Rita was married to Jimmy for twenty years before she finally “got it.” She had begged Jimmy to stop drinking many times, but words did not change his behaviors. Words such as, “if you want a relationship with me, you will have to stop drinking,” or “If you keep drinking, you will die young” appeared to be a waste of breath. He seemed to crave alcohol as much as hungry people crave food.

She realized that she was powerless to change Jimmy. It was not fair that she had to live with the consequences of having an alcohol dependent husband: Bills that didn’t get paid on time, feeling unsupported emotionally and financially, having to make excuses for all those times Jimmy did not show up for work. Rita felt humiliated and lonely all the time. She did not want to get up in the mornings to get slapped around again by her life with Jimmy, but someone had to support the family.

One afternoon, Rita’s friend from work invited her to an Al Anon meeting. Al Anon is sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous but is attended by the families and friends of people who drink. Rita called Jimmy and told him that she would be home late; she and a friend were going to spend some time together. She did not give him the reason.

Focus on Changing Self Rather than Changing Others

Rita’s life changed that very night. She met with a group of seven other women who had the same issues with their spouses that she was having. Most of them were further along in the process, and some of them had already had what she had always wanted: A sober husband. She learned from the group that night to let go of trying to change Jimmy, and to focus on what she herself needed to do to have a good life. That thought of finding satisfaction in her own life, while it could not give her a sober husband, gave her hope—something she had not held in her hands for many years.

By the time Rita got home that night, she had determined she was going to stop living apologetically. Her first order of business was to tell Jimmy where she had been. She knew he would lash out at her defensively, which would provide her with a golden opportunity to show him that his lashing out was no longer going to make her fearful. He could no longer manipulate her by raising his voice or making threats.

It did not take long. As soon as she walked in the door, Jimmy confronted her about not being home to make dinner. She agreed she had not been home to make dinner rather than argue about her right to go out with friends. Then she let the secret out:

“Jimmy, I went with Renee to an Al Anon meeting. I’ve been aware for some time that I could not keep pretending that you were going to stop drinking by my begging and pleading. I am going to stop trying to change you. I’m going to change me—and Al Anon can help me change me.” Though she didn’t now know it, she was setting the scene for a major life transition that very night.

“You’d rather go to Al Anon than make dinner for me or your own children?” He retorted with more than a slight edge in his voice. Rita had anticipated he would do this.

“I’d rather go to Al Anon and not make dinner for you and my own children than live with an alcoholic husband. Jimmy, the truth is, I can’t live like this any longer. I don’t know what I am going to do yet, but I’m certain of what I will not do. I will not stay in this house and argue with you every night about drinking.”

“So what are you going to do about it?” Though he was quite shocked by the new Rita, he did not want to let on that he took her seriously. His voice still had that “na na nanana” taunting quality to it.

“I don’t know. I am going to take it one day at a time and try to make choices that will get me and the children into a healthier place.”

“If you ever go to that meeting again, I’ll leave!” threatened Jimmy.

“I guess you’ll have to do what you’ve got to do.” Rita did not argue with him.

The next day Jimmy came home from work to find that Rita, the children, and the furniture were all gone. She had mustered help from a few friends and a moving company and put her furniture in storage. She stopped at the bank and withdrew $5,000 from savings to get the family through until she was working again. She picked up her teenagers from school and they drove to a neighboring state, where Rita’s sister lived. By the time Jimmy got home, Rita and the children were eating supper at Rita sister’s house.

Do You Want to Do Some Self-Study?

There are many ways to begin the change process that will lead to freeing self and one’s loved ones from an alcoholic lifestyle. Usually, no single action brings about all the change that is necessary. Recovery is a long road for the alcohol dependent person and their family. It is important to remind yourself frequently to “never give up.” We do possess the power to change, and by changing ourselves, others will change as well.


Author's Bio: 

Katrina Holgate Miller, PhD, MFT is a freelance medical journalist specializing in mental health.

She shares the mental health stories of the patients who used their moxie to overcome their distress.

Her professional experience has encompassed many facets of mental health care, including mental health assessment and treatment, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse (victims and perpetrators), couples counseling, and adolescent group counseling. For the past five years, Katrina has worked with patients across the country to help them resolve their barriers to adequate and effective mental healthcare and chemical dependency/addiction treatment.