CHRISTIAN HERALD, August, 1953
YOU CAN HELP AN ALCOHOLIC
by Keith De Folo
The door slams: A man staggers into the house, reels toward the living room, slumps on the sofa. His wife angrily throws down the book she is reading and shouts: “Drunk again Bill, I can’t stand this any longer!”
Bill grunts and shakes his head. He is lost in an alcoholic fog. He falls back in his drunken stupor, oblivious to everything. Lois springs her feet and hurtles across the room. Tears pouring down her cheeks, she pounds on her husband’s chest. Bill! Bill! What are you doing to me? How can you be so selfish?”
Her voice trails off in a sob that is a prayer. “Oh, God! How is this going to end?”
This was the nightly scene in the home of Lois and Bill before Bill became one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. (only members know his last name.)
For them the problem has been solved.
But other families across the United States – nearly four million others – are systematically being robbed of happiness by the alcoholism of one or more of their members. Lois has something to say to them that can and does transform their lives.
The technique is neither difficult nor mysterious: Bill was the alcoholic; but he could never have made a comeback without the help of Lois, the non-alcoholic. What she learned about the wife’s part in a husband’s drinking startled her into setting up the “Ladies Aid” of A.A. It’s called simply the Family Group,” and it quietly preaches that nagging, accusations and the tears of martyrdom are no way to effect the recovery of an alcoholic relative.
The approach that Lois learned the hard way and which the “Family Group” is spreading, you can apply for – and to – yourself, if there is an alcoholic in your household. During the past two years this revolutionary technique has brought a new and sober way of life to families all over America.
It’s revolutionary because it turns the spotlight on the “innocent partner – you. “Has your mates alcoholism made you difficult to live with,” they ask, “If so, better clear up your own problem. Your recovery will hasten the recovery of your husband or wife.”
No one knows better than Lois; how an alcoholic husband can drive his wife to the very edge of despair. She learned it firsthand, heard the dismal accounts time after time as she toured the country’s A.A. chapters with Bill. While he met with alcoholics, she listened to their husbands and wives. Talking out their troubles with one who had been through the mill helped. In 1951, Lois tied these wives and husbands together into an organization – the “Family Group.” It was a way to help folks avoid some of the mistakes she and others had made.
Before Bill’s amazing recovery in 1935, Lois supported and ruled the house. Bill was like a child – almost totally dependent upon her. In her multiple role of mother, nurse and wife, Lois became domineering. For seventeen years Bill drank steadily, and for seventeen years she pushed him into every “cure” she could think of – medicine, books, psychiatry, sanitariums. Bill always found another bottle.
It was a nightmare. She screamed at him. She threw things -pots, lamps, bookends, anything her hysterical hands touched. From a poised helpful wife, Lois turned into a neurotic, self-pitying creature. Bill, of course, lost every job. In his late thirties, he was a human derelict, a hopeless drunkard. Lois worked in a New York department store; doctor and hospital bills had to be paid, and often Bill had to be bailed out of jail. Lois often wondered how it would all end.
Then one day it did all end – sharply and suddenly. An old school pal of Bill’s visited him. Once, he too, had been a hopeless drunkard. Now he stood before Bill glowing and fresh skinned, freed from the tight grip of alcohol. How had it happened?
“Religion,” answered the friend. “God pulled me out of the gutter. I’ve come to tell you about it.”
This was the deepest experience in Bill’s life. He was powerless over alcohol, but there was a Higher Power waiting to be tapped.
His newly found faith in God and himself yanked Bill away from the bottle and kept him away. It was the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Through salvaging other alcoholics as he had been salvaged, Bill found peace and happiness. But Lois was not completely happy. Too long, she had dominated Bill. Suddenly, her job was over. She recalls: “I was resentful. My life job of sobering up Bill with all its responsibilities had been taken from me. I had not discovered anything to fill the void.”
Bill found great benefit in attending religious meetings on Sunday nights. To please him, Lois went along. Bill’s meetings had nothing to give her, she told herself.
One Sunday, Bill said, “Hurry up, dear! We mustn’t be late.” Angrily, Lois picked up a shoe and hurled it at her husband. “I don’t care about your old meetings!” she cried.
