So, you’re ten years sober and pushing 50. You’re still healthy, employed, married to a beautiful younger woman, and the proud father of two beautiful little kids. Problem: your beautiful younger wife—even after two fairly intense marriage-counseling sessions—has clearly told you if she could find a way out, she’d take it. If not for the kids, you’d both probably walk on the marriage without too much remorse.
My wife and I met in AA. She stayed sober in the program for nearly ten years, and dry for another three or four years after we had our first child. Then, two years ago, she decided she’d been railroaded as a teenager into believing she was an alcoholic, when, in fact, she was probably just another troubled teen, that most of her problems centered around drugs anyway, and that now, at 30, she was pretty sure she could handle a glass of wine now and then with friends.
I remember clearly the evening she told me she’d begun drinking again. We were sharing a cigarette in the garage … far away from the kids who were asleep upstairs. She cried and said she feared I wouldn’t love her anymore now that she’d chosen to drink again. My, how that changed over the course of a couple of years and a few more beers, after a glass of wine now and then turned into a party every weekend.
Suddenly I’m too old, and she’s full youth and vigor. Suddenly I’m too grumpy and obsessed with job security, and she’s ready for a new life as a fitness instructor making less than a day-care employee. Suddenly she’s not only questioning whether she loves me but whether she ever really loved me.
But hey, this blog is not about her. The truth is, in two years time, I’ve seen my wife buzzed and bubbly but never hammered. The only consequences she’s suffered (so far) are a change in feelings toward her husband and the caddy criticism she never hears about the childish bar-scene escapades she so flagrantly and regularly displays on Facebook. If she’s an alcoholic, she’s definitely not an alcoholic of my type.
Again, this blog is not about her. This blog is about how we handle the ups and downs and in betweens of sobriety on a daily, if not hourly, basis. The ups and downs of births and deaths, of triumphs and failures, of morning and night in a sober world. The ups and downs, in my case, of a slowly disintegrating marriage and family.
If you’re a guy, there are the practical matters about this situation that hit you in the face immediately: How much is this going to cost me? How am I going to live without seeing my kids on a daily basis (because you know, right or wrong, she’s getting the kids)? What will I do if she hooks up with some loser in a bar someday and let’s the moron into the house where he might jeopardize my kids’ safety.
Step #1 to surviving any situation beyond my control, no matter how long I’ve been sober: SURRENDER! Every one of those practical matters that first crossed my mind when she told me she didn’t know if she wanted to be married anymore is totally and completely out of my control. The courts will decide what it’s going to cost me, the courts will tell me how often I can see my kids, and she, depending on her own levels of self-respect and self-esteem, will cavort with whomever she pleases whenever she pleases wherever she pleases no matter how much I do or do not fret about what hasn’t even happened yet. And my children’s safety, as always, whether I’m in the house they live in or not, is in God’s hands.
Of course, you can tell me to surrender as often and as loudly as you like, but that doesn’t mean I’m automatically going to. Surrender does not come naturally to me. Before I can surrender—mentally, emotionally, and in action—I have to be convinced that the situation is thoroughly and completely out of my control, that I have no option but to surrender. (It took me 38 years, after all, to become completely and thoroughly convinced I was powerless over alcohol.)
Once I’m convinced, my first inclination is to panic and seek reinforcements: lawyers, counselors, sponsors, friends who will co-sign my bullshit. I panic, I lose sleep, I behave badly, I eat poorly, I stop following my prayer-meditation-exercise routine. Eventually I break down and do the one thing that has never ever failed to calm me and point me in the right direction in all the years I’ve been sober: I say the serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference
And then I retreat to meditate on one thought, and one thought alone, for as long as I can:
God is all or God is nothing.