A rocky relationship in recovery
I know what it is like to be a total failure as a father. On a cool November evening, I sat on a bench in a park near my house, trying to decide whether I wanted to live or die.
My sixteen-year-old daughter rode up on her bicycle. “Dad, please come home,” she said. “Mom and I are worried about you.” I got up to follow this girl I loved so much, and my gun fell out of my pocket. The look of disbelief on my daughter’s face told me that she would carry an emotional scar for the rest of her life.
I know what it is like to be an absolute failure as a husband. I followed my daughter home to a house where I had destroyed the love and trust of more than nineteen years of marriage.
I drank for another year. The feelings I carried inside of me that year define “incomprehensible demoralization.”
When I got sober oh April 19, 1984, I did it for the right reasons. I got sober for me.
AA members suggested that I go to ninety meetings in ninety days; I could not handle that. That’s three months of going to meetings! I decided that I would go to a meeting today and would not drink today. I did that ninety times in a row.
I think God has a sense of humor. My marriage was so bad that I preferred to attend AA meetings rather than stay at home with her. As a result, I went to a meeting every day in my first year of sobriety.
Because I didn’t know how to let go of old ideas, I had a tough time that first year. I did not understand the Steps, and all the happy people seemed to be working the Steps. I just went to meetings and didn’t drink.
I did some things right. I got a sponsor, called him, and listened to him. When I was five months sober, he said something that affected every area of my life.
“Chuck,” he said, “contribute to that marriage to the best of your ability. If anything happens to end the marriage, you can walk away with the least amount of guilt and resentment. Guilt and resentment will get you drunk.” The word “contribute” is very powerful in my life.
I started contributing to my marriage because I wanted to stay sober. I knew the marriage was not going to work, but I wanted to stay sober. I changed my attitude. I had done things for my wife to please her, but now I did things for her to please me. I helped at home and started to pick up after myself. I took responsibility for my actions.
I was six months sober when we passed the twenty-year mark in our marriage. I asked my wife if she wanted an anniversary card or gift.
“Why would you want to celebrate a failure?” she asked, looking me directly in the eye. I answered by going to a meeting.
I still didn’t understand the Steps, but I worked them without knowing it. I wasn’t drinking and I was saying my prayers, even though I didn’t have a God of my very own.
While on my way home from a beginner’s meeting, a thought crossed my mind: Tomorrow is none of my business; tomorrow belongs to God I was nine months sober.
I turned my tomorrows over to the care of God and, in doing so, found a freedom I hadn’t known before.
It felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. “Tomorrow” meant five minutes from now or five days from now. I did not realize it, but I had made a decision and was working the Third Step.
Two weeks later, on my way home from the same beginner’s meeting, another thought went through my mind: My marriage was either going to work or it wasn’t going to work, and that was God’s business, not mine.
I would keep doing what my sponsor suggested–contribute to my marriage–but how it turned out was God’s business, not mine. Again, I was working Step Three without knowing it. I made a decision and then took action. All fear disappeared about when we would get a divorce, which still amazes me when I remember what happened.
When I first got sober–unknown to me–my wife called a friend who was a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bringing a Big Book, she visited my wife and tried to explain AA to a nonalcoholic. She left my wife with some great words.
“Don’t divorce him for one year,” she said. “Maybe, just maybe, something will happen.”
During that first year, my wife went with me to Saturday night speaker meetings. She heard the Serenity Prayer for the first time and loved it. She got to know other members of AA and heard their stories.
When I was eleven and one half months sober, my marriage changed. I mean, it just changed. On Wednesday, the marriage was not working and on Thursday it was.
I knew it. I felt it. I recognized immediately that it had changed. The anger was gone. The past was released. That day was our day and we wanted no other.
Coming home from that, same speaker meeting about three months later, my wife said, “The foundation on which we built our marriage lasted as long as it was supposed to last. Now, we have built a new one.”
I cried when she said that.
We bought brand-new wedding rings to celebrate twenty-five years of marriage in my fifth year of sobriety. We renewed our wedding vows on a cruise.
Last April, I celebrated twenty-two years of sobriety, and last October my wife and I celebrated forty-one years of marriage. It’s an ongoing miracle–sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night holding hands.
Remember my teenage daughter who found me sitting on a park bench with a gun in my pocket? Fifty-seven days after I got sober, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous. On June 16, 2006, she celebrated twenty-two years of sobriety.
The Third Step works in my life.
Copyright © The AA Grapevine, Inc.