What Alcoholism Taught Me.

Via on Feb 17, 2012

#1: It’s not about the drink.

Elephant Journal Founder and Editor-in-Chief Waylon Lewis recently took to Twitter and Facebook, asking advice for a woman who was dating an alcoholic. Most of the responses said either to run as fast as she could the other way, or to quick get herself into AlAnon, a support group for the family members of alcoholics.

Both are good advice. But having a bit of experience with this myself, I’d add a different twist; Take a look at yourself, why are you drawn to this relationship? What is the lesson you are supposed to learn about yourself here?

This year my husband and I will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. My husband is not a bad man. But he has, at times, been a sick man.  The cycle of addiction has been passed down in his family for generations, and despite his desire not to allow it to continue, my husband has had his battles with alcoholism.

Millions of people have found help in AlAnon. I’m not one of them. I left the very few meetings I attended feeling like I’d just spent the past hour in the midst of people wallowing in their pain and unwilling to move on. Each meeting was spent with people telling me that his drinking wasn’t my fault. Well, hell, I know it’s not my fault! I know it’s not my job to clean up his mess.  What I’m trying to figure out is how to not be so angry that there is even a mess to clean up to begin with.

I spent a lot of years angry and hurt by the situation. If he loved me he wouldn’t drink. Shouldn’t it be that simple? Choose me over a drink. There were times I’d wish he’d just get a girlfriend and have an affair. Go for it, have multiple affairs. At least then I could say well he found someone skinnier and prettier.  How do I even begin to compete with a bottle of beer?

My life, though, is not defined by his actions. It is defined by my reaction to his actions.

His drinking isn’t about me. Then again, it’s all about me. His story is his to tell. My story is mine to tell.

Who will I become when faced with hurt and disappointment? Will I choose to stay calm and rational in the storm of emotional pain?  No, at the time I didn’t have enough self awareness to see the situation wasn’t about me. Instead, I chose to point blame and retaliate in ways to cause him to feel pain as well. I’ll show him.  If he wants to act like he doesn’t love me then I’ll give him a reason not to love me.

All that was left after my retaliatory strike was two people hurting even more.

Every soul has their own journey to take. I can’t exorcise his demons for him any more than he can rid me of mine.  I don’t have the power to stop his drinking. I do, however, have the power to stop my own self-destructive actions.

I know now that everyone I meet is working their own struggles. Just because my struggles weren’t as obvious as his, or didn’t manifest in such a public way, doesn’t mean I was any healthier or more evolved than him.

AlAnon can be a great resource for those who need support and I still recommend it for anyone in need of help.  I needed something different. I healed myself in a way that felt most comfortable and honest with me. While my yoga practice began as nothing more than another form of exercise, I quickly realized it had been what I was searching for. Through meditation and svadhyaya (self study) I was able to drown out the chaos around me and take an honest look at myself and my motives. Lovingkindness meditation gave me permission to forgive myself, and in turn forgive him.

Now I see that through some sort of twisted karmic fate, his journey allowed me to take my own journey to greater strength and personal liberation. I found deep within me a power I’m not sure I would have otherwise known existed. I don’t know if I’d be the woman I am today if I hadn’t been here to hold his hand while he took his journey. Today I am strong and confident, yet able to take on the world in a more loving and compassionate way.

I’m much less judgemental of others now. There but for the grace of God go I. Once I began to understand the universal connectedness of humanity, I could no longer allow myself to feel superior or self righteous.

Best of all, I’m no longer angry at the world. I’m able to see that although there has been great pain over the last 23 years, there has also been great joy.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. 

– Buddha 

 

About Jennifer Williams-Fields

Jennifer Williams-Fields, RYT is passionate about writing, yoga, travelling and being a fabulous single momma to six super kids. Doing it all at one time however is her great struggle. She has been teaching yoga since 2005 and writing since she first picked up a crayon. Although her life is a sort of organized chaos, she promises she really is going to finish her first book "Creating A Joyful Life: The Lessons I Learned From Yoga and My Mom" very soon. Follow her on Twitter @yogalifeway and read her YogaLifeWay blog.

