The 1939 publication “Alcoholics Anonymous,” commonly referred to as The Big Book masterfully details the problem of alcoholism and a way out that has worked for millions since. One of the chapters in that book is called, “To the Wives.” It’s not just for wives, it was written from the collective experience of wives specifically for anyone who loves a sufferer of alcoholism or drug addiction. “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…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.” (pg. 104 Alcoholics Anonymous)
Addiction is a Family Disease
This is a family disease. Unlike any other disease, the Big Book describes it as, “An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him, and no one is angry or hurt, but not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it goes an annihilation of all things worthwhile in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferers. It brings fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad spouses and parents – anyone can increase the list. ” This is the only disease where when the well member of the family attempts to help the sick member, the well member may get sick before the sick member gets well. Loving an active drinker or user is like hugging a porcupine, the harder you hold on, the more significant the pain.
The chapter, “To the Wives.” classifies the sufferers in 4 following categories:
1) Heavy Drinker:
“Some will moderate or stop altogether, and some will not. Of those keep on a good number will become true alcoholics after a while?” (pg. 109)
2) Losing Control:
“He often gets entirely out of hand when drinking… He has begun to try, with or without your cooperation, various means of moderating or staying dry.” (pg. 109) This is the stage where friendships, employment, and the family may just be feeling the impacts of the disease.
3) Serious Consequences:
“This husband has gone much further than husband number 2. Though once like number two, he has become worse. His friends have slipped away, his home is in near wreak, and he cannot hold a position…He may come to a point where he desperately wants to stop but cannot.” (pg. 109)
4) Apparently Hopeless:
“You may have a husband of whom you completely despair…This picture may be as dark as it looks. Many of our husbands were just as far gone. Yet they got well too.” (pg 110)
What is Al-Anon?
The basis of fellowship Al-Anon, stems from the women who wrote this chapter as well as the information in it. The saddest fact is that all endings are not happy ones. Al-Anon is a place where the family can go to get support and principles that can help them be okay even if the loved one is not.
Here are some suggestions from this chapter that will be useful:
– “Try not to condemn.”
– “Never be angry.”
– “Never tell him what he must do about his drinking.”
– “Patience and good temper are most necessary.”
-“Try to have him bring up the subject himself.”
– “Attempt instead, to put yourself in his place.”
– “Do not ask that he do it for you or anyone else. Just would he like to.”
– “But you must be on guard not to embarrass or harm your husband.”
-“Use your energies to promote a better understanding all around.”
-“We do not mean you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree with a resentful or critical spirit.”
How to heal the family
Although, some of these suggestions may seem like giving the ill member of the family license to behave any way they want, it’s not. Their behavior is beyond control as is. This approach allows for the removal of their defense mechanisms turning the scenario into something that can be blamed on you. This is difficult for sure. Attending a local Al-Anon meeting can be just the right step to gain the support needed in these difficult times.