Episode 27

Dianne: Living the Al-Anon Principles in Marriage

March 25th, 2022

Announcer: Welcome to Addiction and the Family, “Episode 27: Dianne: Living the Al-Anon Principles in Marriage.”

Casey Arrillaga: How has addiction affected your family?

Female Speaker: It robbed me of my father.

Female Speaker: Addiction's affected my family in absolutely every way.

Male Speaker: It has caused a lot of turmoil.

Female Speaker: It goes back to what I understand is at least three generations.

Female Speaker: It robbed my daughter of her mother. It robbed my mother of her daughter.

Female Speaker: Addiction has made our family quite challenging.

Male Speaker: Addiction has affected my family tremendously.

Male Speaker: It's affected my relationship with my sister where I wouldn't – I'd go for months without talking to her. It's a very difficult thing for everybody involved. It doesn't just affect the one individual. It's a disease that affects the whole family.

Male Speaker: Addiction is spread not only genetically through some of my relatives and I assume ancestors.

Female Speaker: It's generational.

Female Speaker: I think of him every day.

Casey Arrillaga: Welcome to Addiction and the Family, a podcast by and for family members of anyone with an addiction. My name is Casey Arrillaga, and I'm a clinical social worker and addiction counselor at both Windmill Wellness Ranch and InMindOut Emotional Wellness Centers, and I’m the author of Realistic Hope: The Family Survival Guide for Facing Alcoholism and Other Addictions.

Kira Arrillaga: I’m Kira Arrillaga, addiction counselor intern and recovery coach at Windmill. Casey and I were in our addictions together for over ten years and have now been in recovery together for almost twice that long.

Casey Arrillaga: I’ve led hundreds of family workshops, but just as important is that Kira and I have lived the experience of being family to addiction as both children and adults.

Kira Arrillaga: Join us as we offer experience, strength, and realistic hope about how you and your family can find recovery together. In this episode, we’ll hear Casey’s interview with Dianne about her journey setting a hard boundary with her alcoholic husband, finding recovery in Al-Anon, and seeing her husband find recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous. All this after a break to hear from one of our sponsors.

Kira Arrillaga: Welcome back. Let’s hear that interview with Dianne.

Casey Arrillaga: Alright. It is such a pleasure to have you here on the program with us. Will you take a moment to introduce yourself and say what you are doing on a program called Addiction and the Family?

Dianne: My name is Dianne, and I’m on this podcast because I have lived through the experience of loving and living with someone who’s addicted and really got on the other side of it and am living a joyful, happy, full life today, which I doubted would happen in the beginning. I just would share my experience and my strength and hope with anyone hoping they can find what I’ve found in recovery.

Casey Arrillaga: Wonderful. If you don’t mind, maybe tell us a little bit about that. Just start wherever it started.

Dianne: Okay. I met my husband in college, and we drank like college kids. I never saw him drunk. I never got drunk. We continued to see each other. Several years after college, we married, and interestingly enough, I already knew that he was drinking more than I was drinking, but his proposal for marriage to me was, “Dianne, will you marry me if I slow down my drinking?” and this was before I realized that he had a problem with alcohol. I don’t know that he was an alcoholic yet, not full blown, but anyway, he somehow brought in his troubled drinking to his proposal to me.
Did I hear that? No. My first response to myself was I can get this going. I can take care of this. Let’s get married, and yes, you will slow down your drinking, and I really believed that because I didn’t know anything about the disease of alcoholism at that point, and so we married and were very happy. We had two little boys, and when they were three and one, his drinking had gotten worse and worse.
We lived in Houston at the time. He was a professional, and he could see that it was getting worse, and so he decided that if we would leave Houston, he could slow down his drinking, and what I know today is a lot of people call that the geographic cure. I’ll just move location. I can get a hold of this drinking situation. I thought when he said that okay, let’s move to San Marcos, where we moved, and I really thought that would take care of it, and of course, it didn’t because he was an alcoholic, and he didn’t have control over his drinking.
We went into this journey with – he probably knew more about it than I did. He never really talked about alcoholism until he decided to reach for sobriety, but before that, we moved to San Marcos. It only got worse, which happens. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. I started going to Al-Anon. I had had a friend in Houston who was in the program, and she had talked to me about it when I was in Houston, and she took me actually to two or three meetings before we moved, and at every meeting, I left thinking those people are very nice, but I can do this. He just needs to slow down, and I can encourage that and all that.

