Interview with an Al-Anon member about her experiences dealing with family members’ alcoholism

Welcome to First Steps to Al-Anon Recovery from Al-Anon Family Groups. This is a series of podcasts to discuss some common concerns for people who have been affected by someone else’s drinking.

This podcast features an interview with an anonymous Al-Anon member who shares about her experiences in dealing with alcoholism in loved ones, and how Al-Anon helped.

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6 comments on “Interview with an Al-Anon member about her experiences dealing with family members’ alcoholism”

  1. Melissa says:

    I am about to turn 40, and am keenly aware I’m at a very crucial crossroads in my life. Important change is in the air, and as this time encroached upon me, I wasn’t sure what the impending change may be. It just so happened that last year both of my precious grandparents passed away–Grandma in April, Grandpa in October. I can’t adequately convey in words how much these two people meant to me.

    Since I was a child, I had tried to mentally imagine the reality of losing them some day, and the thought was so intolerable I pushed it aside. Why is this significant? Because the end of a marriage, so I’ve heard, feels like a death.

    I was never before able to cope with the notion of my marriage ending, because parting from my beloved husband would be too painful. But now, at this juncture, it occurred to me: I just coped (better than I had anticipated) with two unimaginable deaths to my heart, and I’m still standing, living my life. I have the strength to survive a third awful death, that of my marriage, if need be.

    I have not previously reached this point concerning my situation with my husband. My husband is what one might call a functional alcoholic. As the woman stated in the above podcast about her own ex-husband, mine has been able to “maintain.” He does not hide his drinking or sneak drinks, because he has not until this week genuinely recognized what it does to our family, that it must stop, and that he must get into AA to hold onto his family.

    He has arrived at this now because I vocalized that I have reached my breaking point, and won’t accept this lifestyle any longer. As the woman in the podcast, the damage my husband’s drinking has been doing to me and our family has been overshadowed by a myriad of complicated dynamics, so I viewed his drinking as one key factor in the intensity of our marital discord, not the potentially only one that’s breaking us, as I’m seeing it to be now that the “scales” are falling from my eyes.

    We were high school sweethearts, having met at the homecoming dance in senior year. After graduation, he joined the Marines (despite me begging him not to leave me), and we maintained a long-distance relationship. The goodbyes after our sporadic visits together were excruciating, and we couldn’t wait until we could be together forever, never again having to say goodbye.

    When his active service ended, and he went to live back home with his mom, I left my own family and moved in. We eventually got married, and have been blessed with 4 amazing children, ages 10, 8, 5, and 2. He also has a beautiful daughter who was born during his time in the service, who is approximately 15 now. She lives elsewhere with her mother and subsequent siblings.

    Our marriage has been miserable for “almost” the duration. I have gone almost everywhere in the course of each day, week, month, and year, alone with the kids. He is never beside me, though I’m proud to know he’s my man and long to have him beside me. On the rare occasions he does accompany us, he finds some reason to ask us to enter the event or gathering first, without him, and he will just “go outside for a smoke” or “go fill the gas tank,” and meet us inside in a few minutes (which often turns into 15 or 20). This has led me to feel rejected and abandoned, as though he doesn’t consider me a pleasing-enough choice of a wife to want to be connected to in public.

    When he is out with us, be it with our friend (we used to have at least 1 mutual friend; now we have none), he was always so grouchy and critical and nasty, that I’d have preferred him not to be there with us. If we went out on a date night (which happened about once a year), he would leave me sitting alone to look and feel like some sort of useless prop at the table, while going out to the bathroom or for a smoke every 15 minutes or so.

    He has always been very charismatic and social, so these stints outside would usually find him getting entangled in a superficial conversation with others also outside for a cigarette. Meanwhile inside the place, family and acquaintances would keep coming up to me asking where he was. I’d paste on a smile, making feeble excuses for his constant stints apart from me, but inside I was positively heartbroken–I felt rejected, no other word for it.

    Last year, we attended a performance together; our kids were singing in the church choir for the Christmas play. They were about to come on-stage–he left for a smoke and did not return until the song was over and the kids had left the stage. I had to sit there watching our son’s eyes scanning the audience for his dad’s presence and support, in vain. My heart bleeds over stuff like that.

    To shorten a story that can go on for chapters, alcoholism runs in his family–he’s a 3rd generation alcoholic. First, his maternal grandparents; then his father. Alcoholism never touched my life until I met him, and since that day it has effectively defecated upon all I value and hold dear–about myself, my parenting, my family, including extended family, and life in general.

    My childhood was charmed. We weren’t rich; my parents usually needed financial help from my frugal depression-era grandparents to fund colorful things they wanted incorporated into the lives of my little sister and I. Grandpa was great with money, saved hard, and splurged on family. My husband must be jealous, because he has said I was born with a veritable silver spoon in my mouth, that I was a spoiled, dependent princess, and he proclaimed that the day my grandparents passed away would be “the day the rest of the family falls apart.”

