Lawyers’ Assistance Program
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Partners in Alcoholism
If He’s the Drunk, Why Do I Feel Crazy?
When we got married, my husband knew I did not drink, and that I did not like to be around drinking. In fact, I thought it was agreed that we would not have alcohol in our home. It soon became obvious that he did not understand our agreement the same way I did.
When we met in college, I knew he drank, but I thought that graduation, a tour of duty in the Navy, and law school, would end all that. It was not until a few years into the practice of law that he began to drink again. Maybe I was naïve, but I was surprised.
My husband and I were active in our children’s lives. Our children made good grades and were leaders. We were active in our church and community. From the outside we were an upwardly moving successful family.
My husband and I had been married about 17 years when our relationship started to flounder and we discussed divorce. I thought he drank too much – that he had a drinking problem. He thought that to me, any drinking would be too much and that I had a thinking problem. He also pointed out that anyone who had to live with a nag like me would drink in self-defense. In a way, he was right. I was as much of the problem as he was. In fact, as I was to learn later, our children were reacting more to my feelings than to his. They could see he had a drinking problem – but what was my excuse?
Then this “thing” started happening to all of us. When “it” happened we were confused and baffled. In the beginning it did not happen often. But it was a progressive, creeping happening. As the tension in the family increased, the children and I started feeling “gun-shy,” like waiting for the other shoe to drop. We could no longer trust that a more or less innocent remark would not be taken in the opposite way from which we had meant it. We could not predict my husband’s or my reactions to any situation. We did know when my husband would drink too much, or for that matter, how much would be “too much.” It was like walking on egg shells, trying our best not to break any, without knowing how.
I felt like a victim and I often acted that out. I had set up a pattern of “flight” from unpleasant situations, and my husband had set up a pattern of aggressiveness and “fight.” I ran away from unpleasantness and he ran aggressively toward it.
My parents had divorced, and I was willing to go to any lengths not to reproduce that situation for my children. When my husband said “shape up or ship out,” it terrified me and I would try to please him. I became ill physically and emotionally. I had debilitating headaches and could not sleep. I became depressed and lost weight. Finally, my husband sent me for therapy. So, then it was acknowledged openly – I was the fragile one, the sick one. That was a low point.
The final bottom for me came when one night he said the “shape up or ship out” thing, and I said okay – that I had done everything I could. He then said, “Well, let’s not be too hasty – let’s give ourselves six more months to work on our marriage and see if we can make it better.” I believe that only the love is real, and we still had our love. The disease of alcoholism can take away many things, but it cannot kill love – it can only force it underground.
I only confided in one friend. (I had my pride – I was the wife of a professional man that I felt I needed to protect.) One day this friend came over with a “Dear Abby” column that mentioned Al-Anon. I had never heard of it. She said, “maybe you ought to look into this thing called Al-Anon.” I was insulted – I did have my pride – but soon went to me first meeting. At that meeting I was pleasantly surprised that some of the women there were just like me. I was committed to my church, but Al-Anon gave me two things that my church could not: knowledge and understanding. I was so confused about reality that I had a confused understanding of the problem. I was reluctant to talk in the meetings even though the emphasis was on principles not personalities. But I listened, and little-by-little, I learned. I learned that we had a family disease called alcoholism – all of us were affected by it – that it did not matter who drank. I learned that one of the greatest symptoms of the disease is denial. The emotional trauma is a big part of it. It was a relief to learn that I did not cause it – I could not control it – I could not cure it.
I was exposed to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous which are used in Al-Anon with the exception that in step 12: “[h]aving had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics…,” Al-Anon simply uses the term “others.” (i.e., “…we tried to carry this message to others.”)
I was eager to learn everything I could and put the 12 steps to use. By using the program’s slogans and trying to “work the steps” and live the principles, I began to live the solution instead of the problem. Little-by-little I was able to control my emotional life. Our home became a more pleasant place for the children to bring their friends. Our meals became more nourishing and the mealtimes more conducive to good digestion. I used the Al-Anon slogan of “Live and let live,” and quit trying to control the uncontrollable. I quit feeling guilty over other people’s words and actions. I began to realize the wisdom in the short slogans that we studied in the meetings. Each slogan is a life lesson in a word or phrase. My sponsor told me to use, “Keep thy mouth shut,” and to use it appropriately instead of in sullen silence. I came to believe that it was imperative for me to take the power away from the people, things, conditions, and situations that I had made my Higher Power, and give that power to God as I understood God. I was told that whatever got my attention “got me” and became my Higher Power. I wanted God to be my Higher Power, so I tried to put my attention there the first thing each day, and to keep it there as it seemed appropriate. I learned to “pause and ask for guidance.” I took the first three steps every morning; I admitted I was powerless over alcohol and alcoholism and that my life had become unmanageable; acknowledged my belief that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity; and made a decision to turn my will and my life over to God as I understood God. I began to believe that God’s will for us is for our highest and best, and to ask for God’s will in my day with more confidence. With this understanding, I became a calmer, more serene wife, mother, friend … a more attractive person to be around. I started being interested in others and looking for ways to make their lives better.
While all these changes were occurring in me, my husband continued to drink excessively. He seemed not to notice these changes, although some of them made him very uncomfortable. For a time, things got worse, not better. I was told to persevere, and thankfully, with the help of my living sponsor and Al-Anon friends, I did. Eventually, he saw the need to seek help for himself.
That was many years ago, and there have been many life happenings as we have gone along this “road of happy destiny.” Life goes on and so do life’s lessons. The difference now is that our Higher Power – whom we choose to call God – is in charge of our day, one day at a time. We have learned that (as some of Al-Anon’s literature states) “…love cannot exist without compassion, discipline, and justice; and to accept love or give it without these qualities is to destroy it eventually.”
Our God is a God of love, and my husband and I believe that God’s love is the only enduring reality, and is the healing power. We are active in our respective programs. We are fulfilling a program goal of becoming the best “us” we can be. We know a new freedom and happiness most of the time, individually and together. We have much to be grateful for in our lives. Underneath it all, “Only the love is real.”
Is Your Spouse Impaired?
Except in the worst cases, chemically dependent lawyers usually do most of their drinking and drugging at home where it is “safe.” If you know or think your lawyer-spouse has a drug or alcohol problem and you want free and confidential help, call the LAWYERS ASSISTANCE PROGRAM, INC. 1-866-354-9334.
(This article was originally published in the Texas Bar Journal, Volume 58, Number 3, March 1995)