FEW EXCEPTIONS, our book thus far has spoken of men. But
what we have said applies quite as much to women. Our
activities in behalf of women who drink are on the increase.
There is every evidence that women regain their health
as readily as men if they try our suggestions.
But for every man
who drinks others are involved—the wife who trembles in
fear of the next debauch; the mother and father who see
their son wasting away.
Among us are wives,
relatives and friends whose problem has been solved, as
well as some who have not yet found a happy solution.
We want the wives of Alcoholics Anonymous to address the
wives of men who drink too much. What they say will apply
to nearly everyone bound by ties of blood or affection
to an alcoholic.
As wives of Alcoholics
Anonymous, we would like you to feel that we understand
as perhaps few can. We want to analyze mistakes we have
made. We want to leave you with the feeling that no situation
is too difficult and no unhappiness too great to be overcome.
We have traveled a
rocky road, there is no mistake about that. We have had
long rendezvous with hurt pride, frustration, self-pity,
misunderstanding and fear. These are not pleasant companions.
We have been
Written in 1939, when there were few women in A.A., this
chapter assumes that the alcoholic in the home is likely
to be the husband. But many of the suggestions given here
may be adapted to help the person who lives with a women
alcoholic—whether she is still drinking or is recovering
in A.A. A further source of help is noted on page 121.
to maudlin sympathy, to bitter resentment. Some of us
veered from extreme to extreme, ever hoping that one day
our loved ones would be themselves once more.
Our loyalty and the
desire that our husbands hold up their heads and be like
other men have begotten all sorts of predicaments. We
have been unselfish and self-sacrificing. We have told
innumerable lies to protect our pride and our husbands’
reputations. We have prayed, we have begged, we have been
patient. We have struck out viciously. We have run away.
We have been hysterical. We have been terror stricken.
We have sought sympathy. We have had retaliatory love
affairs with other men.
Our homes have been
battle-grounds many an evening. In the morning we have
kissed and made up. Our friends have counseled chucking
the men and we have done so with finality, only to be
back in a little while hoping, always hoping. Our men
have sworn great solemn oaths that they were through drinking
forever. We have believed them when no one else could
or would. Then, in days, weeks, or months, a fresh outburst.
We seldom had friends
at our homes, never knowing how or when the men of the
house would appear. We could make few social engagements.
We came to live almost alone. When we were invited out,
our husbands sneaked so many drinks that they spoiled
the occasion. If, on the other hand, they took nothing,
their self-pity made them killjoys.
There was never financial
security. Positions were always in jeopardy or gone. An
armored car could
have brought the pay envelopes home. The checking account
melted like snow in June.
Sometimes there were
other women. How heartbreaking was this discovery; how
cruel to be told they understood our men as we did not!
The bill collectors, the sheriffs, the angry taxi drivers,
the policemen, the bums, the pals, and even the ladies
they sometimes brought home—our husbands thought we were
so inhospitable. “Joykiller, nag, wet blanket”—that’s
what they said. Next day they would be themselves again
and we would forgive and try to forget.
We have tried to hold
the love of our children for their father. We have told
small tots that father was sick, which was much nearer
the truth than we realized. They struck the children,
kicked out door panels, smashed treasured crockery, and
ripped the keys out of pianos. In the midst of such pandemonium
they may have rushed out threatening to live with the
other woman forever. In desperation, we have even got
tight ourselves—the drunk to end all drunks. The unexpected
result was that our husbands seemed to like it.
Perhaps at this point
we got a divorce and took the children home to father
and mother. Then we were severely criticized by our husband’s
parents for desertion. Usually we did not leave. We stayed
on and on. We finally sought employment ourselves as destitution
faced us and our families.
We began to ask medical
advice as the sprees got closer together. The alarming
physical and mental symptoms, the deepening pall of remorse,
depression and inferiority that settled down on our loved
things terrified and distracted us. As animals on a treadmill,
we have patiently and wearily climbed, falling back in
exhaustion after each futile effort to reach solid ground.
Most of us have entered the final stage with its commitment
to health resorts, sanitariums, hospitals, and fails.
Sometimes there were screaming delirium and insanity.
Death was often near.
Under these conditions
we naturally make mistakes. Some of them rose out of ignorance
of alcoholism. Sometimes we sensed dimly that we were
dealing with sick men. Had we fully understood the nature
of the alcoholic illness, we might have behaved differently.
How could men who
loved their wives and children be so unthinking, so callous,
so cruel? There could be no love in such persons, we thought.