Casey Arrillaga: When you were telling yourself I can do this, what was it that you were thinking you could do?

Dianne: I just thought I could encourage him. I could love him enough to make him want to do it. I wasn’t one who was pouring out the alcohol because I didn’t realize how bad it was at the time. I just – I was ignorant about the disease of alcoholism. That’s the bottom line. At that point in my life, I thought if you’re alcoholic, you’re under a bridge or you’re somewhere just unproductive, and my husband was able to be what is called a functioning alcoholic for about three or four, five years. It did begin to really affect his life, and the short version of my story is that I started going to Al-Anon a couple of years after we moved to San Marcos.
I was embarrassed. I thought I should be able to fix this. I was the mother in the household, and so I did not – I didn’t even look to see if there were meetings in San Marcos. I drove to Austin where nobody would see me or know me, and I started going to meetings, and it was absolutely the smartest thing I ever did, not necessarily to go to Austin but to go to an Al-Anon meeting because for the first time in my life, I heard people talking about alcoholism.
I asked my mother years later did you and Daddy have any friends who were alcoholics. Did I see it as a child and just not realize it? She said, “Well, we didn’t really know it, but we knew so-and-so drank too much, and in retrospect, I think he might’ve been an alcoholic.” Of course, we know that alcoholics can only label themselves. They’re the ones who call themselves an alcoholic, so anyway, I thought about that a lot, and I thought about just – I was ashamed that I couldn’t fix this problem. For heaven’s sakes, I was the mother. I was a loving wife. Why couldn’t he love me enough to stop drinking?
It wasn’t until I heard the stories of the people in Al-Anon, and that’s what was so refreshing about Al-Anon is people were so honest. They said things I thought I would never say. I didn’t think I would ever tell my story. Here I am telling it to people I don’t even know who’s going to be listening to this, but I think it’s an important story for people to hear because it was important for me to hear as people in that meeting described what was frustrating to them, what they were living with, and I could identify with it.
The facts could’ve been different. It could’ve been a child. It could’ve been a parent. Many of them were husbands, spouses of people who were in the Al-Anon meeting, but I was just taken aback by how honest they were about what was going on, and eventually, it all soaked in, and I could see the commonalities among all of us, but the other thing that I could see was that they had found – I won’t say a solution to the alcoholism. They had found a solution for themselves to live their lives and not totally focused on the alcoholic.
When I started Al-Anon, I was totally focused on the alcoholic in my life, and driving home from Austin, I would think, “She said this, and so what can I do with that, and he said this.” One meeting there was an older woman who said something – I don’t even remember now what she said, but it was spot on and talking about her husband finally finding sobriety. I put a bead on her right away. I thought I’m going to go find out what the solution is.
I went over to her and asked her something about how she got her husband sober or how he was doing today, and she said, “Honey, he died ten years ago.” I said, “Why are you still coming?” She said, “Because I come for me. It helps me be the person I want to be not focused on other people’s problems and thinking that I have the solutions for other people’s problems.”
That was a huge eye opener for me, and I think that was the day driving home from Austin that I had to pull over to the shoulder, and I just started to cry, and I think that’s the first time I ever realized that I am powerless over someone else’s drinking, and it broke my heart because I thought I could fix it, but I realize now that it’s a huge relief to be able to let go of that and start to focus on me and what is it about me that I think I can do that for someone else, and what is the alcoholism doing to me that I can work on myself because I really am the only person I can change, so I’ll always be very grateful for the people in that meeting in Austin that I went to, their honesty, their love, their support.
When I got ready to walk into the room, I thought I was at the wrong place because I heard peels of laughter coming out, and I turned to leave because I thought that can’t be Al-Anon. They’re laughing. A lady popped her head out and said, “You looking for an Al-Anon meeting?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “Honey, come on in.” They were laughing before the meeting because they’re good friends, and they’re sharing what’s going on in their lives beyond alcoholism, and then once the meeting started, the focus is on living with an alcoholic and surviving and thriving and moving far beyond that into a much better life.

