no power over. This means relying on something greater than ourselves to take care of what we cannot. We stop focusing on the actions of others and obsessing about their behavior; instead, we take inventory of our own selves and learn what role we’ve played in our own miseries. We ask for help to focus on bettering ourselves. Our alcoholics and their actions are beyond our scope of control.

“Figuring it out is not a step” is a reminder to stop my useless worrying. I can’t anticipate if one of my children will have the gene. I can’t try to understand why my husband has said numerous times that he needs a sponsor but continues to put off getting one. I can’t keep worrying about my friend’s alcoholism worsening if she has no plan to take action for herself.

These are things I CAN do, and every Al-Anon member’s list is different: I can continue writing 3 things in my Gratitude notebook every night to remember the good in my life before I go to sleep. I can keep an Al-Anon daily reader in my bag for easy access when I feel myself start stressing or worrying. I can make time to work outside in our yard, one of the best healing activities I know works for me. I can contact my sponsor when I feel weak, and enjoy her strength and support. All of these actions ensure that *I* have what I need to find peace in my own head.

As always, One Day at a Time.

When Alcoholism Destroys Friendship

We were close friends for almost 10 years. Our children grew from toddlers to teens together, our marriages have been tested and we’ve relied on each other for support. I spent consistent time with her daughter after her difficult divorce. We are more family than we are friends, or we used to be.

Over the past few years, her dependence of alcohol worsened, and what she could initially keep to herself in her home started overflowing into outings with friends. When I told her about a year ago that my husband had started going to AA, she responded, “You know I’m an alcoholic too, right?” It didn’t surprise me, nor did it surprise me when she followed up with, “But this is who I am. I’m not changing for anyone.”

At that point in time, she drank a lot at home, after work. She always had consecutive glasses of wine when we’d see each other. Then there was the time I found out from a mutual friend she had driven drunk home from a bar. We’d go out for “a” drink and she couldn’t stop ordering them once they started coming, and she’s always been tight on money. Another time at a group camping trip, she propositioned someone for sex in front of several of us. This wasn’t the friend I’d come to love: this was the alcoholic–the harsher, combative, asshole version courtesy of the disease.

I confronted her on these things I was seeing. She listened, then told me that she had thought she was an alcoholic, but lately, she’d been able to “control” her drinking, so she didn’t think it was a problem anymore.

What she did next at my housewarming party was enough for me to decide to practice complete detachment, a tool we Al-Anons use to preserve our sanity. She had asked if she could bring her two friends whom I’d never met to my housewarming party. No problem. The three of them show up about two hours late with a ton of beer (when she knows my husband is a recovering alcoholic), all three beyond sloppy drunk: slurring, stumbling, and obnoxious.

Slurring, cussing, stumbling, at points shoving her cleavage in her friend’s face, this in front of other guests including children. Before she left, she asked at the last minute if her teenage daughter could sleep over. Apparently, they wanted to party more at home without other responsibilities. I told her no.

She texted me the next day, “Good times last night…”. I didn’t respond. I can’t explain how much her actions disgusted me, how disrespected I felt in my own home. My husband reminds me that she has a disease, but all I can see sometimes is that my friend shit on our friendship, something I’d never do to her. I have been in Al Anon long enough to understand that I didn’t cause alcoholism, I can’t control it, and I sure as hell can’t cure it, but I swear it’s so hard when it is a close, loved friend who is spiraling. It still really hurts and feels as though I’m mourning because I know that letting go of the situation to some extent means letting go of my friend. I love her so much, but this is no longer her. It’s the damn disease.

We still watch each other on social media, but I’ve stopped texting her or planning on outings for us. I am stepping back for me. Who knows if one day she’ll ask for help. I know I’d be there in an instant, but I can’t watch her alcoholic self go untreated anymore. I choose my sanity.


Life with a Dry Drunk

When I first came to Al Anon and for awhile afterward, the term “dry drunk” confused me. I’m now somewhat wryly familiar with the signs of impending dry drunk behavior and this last episode, I almost detached enough to go about my way and not start a fight. Almost.

The dry drunk, or more specifically, my dry drunk, is a slightly watered down version of the active alcoholic without his alcohol present: basically, the asshole. The difference is that the asshole has some background now with AA and the big blue book, and seems to not escalate as furiously as the truly active alcoholic did.

In Al Anon, we learn to practice detachment with love, which is a feat only accomplished with a good amount of serenity, and therefore mother f*****g difficult. But I dare say I’m getting better at it…slowly.

When my husband is a dry drunk, he stews with anger and resentment. I call it anger just beneath his skin–it is just waiting for any instance, any small excuse to bust through. When he vents about things not having to do with me, I’ve started simply listening and not offering any advice, nor reassurance. I’m just there for support, but I keep myself from becoming part of the story. I’m getting that part, and it helps both of us.