And just as we were being convinced of their heartlessness,
they would surprise us with fresh resolves and new attentions.
For a while they would be their old sweet selves, only
to dash the new structure of affection to pieces once
more. Asked why they commenced to drink again, they would
reply with some silly excuse, or none. It was so baffling,
so heartbreaking. Could we have been so mistaken in the
men we married? When drinking, they were strangers. Sometimes
they were so inaccessible that it seemed as though a great
wall had been built around them.
And even if they did
not love their families, how could they be so blind about
themselves? What had become of their judgment, their common
sense, their will power? Why could they not see that drink
meant ruin to them? Why was it, when these dangers were
out that they agreed, and then got drunk again immediately?
These are some of
the questions which race through the mind of every woman
who has an alcoholic husband. We hope this book has answered
some of them. Perhaps your husband has been living in
that strange world of alcoholism where everything is distorted
and exaggerated. You can see that he really does love
with his better self. Of course, there is such a thing
as incompatibility, but in nearly every instance the alcoholic
only seems to be unloving and inconsiderate; it is usually
because he is warped and sickened that he says and does
these appalling things. Today most of our men are better
husbands and fathers than ever before.
Try not to condemn
your alcoholic husband no matter what he says or does.
He is just another very sick, unreasonable person. Treat
him, when you can, as though he had pneumonia. When he
angers you, remember that he is very ill.
There is an important
exception to the foregoing. We realize some men are thoroughly
bad-intentioned, that no amount of patience will make
any difference. An alcoholic of this temperament may be
quick to use this chapter as a club over your head. Don’t
let him get away with it. If you are positive he is one
of this type you may feel you had better leave him. Is
it right to let him ruin your life and the lives of your
children? Especially when he has before him a way to stop
his drinking and abuse if he really wants to pay the price.
The problem with which
you struggle usually falls within one of four categories:
One: Your husband
may be only a heavy drinker.
drinking may be constant or it may be heavy only on certain
occasions. Perhaps he spends too much money for liquor.
It may be slowing him up mentally and physically, but
he does not see it. Sometimes he is a source of embarrassment
to you and his friends. He is positive he can handle his
liquor, that it does him no harm, that drinking is necessary
in his business. He would probably be insulted if he were
called an alcoholic. This world is full of people like
him. Some will moderate or stop altogether, and some will
not. Of those who keep on, a good number will become true
alcoholics after a while.
Two: Your husband
is showing lack of control, for he is unable to stay on
the water wagon even when he wants to. He often gets entirely
out of hand when drinking. He admits this is true, but
is positive that he will do better. He has begun to try,
with or without your cooperation, various means of moderating
or staying dry. Maybe he is beginning to lose his friends.
His business may suffer somewhat. He is worried at times,
and is becoming aware that he cannot drink like other
people. He sometimes drinks in the morning and through
the day also, to hold his nervousness in check. He is
remorseful after serious drinking bouts and tells you
he wants to stop. But when he gets over the spree, he
begins to think once more how he can drink moderately
next time. We think this person is in danger. These are
the earmarks of a real alcoholic. Perhaps he can still
tend to business fairly well. He has by no means ruined
everything. As we say among ourselves, “He wants to
want to stop.”
husband has gone much further than husband number two.
Though once like number two
became worse. His friends have slipped away, his home
is a near-wreck and he cannot hold a position. Maybe the
doctor has been called in, and the weary round of sanitariums
and hospitals has begun. He admits he cannot drink like
other people, but does not see why. He clings to the notion
that he will yet find a way to do so. He may have come
to the point where he desperately wants to stop but cannot.
His case presents additional questions which we shall
try to answer for you. You can be quite hopeful of a situation
Four: You may
have a husband of whom you completely despair. He has
been placed in one institution after another. He is violent,
or appears definitely insane when drunk. Sometimes he
drinks on the way home from the hospital. Perhaps he has
had delirium tremens. Doctors may shake their heads and
advise you to have him committed. Maybe you have already
been obliged to put him away. This picture may not be
as dark as it looks. Many of our husbands were just as
far gone. Yet they got well.
Let’s now go back
to number one. Oddly enough, he is often difficult to
deal with. He enjoys drinking. It stirs his imagination.
His friends feel closer over a highball. Perhaps you enjoy
drinking with him yourself when he doesn’t go too far.
