Dear: Mr. Atwater: My wife has been sober for a little over two years now and things have gotten much better. We don’t have the late night (or all night) drunken arguments like we used to have. The kids don’t scatter when “Mom’s had too much wine” and is ready to go on the warpath. The grocery money is actually going to groceries, and the bills are mostly getting paid.
But we do still have some problems even though she is a regular at her AA meetings and I started to go to AlAnon. We still don’t communicate very well, and I think I’m sometimes angrier now than I was when she was drinking. Any ideas?
Dear Reader: First let me say that even though you still have problems, you have some recovery, some gratitude and some perspective – all tools you didn’t have before. But this said, you aren’t necessarily proficient yet with the tools.
At two years of sobriety after years of active participation in the alcoholic lifestyle, you are just now in the position to start to better manage the problems that you always had and didn’t solve or actively made worse. Your anger is only a result of something that you’ve probably always had but not been in a safe enough position to take care of.
The tsunami was coming anyway, and you, in the drinking days, chose to run like crazy just ahead of it. You’ve now had swimming lessons and gotten in the life raft, but that doesn’t stop the tsunami.
Working a good 12-step program, as I understand it, will now require you to apply those new skills and a clearer mind to the difficulties. You are being asked to manage emotions and avoid reaction, to take responsibility for your own actions and avoid pride, and to trust that what you are now being presented with won’t be beyond your capacity to handle.
Communication is a tricky thing. It sounds easy, but it is actually the outcome of several other basic skills that others apparently learn without too much trouble but which alcoholics and their families miss.
To communicate, you first have to listen carefully and non-judgmentally.
You need to be able to relate to what the person is telling you as if their point of view could just as easily be yours.
Finally, you need to fully understand the other person’s point of view or at least be willing to gather more information until you do. When you understand each other communication comes pretty easy.
Ride the wave, use your support and your new skills and things likely will improve over time, and if they do not, you can easily find an addictions knowledgeable therapist to assist you.
• Richard Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He can reached by email by visiting northwestcommunitycounseling.com.