Powerless over alcohol. Check.

I remember my anger when I learned I’d have to work the 12 steps in Al-Anon, just as my husband would do in AA. This was his problem—he was the alcoholic! I seethed for longer than I care to admit. What it comes down to is that I was damaged by alcohol use even though it wasn’t my addiction. It cut into my life the deeper it sunk hooks into my husband. My recovery process may not be as desperate as his, but it is still about self-care and recognizing my limitations in the light of powers greater than myself.

From my first Al-Anon meeting, I knew I’d have issues with Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Yes, my life had become unmanageable. That wasn’t the difficult part to swallow. It was the offensive word “powerless.” The stubborn girl inside of me argued that I could achieve anything I put enough focus and work into. Powerless, my ass.

I avoided the first step, but I still listened to the sharing in meetings. Others were on step 4 or 6, the old timers had already worked through all the steps and were revisiting certain ones. Apparently, they all had admitted this powerlessness and moved forward, but I was stuck. I kept falling back on old habits when our relationship met turbulence, asking useless questions, trying to catch the alcohol before it showed up to taunt me from its hiding places. Then my husband relapsed.

Just days away from a month sober, I found him sitting on a chair in the dining room, with his head hanging. “I messed up,” was all he could say. His relapse devastated him, and it hurt to see him so broken. As I held him and smelled that all too familiar scent on his breath, I understood, Holy shit, there is no way I can do this on my own. He can’t do it on his own—the damn alcohol is bigger than both of us. We need help greater than just ourselves. I finally was willing to admit the first step.

I’ve been stalled at step 2, not because I have issues with it, but because life exploded in all its potlucks, birthday parties, and anniversaries. Step work got pushed to the side. I’ll get there. Bring on the higher power. He’s always been there, I’ve talked to him throughout the course of my life and given thanks often. I’ve never asked for help. First time for everything.

For The Friend Who Doesn’t Get It

It doesn’t take long to understand which friends are able to support us and which aren’t. It is an ugly thing when a good friend turns out to be an opposing force.

I had another topic I was just about done writing when a text came in from one of my girlfriends. We’re supposed to be hanging out this weekend with our families, and she asked a whole bunch of questions that ended with, “What’s going on with the drinking?” I know she wants to party and have it be like old times. Old times have always included alcohol. This is the same friend who, upon first finding out my husband was attending AA said, “What? This is totally going to mess with my partying.” She was joking, but it was still irritating, making it all about her when we were dealing with something pretty serious to us.

It is frustrating when people misunderstand alcoholism as something that goes away after awhile. They may think that one beer is a harmless thing to an alcoholic trying to stay sober. They might not understand why a little bit is such a big deal. Don’t be to alcoholics what Tom Cruise is to postpartum depression. Seriously. This disease is real and there are so many people battling it, trying to have decent lives. An alcoholic cannot have a few sips, be satisfied, and la-dee-da go back to sobriety in a snap. Sobriety is something the alcoholic fights for every single day. It’s not a joke, a plaything, it’s not a whim that disappears because a friend wants drinking buddies.

For the most part, the people we’ve told have been very supportive. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who have looked at me with pity. We have a difficult situation: we’re working through it. Don’t look at me like I’m a puppy with parvo. Pity is not helpful. It’s condescending. There are so many things that have improved since we understood our situation. I’ll take today over the past anytime. I think the people who pity can’t see past the label. It’s not a desirable label, but it’s helped us understand what kind of help we need. In some way, I am thankful for it.

Obsessive Thinking and Fear

Obsessive thinking–I’ve gotten slightly better at letting things go and not getting into that loop of doom that is obsessive thought, but it’s hard at times. When he gets home later than expected, when communication is rocky, when he seems aloof, I wonder if alcohol is behind it. I start to worry about what he might be hiding and try hard to remember what the Serenity Prayer teaches me and what Step 1 teaches me. The later it gets with him still not home, the less the Serenity Prayer sticks and the more likely I am to launch into my checking of past hiding spots. Perhaps there are new spots: I’ll check in new places. What if he keeps things in his car? What if he is drinking right now? What if he drives? Worry becomes fear. My grasp of “accepting what I cannot change” gets thinner the more I allow myself to obsess.

I don’t like how I become when obsessive thinking sets in. The insecure and therefore controlling bitch comes out, making demands in an effort to immediately order the return of stability. Never works. Just makes things worse, and I still struggle to stop that need to control. It’s born out of fear that everything will revert back to the hell it was.

Obsessive thinking and fear are like two hamsters on my unhealthy wheel of a brain. More often than not these days, my husband comes home after being out later than I expected and is obviously not intoxicated, has legit reasons why he didn’t come home right when I thought he would, is irritated that I am once again, interrogating him as though he were plotting against me. My obsessing never improves our conversations; on the contrary, it stresses both of us out, and I know it does, and still have a hard time stopping. Serenity. Courage. Wisdom. I wish I were stronger.

