Tuesday, December 31, 2013


One of my character defects is stubbornness.

I've managed, as a result of years of hard work in Al-Anon, to be able to recognise when I'm feeling intransigent, and most often, why. I can understand what motivates the desire to persist, or resist, and what I'm going to gain, or lose, if I continue along that path.

Before program, I could be so single-minded that I can recall a friend saying to me, "You're relentless." It was neither an observation, nor a compliment. It was more a sighing acceptance of a disturbing reality. I was relentless. Once I'd made up my mind that I wanted something, I was determined to make it happen, and I was willing to plow over anyone who got in my way. I had a chip on my shoulder of mammoth proportions because of the abuse in my childhood, and I felt that the world owed me. I believed that I deserved to get what I wanted now, damn it!

That attitude kept me in my first marriage to the drinking alcoholic, trying with all my power to make him stop drinking. The only trouble with that being, he wasn't ready to, and he didn't want to stop drinking. He's still drinking now, and I've been through another, longer, second marriage.

It took all the combined wisdom of the members of my home group in Al-Anon, all those years ago, to help me to understand that it didn't matter what I wanted. I'd go to my sponsor, or call her, and I'd whine and rant and rave about how much I wanted him to stop drinking, and she'd let me finish, and then she'd say, "It doesn't matter what you want, if he doesn't want to quit. It doesn't matter. Do you hear me, it doesn't matter what you want him to do, YOU CANNOT MAKE HIM DO IT!!!"

I'd sit there feeling dogged determination rising in my chest, and I'd think to myself, "Oh yes it does, and oh yes I can." I just needed to try harder, use a different approach, make more of an effort. I turned myself inside out trying to please him so he'd quit drinking. That was unsuccessful.

I poured guilt over his head about what he wasn't doing for the kids from his first marriage, I pointed out all of his character defects, I was unkind. He laughed at me.

I was adamant that he was going to quit, and I was going to make him. Well, I didn't, and he didn't.

I finally had to admit defeat. I expected to feel shame, embarrassment, guilt and sorrow when I at last accepted that I couldn't "save" him from his addiction. To my astonishment, what I felt was relief.

I stopped demanding that he quit drinking, and I began setting boundaries for his behavior, stating clearly that were he to do ______, I would do ________.  Then he would test the boundary, I'd follow through, and the bad behavior would stop, when he realised I meant what I said. Eventually, when it truly sunk in to me that I couldn't change his behavior, I decided that I had to leave the marriage, and did just that, only to go on a few years later to marry a sober but not-in-recovery alcoholic who was a picture-perfect illustration of what is meant by a "dry drunk."

If there is one lesson I have learned in Al-Anon which has stood me in good stead over the years, it is that demanding doesn't work. I don't have the right to demand that someone else change to my specifications, and I don't need to get worked up if someone makes demands of me. I can say politely that I don't respond to demands, and let it go. I don't have to change their thinking, I only have to respond in a reasonable way to what may seem an unreasonable demand, and that is the extent of my responsibility in the matter.

I'm not anyone's Higher Power, and it's not up to me to make sure that they do this or that. I can offer my experience strength and hope, and let the results go. That's true freedom.


  1. I can relate. That relentless thing can be a good thing when it is persistence in the things I need to be responsible to do. But when it comes to other people. . . Al-Anon has really helped me learn to let go and keep my nose on my own face.

    Happy New Year, and I hope it's a healthy one as well!

  2. I can relate very much as well. Al-anon is a gift!

    Happy 2014!

  3. I like that you used the word relentless--that surely describes my personality. But alcoholism was the thing that defeated me and brought me to realize that surrender was needed.