A Letter to an Alcoholic’s Wife

Dear Martha:

You called yesterday, clearly frustrated and said you were at “the end of your rope.”  You said you were ready to walk away from your marriage and all the chaos.  You asked me why I had said you had to get help for yourself and I told you about my own experience.  My wife and I were in a program that required us to be in a group with other parents of addicts/alcoholics and with some of the alcoholics and addicts whose families we placed in other groups.

When I introduced myself to the group, I said, “Hi, I’m Dave and I’m here because one of our kids has a problem with drugs.”  And this young man who was in treatment for his alcoholism just laughed, and then he said, “Ha, that’s what my dad said when he came to his group, but like him, you’ll find out you have a problem, too.”  I didn’t say anything back–just smiled and let the next person speak.

You see, everyone in a family where someone is alcoholic, or is addicted to drugs has a problem.  Any addiction is a family disease–a family problem.  That means everyone is part of the problem, and that means everyone has to be part of the solution.  So I had to learn that everyone in our family was part of the problem.   And that included me.

It’s much easier to simply say, “It’s his problem.  There’s nothing more I can do.”   And that’s the way it feels.  I know you’ve tried everything..  You don’t give up easily, so the feeling that you’re ready to give up means you’ve run out of things to try in order to fix your husband.

But, may I suggest, everything you’ve tried was based on him being the problem.  Now is the time to work on you.  See what can happen when you believe that even you are part of the problem.  That doesn’t mean you caused the problem, or that you are to blame for the problem.  It’s just another way of saying addictions of all sorts are a family problem.

The percentage of American people who are alcoholics has been constant at 10%.  That means that on average one out of every three people has a direct relationship with someone who is an alcoholic–either with someone still active in their addiction, or who is in recovery.

So here’s the hard truth.  Nothing is going to change until you see your husband’s alcoholism as a family disease.  That means you need to get involved in learning about addictions, about the part each family member plays in maintaining the addiction, and in particular, the part you play.  If you don’t get educated, you may do as so many wives I’ve talked with.  They finally divorce the alcoholic and then unknowingly marry someone who has a similar or a different addiction, but the problem ends up feeling the same.

I tell everyone to begin by attending what’s called an “AA Speaker Meeting.  This is a unique meeting where no one in the audience talks.  There is a speaker who is in recovery who tells his or her story, and it’s the best education you can get regarding addictions.

My wife and I attended a speaker meeting once a week for six months.  I finally learned what I needed to know about my part in my kid’s addiction.  And it marked the ending of his problem and the beginning of our family’s recovery.  Go with an open mind and take your husband with you.  But go whether he will go or not.

Where are these meetings?  Call a hospital that treats addictions and alcoholism and they will direct you to one, or call AA and get a list of their meetings.  Speaker meetings are identified in the listing.  Don’t wait–the problem isn’t going to go away until you get involved in the solution.

Question:  Who’s the addict or alcoholic you are connect with?  Can you see your part in the problem?

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2 Responses to A Letter to an Alcoholic’s Wife

  1. SamanthaSamantha says:

    I am actually taking a class on addictions and substance abuse right now, and what you just said about a person who is not the addict being part of the problem is absolutely correct. I am glad that you did say that this does not mean that a person such as this is the cause of the problem or that he or she is to blame for the problem. However, it is important like you said for the family members to be involved in the solution to the problem.

  2. Syd says:

    I would suggest Al-Anon meetings for family and friends of alcoholics. The 12 steps of Al-Anon are based on those in AA, but we learn to place the focus on our recovery from the effects of the disease.

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