Casey Arrillaga: That’s really beautiful. For our listeners just to get an idea of the timeline this took, about how old were you and your husband when you first met?

Dianne: Let’s see. I think I was going into my senior year in college. I was probably 21. Jim was 23. He was finishing up law school, and so then he moved to New York City, and I moved to Boston, and he talked a lot about that move for him was pivotal, not so much for his working life but in his drinking life because he moved to a place where when he went out to lunch, people drank. Back in the ’60s you didn’t see so many people having cocktails in Texas, and of course, when we were growing up, it was a dry state. Where we grew up it was dry.
Anyway, he was drinking then but still functioning in his legal career and all that. We moved to Houston for other reasons than that. It’s hard for a Texan to stay away from Texas, so we both came back. We got married, and I would say maybe about four years after college, it was progressing, but you know how when you’re close to something you don’t see the progression like people outside the bubble see it. I look back now, and it was coming on pretty quickly over a three or four-year period, but he was good at hiding it.
For a long time, he mostly drank at work after hours. He would stay. He would go to work on the weekends to work on cases, and I think that was his time to get away and drink. Then we moved to San Marcos, and it was about – I think we were here two years before what I believe today I hit my bottom. His brother had come over one day, and we tried to do an intervention on Jim. It didn’t work. He stormed out, and his brother washed his hands of him and was just furious with him because of what he was causing the family the pain.

Casey Arrillaga: If I can pause you there for just a moment, I want to see what was that like for you to have that intervention, to see your husband storm out, his brother say he’s washing his hands of everything. How old were you, and what were you going through?

Dianne: By then I was probably – let’s see. We had our older son, so I must’ve been about 30. I think we moved here when I was 30 or 31, and it was really disappointing because I’d gone to the library and checked out a book on doing an intervention, and I just thought I’m going to take these steps and say these things and spill it all about the harm he was causing and so forth, and it’ll work because that’s what the book said. It didn’t work at all. Intervention did not work for us. It might work for some people. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do an intervention. I tried it because I was willing to go to any lengths.
I put up with a lot for a long time, but as I say, I did hit my bottom. I tried the intervention. I had tried fussing and arguing, and I’m not a fusser and an arguer. I’m not a screamer. I’m not any of that by nature, but I was willing to try anything, so I just tried shaming and screaming and intervention, and none of that worked. What finally happened was I started Al-Anon. I went for a couple of years – and this is my story. That’s all it is. It’s not suggestions for anyone. It’s not a prescription. I tried to get prescriptions for sobriety from people in Al-Anon. They don’t give them.
All I have to share is my experience, my strength, my hope, and what happened in my life, but I did finally get to the point after a couple of years in Al-Anon – because now I was focusing on myself, and I was really seeing the digression of my dear husband who was killing himself. We did – I forgot to mention. I think his best man and best friend and I took him to two different halfway houses after we had spent a lot of money on a treatment center in Austin, which didn’t work. Six weeks later he was back drinking worse than when he went in, so for him, that didn’t work.
I was just running out of options and really beginning more to focus on my responsibility to our sons, and I thought I can’t do anything about Jim’s drinking, but I can do something about the person I am and the mother I am, and so I took out a restraining order against him and that was very difficult. He worked at the courthouse. That was his job, and for me to have to go to a judge that he went before and ask for that – but after I finished going over with the judge why I needed the restraining order, wanted the restraining order, he said to me, “Dianne, people are going to be so happy that you’re doing something for Jim. He is very sick.”
I didn’t know people realized that. I thought we were hiding it very well, and it turned out to be such a blessing for that judge to say to me you are doing the right thing because I felt like a betrayer of the first order. Anyway, they took out the restraining order on Jim, and he was away from home for about maybe a month to six weeks, and he came back to town and called and asked me if he could come back home, and I didn’t want him to.
Every fiber of me screamed do not let him come back, but the one thing that was different is that I had listened to so many people in Al-Anon talk about recovery that had happened in their lives, and I thought I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but he sounds more committed this time, and I thought you could be fooling yourself, but I just – I don’t know. There was a measure of hope that Al-Anon had given me, and we have a lot of hope in Al-Anon, so I said, “You can come back, but you have to sleep on the couch.”
He said, “That’s fine. I just need to put my life in order,” and so he came back into our home, and he started working a program like I haven’t seen anybody work. They say 90 meetings in 90 days. He went to three meetings a day for a year. Some weekends he would go to a couple of extra meetings, the late-night meetings, so our lives just began to change so much. I was still working my Al-Anon program. He started working an AA program, and then we had that to share. Our boys grew up with a sober daddy and a much saner mother, and it’s all because of Al-Anon. I never would have taken any of those steps. I wouldn’t have had the courage, and so I owe that to Al-Anon.

