When a loved one won’t quit drinking

Third of four parts

GLADSTONE – If you’re a spouse or family member of an alcoholic and are thinking about attending Al-Anon meetings to learn of a way to get your loved ones to quit drinking, don’t waste your time.

According to Carli (not her real name), who has been attending meetings at the Delta Alano Club in Gladstone for 20 years, that is not the intention of the program. She regularly attends Al-Anon meetings, not to get her husband to stop drinking, but to control the frustration and anger she has dealt with within herself.

Coping with her husband’s drinking was not something Carli was unfamiliar with. She came from a family of drinkers.

“My father, my aunts and my uncles were all drinkers,” she said. “I think my grandfather was an alcoholic. My dad tried to stop and ended up in the hospital with the DTs. But he was a drinker until the day he died. My mom also drank. I believe she was the stabilizing force in the family, but she liked her beer.”

Although Carli said her husband’s drinking accelerated over the years, it was never a real problem outside their home until about 20 years ago.

“The amount of his drinking was more and more frequent and in greater amounts,” she said. “It never affected his job and he never got pulled over, but it was every day.”

Carli frequently drank with her husband but she quit when she became pregnant.

“I think that was when I realized how much he was drinking and what a big problem it was becoming for him. I was playing with fire and there was just too much alcohol. I never drank again. But it wasn’t something we talked about. Talking about it was shameful.”

Carli said the prevalence of social drinking is often the downfall for individuals who have difficulty controlling their limits. “You hear, ‘Come over and have a beer.’ Or when you play cards, you drink. Even when people get together for a family picnic, someone brings the beer. Alcohol plays a really big part in just about every social event.”

The amount of alcohol people consume isn’t what makes a person an alcoholic, said Carli.

“For some people, a thimble full is too much, and for others, a keg is not enough,” she related.

Carli said the majority of alcoholics, including her husband, simply don’t want to face what they have become.

“I can’t remember anytime he was mean while he was drinking,” she said. “He was a wonderful man – very loving and kind – but he doesn’t want to face the thought of never drinking again. When he’s drinking, he is usually talking and talking and going on and on. I don’t think he realizes how stupid he sounds.”

Carli has talked to her own children about drinking from the time they were young.

“Especially because of my parents and what it was like for me growing up with drinking,” she said.

In hopes of dealing with her husband’s drinking, Carli said she started attending meetings at the Alano Club about 20 years ago but soon stopped because she felt she wasn’t getting much out of the meetings.

“But now I feel it’s better structured and it’s open to anyone who has a friend, loved one, or anyone who has a problem with alcohol,” she explained. There are two meetings a week – one on Tuesday and the other on Thursday. “Sometimes we have as many as 30 people in the group,” she added.

Unfortunately in the 20 years since she began attending meetings, her husband is still drinking as much as ever.

“But it’s not about him,” she declared emphatically. “It’s about me. You can take the word ‘alcohol’ away and put in ‘gambling’ or ‘overeating’ or anything else you want that’s a problem. It’s natural to want to ‘fix’ that person. To get them to stop whatever it is that’s causing harm. But you can’t. You simply can’t fix someone else.”

The reason people attend Al-Anon meetings is often misconstrued by those who are in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program.

“A lot of alcoholics think that we come to these meetings to talk about them,” Carli said. “But they’re wrong. “We’re learning to forgive ourselves because we’ve tended to be ‘fixers’ and ‘enablers.’ We need to acknowledge our own feelings and interest and goals. When it comes to my husband’s drinking, I didn’t cause it. I can’t cure it. And I can’t control it.”

According to Carli, many alcoholics are reluctant to attend AA meetings because they are ashamed to admit they have a problem.

“They think people are going to know them,” she said. “They also think people are going to look down on them. Let’s face it – you wouldn’t look down on someone who has Parkinson’s disease. Booze is an equal-opportunity destroyer.”

Fortunately Carli’s husband doesn’t object to her attendance at Al-Anon meetings.

“He’s not controlling and he’s not threatened by it. He’s a gentle, giving man and never attempts to try to change me,” she said, adding with a laugh, “besides, he likes it that I’m the designated driver.”

Carli said she sometimes talks to her husband about their children and their exposure to problem drinking.

“He listens and I think he makes a really sincere effort not to have more than one drink when they’re around,” she said.

But still, Carli is not so accepting of her husband’s condition that she doesn’t have hopes for him to someday obtain sobriety.

“I think it’s natural that we want to fix everybody,” she said. “I think maybe instead of him having three beers today, he’ll only have two. There’s always hope that he’ll stop drinking because it’s healthy for him and he shouldn’t be drinking. But it’s his life. I really don’t know if he’ll ever stop but I’ve learned to live MY life. I’m not in charge of his.”