I can’t tell you how excited I am to have a guest post today by my husband Dave. On Monday, I asked you to submit any questions for him you might have regarding our journey through my alcoholism and recovery. You sent great questions! Some of them we combined or edited for clarity. I didn’t edit a word of his answers, though. He’s pretty darn honest here, so my hat is off to him.
In Sober Mercies, Heather refers to “dumb drunk Heather fights,” which sometimes led to physical attacks by her and often ended with her sleeping in the guest room. What was that like for you?
I hated the craziness and the violence. It tore me up inside—still does when I think about it. I didn’t grow up in a family where people threw hateful words around, much less fists and boots. Heather grew up clawing to get what she needed, though. That was her way, and sometimes alcohol made her go there.
In the craziest times, I would stare into the horror of what had become of us and see no way out. I didn’t want to be married to her anymore. But I didn’t want to start over again either (I’d already been a loser in marriage once).
But when the smoke cleared, I would look across the room and see Heather Babe—not a monster. I really loved her. I’ve always been grateful that the affection didn’t run out before the sobriety arrived! I know some aren’t so blessed.
Did you know that Heather was an alcoholic?
I thought so, but I didn’t know. Of course, I didn’t realize how much she was putting away either. I would try to change her drinking habits by changing mine, including abstaining entirely for spells. That didn’t work. She just got hostile and I got more resentful.
Why do you think you didn’t catch on that she was drinking in secret?
She was a pretty good sneak. Most addicts are, I guess. Also, I didn’t ever venture into her closet, which is where she kept her stash. Still don’t go in there, by the way. She’s not a neatnik—just sayin’.
During those years, we drank together, and I often drank too much. That didn’t help me know what was actually going on. And then there were the maintenance prescriptions that had been affecting Heather in one way or another since we met. When she got loony later in the evening, I blamed the meds.
How did you manage not to follow the same path as Heather?
I shared her life but, I don’t share her genes. In a way, I’m living proof that alcoholism has a huge physiological dimension. Heather has as much willpower as me; she’s as moral and as spiritual—not that we can really measure those things. Clearly, her body just reacts differently to alcohol.
Relapse is a common story in recovery. Have you ever worried that Heather would go back to her drinking? How would you handle that?
We’ve been there, thanks to the Minneapolis airport. That and the aftermath were hell. I didn’t know what would happen next. I was angry and afraid. I will be eternally grateful that she so quickly chose to start over again.
I don’t know what I’d do if she went out again. I don’t like to think about it. Everyone who’s married to an addict must worry about it sometimes. Honestly, I’m afraid to say anything that would appear to give her permission to do that again. But of course, I can’t control her decision. It’s hers to make. My job is to stay clean and sane in my own areas of blindness and weakness. There are so many.
Day to day, though, I have a huge amount of trust in Heather. Her commitment to sobriety and spiritual health inspires me. I want to be like her when I grow up.
My husband is addicted to alcohol and drugs, and I don’t know how to help him. He has failed so many times. What have you done to help Heather in her recovery? Is there one thing she would say has been most important to her?
I’m really sorry for about your situation. You must often feel helpless and afraid. I went through many years trying to figure out what to do to help Heather. Whatever I did try—talking to her, trying to delete alcohol from our lives entirely, suggesting counseling—didn’t work. I didn’t try an intervention, and maybe I should have, although I doubt she would have quit until she was good and ready.
The day she told me sobbing that she needed to get help, I knew she was serious. After that, I did everything I could to get her into rehab before she changed her mind.
Since she’s been in recovery, she has said that my going to recovery meetings with her has been the single most helpful thing. On average, I probably go once every two weeks. She goes much more often, of course. But going together gives us a shared life and language, and many shared friends. And, hey, it feels like love to her.
How has being a part of Heather’s program of recovery affected you personally or spiritually?
We’re growing together—emotionally, spiritually, in our relationship—in ways that were probably impossible before. I mean, we were so much more stuck than we knew! ‘Course, we’re still freaks, but now at least we have a safe relationship. We have a home that isn’t hiding anything. We have seen miracles in our family. We’ve gotten our life back.
Every day is a gift, and I am filled with gratitude.
Finally, what advice would you give a spouse whose partner has an obvious problem with alcohol, drugs or addictive behavior of any kind?
Any of us can stand outside of that kind of situation and have the “right” opinions. But truly, there’s no way for us to know what’s really happening in that person’s world. When the one we love is addicted, our choices—and especially our perceived choices—get all tangled up in love, shame, resentment, self-judgment, duty, habit and just what comes easier on any given day.
Everybody’s story is different, but here’s what I wish I had done differently:
1] I wish I had taken the step myself to name and own the problem. I needed to fully face what was happening, and my part in it—whatever that was. I had things I was hiding too, things that needed more truth-telling. Like shame over how much alcohol had us in its grip, and my part in letting that happen. Like fear of what would become of us as a couple if we actually took the alcohol skeleton out of the closet.
2] I wish I had gotten help for myself. I needed to say, “I have a problem that requires outside help,” and then act on the admission. I need to regularly drive off to counseling or Al-Anon—and she needed to see me doing it. It would have been a confrontation of sorts with our reality. She would have been outraged and disdainful, I’m guessing. And I doubt she would have changed any of her choices, but at least we wouldn’t have been tacitly lying about the hell we were in. And more to the point—I would have been working on understanding my part in the craziness.
One thing I know now, looking back, is that there is a way out. Sounds so obvious, but I didn’t believe that for years, and I know Heather didn’t either. So many don’t really believe change is possible—for others maybe, but not for them. But change is possible. And God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves—we just have to let him. With humility and courage and a good dose of desperation, we can find the door. As Heather and I have discovered, that door opens to a recovery community that welcomes fellow desperadoes with open arms, shows us a proven path to living differently, and is willing to walk with us on it.
P.S. I’m doing book promotion stuff all day and so address any comments or questions to Dave and he will reply.