Casey Arrillaga: I’d like to circle back around to something you mentioned about hitting bottom before you were ready to change, and this is an important concept that a lot of family members miss, I believe. They’ll think of the alcoholic or the person with the addiction as being the person who hits bottom before they need to change, and they don’t consider what hitting bottom might look like for them as a family member and what changes they might want to make. Can you talk more about that?

Dianne: Okay. What I did, Casey, is I just did a look back because Al-Anon encourages us to look at our own lives, what we’re doing, our motivations, everything, and as I looked honestly at what I had done, I had done everything in my power, including calling a cousin of mine who had a treatment center in Houston. She was a recovered alcoholic. I was talking to her one day and just saying I just don’t know what else to do. She said, “Well, let me ask you this.” She asked me several questions about do your iron his clothes? Are you still preparing meals, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah? When I got to the end of everything I was still doing to try to hold this family together, she just died laughing, and I was insulted because she was laughing and I was crying. She just laughed and said, “Dianne, why would he get sober?” She said, “I wouldn’t have got sober if somebody was doing everything for me that way.”
When we hung up, I just had to look at what I was doing, and I realized that I probably in many ways was neglecting my little boys who were at that point I think maybe 3 and 5. I just thought, Dianne, you are absolutely consumed with this. I wasn’t sleeping. I think I had started chewing my nails. I mean, I was a mess because the only focus I had was this alcoholic that I had put under this magnifying glass, and it consumed me. Plus, it had been consuming me for years, and I saw nothing but it getting worse and worse and worse.
They say in Al-Anon, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” Somebody said that in a meeting one time when I was going to those Austin meetings. When she first said it, I thought that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of, and then I started thinking, oh, if I don’t change, the things around me don’t change. I started just digesting that a little more. Everything I heard in the meetings I would bring home with me and digest. I only went to one meeting a week then because it’s the only one I knew about. I had to get a babysitter every time I went to the meeting to get my kids from school because I was at the meeting.
My life was a mess, and I thought we can’t both be a mess at the same time. One of us has to clean up, and it had to be me because I was the only one I could do anything about, clearly. I had tried to do something about Jim for probably five years at that point, so that was my bottom. I hope that answers your question, Casey.

Casey Arrillaga: It answers it beautifully. Now, if we can keep the journey rolling, what was it like for you to get into Al-Anon, keeping in mind that some of our listeners may be just considering it or having no idea what that might look like?

