This Month marks the 6th anniversary of my husband’s unexpected death from the disease of alcoholism. I’ve always dreaded this month. It would stir up all the deeply painful memories of my husband’s long decent into the stages of addiction. Addiction doesn’t happen overnight for anyone. It takes time. It’s terrible for years, and then finally, as happens with many untreated addictions, my husband passed away alone. Each year after his death, the sorrow would surface for me differently, but remembering was always painful:
- Some years all I could do was weep. I had a husband, now I do not. Poor me
- Some years I felt nothing. His death left a deep pit of emptiness that couldn’t be filled. I was sad for him, and I didn’t know how to feel okay myself again
- Sometimes I just felt angry. With other diseases, spouses can fight together and have the respect of the community. With alcoholism, the fight was my own, and there were no loving goodbyes
Each year I would struggle to accept all that had happened to my family. My children were left without a father. Each of the five precious beings we brought into the world has suffered lasting wounds that continue to make all their lives difficult in many ways.
This year for the first time, however, I am feeling better. It took a lot of work to have perspective, but now my emotions aren’t so raw. I don’t dread “the day.” It has become a simply a day of remembrance for what “was” instead of “what could have been.”
For many people in recovery the death of an addicted family member brings with it a certain sense of gratitude. I was thankful my husband would no longer have to suffer from an invisible enemy robbing him of his family, his health, his mind, and his serenity. It was tragic and agonizing to witness this once smart, funny man become a victim of a terrible disease he could not reverse. It is important right here to say that millions of people do recover from their addictions and go on to repair their relationships and have productive lives. There is hope. Sadly, my husband was not one of the lucky ones. In the end he couldn’t even write his name clearly and often forgot what he was saying. I had to accept that he was not one of the survivors. But I had to be a survivor. I had to do the work to make my life what I wanted it to be. I had that choice, and I made it.
People who haven’t found recovery may have trouble understanding how I can be grateful, but I am. I loved my husband, but hated the disease as much as anyone can hate anything. In the end I knew I couldn’t defeat its power. For my recovery and survival, I had to understand three important things.
- I didn’t cause his addiction
- I couldn’t cure his addiction
- I couldn’t control his addiction
That’s a hard thing for any loved one to accept and internalize as the ultimate reality. We want to help, but we can’t. Our surrender to that reality is a way of letting the anguish go. In this war surrender is the only way to be victorious. Surrender gave me the courage to change the things I could, and I have been successful changing many things.
A grateful life
While the disease may have taken my husband and father of my children, it didn’t take me. I found recovery in Al-Anon; I have slowly healed from the effects of the disease. For me it does seem easier to face this Anniversary month. I can breathe and accept what happened on the day he died. This wasn’t the ending my husband or I wanted. It just was what it was.The best I can do is to live a grateful, happy life to show my children there is a good life waiting just around the corner.
A Reach Out Recovery Exclusive By Madeline Schloop
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