Julie: Yes I can.
The first time I recall my life being affected by someone else’s drinking, was when I was about five years old. One night, I was in bed asleep, I woke up to the sound of my mother screaming. My dad was yelling and cursing, and I was terrified about what I was hearing and what was happening. I really wanted to go help my mom, but I was too afraid. I just sat there in bed terrified.
When it got light out, I walked out of my room and I saw my mom sitting up in bed and she had two black eyes. Dad was sitting beside her, and he was holding her hand. I don’t remember anything after that, I don’t know what they said to me or if they said anything at all.
Looking back, I know that that incident, and others like it, created wounds and a fearfulness. The people I loved and trusted the most, taught me that bad things can happen when people abuse alcohol. For most of my childhood, dad only drank when they socialized, but they socialized quite a bit. Dad got most of my mother’s attention.
I’m the youngest of three girls, and we were pretty much on our own and being raised by my oldest sister. And being a child herself, she was really ill equipped to raise two younger siblings. The bottom line is that mom and dad were always there physically, but they were not emotionally available. And because of that, I didn’t grow up feeling loved or protected. In fact, I felt quite unlovable and I felt insignificant.
I grew up, and I married an alcoholic. He was handsome, charming, intelligent, he had an infectious laugh and a generous heart. I’m speaking of him in the past tense, although he’s still alive, but the man I married has been gone for many, many years. We were married for about fourteen years, before I realized he really had a drinking problem.
I was raised around people who drank, so it was normal to me. He went to work every day, but he would go to his favorite bar right after work. He had many affairs, and that took the focus off the real problem. There were many years of me begging and pleading for him to come home to me, and there were many years of him blaming me for his drinking, with accusations like, “If you didn’t nag me so much about my drinking, I’d come home to you.”
So, over the years I became further entrenched in the idea that I’m not a lovable person, and many years later, I realized that I married a man who would recreate my childhood every single day. Our marriage made me feel insignificant. When my daughter was around eight years old, our financial situation suddenly deteriorated. I worked, but my husband was the major bread winner. I didn’t know how much money he made because he was self‑employed. But he gave me enough money to pay the bills and it seemed like suddenly he wasn’t giving me enough money to pay the bills.
So, looking back I can see very clearly that I could tolerate the emotional abuse, but it was the financial stress that finally broke me. And I took our daughter and I left. I stayed with a girlfriend; I had no plan; I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do. And his family, and my family offered no support at all. They didn’t see him drunk, he was a maintenance drinker, and the fact that he didn’t get drunk and beat me made both families think I was crazy for leaving him.
One day, I was reading the newspaper, and I saw an ad that said, “If someone’s drinking bothers you call this number.” So, I called the number and it was an addiction treatment center. I spoke with an addiction counselor; I told her a little bit about my story and I asked her about interventions. And she said, “you’ve already done the intervention, you’ve left him, now don’t go back unless he agrees to go into treatment.” So that’s what I told him, and he did agree to go into treatment. Three days later I drove him to the hospital, he was to be detoxed and then participate in their outpatient program along with A.A.
After they registered him, the same counselor I spoke to on the phone, looked at me square in the eye, she pointed her finger at me, and she said, “you go to Al‑Anon.” And she was not playing around, she really wanted me to go to Al‑Anon. So, I went to my first meeting, and I went kicking and screaming. I don’t know why, but I thought the people going to meetings were just weak people who couldn’t deal with life without support, and I wasn’t like that.
The only way I could contain my anger at having to go to those meetings was: number one- make no eye contact with anyone, and number two- sit close to the door so I could bolt the minute it was over. And one meeting I went to was quite large, it was probably 30 or 40 members, and we sat in a double circle. I, of course, always sat on the outside circle because of the bolting rule. And I understood that you’re not required to say anything during a meeting, and I always passed. I had nothing to say. But one day, I was sitting in the meeting and I could feel my emotions just bubbling up, getting ready to boil over and erupt. And erupt they did. I didn’t pass that day; I did have something to say.
And years of suppressed pain and anger just flew out of mouth. And my anger was directed at everyone in that room, not the alcoholics in my life. I told them I “hated them,” I “didn’t want to be in their meeting,” and at some point during that awful rage, the woman sitting in front of me put her hand on my knee, and that simple act of kindness said a thousand things to me. And during my ranting, I grabbed her hand and I held onto it. And her touch, said what I had been hearing in those meetings all along but couldn’t accept. She was saying “it’s ok, let it out, we know you don’t really hate us, you really hate the disease of alcoholism, and it’s ok we love you and we understand.” And I didn’t realize it at the time, but everything changed for me that day.
For the first time in my life, the door opened just a crack, but there was a little sliver of light shining through, and that little sliver of light was hope, and it was feeling accepted even when I was behaving horribly. And that was the day I began to discover who I was, why I was, and who I was meant to be.
I remember the day in an Al‑Anon meeting where I heard “I didn’t cause the alcoholism, I can’t control the alcoholism, and I can’t cure it.” I truly was, powerless over everything and everybody but myself, and that was a life altering revelation for me. It freed my mind up to discover other things. And one of the first things I was able to learn in Al‑Anon was how to be honest with myself. And I learned from the example of other members. Sometimes, it takes enormous courage to share openly and honestly, and if they could do that, I could do that too. They’d found the courage, so I could find the courage. And there were so many people willing to share how they were recovering from the effects of someone else’s drinking.
My husband was sober and clean for four years and during that time we had a beautiful baby boy. When our son was about three and a half, my husband relapsed. So, I had a toddler and a pre‑teen, and my husband was addicted to alcohol and drugs. And once he went into treatment, he could never drink the same again. He became a closet drinker, so for many years we did this little dance. He wouldn’t drink for two or three months, he would relapse, I would know, the kids would know, I would confront him, he would get angry and deny it, but he would stop drinking until the next time. So after 24 years of marriage, I left him. I had allowed him to make me his Higher Power and it was a burden I didn’t want.
No one in Al‑Anon ever told me what I should or shouldn’t do, they shared their own stories, they shared their experience and their strength and their hope with me, they propped me up with kindness and caring and unwavering acceptance and support until I could love myself again. And to this day, I know that Al‑Anon will always be there for me. And I take great comfort in that.