From Denial to Acceptance
During her 14 years of marriage, Laura A., who declined to provide her last name, became an everyday drinker. Her husband, George A., was a binge drinker who drank on weekends and holidays.
George had a job in advertising that paid well. They had two kids, belonged to two country clubs, took trips and remodeled their house.
One New Year's Eve night, the couple was preparing to go out when her son accidentally broke a dish. Laura began to scream and rant uncontrollably at her son.
"It just triggered me, right there in front of the babysitter," she says. "I screamed so much I hurt my throat, and it was just an accident."
The most recent Gallup poll states that drinking has caused trouble in 30 percent of families. Addiction, without treatment and recovery, can and will literally tear families apart and destroy strongly bonded friendships, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Laura's therapist suggested Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of people who are addicted to alcohol.
"I didn't associate my issues with drinking," says Laura. "I thought if I could just go to Al-Anon I could get some answers, and figure out how not to scream at my kids."
When Laura's therapist asked her what was going on at home in regards to drinking and drug use, she lied.
"I played up how much my husband drank, and told her I only drank on weekends and holidays," says Laura.
Alcoholics and addicts often are in a state of denial about their drinking or drug use, according to the text of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Laura grew up with both parents being alcoholic. Her father traveled a lot and was hardly ever home.
"But when he came home, he was like Santa Claus, Superman," says Laura. "He was a fun drunk."
When Laura was around 8, she became aware of her mother's drinking.
"With my mom, I never knew what I would get," says Laura. "I could never please her and there was no predicting her mood."
Laura's mother's moods would go to extremes when she would throw china "frizbee-style," at the drop of a hat.
Laura was affected by her parent's alcoholism. She became a people pleaser and tried to do whatever was asked of her.
When Laura and George met, they enjoyed each other's company partly because "we liked to drink and [use] drugs," says Laura.
At 27, Laura married George, had two kids, and quit her job because her drinking and kids left her feeling "scattered."
But when it came time to return to work because of piling bills, Laura found she did not have the necessary skills to earn a living.
"I felt frightened," says Laura.
This resulted in the family downsizing and the kids going from private to public school.
"The kids didn't know what to expect around the house," says Laura. "I was pretty explosive."
After the New Year's Eve tirade, Laura began going to Al-Anon meetings, but continued to drink.
"I felt that I'd found my people, who I identified with, but after awhile I felt guilty about my own drinking," she says.
One day, when her husband was not home, Laura thought she was free to drink as much as she liked.
She soon had a headache and a stomachache, which led her to an epiphany.
"I am an alcoholic; it's me, not anyone else," says Laura, who quit drinking after that day.
However, George did not like her sober.
"The dynamic of how we related to each other shifted," says Laura. "He couldn't relate and was confused."
After a year of sobriety, Laura's husband moved out.
"This is a very interesting phenomenon," says Santa Monica College psychology professor David Shirinyan. "The recovering addict becomes a mirror, of sorts, and makes the addicted partner face their own addiction."
This dynamic can cause tension and resentment. Even if the recovering addict does not change their behavior or tone, sometimes the partner is not ready, says Shirinyan.
"Protective factors for people who may be pre-wired for addiction is parent involvement, having dinner together along with family discussions and making sure there is consistency, structure and limits," says Shirinyan.
"Also if they've abstained in high school, chances of them becoming an addict goes way down," he says. "Learning how to deal with stress instead of using alcohol and drugs as a coping strategy early on is ideal because stress is the number one cause for relapse."
"I have a sense of a higher power, and even if things don't work out, you do what works out, and that makes my life less stressful," says Laura.