Dianne: The thing I loved about the Al-Anon program is people never asked me questions about Jim in meetings. They didn’t ask me to say more. They allowed me to say what I needed to say. I didn’t speak in meetings probably for three months. I listened. It was good for me.
I’ve heard people say before take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth. When I started, I needed not to talk in the meeting. I needed to listen. Then, after the meetings, people stayed, and that’s the time that I could talk. That’s when I could go over to Person X and say I loved what you said about that. Could you tell me more about it? We could have personal conversations after the meeting, but I needed to listen because I didn’t know anything about this program. I bought a reader, and I took that. It was wonderful because I could have a meeting at home just by reading that book. All of our writings in Al-Anon are written by people in the program. They’re not written professionally. Every reading was a story of how they were dealing with regret, fear, detachment, all the things that I was hearing in meetings, and I just didn’t even understand how they connected to what I was experiencing in alcoholism in my home. It just began to sink in slowly because I kept going to meetings.
I hear people say now, if you’re new to Al-Anon, do give it six or seven meetings. Meetings are different. I just went to that one because it’s the only one I knew of. I didn’t know much about Al-Anon then, so I was just ignorant about that too. I had found this group of people who were loving, supporting, nonjudgmental, always welcoming, and would allow you to say what you needed to say. I never felt shamed. I could share. When I did start sharing, I shared. Nobody said, oh, I liked what you said. They don’t respond that way in Al-Anon.
What we come together is to share for everybody present our experience, our strength, and our hope, and you take it or leave it. Not everybody I hear in Al-Anon may touch a chord in me with what they say, but every time I leave an Al-Anon meeting I have heard something I needed to hear. Even lo these many years later, I still go to Al-Anon meetings every single week, at least twice a week. We finish by saying using these principles in all our affairs. I use this program with my grown children today, with everybody I know. I have friends who I can look at and say, oh, my gosh, she’s so messed up about that, but I can’t fix her. I can love her and encourage that woman in whatever she’s struggling with, and I use Al-Anon principles all the time out in the world. My life is better today because of Al-Anon. I know that.

Casey Arrillaga: Now I’m going to do something that they wouldn’t do in the meetings, which is I am going to ask about Jim.

Dianne: Okay.

Casey Arrillaga: Was he able to get sober, and was he able to stay sober?

Dianne: He was. When he came back and asked to come home, as I say, there was just something about – he was desperate, and he had just been arrogant before. When he called, he came home. He did sleep on the couch all summer long, as I said. He went, actually, to three meetings every day. He would go to the noon meeting, the 5 p.m. meeting before he’d come home from work. We would eat, and then he would go back for an 8 o’clock meeting. Every day he was going to three meetings.
He got his 90 meetings in actually in less than 30 days, but that just proves that he was ready. I couldn’t have made him want to get sober. Alcohol had to do it to him, and sadly, some people don’t get it. I realize that there are people who don’t get sober, and I feel very blessed that he got sober. I feel even more blessed that he got sober through an AA program because then we shared this 12-step program for 29 years before he died, and it was good. It was good. He worked. He had a really good AA program, and he helped a lot of people. He was a criminal defense attorney, so he represented a lot of kids at the university here. Most of them, of course, get arrested for drug or alcohol, and he had such a way of introducing the idea of sobriety to people he was working with. Until he died, he would get letters or Christmas cards from someone he had represented saying I want to thank you. He or she would send a picture of them with their new family, one or two children, and say I owe my sobriety to you because of that example he could set that you could be happy, joyous, and free without alcohol. He was never going to be that with alcohol. It was amazing.
I always think to myself – I was thinking about this actually yesterday. When Jim died, the pastor in our church told me he felt there were more than 700 people there. I thought that was a testament to a life well lived, and it was well lived after he got sober. He was always a good guy, but alcohol just made him a different person. It was really bad, and then it got so good. It stayed good until he died. He died sober, and that’s all he wanted. He said to me one time – we were talking about death. He said, “I don’t care when I die. I just want to die sober,” and he did.

Casey Arrillaga: About how long ago was that?

Dianne: That was in 2012. It will be 10 years this June. Yeah. Yeah.

Casey Arrillaga: Ten years and you’re still going to meetings.

Dianne: Absolutely. I’m doing it for me.

Casey Arrillaga: I can’t help but notice…

Dianne: It’s about my life.

Casey Arrillaga: I can’t help but notice the parallel. When you started going to meetings all those years ago, you met the woman who was still going after her husband had passed away. You said, “Well, why are you still going to meetings?” Now it’s you.

