A husband’s spiritual awakening was turning point

In September 1977, I walked into my first Al‑Anon meeting. I didn’t know what to expect.

What I wanted was relief from the pain of living with a growing problem of alcoholism. Some months before that date, I had seen an Al‑Anon poster that pictured a man sitting at his desk, breaking a pencil, and with the question, “You can see what alcohol is doing to your spouse. Can you see what it is doing to you?”

Since I was being blamed for my wife’s drinking and I accepted that blame, I was unable to do anything that I thought would help. I tried drinking along with her. I tried hiding bottles. I tried pouring them down the drain. I even tried believing it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. Nothing helped.

In 1971, my wife went to A.A. for the first time. After a year and a half of sobriety, and some peace around the house, I forgot the pain that alcohol had brought to our home. We got involved together in a church group, and she stopped going to meetings. She thought she wasn’t an alcoholic and I agreed. She seemed okay.

In 1973, we moved to Newburgh, NY. During our first month there, we stayed at my mother’s house. One night, I came home to find my wife passed out in bed. She got drunk on my mother’s scotch, a bottle my mom had left unopened for more than 15 years.

When she told her story, she would tell how she went out the next day and found some cheap scotch to refill it. A few years later, someone broke into my mom’s house and stole the scotch along with some other things. My mom never knew that her scotch had already been stolen.

That started the cycle all over again. For the next four years, my wife’s drinking progressed. At first, it was infrequent. By the time she entered A.A. the second time, she was getting drunk several times a week.

I lived only three miles from work. I often would come home from work for lunch and find myself watching her, to see if she was drunk or sober. On my way home after work, I would be filled with anxiety wondering what I would find. If she was sober, I would be elated. If she was drunk, I’d be enraged. It was a nightmare, no matter which it was.

We both came into the program at the same time. At first, I just wanted to know what I needed to do to keep my wife sober. But as I kept going to meetings, I began to learn more about the disease and how it had affected my life—physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Physically, I had become a nervous wreck. I walked on eggshells and was filled with dread and anxiety. The doctor even prescribed a tranquilizer for me.

Mentally, I was confused and couldn’t always trust my judgment. I wanted to believe that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. I sometimes found myself thinking I should just get on the interstate and keep going.

Spiritually, I couldn’t trust anyone. I had a secret. I felt everything was my fault. If I let on about it, everyone would know how bad I was. Years later, I would discover that my low self-esteem was something I had lived with since I was a young child. I eventually was able to joke that I made bullies possible. I needed Al‑Anon.

I went to meetings regularly, sometimes four and five meetings a week. I started to practice the program, beginning with the slogan, “Easy Does It.” I slowed my pace at work. Instead of running down the hall to a meeting, I paced myself and walked. It was a start.

I learned about alcoholism. I learned it was a threefold disease—physical, mental, and spiritual. I learned it was progressive. Being an alcoholic is not something an alcoholic aspires to. Being married to one is not something I aspired to, either.

While I was making some progress in the program, I wouldn’t have bet that our marriage would survive. My wife wanted to leave and threatened to do so many times. She took steps to make it possible, finishing a college degree and getting a good job. Her threats scared me.

Then one day, the magic of the program came to me and changed me dramatically. I had one of those awakening moments when I realized that no one could hurt me unless I let them. The next time she threatened me, I was able to say, “Do what you want. I know what I want to do”—and it came from an inner security I hadn’t had before.

It took more than ten years, but we started to really enjoy each other. We vacationed together and traveled with friends in the program. I looked forward to weekends when we could spend time with each other.

Then one day, my wife came home from church and said she had an awakening moment too. She said it came to her that “her job was to love me just the way I was.” I was taken aback. But I also thought that was what I needed to learn too. After all, if I practiced “Live and Let Live” then I would be doing just that.

But I was just beginning to live. I still had much to learn. I barely had my own opinions on things and often deferred to my wife’s wants and desires in order to keep the peace. I was like water, taking the course of least resistance.

I began to develop a sense of cooperation, which was a key element to my way of thinking about our marriage. We had differences about the way we related to our children, the church we belonged to, and our programs. But we began to respect each other—even our differences.

In March of 2008, my wife was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer. I would have liked to have been in denial, but the Al‑Anon program enabled me to face the situation and deal with it, “One Day at a Time.”

I applied the Steps, replacing alcoholism with the word “cancer.” I talked about my fears. I talked about the pain. I talked about the loss of more hopes and dreams. I cried. And through it all, I was able to provide care and support to a woman of great strength who bore her sufferings with dignity and courage.

My wife passed away in April 2010, with more than 32 years of sobriety. We had been married 46 years.

Another chapter of my life has begun. I retired in May of 2011, sold my house, and moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina—the place we were supposed to retire to together. I am finding that a new life is possible. Not every day is easy. But I am making new friends. I’m finding, perhaps for the first time in my life, that my feelings are important to me. As much as I miss my wife, I know she would want me to live a full life.

I read Al‑Anon literature every day. I attend meetings, share, and participate. It is amazing to me now to go into a meeting and feel so much at home. It feels like I’ve known everyone there all my life. Al‑Anon has given me experience, strength, and hope to share. For this, I give thanks to my Higher Power.

By Andy F., South Carolina
The Forum, August 2012