It’s when the disagreement is between us that it is really difficult to detach because it is still so personal to me. I have noticed that our fights are nothing like they used to be when he was actively drinking: those fights were hurtful yelling matches, void of any attempts to understand each other. Our fights now still stem from poor communication, but they rarely ratchet to yelling status. More often, we try to talk through frustration, but it is still exhausting, and level-headed talk comes only after he can emerge from the dry drunk behavior.

When my husband exhibits dry drunk behavior, I honestly wish I could pack up and go on vacation until he’s figured it out, because he is just a pure asshole, not unlike a child who cannot get his way. I have to remind myself that he is trying to deal with life without the main coping tool he’s used for years. Tradition 5 of Al-Anon encourages us to understand the alcoholic. Compassion. It’s really difficult to keep feeling compassion for someone who is often angry and uncomfortable and anxious. I am so tired of living with the negativity while trying to be positive myself. I remind myself, he’s trying. He’s trying. Recovery is all uphill. And the skill of detachment? Still working on it, always one day at a time.

“This is who I am,” said the disease.

Nearly nine months working it in Al Anon, and there’s nothing I can do as I watch alcoholism engulf one of my best friends.

She’s that friend who I could tell anything to, even the shittiest thing I did, and she’d nod and ask more questions and then tell me some ultra shitty thing she’d done. Always over wine. We watched our kids grow up together and viewed ourselves as extended family.

When my husband began going to AA, naturally, I confided in her. Her reaction was not what I expected. “You know I’m an alcoholic too, right?” I hadn’t known, but I wasn’t entirely surprised. I’d heard all about her growing up with an alcoholic mother and as an adult, she herself always had a glass of wine in her hand, regardless of the hour.

She had no intent of doing a 12 step program. “This is who I am,” she firmly told me, at once establishing that she would not be making any changes, and that I should not expect any of my husband, either.

I went home perplexed. How does one know they have a sickness and not want to eradicate it? I did not know much about alcoholism at that point.

The months passed. Initially, my friend would come over and bring her wine with her, as we no longer kept alcohol in the house. She’d ask me constantly if my husband was still not drinking. As he continued with his program, she visited and called less and less. She had reasons why she couldn’t go out with me each time I’d ask.

I never lectured her about drinking, never advised her to stop. I’d even offered several times to go to her house and bring the wine, just so we could have time to hang out, but she had begun to shut me out.

When her daughter would babysit mine at her house, she wouldn’t come out of her room to see me when I arrived. At this point, she only briefly answers my texts, then ends the conversation abruptly for some reason or other.

I really miss my friend and I still sometimes wonder if I had done anything wrong to cause this. The Al Anon literature reminds me I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. But it still really, mega sucks. 

For now, our friendship is another casualty of this awful disease, a sad rendition of “Just for today.” 

Ugly Surprise

I was emptying the trash into our outside bin just now and what do I find but a can of beer stuffed into one of his brown bag lunches that he just tossed. And we’ve been doing well. Ugly, ugly thing. How strange that when I see you, you now represent an absolutely unwelcome guest, something that I would gladly kill so that I wouldn’t have to see you again. And because of my program, I have more calm and clarity now than I did before, and I don’t transfer my anger and sadness to the alcoholic. But my heart still drops to the ground. I still feel some kind of defeat.

Just last night I went out with one of my girlfriends and had a beer for the first time in three months. The restaurant we went to carried my favorite kind, and I hadn’t drank in so long in support of my husband’s sobriety. That amber in that cold glass was so so good. I only drank half the pint and stopped because well, that’s all it takes and I don’t need more. Beautiful beer in a cold glass. But when it shows up in or around my house, it is nothing but a threat. It’s a reminder that we are still fighting this thing I can’t easily see, especially when it has its hooks in my husband and makes him lie, quietly, and expertly. I hate that empty can in my trash outside. But I love my husband. Will bring this up softly tonight and see how deep the hooks are embedded. I know that I’ll be able to tell very quickly by his response. Good times. One day at a fucking time.

When My Higher Power Said Hi

At Al-Anon meetings, we’re encouraged to share stories of strength, hope, and courage. And two months into going to meetings, I finally have such a story to bring to the room.

I’m a newcomer to prayer, on Step 3, and my words to God aren’t nearly as eloquent as those I’ve heard from prayer warriors. This past week has been a difficult one, and after hearing the shares of fellow Al-Anon members, I started asking God for guidance. This usually happened before I went to bed or when I awoke in the mornings. Please guide me. Please help me find my way. I can’t do this on my own. Over and over. I told you I’m not eloquent: these are early attempts at asking for help.