You have passed happy evenings together chatting and drinking
before your fire. Perhaps you both like parties which
would be dull without liquor. We have enjoyed such evenings
ourselves; we had a good time. We know all about liquor
as a social lubricant. Some, but not all of us, think
it has its advantages when reasonably used.
first principle of success is that you should never be
angry. Even though your husband becomes unbearable and
you have to leave him temporarily, you should, if you
can, go without rancor. Patience and good temper are most
Our next thought is
that you should never tell him what he must do about his
drinking. If he gets the idea that you are a nag or a
killjoy, your chance of accomplishing anything useful
may be zero. He will use that as an excuse to drink more.
He will tell you he is misunderstood. This may lead to
lonely evenings for you. He may seek someone else to console
him—not always another man.
Be determined that
your husband’s drinking is not going to spoil your relations
with your children or your friends. They need your companionship
and your help. It is possible to have a full and useful
life, though your husband continues to drink. We know
women who are unafraid, even happy under these conditions.
Do not set your heart on reforming your husband. You may
be unable to do so, no matter how hard you try.
We know these suggestions
are sometimes difficult to follow, but you will save many
a heartbreak if you can succeed in observing them. Your
husband may come to appreciate your reasonableness and
patience. This may lay the groundwork for a friendly talk
about his alcoholic problem. Try to have him bring up
the subject himself. Be sure you are not critical during
such a discussion. Attempt instead, to put yourself in
his place. Let him see that you want to be helpful rather
When a discussion
does arise, you might suggest he
this book or at least the chapter on alcoholism. Tell
him you have been worried, though perhaps needlessly.
You think he ought to know the subject better, as everyone
should have a clear understanding of the risk he takes
if he drinks too much. Show him you have confidence in
his power to stop or moderate. Say you do not want to
be a wet blanket; that you only want him to take care
of his health. Thus you may succeed in interesting him
He probably has several
alcoholics among his own acquaintances. You might suggest
that you both take an interest in them. Drinkers like
to help other drinkers. Your husband may be willing to
talk to one of them.
If this kind of approach
does not catch your husband’s interest, it may be best
to drop the subject, but after a friendly talk your husband
will usually revive the topic himself. This may take patient
waiting, but it will be worth it. Meanwhile you might
try to help the wife of another serious drinker. If you
act upon these principles, your husband may stop or moderate.
that your husband fits the description of number two.
The same principles which apply to husband number one
should be practice. But after his next binge, ask him
if he would really like to get over drinking for good.
Do not ask that he do it for you or anyone else. Just
would he like to?
The chances are he
would. Show him your copy of this book and tell him what
you have found out about alcoholism. Show him that as
alcoholics, the writers of the book understand. Tell him
some of the interesting stories you have read. If you
think he will be shy of a spiritual remedy, ask him to
look at the chapter on
Then perhaps he will be interested enough to continue.
If he is enthusiastic
your cooperation will mean a great deal. If he is lukewarm
or thinks he is not an alcoholic, we suggest you leave
him alone. Avoid urging him to follow our program. The
seed has been planted in his mind. He knows that thousands
of men, much like himself, have recovered. But don’t remind
him of this after he has been drinking, for he may be
angry. Sooner or later, you are likely to find him reading
the book once more. Wait until repeated stumbling convinces
him he must act, for the more you hurry him the longer
his recovery may be delayed.
If you have a number
three husband, you may be in luck. Being certain he wants
to stop, you can go to him with this volume as joyfully
as though you had struck oil. He may not share your enthusiasm,
but he is practically sure to read the book and he may
go for the program at once. If he does not, you will probably
not have long to wait. Again, you should not crowd him.
Let him decide for himself. Cheerfully see him through
more sprees. Talk about his condition or this book only
when he raises the issue. In some cases it may be better
to let someone outside the family urge action without
arousing hostility. If your husband is otherwise a normal
individual, your chances are good at this stage.
You would suppose
that men in the fourth classification would be quite hopeless,
but that is not so. Many of Alcoholics Anonymous were
like that. Everybody had given them up. Defeat seemed
certain. Yet often such men had spectacular and powerful
are exceptions. Some men have been so impaired by alcohol
that they cannot stop. Sometimes there are cases where
alcoholism is complicated by other disorders. A good doctor
or psychiatrist can tell you whether these complications
are serious. In any event, try to have your husband read
this book. His reaction may be one of enthusiasm. If he
is already committed to an institution, but can convince
you and your doctor that he means business, give him a
chance to try our method, unless the doctor thinks his
mental condition too abnormal or dangerous. We make this
recommendation with some confidence. For years we have
been working with alcoholics committed to institutions.
Since this book was first published, A.A. has released
thousands of alcoholics from asylums and hospitals of
every kind. The majority have never returned. The power
of God goes deep!
