Confession of an Al-Anon Dropout.
I am not grateful for the alcoholic in my life. There. I said it.
I tried to be. Oh, how I tried to find the upside of life with a man seemingly intent on destroying himself. How I tried to encourage him in his random attempts at sobriety and, eventually, when he achieved it. But in the end all I could do was bask in each breath drawn without the taint of booze and bitterness. Each night I managed to fall asleep without fresh tears dampening my pillow, each day I experienced without the weight of his well-being on my already overburdened shoulders, restored my spirits. I was finally free, and I couldn’t go back. And this made me an ill-fit in the Al-Anon family.
The meetings I attended happened to be women only. I still admire their camaraderie and appreciate the instant, unconditional welcome these women extended to me. I chastised myself for lacking their strength and acceptance. I wondered if I could have learned to follow their path, had I not already been faced with rebuilding my life once before. Was I too bitter to be so accepting? Too jaded to grasp the beauty of overcoming the trauma each time I thought he was going to die? Maybe.
You see, my husband fought like hell to survive his injuries. His dying words- spoken to strangers- were regret-filled proclamations of love for me and our children. Laden not with fear but despair over missing his children’s lives and the pain he knew was coming my way. And here before me was a man living off my husband’s sacrifice, with the family my husband would never get to raise, and desecrating that life. But he was also capable of great sweetness, knew how to make me laugh, adored my children, and brimmed with potential. I tried to be grateful for his presence.
For a little while I thought I was grateful. Once I finally realized his bouts of rage and depression were tied to alcohol, once he admitted as much to me and swore he’d get well, I thought we would rise from the darkness together. Be stronger for it. I saw him begin to get well, and peace was restored in our home. And I was grateful. And then it all came tumbling down. And no one could help me help him.
Back to Al-Anon I went. Sometimes online and sometimes in person. Yet each time someone uttered the phrase, “I’m grateful for the alcoholic in my life,” I wanted to scream. When my efforts to help were labeled “enabling,” one more time than I could bear, I dropped out to face it on my own.
I know I did not give it a chance to stick. I know I needed to give it time. I know that part of it is my own shortcoming. Because I’d already lost so much of my life and tried so hard to help save his, that I was fresh out of strength. I began having anxiety attacks. I passed out. I cried the moment the kids left for school and most of each night. I couldn’t focus on my work. I projected misery. His heartbroken family told me to drop him at a homeless shelter; they’d been down this road with him too many times before. They were tapped out. His friends too. I realized then everything I thought he was had been a carefully constructed lie. He wasn’t the hapless victim he’d appeared to be, but the orchestrator of his own doom-filled symphony. I finally gave up the day I found him unconscious in our home, and thought he was dead.
For him that day was his wakeup call. He got himself to a hospital the next day. Although it took him some time to fully embrace his need for treatment, his family and a handful of dedicated friends came forward. They moved mountains to help him get the help he needed to save his life. And he was ready for it.
I saw it happening -the miracle I’d prayed for for years. I was overjoyed for him. But it was too late for us. The will required to face life without my husband, to parent my children alone, to find my own joy again, is immense. I tapped into that will trying to save him and then save us, and my other priorities suffered. I made the painful decision to let go of him to save me and my kids. I firmly believe that decision was the right one for my family.
The aftermath of his recovery has not been pretty. I am filled with regrets and could-have-beens. But he is well, and gaining strength, and putting his life back together, as are we. Not without a hefty dose of judgment, mind you. If I had a nickel for each disapproving comment or look from the people who feel I could have done more, or the people who feel I should have done less…
But I digress.
No, I am not and don’t believe I will ever be grateful for experiencing life with an alcoholic. I regret that alcoholism robbed us of the opportunity to know the man within its grasp for his strengths, without first being battered and abused by his raging storm. Without wounds being inflicted that cannot fully heal. I am grateful for the friends and family who supported me through it all, who support me now as they always have. I’m inspired by those who were once in the dark days of addiction and overcame it. Who are shining role models for triumphing over trauma and challenges. One day he will be among those shining examples of success, I hope.
I have an almost greater respect for those who love someone in the throes of addiction. Some of us will be pushed to the point of having to let go of that love to save ourselves. Others will not. No one should have to make that choice.
I am an Al-Anon dropout, and it was the right choice for my family.
Barb Allen Is A Gold Star Wife, Author & National Speaker. She's a professional veterans advocate who understands the personal and factual struggles of turning adversity into advantage. But this lesson did not come easily and this upper hand must be diligently maintained. Now, Barbara brings her life lessons to her audiences in keynote speeches and custom programs. She relates to her audiences’ lives and challenges, and teaches them how to become gladiators in their own life’s arena.