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31 Responses to “What Alcoholism Taught Me.”

  1. Thank you Jennifer for sharing this. It’s always good to learn how other’s are dealing with their life challenges in a healthy way.

    I too learned long ago, that I could not “walk someone else’s walk” no matter how much I loved them. It’s a hard lesson, but so necessary.

    I’m glad to have found this site.

  2. besangeeta says:

    Even though I have never had an alcoholic in the family, I completely resonate with your insights. "Every soul has their own journey to take. I can’t exorcise his demons for him any more than he can rid me of mine. I don’t have the power to stop his drinking. I do, however, have the power to stop my own self-destructive actions."

    Thank you and Warm Regards.

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    Powerful piece.

    I've shared it on Elephant Journal's Facebook page.

    Cheers,
    Jeannie Page

  4. melissa says:

    "I’m much less judgemental of others now. There but for the grace of God go I."
    Thank you for sharing this. With a family who struggles with addiction, I am far less judgmental than I used to be. We all have our shadow side and who am I to judge? When I do, there's far less room to love.
    warmly,
    fellow EJ contributor, Melissa http://www.elephantjournal.com/author/melissa-smi

  5. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  6. M.V. Wippick says:

    Both Al-Anon and Hatha Yoga have helped me deal with the disease of alcoholism (a disease that lives both inside and outside of the person affected). In meetings that I attend, "We suggest the newcomer try at least 6 DIFFERENT meetings before deciding whether or not Al-Anon is right for them." I have found it takes courage, strength and hope to continue going to meetings. I was lost, angry, anxious and had no faith before Al-Anon. Al-Anon gave me back my life. And, just like yoga, Al-Anon is a grounding practice. ~Maria

  7. Lola says:

    Wow, the timing of this article is perfect. I just ended a six month relationship with a man I believe to be an alcoholic (he doesn't see it that way). He's had a DUI and I'm pretty sure it is a big reason his marriage failed. That said, he is a very kind and generous person otherwise. I have seen my sister suffer in her marriage to an alcoholic for over 20 years. Like you, I'm sure she would also say there has been plenty of joy too, otherwise she wouldn't have lasted this long. She has found help through Al-Anon in recent years. In my case, I decided to end the relationship. After all, I should feel blessed that I figured this out at 6 months instead of 6 years, right? It was still a tough decision and hard to carry out.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. Lola says:

    Wow, the timing of this article is perfect. I just ended a six month relationship with a man I believe to be an alcoholic (he doesn't see it that way). He's had a DUI and I'm pretty sure it is a big reason his marriage failed. That said, he is a very kind and generous person otherwise. I have seen my sister suffer in her marriage to an alcoholic for over 20 years. Like you, I'm sure she would also say there has been plenty of joy too, otherwise she wouldn't have lasted this long. She has found help through Al-Anon in recent years. In my case, I decided to end the relationship. After all, I should feel blessed that I figured this out at 6 months instead of 6 years, right? It was still a tough decision and hard to carry out.

  9. alohajerseygirl says:

    Thanks, Jennifer, for your courage in sharing your story.

    I'm glad to hear you still recommend Al-Anon to others, but it's unfortunate you gave up on it so quickly; I suppose if I had attended a meeting where people were complaining and wallowing in misery, I might have left too, but I assure you, such a thing is not the norm. I regularly attend two Al-Anon meetings, and the members of our groups are the most upbeat, positive, supportive, encouraging, grateful group of people I know, aside from the yogis and yoginis I also practice with.It's possible the people in that group were mostly new to Al-Anon and didn't yet know how to use all of its tools effectively or weren't adhering to all of the traditions we practice.

    The combination of Al-Anon and yoga have completely changed my life. They are so completely integrated and harmonized that I can't really see where one practice ends and the other begins. Six years of this beautiful, combined practice has helped me be more skillful in my relationships with others. It's through practice that I am able to regularly remind myself of those insights and put to work the many tools I have at my disposal, some of them learned through my yoga practice, and some of them through the 12-step process.

    I wish you all the best as you continue on your journey of growth and reflection.
    Namaste.

  10. Patrick says:

    Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand God …..