You may have the reverse
situation on your hands. Perhaps you have a husband who
is at large, but who should be committed. Some men cannot
or will not get over alcoholism. When they become too
dangerous, we think the kind thing to do is to lock them
up, but of course a good doctor should always be consulted.
The wives and children of such men suffer horrible, but
not more than the men themselves.
But sometimes you
must start life anew. We know women who have done it.
If such women adopt a spiritual way of life their road
will be smoother.
If your husband is
a drinker, you probably worry over what other people are
thinking and you hate to meet your friends. You draw more
and more into yourself and you think everyone is talking
about conditions at your home. You avoid the subject of
even with your own parents. You do not know what to tell
your children. When your husband is bad, you become a
trembling recluse, wishing the telephone had never been
We find that most
of this embarrassment is unnecessary. While you need not
discuss your husband at length, you can quietly let your
friends know the nature of his illness. But you must be
on guard not to embarrass or harm your husband.
When you have carefully
explained to such people that he is a sick person, you
will have created a new atmosphere. Barriers which have
sprung up between you and your friends will disappear
with the growth of sympathetic understanding. You will
no longer be self-conscious or feel that you must apologize
as though your husband were a weak character. He may be
anything but that. Your new courage, good nature and lack
of self-consciousness will do wonders for you socially.
The same principle
applies in dealing with the children. Unless they actually
need protection from their father, it is best not to take
sides in any argument he has with them while drinking.
Use your energies to promote a better understanding all
around. Then that terrible tension which grips the home
of every problem drinker will be lessened.
Frequently, you have
felt obliged to tell your husband’s employer and his friends
that he was sick, when as a matter of fact he was tight.
Avoid answering these inquiries as much as you can. Whenever
possible, let your husband explain. Your desire to protect
him should not cause you to lie to people when they have
a right to know where he is and what he is doing. Dis-
this with him when he is sober and in good spirits. Ask
him what you should do if he places you in such a position
again. But be careful not to be resentful about the last
time he did so.
There is another paralyzing
fear. You may be afraid your husband will lose his position;
you are thinking of the disgrace and hard times which
will befall you and the children. This experience may
come to you. Or you may already have had it several times.
Should it happen again, regard it in a different light.
Maybe it will prove a blessing! It may convince your husband
he wants to stop drinking forever. And now you know that
he can stop if he will! Time after time, this apparent
calamity has been a boon to us, for it opened up a path
which led to the discovery of God.
We have elsewhere
remarked how much better life is when lived on a spiritual
plane. If God can solve the age-old riddle of alcoholism,
He can solve your problems too. We wives found that, like
everybody else, we were afflicted with pride, self-pity,
vanity and all the things which go to make up the self-centered
person; and we were not above selfishness or dishonesty.
As our husbands began to apply spiritual principles in
their lives, we began to see the desirability of doing
At first, some of
us did not believe we needed this help. We thought, on
the whole, we were pretty good women, capable of being
nicer if our husbands stopped drinking. But it was a silly
idea that we were too good to need God. Now we try to
put spiritual principles to work in every department of
our lives. When we do that, we find it solves our problems
too; the ensuing lack of fear, worry and hurt feelings
is a wonderful
We urge you to try our program, for nothing will be so
helpful to your husband as the radically changed attitude
toward him which God will show you how to have. Go along
with you husband if you possibly can.
If you and your husband
find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you
are, of course, going to very happy. But all problems
will not be solved at once. Seed has started to sprout
in a new soil, but growth has only begun. In spite of
your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs.
Many of the old problems will still be with you. This
is as it should be.
The faith and sincerity
of both you and your husband will be put to the test.
These work-outs should be regarded as part of your education,
for thus you will be learning to live. You will make mistakes,
but if you are in earnest they will not drag you down.
Instead, you will capitalize them. A better way of life
will emerge when they are overcome.
Some of the snags
you will encounter are irritation, hurt feelings and resentments.
Your husband will sometimes be unreasonable and you will
want to criticize. Starting from a speck on the domestic
horizon, great thunderclouds of dispute may gather. These
family dissensions are very dangerous, especially to your
husband. Often you must carry the burden of avoiding them
or keeping them under control. Never forget that resentment
is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic. We do not mean that
you have to agree with you husband whenever there is an
honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree
in a resentful or critical spirit.
and your husband will find that you can dispose of serious
problems easier than you can the trivial ones. Next time
you and he have a heated discussion, no matter what the
subject, it should be the privilege of either to smile
and say, “This is getting serious. I’m sorry I got disturbed.