And before the shoe hit the floor, it dawned upon Lois that she was actually jealous of Bill’s meetings! She resented the new interest in his life which took up so much of his time. While Bill was trying to get back to normal, Lois was standing still. At that moment, she made a momentous decision: “I climbed on the A.A. bandwagon and began living by the same principles as Bill.”
As Lois applied A.A.’s “Twelve Steps” to her own life, she wondered about the wives and husbands of other alcoholics. Were they making the same mistakes she had made? Were other wives
hindering their husbands recovery by nagging, themselves twisted by resentment, fear and self-pity?
Out of Lois’ questioning sprang the “Clearing House” for the Family Groups. Two-and-a-half years ago, Lois and six other wives of alcoholics took over the loft of an old stable in lower Manhattan. From here (and their mail address, Box 1475, Grand Central Station, New York 17, N.Y.) a mountain of sound advice in letter and booklet form has gone to fearful and frustrated relatives all over the world.
Typical of the letters, that pour in weekly is this one from a distraught mother: “Please tell me what I can do to help my boy stop drinking. He is only 28 and has left his wife. He is our only child. Every night I pray for our son.”
This mother was immediately put in touch with the nearest Family Group. From the Group, she secured literature which explained alcoholism to her son and herself. Soon, her boy may go to an A.A. meeting which could steer him to a new way of life. The answer to her prayer is on the way.
The “Clearing House” helps to organize a new Family Group wherever there is a need. Often Lois “introduces” by mail several non-alcoholics who live in the same town. Out of this arises a Family Group that meets in a home or a church basement.
Today, there are nearly 500 Family Groups in the U.S., Canada and overseas. Many a member has changed from a non-alcoholic but nagging wife or neurotic husband into a normal human being. The result: many alcoholics have stopped drinking months and years sooner.
Joan, a pretty young housewife, has found serenity in the year she has attended the Group in her town. Her husband, Tom, an airplane mechanic, drank steadily for ten and a half years. About a year ago Tom agreed to accompany a friend to an A.A. meeting. Tom liked the men and women he met there and has kept going. But occasionally, he slips off the A.A. program and goes on an all-night spree. Does Joan get frantic with worry?
“Not for a moment,” she says. “I’ve learned to accept whatever happens. I’m so grateful that his drinking is no longer a nightly affair.”
Through the Family Group discussions Joan has learned to control her “fear wheels.” If Tom doesn’t come home at 5:30 from the factory, Joan no longer imagines the worst. Instead, she prays: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; the wisdom to know one from the other.”
If Tom comes home with a “glow” Joan greets him with a smile and a warm dinner. The old method was tears and a fierce upbraiding. Her new attitude of acceptance shames Tom, and takes the “kick” out of his bender. Tom redoubles his efforts to stay sober.
Jim is an advertising executive in New England who often tells an exciting story at his local Group meeting. Once, he was positive his wife was going insane. Nightly, he watched Sarah drink herself into a blind stupor. He tried to reason with her, and she laughed at him. He pleaded with her to see a doctor. “Me sick,” she cried indignantly. From the Family Group, Jim learned not to antagonize her; building up resentment in the alcoholic against the non-alcoholic prolongs the drinking.
One day, Sarah, in an impulse of despair, phoned A.A., and a woman member came to her house that evening. Sarah learned that she herself was an alcoholic – and a very sick one. For today, most medical authorities say that alcoholism, like diabetes, progresses unless it is checked. Unlike diabetes, there is no “insulin” for alcoholism. The only prevention and cure is total abstinence from all liquor.
With the help of A.A., Sarah began her comeback.
Later, Jim and Sarah went to a party. As a trayful of cocktails was passed, Jim whispered: “Careful, dear! Better not take that one!” Sarah didn’t, but she glared at him. At home, she rebuked Jim for his lack of faith in her. The Family Group gave him the same rapping of knuckles: distrust of the alcoholic who is trying to recover will often drive him or her backward. Today, Jim gives Sarah his confidence and she’s responding.
