Our 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 must 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. The more
one member of a family demands that the other
concede to him, the more resentful they become.
This makes for discord and unhappiness.
Any~ 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 than give?
Cessation of drinking is but the first step away
from a highly strained, abnormal condition. A
doctor said the other day, "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 will be footsore and will straggle.
There 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
Family confidence 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 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
obsessed with the idea that future happiness can
be based only upon forgetfulness of the past.
Such a view is quite self-centered and in direct
conflict with the new way of life.
Henry Ford once made a wise remark to the effect
that experience is the thing of supreme value
in 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 the only one!
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 which have not, and when the
occasion requires, each member of it who has found
God, 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 victory, 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 hurt 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 our rule is
that unless some good and useful purpose is to
be served, past occurrences are not discussed.
We families of Alcoholics Anonymous have few secrets.
Everyone knows all about everyone else. This is
a condition which, in ordinary life, would produce
untold grief. There would 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 almost
invariably temper such talk by a spirit of love
and tolerance. We discuss another's shortcomings
in the hope that some new idea of helpfulness
may come out of the conversation. The cynic might
say we are good because we have to be.
Another rule 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 or laugh at himself and it
will affect others favorably, but criticism or
ridicule of him coming from another often produces
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
Most 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 he 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 experience galore.
We pointed out the danger he runs if he rushes
headlong at his economic problem. The family will
be affected also, pleasantly at first, as they
feel their money troubles are to be solved, then
not so pleasantly as they find themselves neglected.
Dad may be tired at night and pre- occupied 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 soon 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 thinks he is doing very well.
Mother and children don't think so. Having been
wantonly 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, 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
This sort of thing must be stopped. Both father
and the family are wrong, though each side may
have some justification. It is of little use to
argue and only makes the impasse worse. The family
must realize that dad, though marvelously improved,
is still a sick man. They should thank God 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
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 they are sick folk too,
and that he did much to make them worse.
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 little.
Giving, rather than getting, will become the guiding
Assume now that father has, at the outset, a stirring
spiritual experience. Over-night, as it were,
he is a changed 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 for themselves in a hurry, or exhibit
amazing indifference to them and say he is above
worldly considerations. He tells mother, who has
been religious all her life, that she doesn't
know what its all about, and that she had better
get his brand of spirituality while there is yet
When father takes this tack, the family may react
unfavorably. They are jealous of a God who has
stolen dad's affections. While grateful that he
drinks no more, they do not like the idea that
God has accomplished the miracle where they failed.
They often forget father was beyond human aid.
They do 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 gaunt
prospectors, belts drawn in over our last ounce
of food, our pick struck gold. Joy at our release
from a lifetime of frustration knew no bounds.
Father sees 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
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 appreciate 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
Though the family does not fully agree with dad's
spiritual activities, they should let him assume
leadership. 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 likes in
helping other alcoholics. During those first days
of convalescence, this will do more to insure
his sobriety than anything else. Though some of
his manifestations are alarming and disagreeable,
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
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 God would
like us to keep our heads in the clouds with Him,
but that our feet ought to be firmly planted on
earth, nevertheless. 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
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 the self-same
program, making a better practical use of it.
There will be still 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 obliged to treat father
as a sick or wayward child. Even when he wanted
to assert himself, he 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 come to a friendly
agreement about them.
Drinking isolates most homes from the outside
world, so the family was used to having father
around a great deal. He 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 may 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 acquaintenances
who know nothing of alcoholism might be made and
thoughtful consideration given their needs. The
problems of the community might engage attention.
Though the family has no religious connections,
they may do well to make contact with, or take
membership in a religious body.
Alcoholics who have derided religious people will
sometimes be helped by such contacts. Being possessed
of a spiritual experience, the alcoholic will
find he has much in common with these people,
though he may differ with them on many matters.
If he does not argue and forget that men find
God in many ways, 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 a non-denominational group,
we cannot make up people's minds for them. Each
individual must 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 and and~ place everything 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 burst into merriment over a seemingly tragic
experience out of the past. But why shouldn't
we laugh? We are the victors, and have been given
the power to help others.
Everybody knows that those in bad health, and
those who seldom play, do not laugh much. So let
each family play together or separately, as much
as their circumstances warrant. We are sure God
wants us to be happy, joyous, and released. We
cannot subscribe to the belief that this 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, and when 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 also seen remarkable
transformations in our bodies. Hardly one of our
crowd now shows any mark of 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 hesitate to take your
health problems to such a person. 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 following his case afterward.
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 this
condition persists. We do not know of any case
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 poor 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.
Father had better be sparing of his correction
or criticism of them while they are in this frame
of mind. He had better not urge his new way of
life on them too soon. 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, 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
Whether the family goes on a spiritual basis or
not, the alcoholic member must. The others must
be convinced by his changed life beyond a shadow
of a doubt. He must lead the way. Seeing is believing
to most families who have lived with a drinker.
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 overdoing these
things, but frankly said that he was not ready
to stop. His wife is one of those persons who
really feel there is something rather sinful about
these commodities, so she nagged, and her intolerance
finally threw him into a fit of anger. He got
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 cigarettes
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.
First things first! We have two little mottoes
which are apropos. Here they are: "LIVE AND LET
LIVE" and "EASY DOES IT".