WOMEN FOLK have suggested certain attitudes a wife may
take with the husband who is recovering. Perhaps they
created the impression that he is to be wrapped in cotton
wool and placed on a pedestal. Successful readjustment
means the opposite. All members of the family should meet
upon the common ground of tolerance, understanding and
love. This involves a process of deflation. The alcoholic,
his wife, his children, his “in-laws,” each one is likely
to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards
himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or
her wishes respected. We find the more one member of the
family demands that the others concede to him, the more
resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.
And why? Is it not
because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying
to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously
trying to see what he can take from the family life rather
Cessation of drinking
is but the first step away from a highly strained, abnormal
condition. A doctor said to us, “Years of living with
an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child
neurotic. The entire family is, to some extent, ill.”
Let families realize, as they start their journey, that
all will not be fair weather. Each in his turn may be
footsore and may straggle.
will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down which they
may wander and lose their way.
Suppose we tell you
some of the obstacles a family will meet; suppose we suggest
how they may be avoided—even converted to good use for
others. The family of an alcoholic longs for the return
of happiness and security. They remember when father was
romantic, thoughtful and successful. Today’s life is measured
against that of other years and, when it falls short,
the family may be unhappy.
in dad is rising high. The good old days will soon be
back, they think. Sometimes they demand that dad bring
them back instantly! God, they believe, almost owes this
recompense on a long overdue account. But the head of
the house has spent years in pulling down the structures
of business, romance, friendship, health—these things
are now ruined or damaged. It will take time to clear
away the wreck. Though the old buildings will eventually
be replaced by finer ones, the new structures will take
years to complete.
Father knows he is
to blame; it may take him many seasons of hard work to
be restored financially, but he shouldn’t be reproached.
Perhaps he will never have much money again. But the wise
family will admire him for what he is trying to be, rather
than for what he is trying to get.
Now and then the family
will be plagued by spectres from the past, for the drinking
career of almost every alcoholic has been marked by escapades,
funny, humiliating, shameful or tragic. The first impulse
will be to bury these skeletons in a dark closet and padlock
the door. The family may be possessed by the idea
future happiness can be based only upon forgetfulness
of the past. We think that such a view is self-centered
and in direct conflict with the new way of living.
Henry Ford once made
a wise remark to the effect that experience is the thing
of supreme value is life. That is true only if one is
willing to turn the past to good account. We grow by our
willingness to face and rectify errors and convert them
into assets. The alcoholic’s past thus becomes the principal
asset of the family and frequently it is almost the only
This painful past
may be of infinite value to other families still struggling
with their problem. We think each family which has been
relieved owes something to those who have not, and when
the occasion requires, each member of it should be only
too willing to bring former mistakes, no matter how grievous,
out of their hiding places. Showing others who suffer
how we were given help is the very thing which makes life
seem so worth while to us now. Cling to the thought that,
in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession
you have—the key to life and happiness for others. With
it you can avert death and misery for them.
It is possible to
dig up past misdeeds so they become a blight, a veritable
plague. For example, we know of situations in which the
alcoholic or his wife have had love affairs. In the first
flush of spiritual experience they forgave each other
and drew closer together. The miracle of reconciliation
was at hand. Then, under one provocation or another, the
aggrieved one would unearth the old affair and angrily
cast its ashes about. A few of us have had these growing
pains and they
a great deal. Husbands and wives have sometimes been obliged
to separate for a time until new perspective, new victory
over hurt pride could be rewon. In most cases, the alcoholic
survived this ordeal without relapse, but not always.
So we think that unless some good and useful purpose is
to be served, past occurrences should not be discussed.
We families of Alcoholics
Anonymous keep few skeletons in the closet. Everyone knows
about the others’ alcoholic troubles. This is a condition
which, in ordinary life, would produce untold grief; there
might be scandalous gossip, laughter at the expense of
other people, and a tendency to take advantage of intimate
information. Among us, these are rare occurrences. We
do talk about each other a great deal, but we almost invariably
temper such talk by a spirit of love and tolerance.
we observe carefully is that we do not relate intimate
experiences of another person unless we are sure he would
approve. We find it better, when possible, to stick to
our own stories. A man may criticize to laugh at himself
and it will affect others favorably, but criticism or
ridicule coming from another often produce the contrary
effect. Members of a family should watch such matters
carefully, for one careless, inconsiderate remark has
been known to raise the very devil. We alcoholics are
sensitive people. It takes some of us a long time to outgrow
that serious handicap.