Dianne: Exactly. Elizabeth would be very proud of me that I’m still going to meetings, and she would understand why I am. I mean, it just – it amazes me how I use this program in all of my life. I’m just grateful. I can say honestly today I am a grateful Al-Anon – I’m actually grateful I married Jim. It was a rough patch there when we suffered with his alcoholism, and we both suffered with it. He was the only one who could make the change to make it better for him, which would in turn make it better for me, but I’m the only one who could make it better for me in the long run and really make it better for me.
I’m grateful I married an alcoholic. If I hadn’t, I never would’ve found Al-Anon. I didn’t grow up in an alcoholic home. A lot of people in Al-Anon have, and some people are there because they’re married – I mean, they have alcoholic parents. I think that was one reason I was so ignorant about it. I just never knew someone, or if I knew an alcoholic, I didn’t know they were alcoholic.

Casey Arrillaga: Yeah. A lot of people who are familiar with AA or interested in it might notice people get a sponsor, which is like a mentor who walks you through the steps and the recovery process. I wonder, in Al-Anon, what’s your experience been with that.

Dianne: That’s interesting. I didn’t get a sponsor probably for the first two years I went to Al-Anon. I think, after about two years, I started coming to meetings in San Marcos. We had a really small group. In fact, the first time I went to a meeting, it was at a place now that serves as a homeless shelter here in San Marcos. There were two women, and they were meeting in a broom closet. I had enough from the Austin group that it didn’t discourage me that there were only three of us. Before we knew it, there were 10 of us and then 15 of us. The program grew immensely, and we moved and got a better location or a larger location.

Casey Arrillaga: Where did sponsorship come into that?

Dianne: Oh, yeah. I decided that it was time for me to get a sponsor, but the advice in Al-Anon is, in meetings, when you hear someone talking about their program and they have something you want, that that’s one way you can approach someone who’s in the program and ask them to be your sponsor. I did remember a woman in Austin that a lot of times she would have stayed after and talked to me, so I called her and asked her if she would be my sponsor. She said she would. For many years, she was my sponsor, and we would talk on the phone. Occasionally, I would go to the same meeting where she was, but mostly, we just talked on the phone. When I would have questions or when I had done some fourth step work, I would share it with her, and then we drifted apart. I got busy here. I went to work fulltime. Then I got another sponsor and had her for a long time, and she recently died.
Right now, I am without a sponsor, which doesn’t worry me a lot because I’m talking to somebody who serves as a sponsor, but we’re not calling it sponsoring yet. I just called her and said I need somebody to talk to and run things by. Are you willing to do that? It might work into a sponsor relationship. There are some things that I didn’t want to talk about in meetings that were just more intimate issues in my life, and so I could talk to my sponsor about anything. Again, I think it’s important that both of my sponsors I trusted implicitly.
That’s the wonderful thing about Al-Anon. We say in the meetings everything we say is anonymous. We don’t talk about what happens in meetings. We listen, but I don’t go home and say to somebody, oh, my gosh, you’ll never believe what Martha said. It’s not done, and that’s why I felt so safe to share the horror that was going on in my home, some of it in a meeting and all of it I could talk to my sponsor about. The sponsor is someone who’s been in the program longer, has been working a program for a while, and can share the wisdom and the strength they’ve gotten from it.
I got good recommendations on what to read if I was having a problem, or you might think about this, Dianne, write about this. I do a lot of writing about my life, my frustrations because I need to get it out. When my husband died, most of my grief was done through writing because I had done so much writing in Al-Anon realizing that it just pours out of me. That’s the way I respond to writing. It’s like stream of consciousness always, and much more pours out of me when I’m writing than if I’m just talking about it. I do a lot of writing. Most of my writing, I share with my sponsor.
For me, it works. If I say it, it takes so much power out of it. All the secrets I keep up here in my head that I never share with anybody – somebody said at a meeting one time they just get bigger and blacker, and they do. It got worse for me the more secrets I tried to hold in. I was holding so many secrets when I came into Al-Anon. Just little by little, I could talk about that and talk about the betrayal I felt by him doing that to us and just my frustration at not being able to fix it.
I wasn’t proud of that. I thought, if you were a good wife, you ought to be able to fix that. It had nothing to do with my being a good wife or not. It had everything to do with me being honest with myself and just saying, Dianne, this is bigger than you and admit that. It was really hard for me to admit I was powerless. Ooh, I didn’t like that, didn’t like that one bit.

