“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” (“The Family Afterward,” Alcoholics Anonymous, 132).
I’m certain I’ve read or heard that passage at least a thousand times since the day I walked into Alcoholics Anonymous. Tonight, however, is the first time I’ve paid attention to the fact that it appears in “The Family Afterward.” Makes sense, I suppose. The family usually bares the brunt of the “serious and sometimes tragic things” that happen when an alcoholic inhabits the home, so it only makes sense that the family be the primary recipient of the joy that often attaches itself to recovery.
But no family should be duped into believing that just because their alcoholic gets sober life’s going to suddenly roll over and be a bowl of cherries. That seems an obvious caution, I’m sure, yet I’ve sponsored more than one man whose wife came to me days, weeks, months, even years after their spouses sobered up to complain that things had gotten worse, not better. Unfortunately, some couples find that, sans alcohol, they’re really not all that compatible. They hooked up because they liked to party together, one partners drinking overwhelmed them and became a problem, yet sobriety made both partners realize the only thing they had in common was the partying before the party finally got out of control. In other cases, the sober party starts off all gung-ho about the 12-steps only to decide that they need little more than an occasional meeting to stay dry, and with that philosophy leading the way, they get dry and miserable as hell and drag everyone down with them. Or, as in my case, two sober members of AA seem to do fairly well together until drinking becomes a priority in one of the partner’s lives again, and the sober partner no longer seems that attractive. The sober partner is not necessarily boring and glum; they’re just not interested in finding fun in the places where they were once reduced to incomprehensible demoralization—the very places the other partner now values again.
So be it. As I look at the photos and videos from this past summer, such as the videos that open and close tonight’s blog, I realize what fun we did have this summer, we had as a family. Usually simple, often silly, but fun nonetheless … fun with no melodrama attached. None of this would have been possible from my perspective without Alcoholics Anonymous, a sponsor, and a God of my understanding. If those three elements and alcohol were absent from my life, I’m certain I would have spent the summer morosely resenting my spouse and plotting ways to seek compensation for what I might deem her failure to show up to the marriage. As it is, I’m willing to accept the things I cannot change and to seek ways to change the things I can. It is not an ideal situation, but every time I begin to think of ways to exact unnatural changes, I realize I’m not the one who wants to change our circumstances, that the one who is working through a difficult set of emotions and valuations is not me but my wife who isn’t sure she loves me and isn’t sure she wants to be in the marriage anymore. I can’t force her to return to counseling; she’s gone with me twice and clearly stated she has no interest in going again. When asked what she wants to do, she repeatedly says, and I believe her, “She doesn’t know.” Immature? Yes. But her reality nonetheless. And I can’t change it.
But while we’re together, I can try to put the best possible game face on for my children and anyone else who happens to be around. Trust me, that doesn’t come natural to this alcoholic. That comes due to a lot of prayer, meditation, and sponsor direction. My will would take me straight to a lawyer and as vengeful a divorce as I could muster. But that only removes any hope for all concerned and leaves lasting scars on two beautiful little kids who tell us far too often how much they love their “family.” It is the family afterward that benefits most from sobriety, and those who are in a period of joy in their family life should cherish it. Cherish it now because life happens—the good and the bad—and at some point it happens to everyone. Just because we’re sober doesn’t mean we don’t have to face life’s trials and natural tribulations just like everyone else. It just means that, if we continue to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools placed at our feet, we have a better chance of dealing with life like adults and without alcohol.