Many alcoholics are
enthusiasts. They run to extremes. At the beginning of
recovery a man will take, as a rule, one of two directions.
He may either plunge into a frantic attempt to get on
his feet in business, or
may be so enthralled by his new life that he talks or
thinks of little else. In either case certain family problems
will arise. With these we have had experience galore.
We think it dangerous
if he rushes headlong at his economic problem. The family
will be affected also, pleasantly at first, as they feel
their money troubles are about to be solved, then not
so pleasantly as they find themselves neglected. Dad may
be tired at night and preoccupied by day. He may take
small interest in the children and may show irritation
when reproved for his delinquencies. If not irritable,
he may seem dull and boring, not gay and affectionate
as the family would like him to be. Mother may complain
of inattention. They are all disappointed, and often let
him feel it. Beginning with such complaints, a barrier
arises. He is straining every nerve to make up for lost
time. He is striving to recover fortune and reputation
and feels he is doing very well. Sometimes
mother and children don’t think so. Having been neglected
and misused in the past, they think father owes them more
than they are getting. They want him to make a fuss over
them. They expect him to give them the nice times they
used to have before he drank so much, and to show his
contrition for what they suffered. But dad doesn’t give
freely of himself. Resentment grows. He becomes still
less communicative. Sometimes he explodes over a trifle.
The family is mystified. They criticize, pointing out
how he is falling down on his spiritual program.
This sort of thing
can be avoided. Both father and the family are mistaken,
though each side may have some justification. It is of
little use to argue and only
the impasse worse. The family must realize that dad, though
marvelously improved, is still convalescing. They should
be thankful he is sober and able to be of this world once
more. Let them praise his progress. Let them remember
that his drinking wrought all kinds of damage that may
take long to repair. If they sense these things, they
will not take so seriously his periods of crankiness,
depression, or apathy, which will disappear when there
is tolerance, love, and spiritual understanding.
The head of the house
ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what
befell his home. He can scarcely square the account in
his lifetime. But he must see the danger of over-concentration
on financial success. Although financial recovery is on
the way for many of us, we found we could not place money
first. For us, material well-being always followed spiritual
progress; it never preceded.
Since the home has
suffered more than anything else, it is well that a man
exert himself there. He is not likely to get far in any
direction if he fails to show unselfishness and love under
his own roof. We know there are difficult wives and families,
but the man who is getting over alcoholism must remember
he did much to make them so.
As each member of
a resentful family begins to see his shortcomings and
admits them to the others, he lays a basis for helpful
discussion. These family talks will be constructive if
they can be carried on without heated argument, self-pity,
self-justification or resentful criticism. Little by little,
mother and children will see they ask too much, and father
will see he gives too
Giving, rather than getting, will become the guiding principle.
Assume on the other
hand that father has, at the outset, a stirring spiritual
experience. Overnight, as it were, he is a different man.
He becomes a religious enthusiast. He is unable to focus
on anything else. As soon as his sobriety begins to be
taken as a matter of course, the family may look at their
strange new dad with apprehension, then with irritation.
There is talk about spiritual matters morning, noon and
night. He may demand that the family find God in a hurry,
or exhibit amazing indifference to them and say he is
above worldly considerations. He may tell mother, who
has been religious all her life, that she doesn’t know
what it’s all about, and that she had better get his brand
of spirituality while there is yet time.
When father takes
this tack, the family may react unfavorably. The may be
jealous of a God who has stolen dad’s affections. While
grateful that he drinks no more, they may not like the
idea that God has accomplished the miracle where they
failed. They often forget father was beyond human aid.
They may not see why their love and devotion did not straighten
him out. Dad is not so spiritual after all, they say.
If he means to right his past wrongs, why all this concern
for everyone in the world but his family? What about his
talk that God will take care of them? They suspect father
is a bit balmy!
He is not so unbalanced
as they might think. Many of us have experienced dad’s
elation. We have indulged in spiritual intoxication. Like
a gaunt prospector, belt drawn in over the ounce of food,
our pick struck gold. Joy at our release from a lifetime
knew no bounds. Father feels he has struck something better
than gold. For a time he may try to hug the new treasure
to himself. He may not see at once that he has barely
scratched a limitless lode which will pay dividends only
if he mines it for the rest of his life and insists on
giving away the entire product.
