From the author of the New York Times bestseller Adult Children of Alcoholics -- an invaluable guide for women dealing with alcoholic partners.
A Look At The Problem
We live in a society where drinking alcoholic beverages is encouraged and even expected. A man has difficulty being socially "with it" when ordering club soda or a Coke. "Drinking someone under the table" is manly, and making a martini without "bruising the gin" (whatever that means) is chic. We admire the gourmet who knows the appropriate wine to drink with each course at dinner. And we laugh at the man with the lampshade on his head--unless, of course, he happens to belong to us.
Yet the very men who are so "in" socially are "out" if they become addicted. We treat them as social outcasts and avoid them as if mere contact will taint us. They become social lepers, and so do their wives. We've all heard friends say, "I'd love to have Sally over, but you know how obnoxious Bill gets when he has a few."
You know what that feels like. You don't really want to go with him, but you don't want to go without him either. Avoiding the issue seems to be the best course to take; as a result, you don't go out at all. No one has been honest about what the problem is. If it is not discussed, you think, it will go away. But the pain of the rejection does not go away--it hurts. It hurts like hell and you are angry. Furthermore somewhere mixed in with all those feelings is the nagging thought that somehow you are responsible. Maybe you are all those terrible things he says you are. Maybe if you were a better person he would stop drinking. At the very least maybe there is something that you haven't thought of that will make him stop.
The alcoholic husband of a friend of mine used to say to her, "You're such a great social worker. You help so many people. Why can't you help me?" She tried. And she believed that she should help him. She knew in her head that a doctor should not treat his own family. But in her gut she felt extremely guilty--he knew how to make her feel that way. Yet she couldn't help him stop drinking. She was not the cause and she could not be the cure!
She was not the cause because he is an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a noncommunicable disease. No one can cause such a disease in another person.
You're probably thinking: Yeah, alcoholism is a disease and all that, but how do I know if my husband really is an alcoholic. Maybe he is just a bastard. Or morally weak or emotionally ill or under so much pressure that he needs the alcohol to slow down. "I knew that my husband could not be an alcoholic for a number of very good reasons," Wendy R. told me. "He was obviously not a bum. He was always well dressed and always looked terrific. I would look like death warmed over after an all-night brawl, but he looked just fine. He held a very responsible job. He was an executive in a company where he had to make split-second decisions without wavering. His work was brilliant and everything he did won an award. Alcoholics cannot do such things. Everyone knows that there is brain damage; the brain slows down and the thinking processes get numbed. I knew he could not be an alcoholic because it would mean that my mother was right: I should have married the other guy. I knew he could not be an alcoholic because he never fooled around with other women and alcoholics are unfaithful."
One myth after another. "Essentially I knew he wasn't alcoholic because I loved him and he was my husband and the father of my children and I DIDN'T WANT HIM TO BE!" You know what? He is. He was and is and always will be. He has a disease called alcoholism, which is incurable. It can be arrested, but he will be an alcoholic all his life. It is a fact of his life--and hers--just as if he had diabetes or blue eyes.
I know that you are still not convinced. That's not important right now because you are thinking about the problem. The point is: No woman who has consulted me about her husband's drinking has ever been wrong. No woman ever says, "I think my husband has a drinking problem," when it's not a fact. More often than not she has underestimated the seriousness of his drinking. Many a husband says, "She doesn't know what the hell she's talking about. I may have one or two to relax but that's it." The amount of liquor in the one or two is, of course, not discussed. Winning the argument is not the same as winning the battle.
Alcoholics Anonymous says that if alcohol is interfering with any area of a person's life, chances are that person is an alcoholic. You had probably already decided that alcohol is having a bad effect on your life when you picked up this book. Certainly you can agree that a problem exists. But you still don't know exactly what an alcoholic is.
As in most things what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another. Yes it is true that some alcoholics end up on Skid Row. Not all, but some. It is true that some alcoholics show the effects of the chemical in their physical appearance. Some alcoholics cannot hold a job of any nature. Even some mothers are right! Not Wendy's, though. Wendy married Jim because she was very much in love and, in spite of all her troubles, she would do it again. If you attend an A.A. meeting, you will meet all kinds of people from every walk of life. Just as in any other group of people, you will be drawn to some and others will turn you off. The main things these people have in common are their alcoholism and their desire to come to grips with the disease.
The only statement that applies to all alcoholics is that an alcoholic is a person who cannot drink normally. There is, however, a cluster of personality traits that most alcoholics have in common. Although not every alcoholic has all of these traits, and they are not exclusive to alcoholics, some knowledge of them will help you to understand what is happening to him and you and to those around you. What happens is predictable. Knowing this may make you feel less alone. Later we will talk about what you can do about your situation--what you can do so that you can enjoy your life and enjoy being you. The alcoholic's traits that I am going to discuss include: (a) excessive dependency; (b) emotional immaturity; (c) low frustration tolerance; (d) inability to express emotions; (e) high level of anxiety in interpersonal relationships; (f) low self-esteem; (g) grandiosity; (h) feelings of isolation; (i) perfectionism; (j) ambivalence toward authority; and (k) guilt.
(c)1979. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Marriage on the Rocks by Janet G. Woititz. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.
Janet Woititz was the author of Adult Children of Alcoholics, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year. She wrote several other books, including Lifeskills for Adult Children; The Self-Sabotage Syndrome; The Struggle for Intimacy; Marriage on the Rocks; Healing Your Sexual Self and many others. Woititz was the director and founder of the Institute for Counseling and Training in West Caldwell, New Jersey.