Al-Anon stresses the importance of taking care of yourself first, and it is one of those things that sounds simple but is, in actuality, difficult to practice. One of the most useful shares I have heard is the idea that fear is a warning sign that one isn’t putting enough trust, enough faith, in their higher power. Yep, I need to pay attention to Step 2. Newcomer here, still taking it day by day.

An Al-Anon Member in the Rooms of AA

About once a week, I go with my husband to one of his AA meetings. This has been really beneficial for me, along with my own Al-Anon meetings. I’d recommend it especially to spouses of alcoholics. Hearing shared stories from other alcoholics helps me to understand my own husband better, as he isn’t always the most communicative person. Our marriage was very weakened by lies surrounding alcohol, and I feel like sometimes it’s easier to hear other alcoholics’ stories because I am uninvolved personally with them. Their personal stories don’t trigger my weaknesses of anger and resentment. It’s a lot easier to listen with an open mind. Some of the stories blow my mind. People have been through hells I cannot imagine and have caused so much pain and are working through heavy guilt. And there is something therapeutic about listening quietly while I’m sitting next to my husband. I know he’s taking it in and I always hope something sticks, like they say, that he always hears things that keep him coming back.

I believe that everyone who keeps going back to those AA rooms is courageous and admirable, regardless of the crap in their past. They are truly working on themselves today, and hoping they can get to tomorrow still sober. Because of this, I also can see my husband as brave and someone to appreciate. I cannot imagine our lives at this point if he weren’t working the steps. Our marriage was in shreds, and since we’ve started our meetings and he’s stopped drinking, the explosive fights have stopped. Yes, we still disagree on other things and marriage is *still* hard. It’s not that all of our problems have gone away at all. We just are learning to deal with them with calmer minds, with more reliance on a higher power. That damn disease is not ruling our house any more. It isn’t turning him into an absolute asshole and I’ve not felt like I was losing my mind in a while now. I’ll take that. One day at a time.

Pinpointing the Disease

I’m no longer a newcomer to the Al-Anon rooms, but in relation to the old-timers, I still feel like one. I am the wife of a recovering alcoholic. I will use the group names of Al-Anon and AA sparingly to respect the 12 traditions and to protect the foundation of anonymity. To be very clear, I do not speak for either organization.

Some months ago, my marriage met its lowest point. It seemed like we fought in different languages, as I no longer understood my husband’s absolute lack of reason, his lying, and his explosive anger that blamed so much on me when I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I was going crazy: nothing in my logical brain could connect with anything happening between us. I felt I had to be missing something but I had no idea what it was and my brain was a convoluted mess, both frantic and exhausted. I was beginning to question if this was emotional abuse—I had never experienced any abuse before, but this downward spiral into being made to feel like our growing issues were my fault, my shortcomings—this felt so wrong.

Then one night, after I had uncovered another large lie, my husband abruptly and unexpectedly said that he thought he might need to go to AA meetings. The “aha” moment was brief, as neither he nor I had the tools we do now, and I was still angry and combative, focused on the lies. That night ended with us sleeping in different rooms. I didn’t sleep much, and over the course of many days afterwards, I began to revisit our past issues and saw how many of them were linked to alcohol. I googled “alcoholism” for the first time and read as much as I could. Things began to make sense. All of the lying and the fights that ensued were linked to him hiding alcohol, drinking too much, lying about drinking, etc. I felt blind to have not made the connection earlier.

I had been so focused on my anger at the lies that I failed to notice the common theme. I’d only been aware of one alcoholic in my life as I was growing up, and that man was always visibly intoxicated: he reeked of alcohol, slurred rather than spoke, and was always, always drinking. I had no idea alcoholism could be much quieter, much more subtle, that an alcoholic could also be someone holding down a 9-5 job, being an active parent, and an otherwise loving partner. I knew my husband had a drinking problem, but my life experiences did not prepare me to understand this as alcoholism.

We began visiting the rooms of Al-Anon and AA, where we continue learning the tools to stay on top of this disease, and it is a disease. If one cannot believe this and chooses to believe the alcoholic should have the will-power to stop drinking on his or her own, that person will never be the support the alcoholic needs to recover. While there is no cure and the alcoholism will never “go away”, there are countless alcoholics who have learned the tools to maintain sobriety. I am now learning how to support, not enable, my husband and how to take care of myself through this fight. Finally, we are fighting on the same side. If he had not pinpointed the issue, I am not sure we would still be married. Our marriage has been through hell, and we are committed to returning to those rooms where we have found so much support and so many courageous people.

My hope in starting this blog is that it will reach someone who is starting to unravel and that it will provide hope. You are not alone. There are so many of us who have been affected by alcohol, and there are rooms you can step into and find people who share their strength and hope with you. They will tell you, as will I if you follow me here, “Keep coming back.”