If the family cooperates,
dad will soon see that he is suffering from a distortion
of values. He will perceive that his spiritual growth
is lopsided, that for an average man like himself, a spiritual
life which does not include his family obligations may
not be so perfect after all. If the family will appreciated
that dad’s current behavior is but a phase of his development,
all will be well. In the midst of an understanding and
sympathetic family, these vagaries of dad’s spiritual
infancy will quickly disappear.
The opposite may happen
should the family condemn and criticize. Dad may feel
that for years his drinking has placed him on the wrong
side of every argument, but that now he has become a superior
person with God on his side. If the family persists in
criticism, this fallacy may take a still greater hold
on father. Instead of treating the family as he should,
he may retreat further into himself and feel he has spiritual
justification for so doing.
Though the family
does not fully agree with dad’s spiritual activities,
they should let him have his head. Even if he displays
a certain amount of neglect and irresponsibility towards
the family, it is well to let him go as far as he like
in helping other alcoholics. During those first days of
convalescence, this will do more to insure his sobriety
than anything else. Though
of his manifestations are alarming and disagreeable, we
think dad will be on a firmer foundation than the man
who is placing business or professional success ahead
of spiritual development. He will be less likely to drink
again, and anything is preferable to that.
Those of us who have
spent much time in the world of spiritual make-believe
have eventually seen the childishness of it. This dream
world has been replaced by a great sense of purpose, accompanied
by a growing consciousness of the power of God in our
lives. We have come to believe He would like us to keep
our heads in the clouds with Him, but that our feet ought
to be firmly planted on earth. That is where our fellow
travelers are, and that is where our work must be done.
These are the realities for us. We have found nothing
incompatible between a powerful spiritual experience and
a life of sane and happy usefulness.
One more suggestion:
Whether the family has spiritual convictions or not, they
may do well to examine the principles by which the alcoholic
member is trying to live. They can hardly fail to approve
these simple principles, though the head of the house
still fails somewhat in practicing them. Nothing will
help the man who is off on a spiritual tangent so much
as the wife who adopts a sane spiritual program, making
a better practical use of it.
There will be other
profound changes in the household. Liquor incapacitated
father for so many years that mother became head of the
house. She met these responsibilities gallantly. By force
of circumstances, she was often obliged to treat father
as a sick or wayward child. Even when he wanted to assert
could not, for his drinking placed him constantly in the
wrong. Mother made all the plans and gave the directions.
When sober, father usually obeyed. Thus mother, through
no fault of her own, became accustomed to wearing the
family trousers. Father, coming suddenly to life again,
often begins to assert himself. This means trouble, unless
the family watches for these tendencies in each other
and comes to a friendly agreement about them.
most homes from the outside world. Father may have laid
aside for years all normal activities—clubs, civic duties,
sports. When he renews interest in such things, a feeling
of jealousy may arise. The family may feel they hold a
mortgage on dad, so big that no equity should be left
for outsiders. Instead of developing new channels of activity
for themselves, mother and children demand that he stay
home and make up the deficiency.
At the very beginning,
the couple ought to frankly face the fact that each will
have to yield here and there if the family is going to
play an effective part in the new life. Father will necessarily
spend much time with other alcoholics, but this activity
should be balanced. New acquaintances who know nothing
of alcoholism might be made and thoughtful considerations
given their needs. The problems of the community might
engage attention. Though the family has no religious connections,
they may wish to make contact with or take membership
in a religious body.
Alcoholics who have
derided religious people will be helped by such contacts.
Being possessed of a spiritual experience, the alcoholic
will find he has much in common with these people, though
with them on many matters. If he does not argue about
religion, he will make new friends and is sure to find
new avenues of usefulness and pleasure. He and his family
can be a bright spot in such congregations. He may bring
new hope and new courage to many a priest, minister, or
rabbi, who gives his all to minister to our troubled world.
We intend the foregoing as a helpful suggestion only.
So far as we are concerned, there is nothing obligatory
about it. As non-denominational people, we cannot make
up others’ minds for them. Each individual should consult
his own conscience.
