Mary grew up with an alcoholic father and she promised herself that she would never marry anyone who was a heavy drinker. But now after 18 years of marriage she finds that her marriage is much like that of her parents. Her husband, John, drinks almost every night and quite heavily on weekends. Mary tries to avoid the arguments her mother and father had but John becomes verbally aggressive when he’s been drinking and it can be difficult to avoid harsh words at times. Many nights Mary has silently cried herself to sleep.
Over the years Mary has worked hard to shelter her two boys from the effects of their father’s drinking. But they are both young teens now and it is obvious to them when their father has been drinking. She has stopped answering questions like “Why does dad drink so much?” There is no good answer for that. Mary began attending Al-Anon, an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous which offers support and encouragement to family members and friends of the alcoholic. This was a lifeline for her.
Over time John began to realize that Mary and the kids were getting on with their lives while his drinking was getting progressively worse. He knew he had a problem. One day a close colleague invited John to an AA meeting to help him celebrate his own year of sobriety. John had not even been aware that his colleague had a drinking problem and so he agreed to attend. At the meeting John joined a room full of men and women all struggling with alcohol just like him. He listened to their stories which detailed many of their daily struggles but also their many victories over their addiction. He left that meeting feeling inspired and hopeful that he could stop drinking also. He committed himself to attending regularly.
Mary was thankful that John was attending AA but he was soon attending up to seven meetings each week and was often not home before the boys had gone to bed. Someone had suggested that beginners should try to attend 90 meetings in 90 days and John had taken this on as a challenge. Mary did not feel right about complaining about John’s absence but she would make casual remarks to John that she was losing her husband to his new found friends. So John decided to invite Mary to attend a meeting with him. At least then she might understand how important the group was to him. Mary agreed to attend the next meeting with him.
The theme of the meeting was Gratitude and several members got up to share their stories. It was a shock to Mary when John walked to the front to share his story. John explained how his years of drinking had almost cost him his job, his family, and his health. As he looked around at the faces he now knew so well he began to cry softly as he said “You guys have saved my life and I will be so ever grateful. I have felt accepted, supported, and encouraged at every meeting and I don’t know where I’d be without you. Thank you.” Then John sat down.
Mary said little as they drove home that evening. Although she was grateful that John was no longer drinking she felt deeply hurt that he could not acknowledge that his wife had held their lives together for so many years. She had protected the boys, made excuses to friends and relatives, kept his dinner warm during his many late nights, mowed the lawn when he couldn’t get out of bed, sacrificed her social life, did the cleaning, the shopping, the cooking, the laundry and a million other tasks that kept the family functioning. She had done everything she could think of to maintain the semblance of a normal family. It now appeared to her that John simply took all of that for granted.
It is not uncommon for many alcoholics in the beginning stage of recovery to place a lot of focus and attention on their ability to remain abstinent. John had been self-focused during his addiction and is now self-focused on his recovery. He will likely see his new AA friends as very important in this process. Despite Mary feeling unappreciated she would be wise to encourage John as he attends his AA meetings and strives to remain abstinent. If John sticks with his program he will soon be back as a recovered, sober member of the family. And as he becomes other-focused he will eventually acknowledge his gratitude for all that Mary has done both before and after his recovery from addiction.
In this scenario, Mary received valuable support by attending Al-Anon. She was able to receive advice and encouragement as she learned how to address her own needs and how to best cope while living with an alcoholic. John, in turn, received valuable support in addressing his alcohol addiction through his participation in Alcoholics Anonymous. The following is a brief description of these two organizations.
Al-Anon/Alateen, known as Al-Anon Family Groups, is an international fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience and strength in order to give hope, comfort, and support to those associated with the addicted individual in their lives. Alateen is an offshoot of Al-Anon and is their program of recovery for young people aged 13 to 19 who are affected by another’s drinking. In the Vancouver area the contact number for Al-Anon/Alateen Central Services is 604-688-1716.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem with alcohol and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership as they are self-supporting through their own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution and neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Their primary purpose is to help alcoholics stay sober and to help other alcoholics in the process. The Alcoholics Anonymous 24-hour contact number is 604-434-3933.