Serenity Has Its Ups and Downs

Anonymous is a freelance writer and mother of four whose husband has been sober for 12 years

To all you sober alcoholics going to AA meetings five nights a week and collecting your 30-day, 90-day, one-year (of sobriety) chips:

We are your spouses and significant others, those whom you try to send to Al-Anon meetings. You think the program would do us a world of good, maybe even as much good as AA has done for you. And yet you sense a hostility in us.

We are the ones who have kept the jigsawed pieces of your lives together lo these many years. We have kept all the balls in the air, paid the bills, made excuses, waited up late, mopped you up and bailed you out. We have loved you and cared for you faithfully. We got used to your being drunk, late, rumpled, fired. Now here you are fresh from a meeting, wanting to take responsibility for your actions and make amends for the past. But we don't know how to deal with you. We are looking for the giant pod from which this new person emerged.

Now that you are sober, we aren't even sure we like you. Oh, we love you and plan to stand by you. But sometimes we wonder: Where did you go? There used to be more blood and tears between us. Not that that was necessarily good. But there is comfort in what is known. Now there is surprise between us, which is not necessarily bad, but still. We are used to solid, feisty arguments, three rounds at least, wherein we learn everything is our fault. But now you take a step backward, look heavenward and murmur, "God grant me the serenity . . . "

Sometimes you even apologize, and say we're right.

We're never right.

You have other mantras that are like inside jokes: Easy Does It. Keep Coming Back. Work the Steps. We aren't sure we get them. As you find that the people you thought were your friends were actually only drinking buddies, you form new friendships. Your new friends are lingo-speaking, coffee-drinking, been-around-the-block-a-few-times characters whom you would never meet anywhere but at an AA meeting. We aren't any more comfortable with your new sober friends than we were with the old drunk ones. Because, as usual, we don't fit. You used to call us uptight because we didn't drink (and we didn't in order to set a good example for you to follow, please, God); you now call us "normies," who can't possibly understand the alcoholic experience because we didn't drink. Sometimes we think that maybe we just need a drink.

We did try Al-Anon, but it wasn't for us. When the person next to us in the circle shared that she'd been stitched up and then evicted thanks to her actively alcoholic partner, how could we complain that our newly sober spouse was just too damn serene? Or that, unaccountably, we mourned the loss of our cross? Al-Anon made us feel self-indulgent and ungrateful. Which we would rather die than be.

We try to socialize in your new circle. We go with you to picnics and speaker meetings and holiday parties. But we feel awkward and uncertain. We are used to your passing out at parties. We are used to finding you asleep in a closet or embarrassing yourself with a young person in a bikini. We are not used to hearing how smart/wonderful/sober you are. We are not used to you actually caring what food is served. We are not used to your helping clean up. We are not, repeat not, used to your driving home. But we are trying.

And who is this sponsor-person? Whatever your sponsor says, you do. We hate to point out that your sponsor says the same things we've been saying for 10 years. But your sponsor suddenly knows you best. Your sponsor has the omnipotence of a first-grade teacher among 6-year-olds. We can't even say, "We told you so," because we aren't always let in on the intimate conversations between you and your sponsor. Sometimes you close the door when you are on the phone at all hours with your sponsor. You have theological conversations with your sponsor about your Higher Power, and you aren't drunk. You talk about everything that matters to you in life: conversations we would give a lot to have with you. We almost expect your sponsor to say to you, "Snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper."

We could think of a few nicknames, too.

Are we feeling resentment, which is the alcoholic's nemesis? Yes, we are. And we know it is our problem to deal with. We know all about detachment. We know we have been your enablers; we know the lingo, too. But don't you see? We are the ones who have always gotten to be holier-than-thou. That's been our role for a long time. We played it so well, and we're still figuring out our new, unscripted part. We're adjusting to the new you. We are challenged by the new us. You have to understand that we are both in recovery, only we don't get any one-year cakes or 90-day chips. Our recovery is uncelebrated, and perhaps just as difficult.

Don't get us wrong; we are overjoyed that you are sober. We are proud of you, in spite of our sour comebacks and small hurt feelings. Your sobriety is what we've always wanted. We think.

With love, from your one and only.

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