Alcoholism – The Family Disease

Allowing the truth to set you free.

by Yvonne L.

Tears coursed down my cheeks. Why didn’t he call or come home? How could he say he didn‘t remember where he’d been?

My chest constricted, pain like a knife stabbing into my heart. What’ve I done wrong? He must not love me. If he did, he wouldn’t do this. Is there . . . another woman?

The pillow muffled my sobs. I loved my husband. How had it come to this?

Ignorance, confusion, denial

Ignorance had fueled my confusion and denial. I didn’t see it coming; I didn’t know or recognize the signs of alcoholism. I came from a family where the only drinking I’d seen was a little whiskey in Christmas eggnogs. My friends didn’t drink, and I didn’t either.

An alcoholic? Well, that was someone drunk all the time, without a job. Not a man like my husband, a kind, gentle, fun-loving guy who had accomplished great things in his life and could lead and inspire others. Sure, he drank too much sometimes, and recently I thought, too often.

 Shame

But he just needed to cut back, control his drinking, and everything would be fine. Somehow I couldn’t find the words to help him see this.

Shame sealed my lips. I talked to no one about the problems. Embarrassed for him and for me, I wouldn’t tell family or friends. I covered up and lied, pretending all was well.

 Finding truth

Wallowing in confusion and misunderstanding, I turned to God in my pain. Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). In His mysterious way, He provided the truth I needed to know.

A teacher friend who was retiring gave me a box of resource materials to use in my health classes. In that box, God provided information in pamphlets and in two books that changed my life. In The Big Book of AA and Al-Anon Faces Alcoholism, I saw our lives played out in people’s stories. Denial came crashing down.

 Facing facts

I learned about blackouts, an amnesia caused by alcohol that sometimes erases the drinker’s memory of things done or said when they are intoxicated, lasting a few hours or even days — a sign of alcoholism. My husband had spoken truth; he couldn’t remember.

I learned that alcoholism is an insidious disease that controls a person’s life and steals their dignity. It is called a family disease because all those surrounding the drinker are affected.

Just as an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol, I had to accept that I was powerless over the alcoholic. I could not do for someone else what he must do for himself. With the light of knowledge came compassion, forgiveness, and hope.

 Personal recovery

I learned that Al-Anon is an anonymous program of recovery where family members share their own experience and hope — a program for me. As I attended meetings, I was invited to “take what you like and leave the rest.” What was shared was confidential, not to be taken out of the room.

My prayers had seemed to go unanswered, but God began to help me out of the mire and into my own recovery process through applying simple tools I learned in Al-Anon.

 Changing behavior and thinking

I learned to not react to an intoxicated person’s words. To change my behavior, I repeated in my mind the words an Al-Anon friend shared with me: “That’s the alcohol talking.” It wasn’t about me. Knowing that enabled me to respond calmly.

Al-Anon taught me to live “one day at a time.” Jesus also said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Staying in the present kept me from rehashing the pain of the past or dwelling on fears of the future.

“First things first” reminded me to focus on what I needed to do in that moment to meet my responsibilities or to take care of myself — or help someone else.

 Enabling

I learned to “live and let live” and to recognize enabling. Actions like covering up, lying for them, providing money, or taking away the consequences of their actions may prevent a person from hitting bottom.

Sometimes respect means letting someone fall flat on their face and pick themselves up. No one will surrender to getting help if family and friends clean up all the messes and hide the problems. And nagging is never helpful.

 Removing the beam

I learned to focus on my own failings and take my own inventory. With the help of God, I started removing the beam from my own eye — not preaching or belittling anyone else. “But for the grace of God” meant it could be me struggling with addiction.

“Count your blessings” helped; resentment and gratitude cannot exist in the mind at the same time.

 Boundaries

I set healthy boundaries for myself: dinner at six whether he was there or not. I determined to be loving and kind, but to not rescue. “Let go and let God” meant stopping my attempts to control and manipulate.

When my husband failed to come home, I closed my eyes at night, pictured God’s giant hands, and prayed, “Lord, he is Your son. I put him into Your hands.” Then I could peacefully go to sleep.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. An Al-Anon friend gently shared, “It has to get worse before it gets better.” And she was right. He got worse, but with God’s help, I got better.

 Respect of waiting

Jesus asked the blind men, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32). It seems obvious that Jesus knew they wanted to be healed, to be able to see. The respect of waiting for the individual to ask is startling; Jesus did not just rush in uninvited.

In the picture of Jesus knocking at the door that is barred from within, no latch is on the outside. Only the prisoner inside may fling open the door.

 Intervention

Eventually I learned about intervention, a process of family and friends uniting to offer help when crisis also motivates the alcoholic to surrender to the idea of needing help.

Five long years elapsed before crisis after crisis set the stage for a successful intervention. Gratefully I report that my husband did choose treatment and, with God’s help, lived in sobriety for the last seventeen years of his life.

During that time, he waged a courageous battle against diabetes and kidney failure, probably due to the high sugar content of alcohol. He eventually died of a heart attack.

 Restraint and healing

Our heavenly Father pours out blessings upon blessings on the just and the unjust with love unspeakable that awaits each heart’s choice. Such restraint! He heals and restores, but on His terms and in His time.

Sometimes our job is to trust, pray, work on ourselves, and wait on the God who does the impossible.

Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.