Let’s talk about it later.” If your husband is trying
to live on a spiritual basis, he will also be doing everything
in his power to avoid disagreement or contention.
Your husband knows
he owes you more than sobriety. He wants to make good.
Yet you must not expect too much. His ways of thinking
and doing are the habits of years. Patience, tolerance,
understanding and love are the watchwords. Show him these
things in yourself and they will be reflected back to
you from him. Live and let live is the rule. If you both
show a willingness to remedy your own defects, there will
be little need to criticize each other.
We women carry with
us a picture of the ideal man, the sort of chap we would
like our husbands to be. It is the most natural thing
in the world, once his liquor problem is solved, to feel
that he will now measure up to that cherished vision.
The chances are he will not for, like yourself, he is
just beginning his development. Be patient.
Another feeling we
are very likely to entertain is one of resentment that
love and loyalty could not cure our husbands of alcoholism.
We do not like the thought that the contents of a book
or the work of another alcoholic has accomplished in a
few weeks that for which we struggled for years. At such
moments we forget that alcoholism is an illness over which
we could not possibly have had any power. Your husband
the first to say it was your devotion and care which brought
him to the point where he could have a spiritual experience.
Without you he would have gone to pieces long ago. When
resentful thoughts come, try to pause and count your blessings.
After all, your family is reunited, alcohol is no longer
a problem and you and your husband are working together
toward an undreamed-of future.
Still another difficulty
is that you may become jealous of the attention he bestows
on other people, especially alcoholics. You have been
starving for his companionship, yet he spends long hours
helping other men and their families. You feel he should
now be yours. It will do little good if you point that
out and urge more attention for yourself. We find it a
real mistake to dampen his enthusiasm for alcoholic work.
You should join in his efforts as much as you possibly
can. We suggest that you direct some of your thought to
the wives of his new alcoholic friends. They need the
counsel and love of a woman who has gone through what
It is probably true
that you and your husband have been living too much alone,
for drinking many times isolates the wife of an alcoholic.
Therefore, you probably need fresh interests and a great
cause to live for as much as your husband. If you cooperate,
rather than complain, you will find that his excess enthusiasm
will tone down. Both of you will awaken to a new
of responsibility for others. You, as well as your husband,
ought to think of what you can put into life instead of
how much you can take out. Inevitably your lives will
be fuller for doing so. You will lose the old life to
find one much better.
Perhaps your husband
will make a fair start on the new basis, but just as things
are going beautifully he dismays you be coming home drunk.
If you are satisfied he really wants to get over drinking,
you need not be alarmed. Though it is infinitely better
that he have no relapse at all, as has been true with
many of our men, it is by no means a bad thing in some
cases. Your husband will see at once that he must redouble
his spiritual activities if he expects to survive. You
need not remind him of his spiritual deficiency—he will
know of it. Cheer him up and ask him how you can be still
The slightest sign
of fear or intolerance may lessen your husband’s chance
or recovery. In a weak moment he may take your dislike
of his high-stepping friends as one of those insanely
trivial excuses to drink.
We never, never try
to arrange a man’s life so as to shield him from temptation.
The slightest disposition on your part to guide his appointment
or his affairs so he will not be tempted will be noticed.
Make him feel absolutely free to come and go as he likes.
This is important. If he gets drunk, don’t blame yourself.
God has either removed your husband’s liquor problem or
He has not. If not, it had better be found out right away.
Then you and your husband can get right down to fundamentals.
If a repetition is to be prevented, place the problem,
along with everything else, in God’s hands.
realize that we have been giving you much direct advice.
We may have seemed to lecture. If that is so we are sorry,
for we ourselves, don’t always care for people who lecture
us. But what we have related is base upon experience,
some of it painful. We had to learn these things the hard
way. That is why we are anxious that you understand, and
that you avoid these unnecessary difficulties.*
So to you out there—who
may soon be with us—we say “Good luck and God bless you!"
The fellowship of Al-Anon Family Groups was formed
about thirteen years after this chapter was written. Though
it is entirely separate from Alcoholics Anonymous, it
uses the general principles of the A.A. program as a guide
for husbands, wives, relatives, friends, and others close
to alcoholics. The foregoing pages (though addressed only
to wives) indicate the problems such people may face.
Alateen, for teen-aged children of alcoholics, is a part
If there is no Al-Anon
listing in your local telephone book, you may obtain further
information on Al-Anon Family Groups by writing to its
World Service Office: Box 862, Midtown Station, New York,
for chapter 8 of the pre-1939 Original Manuscript.