Yesterday, we spent the majority of time cleaning house. Early in the morning, my husband brought down a few things from the attic, one of which was an empty frame, no glass, no cardboard. I had no idea why it had been up in the attic. Since I couldn’t think of a use for it, I put it in my Goodwill pile and kept cleaning.

Later that evening, I was rearranging pictures in different rooms. One of our family portraits had been neglected in a side room, and I brought it to hang in the dining room. It’s a Christmas shot of of us at home in front of our Christmas tree that I had transferred to a large canvas. Everyone looks relaxed and happy. I hung it in the dining room but it didn’t quite fit. Something was missing.

My gaze fell on my Goodwill pile and at the empty frame that somehow made its way down from the attic that morning. That’s way too lucky, I thought, but as I eyed both, they looked like they might fit. I brought the frame over and the canvas fit in perfectly. The hue of the frame even complemented the colors in the print.

Stunned at that point, I said “Thank you” quietly as I stood there staring at the newly framed canvas. This is what is important, something told me. I started crying.

It may not sound like much to someone else, I realize, but I’m not a lucky person. I don’t win things, I rarely have coincidental moments. I believe this was the guidance I had asked for. In my angry brain, I’ve still weighed the pros and cons of a life separate from the alcoholic. In weak moments, I feel like I want to throw everything out like a useless empty frame. The message I received instead was a beautiful gift and reminder.

When my husband came in the room, I asked him if he noticed anything different with the canvas portrait. He looked at it and then stared at me blankly. I explained briefly what had happened, and he shrugged and looked at me like there should be more to the story. Seems like the story would go downhill here, but this is what I quickly understood: the message and gift were for me from my higher power. It didn’t matter if anyone else understood it or not. I could not change how my husband saw it, and that was fine. I could still bask in it and it was certainly no less of a gift. The person I was before Al-Anon would have let my husband’s reaction depress me, then anger me. This time I chose Serenity, and it made the rest of my day happy.

So there it is. My first story of strength, hope, and courage. I hope there are more to come.

Different Rooms, Different Vibes

Places come with their own personalities, then they’re further altered by the group of people who fill the space. Al-Anon rooms are no exception. I’ve been trying out different meetings recently to see where else I might fit. If you haven’t been to a meeting, here are things you might notice:

(1) Some groups are largely composed of a particular age group. This has happened to me a few times. I step in, and I’m the only one under the age of 50, sometimes 60. If you are not elderly and are not sure how you’d fit, stick it out–some of the old timers have the best wisdom to share, especially the ones who have been working the program forever. They’ve got the Serenity deal DOWN. Also, it’s amazing to watch people accept their coins for their 30+ years in the program. I personally feel strange about taking an Al-Anon coin, but I enjoy watching others do it.

(2) Some groups rely heavily on the Al-Anon literature. If you don’t have your own books yet, you can sometimes borrow them at the meeting or share with someone sitting next to you. If you’re tight on money, look for them at your local second hand stores. I found three of the main books that way for a quarter of the cost. The groups that focus on the literature inevitably take turns reading. If you don’t want to read, you can say “Pass”.

(3) Certain groups feature different things. One I visited allotted 5 minutes for group meditation. Another group has hug time in the middle of the meeting. Regardless of the smaller features, all of the groups I’ve visited stick to a familiar structure. Serenity Prayer, the welcome, self introductions by first name only, Al-Anon announcements, then possibly a topic or a literature reading, followed by sharing. Sharing takes up the majority of the time. At midpoint, the collection basket is passed around: Al-Anon is a self-supported organization. At the end, you’re reminded of the importance of anonymity and encouraged to take what you like of the talks and leave the rest. You end as you began, with the Serenity Prayer or perhaps the Lord’s Prayer.

(4) During sharing, there are people who keep talking, regardless of how many people are in the room. Some groups use an actual timer with beeper to give more people a chance to share. Other groups just remind people to keep shares under x minutes. There are people who keep going and going, even after the timer goes off. I am thankful to the ones who tie it up quickly and allow for others who haven’t shared yet to have a turn. Oy. Still, the shares to me are invaluable. The raw honesty keeps me honest with myself. The openness allows for us to see our commonalities and we support each other, not caring about the differences.

I also led a meeting for the first time this past week. It was very impromptu, as no one was scheduled to lead, so at the beginning of the meeting, I said why not. Decided to go with the topic of detachment and someone else thankfully had a handy reading regarding just that. I helped shepherd the meeting along and it really wasn’t that nerve-wracking! Afterwards, it was really nice that people came up and thanked me for leading. I feel very humbled and so grateful to be part of my home group.

Are there things that have stood out to you as you explore the different rooms? I’d love to hear your experiences.