Maria’s husband used to drink every evening. Before she got into her local Family Group, she constantly lashed at Hugh with her sharp tongue. Over the years, her resentment against his drinking mounted. She accused him of drinking deliberately to wreck their marriage because he was in love with another woman.
Her false accusations and lack of understanding of the craving that drove him to drink almost toppled the marriage she so much wanted to preserve. Eventually, Hugh never came home unless he was drunk enough to be insulated against her outbursts of temper.
Since attending the Group meetings, Maria no longer scolds Hugh – and he comes home earlier and is more often sober. He remarks about the happy changes in her. Maria tries to show him patience and forgiveness. She now knows that he is desperately ” sick” – that only her love for Hugh and their faith in God will lead him to sobriety. Soon her tender guidance may bring Hugh to recovery.
Twenty-five years of drinking has left a scar on the home of the Browns, who live in a fashionable suburb of Philadelphia. While in his twenties, Mr. Brown was made sales manager of the
Chicago branch of his firm. There was only one thing wrong with the promotion: an unlimited expense account. The loud wailing of his wife did not halt the round of long, lavish parties he began giving. Soon he was drinking before breakfast.
His wife nagged, pleaded, fought, left him and returned. But he could not stop drinking. He lost the Chicago job. The next twenty years were a series of binges, short-term employment, illnesses. His wife supported the family by teaching school. When her health broke, his family rescued them.
During those dark years, Mrs. Brown tried to “hide” her husband from their two children. But the little boy and girl knew that tragedy ruled the house. As the boy reached adolescence, he looked for a father and was rebuffed by a drunken sot. The boy retreated within himself, grew insecure, leaned on his mother. The daughter adopted the domineering “mother” role. She repeatedly lectured her drunken father until he stormed out of the house and headed for the nearest bar.
Two years ago, Mr. Brown found A.A. While his family is grateful for his new sobriety, it is grateful also for the opportunity of emotional recovery in their own lives. Both mother and daughter attend Family Group meetings in Philadelphia and are trying to overcome their old attitudes. The son, however, may be irreparably damaged; he remains hostile towards his father who disappointed him so many times.
Mildred, the wife of an insurance salesman, was another drinker who made her whole family neurotic. Pete, her husband, didn’t know how to help. He reacted to her drinking with violent denunciations or stony silence. Both tactics infuriated Mildred and she began to drink more heavily.
When Pete heard about A.A., he made another mistake. He tried to push his wife into it. Naturally, she rebelled. He didn’t understand that A.A. can work only if the alcoholic wants to stop drinking. Pete’s children imitated their father’s bad temper.
One evening, Mildred wandered skeptically into an A.A. meeting. What she heard other alcoholics say gave her a strong lasting jolt. Today Mildred is a shining testimony to A.A.
But her family’s problems are not yet over. After fifteen years of steady drinking, Mildred’s body feels the lack of alcohol. Often, she is tense and nervous. When she is depressed, she snaps at her children. The Family Group is helping Pete and the youngsters to show love and patience toward Mildred in her moments of stress. Pete’s disposition has improved; the children do not “sass” their mother anymore.
Many alcoholics, once they stop drinking, suffer acutely from insomnia and wild hallucinations. While these are hard to endure, the family must realize that such ailments are a natural part of the alcoholic’s convalescence.
Joan and Maria and Mrs. Brown are only a few of the few of the folks who are finding new attitudes through the Family Group. What they are learning, you, if you have a similar problem, may try out for yourself.
Remember it is a waste of time to lecture an alcoholic. Don’t hide or throw away his bottle. The alcoholic who wants to drink will get it even if he has to steal.
Refrain from nagging or “bossing.” Nor do you have to swing too far the other way, inundating him with affection. Aim for a happy medium – admittedly not easy, but made possible by the knowledge that a home and life may hang in the balance.
Don’t push an alcoholic into A.A. He will resent any overt attempt on your part to “cure” him. He must take the first step himself.
Church attendance is an important therapy for both of you. The recovered alcoholic makes a good church member, because he knows he must depend upon a Strength greater than his own.
And so must you. With the proper attitude you can hasten the day of his recovery. Deep love and a daily-renewed faith can, by the grace of God, give you that attitude.