We have been speaking
to you of serious, sometimes tragic things. We have been
dealing with alcohol in its worst aspect. But we aren’t
a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our
existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist
on enjoying life. We try not to indulge in cynicism over
the state of the nations, nor do we carry the world’s
troubles on our shoulders. When we see a man sinking into
the mire that is alcoholism, we give him first aid and
place what we have at his disposal. For his sake, we do
recount and almost relive the horrors of our past. But
those of us who have tried to shoulder the entire burden
and trouble of others find we are soon overcome by them.
So we think cheerfulness
and laughter make for usefulness. Outsiders are sometimes
shocked when we bust into merriment over a seemingly tragic
experience out of the past. But why shouldn’t we laugh?
We have recovered, and have been given the power to help
Everybody knows that
those in bad health, and those who seldom play, do not
laugh much. So let
family play together or separately as much as their circumstances
warrant. We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous,
and free. We cannot subscribe to the belief that his life
is a vale of tears, though it once was just that for many
of us. But it is clear that we made our own misery. God
didn’t do it. Avoid then, the deliberate manufacture of
misery, but if trouble comes, cheerfully capitalize it
as an opportunity to demonstrate His omnipotence.
Now about health:
A body badly burned by alcohol does not often recover
overnight nor do twisted thinking and depression vanish
in a twinkling. We are convinced that a spiritual mode
of living is a most powerful health restorative. We, who
have recovered from serious drinking, are miracles of
mental health. But we have seen remarkable transformations
in our bodies. Hardly one of our crowd now shows any dissipation.
But this does not
mean that we disregard human health measures. God has
abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists,
and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitated to
take your health problems to such persons. Most of them
give freely of themselves, that their fellows may enjoy
sound minds and bodies. Try to remember that though God
has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle
a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often
indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following
his case afterward.
One of the many doctors
who had the opportunity of reading this book in manuscript
form told us that the use of sweets was often helpful,
of course depending upon a doctor’s advice. He thought
constantly have chocolate available for its quick energy
value at times of fatigue. He added that occasionally
in the night a vague craving arose which would be satisfied
by candy. Many of us have noticed a tendency to eat sweets
and have found this practice beneficial.
A word about sex relations.
Alcohol is so sexually stimulating to some men that they
have over-indulged. Couples are occasionally dismayed
to find that when drinking is stopped the man tends to
be impotent. Unless the reason is understood, there may
be an emotional upset. Some of us had this experience,
only to enjoy, in a few months, a finer intimacy than
ever. There should be no hesitancy in consulting a doctor
or psychologist if the condition persists. We do not know
of many cases where this difficulty lasted long.
The alcoholic may
find it hard to re-establish friendly relations with his
children. Their young minds were impressionable while
he was drinking. Without saying so, they may cordially
hate him for what he has done to them and to their mother.
The children are sometimes dominated by a pathetic hardness
and cynicism. They cannot seem to forgive and forget.
This may hang on for months, long after their mother has
accepted dad’s new way of living and thinking.
In time they will
see that he is a new man and in their own way they will
let him know it. When this happens, they can be invited
to join in morning meditation and then they can take part
in the daily discussion without rancor or bias. From that
point on, progress will be rapid. Marvelous results often
follow such a reunion.
the family goes on a spiritual basis or not, the alcoholic
member has to if he would recover. The others must be
convinced of his new status beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Seeing is believing to most families who have lived with
Here is a case in
point: One of our friends is a heavy smoker and coffee
drinker. There was no doubt he over-indulged. Seeing this,
and meaning to be helpful, his wife commenced to admonish
him about it. He admitted he was overdosing these things,
but frankly said that he was not ready to stop. His wife
is one of those persons who really feels there is something
rather sinful about these commodities, so she nagged,
and her intolerance finally threw him into a fit of anger.
He got drunk.
Of course our friend
was wrong—dead wrong. He had to painfully admit that and
mend his spiritual fences. Though he is now a most effective
member of Alcoholics Anonymous, he still smokes and drinks
coffee, but neither his wife nor anyone else stands in
judgment. She sees she was wrong to make a burning issue
out of such a matter when his more serious ailments were
being rapidly cured.
We have three little
mottoes which are apropos. Here they are:
Live and Let Live
East Does It.
for chapter 9 of the pre-1939 Original Manuscript.