You Mean You’re Still Married?
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., August 1989
Staying married and staying sober. Sometimes it seems impossible to do both at the same time. In the AA circles I travel in, there are a lot of people, men and women, who are no longer married to the spouses they were with when they finally hit bottom. I understand why. In my early sobriety, Ella and I fought more than when I was drinking. Or perhaps I just remembered every word without my booze to ease the misery. It seemed to me that living with Ella when I was drinking had been hell, but trying to live with her and trying to learn to stay sober was double hell – with no pain killer.
I was trying to follow the AA program and live one day at a time. But every time I did one little thing wrong, she would drag out the past and hit me with it. She was going to some Al-Anon meetings but didn’t seem to be getting the program – in my opinion. All she appeared to be learning was how to tell me how to work my program. I was sure if she would only listen to me, I could straighten out her program.
Then I got a sponsor who also had a wife. Tim had only a year of sobriety and he and his wife were still capable of getting into a good one. Maybe that’s why I was attracted to him as a sponsor. If he could work a program with his wife, maybe there was hope for me. Meeting him at his home, I found that his wife wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. But then I knew how Ella and I saved most of our bad stuff for when we were alone. Over coffee, Tim’s wife, Barbara, asked me to bring Ella the next time I came over. This sounded like a good idea. Barbara knew a bit about the program. Maybe she could teach Ella something.
As I got to know Tim and his wife better, I noticed that seeing Barbara did Ella a lot of good. Ella was also asking Tim about things. At first this burned me, since I figured I could have given her the same or even better advice! But I came to realize a difference. Ella was likely to listen to Tim’s and Barbara’s views whereas she often ignored mine. I also discovered that if Tim wasn’t available, Barbara could give me something to think about until I could see him. Since many of my problems were with Ella, I found Barbara’s suggestions useful. I realized maybe Al-Anon did know a few things.
Ella and I began to attend more meetings – AA and Al-Anon meetings held at the same time in different rooms or open meetings where spouses could attend together – and we began to know more couples in recovery. We were all having the same problems. Both AAs and Al-Anons were finding it difficult to get along with their unreasonable spouses. The resentments from the past continued to disrupt our todays. Ella and I could agree on the problems another couple was having – usually contributed to by both partners, as we saw it. But we were surprised at how difficult it was for us to look objectively at ourselves as a couple. In spite of the difficulties we were having (or maybe because of our problems), some married people began to ask how we were working our individual programs. This was embarrassing because I realized that my understanding of what the program suggested I do was better than I was actually doing. But I tried to be honest in admitting this to fellow AAs. As a result, talking over other people’s problems taught me more about what I had to do. Sometimes I had to go home and make newly discovered amends to Ella.
As I read the Big Book more closely, I found that there was plenty of information on family recovery. Initially, I’d been unable to think beyond my own sobriety to the need for family recovery. This included my need to practice patience, tolerance, and forgiveness for my wife. From the beginning of sobriety, I expected her to demonstrate these attitudes toward me. I didn’t realize how long it was going to take both of us to learn to practice these attitudes. In reading about AA and our co-founders, I found that recovering as a couple was what Bill and Lois W., and Dr. Bob and Anne S. had learned to do. Dr. Bob and Bill had talked with their spouses as well as the alcoholics they were working with. Lois and Anne also talked with alcoholics as well as with spouses.
Family recovery is part of the AA program for those of us who are still married when we come into AA. But recovering together is as hazardous as recovering alone, or perhaps even more so. If I’m recovering alone, I only have to deal with my own dry drunks or slips, but if I’m recovering with a wife I have to allow her the same opportunity for mistakes. Together, we have twice as many opportunities for slips and dry drunks as we have separately. But if I can work my AA program and allow my wife to work her Al-Anon program, together we have the potential for experiencing the recovery as a couple that Bill and Lois, Bob and Anne, demonstrated.
Our individual recovery has to be a priority for each of us. We each have our own sponsors in AA and Al-Anon. But we also needed to know, observe, and talk with recovering couples, and be available to new couples. We benefit by realizing how much remains to be done in our own recovery: “We are not saints.” Perhaps what we have most to offer is a recognition that our recovery as a couple continues to be difficult. To “practice these principles in all our affairs” seems hardest in those relationships which are most important to us.
After nine years of agonizingly slow recovery, we are more in love with each other, and have a deeper love for our child, than in the days before alcohol. This is a love that we have had to relearn from each of you, married and single. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to follow the winners.
J. P., Mississippi
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., August 1989
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