I Was Afraid to Let Go
I HAVE tried to keep him from hurting himself since first I knew him. We met in 1929, twenty-six years ago, and ever since that time, I have tried to shield him from the consequences of his own acts. Not knowing about alcoholism in those days, I did not know that it is a progressive disease; that it never gets better, only worse. I did not realize that, in the final stage, I could not shield him from his own mental and bodily misery, brought on as a result of drinking.
When he was younger, those results were not so great, as he had youth and vitality to combat the inroads of alcohol. So between us--my scheming to keep him from drinking as much as possible and his own natural desire, when sober, to keep out of trouble--we managed to stave off for years any prolonged drinking sprees which would impair his health too much.
However, the desire to drink was still with him at all times, and if left to his own resources he did so in increasing degree as time went on. Now if, years ago, I had quit fighting against it, and let him go as fully as he wished--had not always been right there to sober him up and keep him from it until he got a degree of sense back--and if, by my so doing, he had readied his "low" point and lived on skid row, or reached his "low" right in his own home--he might have sickened of it and recovered.
By recover, I mean learning to stay away from the first drink. In my observations of alcoholics in AA, it seems to me that the ones who have lost everything at some time in a material way and been faced with only themselves, with no one left who loved and protected them, are the ones who are most humble, sweet and sincere.
But I was always afraid to try the experiment and let him go. I kept thinking that without my care and love he could not survive, and with my care and love there was always the hope that he would recover from the desire to drink. But I was confused. Was I merely prolonging his physical well-being at the expense of a possible spiritual union with God, which could only come, for him, in the depths of despair?
I selfishly wanted to save myself from future condemnation of my own acts. But the thing of which I was ignorant and which I never took into consideration was the fact that I myself was powerless over alcohol, that I was trying to run the show, and that if and when I ever prayed to a Higher Power, it was only as a last resort. And even then I thought I knew how to handle the situation, but I just wanted God to get it over with quickly so that I, selfish little me, wouldn't have to endure any more of those awful drunken times and the heart-rending period of sobering up and half-hearted promises that my husband and I knew he could not keep.
It never occurred to me to put myself and my husband in His hands and pray only for the knowledge of His will and the courage and endurance it took on my part to carry it out. When I once got it through my thick head that I was not responsible for my husband's actions and that I could not get inside his head and make him think the way I wanted him to think, it was, in a way, a huge relief.
It was at this point that I began to think of myself as an instrument, used by God, to carry out His instructions. And the way for me to receive those instructions was to relax my mind, be still, and know that when I called on Him for help, whatever thoughts came to me that were good thoughts must surely be right thoughts. Even after my husband was sober for a period of a few months--long enough for him to begin for the first time in his life to take an inventory of himself--I was in for another rude awakening.
This time, it was the fact that although he was now sober he still had personality problems which made him imperfect in my eyes. Again, I had to refer to the "first step"--that I was powerless over his personality, as well as his alcoholism.
But I Was not powerless over my own personality. I could never say to myself, "I am as good a person as I think it necessary for me to be. I have graduated and will now rest on my laurels."
You never reach a goal and then stand still. You either go forward, because the closer you get to perfection the more you realize how far you are from it--or you slide backward. When I allow myself to slide backward, I find all the old resentments and self-righteousness there patiently waiting to climb on the train of my mind and take over.
Then I need Steps Ten and Eleven: "Continued to take personal inventory. . ." and "sought through prayer and meditation to improve. . . ." I have always found that when I have an open mind and am willing to receive instructions on a better way of life, I never fail to find, somewhere, something to read that dears the way for me. I quote from a booklet I found once when I needed just these words:
"Suddenly it came to me one day that my mind is my own. I can put anything that I want into it and take away anything that I want. Who but you fills your mind with sick thoughts, unhappy thoughts, thoughts of resentment, anger, revenge, fear? Do those thoughts make you happy? Or would you be happier if you discarded those thoughts, and filled your mind with tolerance forgiveness, love and pity for others--no matter what you think they have done to you?"
I am eternally grateful for this marriage of mine to an alcoholic. In my struggle to help him we have both found AA. Now I realize that he was not the only emotionally immature one. AA is a better way of life for all, the sick and the well.