Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pain and desperation

My little home group that has been struggling with attendance lately suddenly had three newcomers show up the other night.  A mother and two daughters came through the door looking for help for a husband/father and son/sibling who are active alcoholics.

The first night they didn't say much, but all of them indicated they were in a crisis.  Last night, the wife shared about the husband's DUI and fears that he is going to kill himself or others driving drunk.  The daughter shared about her brother who has severe health issues resulting from alcoholic drinking.

This sad story is repeated over and over again in countless rooms every day.  The sad part is that the people who come to Al-Anon as newcomers think their story is unique.  They are so demoralized and beaten down by their situation that they can't understand why any of the other people in the room could be smiling and actually enjoying life.  All the newcomer feels is pain and desperation.

I know that when I first went to a meeting, I didn't want to hear the laughter or see the smiles. How could anyone possibly be happy when I was so miserable? Long before going to Al-Anon, I called the AA hotline hoping to get help for my wife.  We had a particularly bad evening that night.  Most evenings were bad when she drank, but this one was particularly volatile.

We had gone to a party and that meant there was no way to control her drinking. My whispers of "Don't you think you've had enough?" were ignored.  She drank more, and my anxiety increased.  When I was able to eventually get her to leave, she was angry, and so was I.  The anger boiled over after we got home. Arguing with a drunk is pointless.  I know that now. But back then, I didn't know anything except how to provoke the situation.

So I proceeded to tell her that she needed help; that she had a problem; that I was embarrassed with her drinking.  She began to talk about wishing she was dead. She cried and ripped her silk blouse open, mumbling that she could see that I didn't love her.  It was a terrible night.

After getting her to bed,  I sat for a while in the dark.  And then I decided to call the AA hotline.  I explained what had happened and that my wife needed help.  I remember the person on the line told me that my wife had to make a decision about going to AA--she couldn't be forced by me.  And I was told that I was the one who needed to get help in Al-Anon.  I could hear laughter in the background. That was the last thing that I wanted to hear.  How could anyone be laughing when I was in such pain?  And why would anyone suggest that I needed help?  I just needed my wife to get sober, and I would be fine.  I was more despondent when I hung up the phone.  Feeling utterly alone,  I remember sitting up until well after 4 AM, feeling as if my heart was being ripped from my body.

Today, so much is different.  My wife has been sober for over 8 years, and I have been in Al-Anon for that long as well.   I can laugh now.  The lonely days and nights aren't filled with the anxiety of alcoholism.  My situation wasn't unique. The common denominator was the fear and self-loathing that alcoholism creates.

I know that these newcomers will come to find happiness and will laugh again if they keep coming to meetings.  It is a safe place where we are all equals and are on the same journey.


  1. What a beautiful, true message. And how that image illustrates it so well!

  2. i am glad they will find laughter again...its hard to see that when you are so beaten down...and hard to be around...but hopefully they will last beyond it like you did...and see such a wonderful change...

  3. It's so great that your group was there to help the newcomer. The first time I tried AA ( and it didn't stick), I was out off by the rooms. But once I gave up on the idea that I could ever drink like a normal person, the warmth and humor really helped me through my own personal darkness. You do good work, Syd.

  4. Heartbreaking to think of the anguish and despair caused in families by alcoholism. Your story always moves me, Syd. Good to get a reminder of how we are all able to recover and share in the laughter.

  5. My son started Alanon when I had about 22 yrs sober and his new girl friend had 2 years & would only date him if he went to Alanon. He said it was like entering a different country but luckily he was not in the pain that you describe. However he tells me that they are very alert to that and try to put themselves in the shoes of the newcomer at Alanon ... I guess like we in AA go back to Step One if we know we have someone in the rooms for the first time. A good post, Syd.

  6. I need help coping with my alcoholic wife. I hardly speak to her anymore, not sure if I love her, getting sick and tired of the antics that surround the drinking, manipulation and embarrassment. Trying to answer questions from my 7 year old daughter, "why is Mommy acting funny again?" or, "Mommy's being rude".

    I don't know where to begin. I have an alcoholic wife who we will call Samantha or Sam for short. When Sam's not drinking she is very un-pleasant, doesn't say one positive word to anyone if she speaks at all. She uses her alcoholic behavior to get what she wants or what she believes will solve the problem. We have been married for 14 years. I was a social drinker then so we had a lot of fun but I started to notice she was more then a social drinker and started making comments about slowing down. God forbid that I asked a question like that! The subject is not up for discussion sober or otherwise, her parents are both alcoholics so they are no help. We tried to have children for several years depleting our savings account with fertility Drs. to no avail. She was saying things like "if we have a child I will quit drinking because I will have a purpose, or "if you buy the house with a few acres we can have horses then I'll stop drinking" and so on. We successfully adopted a beautiful baby girl at birth 7 years ago. Now I have realized all the enabling I have done and I'm so mad at myself for bringing this little girl into this mess.

    Sam isn't very pleasant until she has a few drinks, then becomes somewhat pleasant until she has more than a few and becomes unreasonable and difficult to deal with. She starts arguments with my daughter and I close myself off in another room and try to ignore the situation which eventually spirals out of control at which time I lose my temper at both of them.
    I have started to threaten Sam that I can't live in this environment any longer and she needs help. She reluctantly went to a counselor for 5 or 6 weeks to discuss her issues but that has stopped. Sam tells me that the counselor says she doesn't have a drinking problem and that the my problem is that I am such an asshole. She even went to a few AA meetings only to come home and get drunk.

    I'm out of patience and considering divorce. I have worked so hard for everything we have and hate to think about losing it all in a costly divorce but something had to happen. Sam doesn't want to get help so is it time to back up the idle threats by actually leaving?

    This is my first time reaching out to anyone or writing on a blog so I'm not sure what I doing here.

    Signed Paul Jeffries


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