Casey Arrillaga: Yet, that is the first step of the program.

Dianne: Yes, it is.

Announcer: Let’s take a break to hear from one of our sponsors, and then we’ll hear the rest of Casey’s interview with Dianne.
[Commercial]

Announcer: Welcome back. Here’s the rest of Dianne’s interview.

Casey Arrillaga: A lot of people would understand why someone with an alcohol problem or any other addiction would work the 12 steps to help them with their problem. Can you talk about why it is that someone in Al-Anon would work pretty much those same steps and what you’ve gotten out of it?

Dianne: Right. The big steps they made is – I grew up going to church. As a little girl, we went to church all the time, so I was taught there was a God. That was pretty much the same all the time I was in my home with my family growing up. I went to college, and as many college students do, I did not get up and go to church on Sunday mornings. I pulled away from the church.
My husband grew up also in a church where his daddy was the music director, so when we met, he said I’ve had all the church I need. He just wasn’t a church person. He was not an agnostic, and he was not an atheist. He just wasn’t a church goer. We married in a church, but we were not what I would say faithful people to the church or Christianity then. If you ask us, yeah, we believed in God, but don’t go any further than that. We didn’t talk about it.
When I came into Al-Anon, I heard God. I didn’t have a problem with that. I realize some people do because of their prior experiences with church or religion, but I heard them talk about it. I read the first step. I finally realized I was powerless, so I got that. Then I had to start thinking about the second step that there was a power greater than me. Ooh, that was such a bitter pill to swallow because I was the wife. I should be able to do this.
There was a woman shared in a meeting one day. She talked about having been married to an alcoholic, and he died. She waited several years and she remarried. She said, “I married a man who didn’t drink because I didn’t want to deal with alcoholism again.” She said, “After we were married for a while, he started to drink,” and she said, “I’m here today because he’s on the couch where my husband died.” Her story just burned a hole right through me. She’s the reason that I stopped on the highway coming home on the side of the road and just started to weep.
I realized that I was powerless, number one, and that maybe – just because of everything I had heard in Al-Anon, just maybe there was a power greater than myself. There were people who had overcome the disease of alcoholism in their home, even if the person is still drinking. There were in Al-Anon who still lived with an active alcoholic, but they weren’t obsessed with it. They were working a program, and they had a higher power. I really came to grips with you know what, Dianne? You’re not the higher power. You have got to have faith that, if it happens for other people, maybe it can happen for you.
I took that third step and just turned my life and my will over. I had to fake it in the beginning and just say the words. Some people say fake it ‘til you can make it, but I just prayed not even really knowing what I was praying for. I just got up in the morning, and I just thought please be with me and show me the way. I don’t even know who I was praying to, Buddha. It didn’t matter. It was a higher power at that point.
That really catapulted my program when I was finally able to say you are powerless. Today, I find that as a relief. I am so grateful that I’m powerless in so many situations because it means I don’t have to get all in a twist about everybody else’s problems. I look at it and think do I have any control in this situation? If I do, then I’m happy to say something, but if I have no control over it, I let it go. I turn it over. For my higher power, who I now call God, I ask that it be in those hands that are much greater than mine.
I look back and even my faith journey has grown because of Al-Anon. I wouldn’t be where I am in my church life today, and I love my church. I take what I like and leave the rest because I learned that in Al-Anon. Not everything I hear in church fits me, but that’s okay. Not everything I hear in Al-Anon fits me, and that’s okay. I take what is useful for my life to be the best version of my myself I can be in both locations. If I died tonight in my sleep, I’m at peace. I’m happy. I have a wonderful life, wonderful life.

Casey Arrillaga: That is so fantastic. You talked about it being a relief to understand that you are powerless over somebody else’s alcohol use. I think it’s really only a relief if it’s followed up by the next couple of steps in embracing a spiritual solution, and at that point, then it becomes a relief.

