Warning for my family: there may be some things in here you haven’t heard before.
It was a small house; ruffled curtains at the windows, a circle of mismatched chairs in the living room. I sat down gingerly. It had taken a long time to summon up the courage to be there, but I wasn’t sure that at any moment I wouldn’t jump up and make a rapid exit. This was long before I understood the Buddhist mantra of “it’s only temporary.” An hour later it would be over.
My husband was an alcoholic. This had taken a long time to dawn on me; I lived in denial for quite some time, as all codependents do. Kids in our twenties, we drank at all social occasions and on general principles. I had begun to suspect he had an addiction problem when he canceled dates because he was drinking with friends, but it took several years of evidence to prove it to me. He drank when he was stressed, I was always the designated driver, his brother referred to him as “Jekyll and Hyde.” He’d go to a friend’s house to have a beer after work. Every hour or so he would call to tell me he was staying a little longer. Several hours into it, he would call to tell me he couldn’t drive. Several hours after that, I would hear the front door close from my bed where I wasn’t sleeping. One day shortly after our wedding, I got a call at work from my insurance company. He could not be added to my insurance because he had a DUI record. I was stunned into silence, then tears. Interesting that he hadn’t told me that bit of information before the wedding.
He’d quit drinking for six months, and then slide back. I emptied the house of booze, so he’d drink somewhere else. Hung over on a Sunday, he’d ride his bicycle back to the bar to get his van, left there because he was too drunk to drive home the night before. He sipped on wine as he drove us back from Tahoe, the hair-of-the-dog hidden in a commuter cup. A cop pulled us over for speeding that day. It’s a miracle he got off with just a ticket.
I finally realized I couldn’t make him change, and that I needed support. So I decided to try Al-Anon. I found excuses to avoid the first meeting. Wrong part of town, bad night, too much homework. I finally ended up at a little house in Santa Clara County, looking around at half a dozen other wounded human beings.
We went around and told our stories. Some of them were horrific. Everyone had a sad tale to tell, everyone was angry and hurt and broken. One woman spent a significant piece of time describing the tattered relationship with her son that had been going on for twenty years. There were kind words, nods of agreement, tears of sympathy and grunts of understanding.
I couldn’t stand it. Support is great, commiseration is great. But I couldn’t come to one of these meetings every week and listen to people cry and complain about how awful their lives were because of an alcoholic. It brought me so much further down than I already was. And I certainly wasn’t going to live with this kind of misery for twenty years or more. I wanted change, I wanted answers. I wanted action.
I don’t deny the benefits of support groups. I’ve done group therapy too, and I have a playgroup of supportive friends. But sitting in a circle sharing our collective sadness was not going to bring me any hope, only outline my despair. I don’t recall what I did next in my constant search to save my marriage and my husband, but I didn’t go back to Al-Anon. It wasn’t the answer for me.