It was April 4, 1984, and my wife and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. Three sons living at home and one son living nearby participated in a special anniversary Mass on the ensuing weekend, followed by a party with many friends and relatives attending. At the anniversary Mass our daughter, who died almost 10 years ago, was remembered. Three of our sons, one having Down's Syndrome, were altar boys. The fourth son played his guitar and sang a song he wrote for us. Our adopted Korean daughter was also there. .
The crowd must have been saying, "Look at Ralph and Sue. What a nice family they have. They have survived some of the hardest of life's problems and are doing so well." But, we weren't doing well at all. We were experiencing a complete communication breakdown. There was constant tension and friction in our relationship, children included. Sue was frequently sick with migraine headaches and intestinal ailments. I was a basket case, full of anxiety and fear, and abusing alcohol and prescription tranquilizers in an attempt to cope with life. The communication of feelings was non-existent. I didn't tell Sue how I felt because I am a loner and, besides that, I was sure neither she nor anyone else could possibly understand why I had to drink and use pills
. It was the only way to live that I knew at the time. Also, I
couldn't tell Sue how I felt because, other than the physical and emotional conditions created by my substance abuse, I didn't know what I felt. I was caught up on the merry-go-round of trying to cure the surface effects of jitters and gloom and doom thinking. I didn't know that I was an alcoholic, and that my other substance abuses were merely a symptom of the problems of my sub-surface self.
It was May 30, 1984, and my wife had returned home from work to find me drunk for the second day in a row. Also, I had spent the previous Memorial Day weekend drunk. Her feelings for me were gone (empty as she puts it) because of many years of this behavior, each year worse than the year before. She told me that unless I did something about my problem, I would have to leave our home. I agreed to go to a detox facility, telling her I would straighten myself out, but telling myself it was only to preserve my marriage. I couldn't imagine life without Sue, even though I was verbally abusive to her and the children most of the time. I thought this detox business would be a good way to smooth things out. After all, I had made many apologies before, and she always forgave me. It would work again - I just needed a new approach.
It was in detox that I was introduced to AA. I did not understand much at all about the 12 Step Program of recovery, but somehow the seed was planted (by the Divine Gardner?) and I came to the conclusion that I was an alcoholic. By the Grace of God and the AA 12 Steps, I have not had a drink since May 31, 1984. Little did I know at the time that Sue's empty feeling and anger would not go away as soon as I stopped drinking. It seemed like the solution was, don't drink and everything else will automatically be taken care of. I now know that elimination of drinking was only a beginning. AA is a necessity for me for continued awareness, understanding, and spiritual growth.
There were many residual problems in our marriage that we learned how to resolve through the Steps and, as an unexpected and direct benefit of my self-improvement, I found Sue following suit in her own way. For example, Sue would never apologize when she was wrong. That may have been because my numerous apologies were shallow and only a strategy on my part to get back on her good side. Slowly, my apologies took on a sincerity of purpose and she began ever so slowly to do the same. We have learned over the years to apologize quickly, because delays breed resentments, and greatly increase the likelihood of no apology at all.
We have learned to share feelings without embarrassment or fear of being labeled a cry-baby. Feelings are neither right nor wrong. What we do in response to feelings is where right or wrong is determined. Communication of feelings allows us to know each other more intimately and has made us much more sensitive to each other's needs, a vital ingredient in a compatible relationship.
Another major issue was sex. I have never engaged in an extra-marital affair, but that is not the real issue anyway. The real issue is right and wrong action and reaction to the sex drive, whether it be promiscuity, or my way of badgering my spouse. I used to demand, and when denied would lecture and demean my wife. The more I did that, the worse our relationship got. I couldn't see that I was doing more damage than good. My power drives were a total failure. I didn't know what was wrong until I saw the answer on page 69 of the Big Book (Step 4), "We subjected each relationship to this test - was it selfish or not?" I then found another of the underlying causes for my unacceptable behavior. I was the selfish one, and I needed to change. I put aside the scathing personal attacks and started respecting my wife's responses. The problem slowly vanished. I must emphasize the word slowly because that, for me, is inherent in my relationship with Sue, with my children, and with others.
The first step is recognition of the problem, since nothing can be fixed if it is hidden. This is followed by the discovery of the solution. Then comes the hardest process of all, implementation of the solution. Don't think it - Do it. The pain of behavior modification is worth it, but may not seem to be at the time.
I used to be very possessive and controlling. If Sue wanted to go out and visit a friend, or go bowling, I used to get upset. Even if I didn't verbalize it, there was no mistaking my feelings. Step 10 calls it "sulking and silent scorn." When I started AA after detox, I was out several nights a week and Sue didn't like that. This made me uneasy. Gradually, she began to see the payoff of my efforts. I had to go out for self-improvement first, and then as a by-product, our marriage would be better. One of the immediate side benefits was I realized she had to get out too - without me. Who am I to say it is OK for me to go out, but not for her? So that problem slowly went away. We allow each other space to be individuals as well as partners in a relationship. We try to stop controlling each other. The paradox is that we have grown closer by granting each other space!
I have realized, for me, I must always search for self-improvement, in an unselfish way. I point this out because it is said we must take care of ourselves first, which is an act centered on self. But when these acts totally exclude the well-being of others, they are wrong. I believe than can be classified as a bad motive, totally against what the 12 Steps are designed to do. The Big Book, Page 77, says, "…we are trying to put our lives in order. But this is not an end in itself. Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us." My real goals of improvement is to fit better into the world, starting from the inside, extending to Sue, and to those I love most, and to everyone I come in contact with.
So many other issues in our marriage have been resolved. I've only mentioned a few. Some still remain, but to a much more manageable level of intensity. Some new ones have come up that have been addressed. The job for us has been an intimate sharing of ourselves and the gradual dissipation of behavior centered on self because arguments, power drives, and resentments are born from self-centered behavior. There are many times when I would rather not do something that pleases Sue, but I try to (within reason) accommodate her wishes, and usually find it a pleasant experience. I still tend to work in the problem rather than the solution.
It is said that "happiness is the byproduct of living the right kind of life." And the keys for me to finding the right kind of life are in the spiritual princip0les of AA's 12 Steps. I have worked for them and they have worked for Sue and me.
They have also helped me to be the father that active addiction would never let me be. My five children, two beautiful daughters-in-law and my precious granddaughter - like and love the person I am today. When I started getting right with myself I discovered that I had to take responsibility for my actions and not blame people, places, and things. I had to change my way of thinking. When I am right with myself inside, I can more easily accept Sue and the outside. I quote the bible, Ephesians Ch 4 v. 22-24: "You must lay aside your former way of life and old self - and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new person created in God's image."
An old saying is that "Time heals all wounds." But that doesn't happen without work, patience, and persistence. If I am unwilling to address and correct destructive behavior than I must remember a variation of the old saying - "Time wounds all heels." The choice is mine - to reap the benefits or pay the price.
I thank God and AA for the wonderful (most of the time) relationship Sue and I have.
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