Over the months John’s legal issues and mandated first offender meetings demanded he miss important out of town meetings, additionally, just getting to work was a huge issue since his license was suspended. He felt at some point he had to tell work what was happening, but he feared what would happen when he did. The strain at home added to John’s shame and humiliation. The DUI happened over 10 months ago but he and Carol still had not talked about it.
The impact on his marriage and on his professional life was mounting and John wondered why he was still drinking after the DUI, especially given what he was now going through and after promising Carol he would stop altogether. As John’s denial began to painfully crack, John had to grapple with the reality of his drinking. It became more and more difficult to justify his drinking. John woke up early one morning after another evening of hiding his drinking, but this time something changed in John. For reasons that morning he saw for the first time the destructive power drinking has over him, and has had over him for a long time if he were truly honest with himself. He needed help, everything he had worked for, everything he had with Carol was at risk.
John had hit bottom and decided to get help, he began an outpatient program and got into recovery. Carol was relieved and felt that the problem was finally being addressed and that their life could maybe get back to normal. At first Carol didn’t think she needed any help, this was about John and his drinking. After getting a call from one of John’s counselors she reluctantly agreed to attend a family group where she was told she would learned about addiction, recovery, and codependency. She was shocked to think any of this was something she should work on, that addiction had impacted her and that more was needed than John getting into treatment.
John worked on staying sober and attended his outpatient meetings regularly. He was introduced to AA and started attending meetings others in his group went to. Much to his relief his work situation stabilized after he told his boss that he was in treatment, his boss even expressed his support. Carol began attending Al-Anon, and while she wasn’t sure she was going to continue to attend, she agreed that for the time being she maintained a once a week schedule.
Finally, both John and Carol were getting support to help them manage their individual recoveries, but surprisingly to them both, things did not get any better between them. Carol noticed that she still seemed angry and anxious most of the time. What if John relapsed, would he tell her, or would he again lie about drinking? Even though she was being told addiction is a disease, she struggled with not really understanding how he could have let his drinking put everything at risk. Why did it take getting arrested for him to finally see how bad his drinking had become? Countless times she had told him if he had to drink, don’t drive. She just gave up telling him this; she wondered if some of this was her fault, maybe she should have done something to prevent things from escalating? Carol kept asking herself was there something else she could have done?
Between his work, her work, and all the meetings John was going to she saw John less than ever. They hardly spoke to each other, and when they did, neither knew what to say. Carol was devastated by what she had been through because of John’s drinking, and while she was relieved he was getting help, she had no idea what to expect next or what she should be doing. She had so many questions about their relationship and how they should manage things now that he wasn’t drinking. How much should she say to family and friends? What did he actually do in his groups, and were these groups actually helping him? How were they going to deal with the damage from his drinking? How should they deal with decisions they need to make about finances, purchases, work, even chores around the house. Carol was exhausted and felt lonely in the relationship and in her own home.
Things were so different now in recovery; they both seemed clueless about how to manage much of anything in their relationship. When Carol asked these questions in her support group she was told to work her own program, focus on her needs, let go of trying to control the future, and not to focus on the relationship at this point. Carol wondered why they weren’t supposed to work on issues affecting them both or their relationship when so much needed attention. Obviously, neither one of them had any idea how they were supposed to go forward with recovery now in their lives. Much to Carol’s disappointment and shock, these feelings didn’t feel all that different to Carol from when John was still drinking.
John too was overwhelmed with all the changes in his life and in their relationship. He felt so many feelings about what he felt he had done to Carol because of his drinking. He felt shame despite learning that addiction is a disease impacting the areas of the brain linked to judgment and choice. John had heard that in addiction the brain is “hijacked”, meaning that the stop switch doesn’t work. It is one thing to understand a bit about the neurobiology of addiction, and quite another thing to manage all the feelings that seem to emerge when sober. There were so many things John wanted to share with Carol about what he was learning. There were times he was struggling with not drinking, or simply felt depressed; he didn’t want to worry Carol or dump anything else on her. Yet, he also felt anxious when she would briefly share that she was thinking about stopping Al-Anon, yet he knew he was told by his sponsor to “stay on his own side of the street”, and to not work her program, He was warned to be successful in recovery you have to focus only on yourself.
John was anxious about their relationship and where they were going. He was told this is “future tripping”, and to take one day at a time. While that made sense when it came to trying to stay sober, it didn’t make sense when it came to their relationship. John desperately wanted to talk about what was now happening in their relationship, and how to make recovery a part of their new couple life. He wondered if the relationship would survive the next year of not talking to other, only focusing on their individual paths.
John and Carol felt that their individual recovery programs were important, but it also seemed as if there was a huge barrier still between them. They wondered if they would ever feel like a couple again. People reassured them that recovery took time and that they needed to be patient before trying to address their relationship.
One evening John and Carol finally had a serious discussion about their relationship, acknowledging just how strained it was despite how well they were both doing in their individual recoveries. “This wall between us, it seems so high and impossible”, Carol finally admitted to John. John nodded his head in agreement but didn’t know what to say or to do.They wondered what might recovery look like if they could also address their relationship as well as their individual recoveries. Neither of them knew that there are options for recovering couples, that there are ways to cross over that wall without sacrificing their individual recoveries.