"Love One Another!" 15/2010 → Suffering and Love
I have been married to an alcoholic for over thirty years. My husband’s addiction developed over the course of many years, but somehow I did not notice it until it was too late. I lived with him, raised three children, and all this time, my number one enemy — alcohol — was never far away. Matters went from bad to worse. My husband quit one job, and then another. Finally, after taking early retirement, he resigned from his family responsibilities altogether.
I wanted very much to help him. I know now that all my efforts were in vain: berating him when he came home late and drunk, going through his pockets, searching the cupboards and garage and destroying his stashes of alcohol, hiding the results of his drinking from the world, having the car repaired from damage incurred by his driving when drunk, etc. etc. All this only made matters worse. All I was doing was shield him from the consequences of his disease. Not having to take responsibility for his condition, he had no reason to seek help for it.
Twice he entered a secure ward for treatment, but he quit after two or three months without benefiting from the help offered there. He took no constructive steps, such as contacting an AA group.
I eventually joined Al-Anon with but one aim in mind: to help him. I wanted to find the solution to his problem, to discover what I had to do to make him stop drinking. For three years I went as far as the doors of the local Al-Anon center. I would study the meeting times and then walk away, only to return and hover at the doors again. Something drew me there — no doubt a sense of my own helplessness and impotence.
Finally, just over two years ago, I entered those “terrible doors” with a sense of overwhelming loss, helplessness, and shame. “What?” — I said to myself. “What, me, a woman with a college degree, working at a responsible job, having to admit that I am unable to cope with life, that my husband is an alcoholic, and that I am powerless to help him?” And then the uncertainty: “Who will I meet there? Wives of alcoholics? Will we have a language in common? How can they possibly help me?”
And yet what I found in that group, and what that group gave me, was a true miracle. What I found were women who had been wounded emotionally — sometimes physically — by alcoholics. I found friends, who on hearing my first word and seeing my first tear, supported me and showed me how to grow in my situation. I learned that alcoholism was an incurable and mortal disease; that there was no prescription to changing my husband; that I could change — and had to change — only myself; and that by changing myself, I could exert influence on those around me, including my alcoholic husband and wounded children.
Thanks to our weekly meetings, I am still learning things. No one tells me what I have to do. Each of us talks only about her own life and experiences. That is what I do — sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a suppressed sob in my throat. Every time, we pray anew the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Sometimes I say the same thing in my own words: “Lord, save me from meddling in things over which I have no control. Keep me at a safe distance from them, so that I may not be wounded again. Lord, help me not to overlook the things that depend on me and require my active attention. Help me not to leave unassisted anyone I have the power to help. Lord, grant me your wisdom, that I may distinguish between those things that require my action and those over which I have no control.”
Apart from attending regular Al-Anon meetings, I have also gone on pilgrimages and attended spiritual retreats at my parish and elsewhere. In addition, I have undergone codependency therapy. All this is thanks to my Al-Anon friends who have become my second family. Nowhere else could I find the kind of support that they are able to give me. I know that if in the middle of the night I were to find myself at the door of any one of them, I would have only to knock and the door would be opened. And there I would find help, understanding, and a receptive heart.
As for my domestic situation, I am trying to isolate myself from the disease, even though I continue to live under the same roof with the man whom I love as my husband. My own suffering has also brought me closer to God. What would my faith be like, if I were not always praying for the healing of my husband in body and soul? I pray for his conversion. Although he was raised in a Catholic family, he continues to wage his private war with God. I persevere, knowing that not mine but God’s will shall decide our future.
Seeing the families of sober alcoholics is a source of great hope for me. Loving marriages do survive the nightmare of alcoholism without falling apart. You can hear these couples give witness talks at meetings, retreats, and pilgrimages. They are living proof that it is possible. God’s grace is great and His paths unknown. “Lord, grant me the serenity…”