    6 different meetings

    • Yes, both Patrick and M.V., I admit I didn't give AlAnon much of a chance. By the time I was brave enough to walk into a meeting, I had already found yoga and was beginning my yogic journey. I know it has helped many, many people and I will still recommend it for anyone else.

  11. [...] This perception of suckiness and the feeling of heavy dread that accompanies it is part of a spiritual illness that many of us human beings have, namely, the disease of addiction. [...]

  12. Diane says:

    I have known Jennifer and “the alcoholic” at least 17 years, I love them both and count them as treasured gifts in my life. As I have watched the progression of the disease in the life of these friends I love and struggled with my own sense of powerlessness to “be of service” based on my own experience, strength and hope,I have also been blessed by watching the journey of Jennifer. I have said many times that Jennifer is my hero as she recreated herself, while maintaining a very functional home for 6 beautiful children, in the midst of a very dysfunctional situation. I have watched the growth and survival of a spirit buoyed up through the teachings and practices of a dedicated yoga practicioner, a seeker of serenity and calm amidst a raging storm,at times, and have smiled and learned from her resilience. I could say more but typing hurts..so I conclude with agreeing with earlier posts on the value of alanon, because it is through the working of the 12 steps, which is just another tool for truth and self exploration, that providence moves in and grace sustains us..with moments of peace and serenity even when the bastards won’t do it our way! I Love you sister.

  13. Sarita Anand says:

    Thanks Jenifer for sharing your journey.Today I celebrate 32 years of marriage to my beautiful man. He is a recovering alcoholic and has been clean n sober for the past 18 yrs.This is my story of hope. I was hopeless and life was grey .This DISEASE slowly stole our lives..We hit bottom, n AA came into my husbands life and Alanon was my saviour. Dreams die when the disease is active. In recovery you see that hope and freedom is still there for us to achieve. My husband does his part towards his spiritual growth. He is a much better human being insipte of dealing with his ghosts of yesterday and the insecurities of tomorrow, by the simple mantra of living One Day At A Time. Al-anon was my Lifeline, today it is my life. When I accepted powerlessness and handed over to a power greater than myself, things started sorting themselves out. I am no more in control of my life today ,than I was earlier. There is freedom in redirecting the energy I've spent on fighting this disease into recovering from it's effects.I have challenges and have down days, but I also have tools.I'm ever so grateful to Alanon. Hugs. Sarita.

    • Diane says:

      I agree with you Sarita…the tools of the 12 steps are just another journey to serenity…they show us what is "ours" to work on rather than what "they" need to work on…

  14. Sharon Marie says:

    Brilliant insight and soul healing, Jennifer. Thank you for writing this. Peace & Blessings, Sharon Marie

  15. yoga bear says:

    Thanks for the insightful article. We have to always look to ourselves for answers, we will not find them in other people or happiness for that matter. " if I am not the problem, then there is no solution".

    • " if I am not the problem, then there is no solution". – That's beautiful. I've never heard that before but so true. Thank you.

      • YOGA BEAR says:

        I have been in recovery for alcoholism for over twenty years and I have heard that said in the rooms since day one. It is hard to get away from it-it has to be true because it makes so much sense. I guarentee that once you hear it , it will follow you for ever.

  16. Randy says:

    I read alot of Jennifer's writing, but this article I read before anyone else, she brought it to me to ask what I thought. All I could say is "it is right" and I said it over and over. Love you

  17. [...] comes down to this question: is there something that you cannot stop participating in that is consistently getting in the way of… [...]

  18. [...] am not trained or qualified to advise you about alcoholism. There are many groups that offer education and support, AA and Al-Anon being the most prominent. [...]

  19. [...] I liken living with an alcoholic to living in a war-zone. [...]

  20. [...] On July 15, 2001, I made the decision to quit drinking. I had known for years that I drank differently from others, but would attribute it to being of Irish ancestry, being in a stressful job, etc. But on that hot, muggy afternoon of July 15th I stopped making excuses and admitted that I was an alcoholic. [...]

  21. Thank you Beth. As a professional, your comments mean a lot to me. All I can hope is by sharing my story I can help somebody else going through the same thing.

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