    He did not have a charmed childhood. He had a childhood nobody should experience. So, in our marriage alcohol is one way he has dealt with depression and chronic, overflowing anger. He has been angry since before I met him, and his reasons to be angry never decrease; they are only joined by new reasons every day. He makes me feel contempt by using aggressive and dominating body language, constant eye-rolling in lieu of whatever it was I either just did, or chose, or failed to do. My strongest attempts at communicating my hurt feelings to him have only resulted in accusations that I’m selfish and think “it’s all about me.”

    I have been told I’m irrational, my ideas for our kids are always “premature” or “unrealistic,” that while I’m an exceedingly loving mother, I am an ineffectual parent, that I’m “no kind of help-mate whatsoever,” that he has felt for years like he’s alone and the only one striving for our family’s “greater good,” and that he’s had to “tug me along.” Meanwhile, I’d been giving birth to and helping to raise and care for 4 small children. He makes me feel like every single day is a personal failure of mine, because I am unable to adhere to any rigid schedule in our household.

    I am a great wife and mother, but can’t attain what he expects of me. And I have had a huge desire to please him in all areas of my wife-hood. He told me once that I “failed our son”–this because he was a toileting withholder. We were utilizing a behavior-modification chart to help him overcome this (which I primarily helped our son with), and I fell off using the chart for about a week becaue we relocated from the upstairs floor of our rental to the downstairs, and our sense of normalcy was temporarily disturbed.

    During that moment that he said that to me, I was internally crushed. I told him as much. He proceeded to talk down to me as though I was a child–one lacking brain cells at that, and I was so enraged I threw my cheeseburger at his head (I had just brought home a fresh Five Brothers lunch, forbid, to enjoy. He had come home briefly for lunch, and we had a rare moment without the kids home; I had only gotten 2 or 3 bites into my food). He was more than enraged when I threw the burger, because it missed his head, splattered against the wall, and fell down upon his precious laptop. He called me a stupid bit** and began pulling all my clothes from the closet and stuffing them into boxes, telling me to get out. He left the house, and I was so emotionally destroyed that I collapsed to the floor, my face flat against it, bawling loudly–wailing with all I had in me, as I literally drooled on the floor–the saliva mingled with my sea of tears. I felt like an Old Testament Hebrew who was for to rent my clothes in shreds from agony of my soul.

    That he felt this little of me was what tortured me so. My husband has not shared any mutual friend or family relationships with me in ages, and now verbally attempts (not intentionally, he says) to fill my brain with lies about my blood family and excise me from my connection to them. He tells me I must choose–them or him. He accuses me of loving the kids more, loving my blood family more, being indifferent to him unless I want some intimate action or for him to take care of something. This is untrue of me; I have been chasing him and yearning for him since the very day we met. He pulls me in, spits me out. He has never ever laid a hand on me, although there have been 2 or 3 occasions I was afraid he might be about to. He has called me a loser, a baby, a child, told me I dropped the ball in our family life a hundred times. Made me feel that I cannot possibly do right. If he comes home from work and dinner is on the table at 5:30 sharp, he will find something not done yet to pick on.

    I am a mother of 4, yet the fact that piles of laundry (usually clean and waiting to be folded and put away) are ever-present, is a sign that I’m scattered and totally lacking structure. I perceive that he lacks empathy toward the feelings of others, lacks compassion and mercy. He deserves a break and understanding for his flaws, but those of us around him deserve to be crucified for ours.

    He has an overweening sense of false entitlement he exudes, and I’ve watched it destroy every single relationship he has. He admits this week that he’s “going down just as his father went down.” Acting like an ass to everyone, accountable for nothing. Before now, he insisted he was always out of the house, away from us because I “drove him to drink.” He said that if he knew “how I would turn out,” he never would have defended me when his family talked junk about me behind my back.

    He obliges me no request I make of him that concerns parenting, life in general, or my feelings. He only obliges me regarding what flavor of ice cream I want from the store, things that are of no consequence. He has thrown toxic drama into the atmosphere during pleasant and joyful family holidays together, like throwing a live grenade into the midst, leaving me standing there with my jaw on the floor in disbelief because it came out of nowhere. My natural capacity and zeal for life has been sucked out of me like a vacuum, and I feel I’ve been so micro-managed that to yearn or aspire to much of anything is pointless–he will place an obstacle in my path.

    To date, here’s our situation. We are both on the verge of 40. Four kids and no savings, no home of our own. We live in my deceased grandparents’ house by default–Grandpa offered to let us come live here to take some pressure off because no landlord would take us. We have no credit built up. Since moving here last August, he has not paid my dad (executor of the estate) the measly $500/month rent he expects, and is ok with my mentally unstable uncle paying all the utility bills out of his Social Security Disability money.

    My husband feels entitled to withhold said rent money because of personal mistrust he has toward my dad; he is presently reading the prior recent utility bills to see what the house costs, and whether or not what we’re being charged is fair. Can you believe that? And he demands 100% from me regarding this. I explain that this makes us look like infants and freeloaders in my dad’s eyes, and husband insists that since I’m joined to him as “one” in marriage, I should no longer care what my dad or anyone thinks.

    For years, I had to deal with him going out at night to drink and hang out with his bachelor buddies, only to schlep through the front door long after the sun came up. He’d take a couple aspirin, go right to bed, and the whole day with him would be lost to the kids and I. When he woke up and I expressed my outrage, he became enraged at me for accusing him of any wrongdoing. Because he doesn’t want to lose us, says he “can’t live apart from me,” he is now wearing a nicotine patch and has gone to AA two days in a row.

    He is going to AA’s “90 meetings in 90 days” program. Yet, he still slips into the conversations how much I have hurt him and how much I am to blame for our marital failure. I know how hard I’ve tried and I think this remark is a crock of horse manure. I am unwilling to accept responsibility for this place we’re at now. I said we can stay together and work on it together, but in my replies to him I still catch myself placating him, stroking him, softening the blow of what he has done and what he now needs to do. In the interest of being supportive, I’m still doing myself a disservice.

    I am about to attend my first Al-Anon meeting, and feeling healthier already. Done with this charade. I will continue to pray we can be restored in the future, but for now, we may need to part while he’s in recovery. I just feel he’s done too much damage.

  2. Stephen says:

    I was married for 25 years. We had so many problems that alcohol was overlooked. The shadow of accidents to the alcoholic and deaths in our immediate family shook us, but kept the addiction problems covered up.

    I implemented understanding my alcoholic and encouraging her, which has had the effect of increasing her guilt and shame–something I never expected. She no longer keeps in contact. I didn’t expect my recovery to separate us. I would like to go back to enabling, but that door is now shut to me.

    We have three children and thanks to taking home the Al-Anon Traditions they have grown into healthy, participating adults. Our son, who discovered he had the same addiction dis-ease, went into recovery without fully committing himself to picking up a drink. I am hugely relieved. I am thankful to Al-Anon, the Twelve Steps, and every one who brought the message of recovery this far.

    My decision is to continue to share my experience, strength and hope so I can recover from living with and being affected by the compulsive, obsessive disease of alcoholism. I hope others will know they are not alone when I keep coming back.

    I come because I am working towards getting well and I am worth being well with love for and to myself and to have healthy, happy relationships with people, places, and things and of course my Higher Power, whom I love and He loves me.

  3. Tressa says:

    My husband of 42 years is an alcoholic–in denial, of course. He is either stumbling drunk or hungover, no in-between. I’ve lived with his drinking for more than 20 years. Doctors have told him he’s sick, but he says he just fires that doctor.

    We almost separated 15 years ago due to his drinking. I’m afraid if I leave him he will drink himself to death, which he is already doing. Our kids don’t like being around him. They are older, both in their 30s, and they’ve seen the problem most of their lives. With that being said, I don’t get to see them as I would like.

    Sometimes I think the easiest way out is to just die, but I don’t want my kids and grandchildren to be without me.

    I love him, but hate him. We are retired and that’s all he does is drink, or he’s hungover.

  4. Margaret says:

    Thank you for the podcast. Useful to listen to this. I hear so many things I can identify with. I am planning to find and attend a local Al Anon meeting.

  5. Loren says:

    My husband is an alcoholic. We have been married 26 years. He lost his father at age 49, brother at age 47 – who just both happened to drink every day. I really thought losing his brother last year would have scared him into quitting. He is 46.

    Our oldest son is getting married next year. I am afraid he will not live to see it. He is drinking and driving every day and I just don’t know what to do. We can’t afford to live separately now. As much as I want a divorce, we have a 17 and 11-year-old still at home. I just can’t hang on much longer. He is not the same person I married.

    My father died of alcoholism. I can’t stand to be around it. Thankfully he doesn’t get violent or angry. He just acts goofy, then falls asleep. Recently he has left the oven on. I don’t trust him alone or with my kids.

    He seems to be moving backwards in age. He knows better than to drink and drive, but says the power over him to drink is so strong. I have hatred for this disease and get very angry. Rage comes out and I want to hit, scream and now I just want out.

    He will not go to A.A. I don’t think I am the one with the drinking problem, so I don’t know why I should go if he is not going to get better.

  6. Lauren says:

    I stumbled across this podcast while looking for information on what Al-Anon is and how it might help me. I appreciate so much hearing Julie’s story. I’m feeling hopeful that however this all turns out perhaps even if my husband doesn’t seek the help he needs, I’ve found some help for myself. Looking forward now to my first meeting on Friday and hopeful I will find the same support and acceptance Julie described. Thank you.

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