Dianne: Right. I don’t think I could take the first step, honestly, until I did accept that I can’t do it but something can. This power that I can’t name, I don’t know how it’s going to present itself. Of course, I prayed that my husband would find such a program, but to tell you the truth, when I did the restraining order, he was out of my life. I really didn’t spend a lot of time worrying or thinking about him because I had to take care of myself and our little boys. The fact that he got sober is icing on the cake. I didn’t do it. He did it. He did say I think we need to get rid of all the alcohol when I come home, and maybe I had already gotten rid of it when he was gone.
After about a year or two, he was sober enough that he wanted to be able to serve a drink to our friends who came for dinner or who came over to visit. That really scared me, but again, not my wheelhouse. The man was a grown man. He could buy whatever he wanted to. He never took another drink. I think he died 29 years sober. I think that’s what he had.
One time I said, “Does it bother you when they drink?” He said, “Dianne, you could give me a 45 in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other and say which one? I would tell you fire away.” He said, “Nothing will make me drink again. I would rather die than drink.” I knew then that he had gotten it, and he stayed gotten it. He knew that all the gifts of his life were because of sobriety, and all the gifts of my life were because of Al-Anon. We were real clear about that.

Casey Arrillaga: That is so cool. The last thing that I’m going to ask is, if you could go back and to talk to young Dianne way back at the beginning of your recovery process, what would you want to say to her?

Dianne: Oh, my gosh. I have actually thought about what would life be like if I hadn’t gotten involved with an alcoholic? I wouldn’t want that life, but if I went back, I think what I would want more of – in retrospect, in doing my Al-Anon program, that’s where I realized it, that I gave over much of myself when Jim never asked me to. He never said give up your friends. I did. We went with his friends. I put him on a pedestal early on, and so whatever he said went.
Of course, I grew up in a different era than today. I do think that the young women today, maybe even the young men, have more of a sense of themselves. I grew up in the ‘50s, for heaven sakes, when you had all those family shows on where mother always had the apron on and daddy was the king of the family and all that. Jim and I both grew up with that. We did not argue and fight a lot, but he mostly made the decisions. I gave over a lot, but in retrospect, I think he never asked me to. I just did it. Maybe I should’ve argued more.
I think that’s what I would say to the young Dianne is you are more capable than you think you are. You have more to offer in a relationship than you think. I don’t think I realized who I was through and through until I got into Al-Anon and really examined myself. I’m proud of myself, Casey. I don’t say that in a prideful way, but I’m proud of myself that I have committed myself to such a healthy program as Al-Anon, that I commit to doing it even after the alcoholic is gone. I realize it’s for me, and it’s self-love. If you had self-love when I was growing up, oh, my gosh, that was what we thought was arrogance and narcissism. That’s not what loving yourself enough to take serious action to become the best person you can be and hope that those people around you see it and maybe are inspired by it.
I heard his story told many times in AA meetings. He often said, “The best thing Dianne ever did for me was take out a restraining order.” He said, “It made me face the true consequences of my drinking.” That’s not why I did it. It wasn’t a threat. It was my final get out of here. I’m sick of it. I’m done.
Fortunately, he asked to come back. Only because of Al-Anon I just thought it just sounds a little bit different. Maybe there’s hope, and if there isn’t, I know what to do. As I say, 3 months turned into 29 years of wonderful sobriety. It was great.

Casey Arrillaga: It is so great to hear that. Dianne, I just want to thank you again for coming out and sharing your story and your recovery with me and with all the people who get to listen to this. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you for years but never got to hear the whole thing one place, so thank you so much.

Dianne: Oh, thank you, Casey. I appreciate you’re doing this work. It’s really powerful, and there are a lot of people out there who need to hear it, so thank you for that, truly.

Casey Arrillaga: It is my pleasure.

Announcer: That’s the interview.

Casey Arrillaga: Thanks for being with us through another episode of Addiction and the Family. As they say in many recovery meetings, take what you liked and leave the rest. Go out and explore the possibilities for recovery in your life and give your loved ones the space and dignity to make their own choices. If you like this podcast, please subscribe. It means a lot to us. If you know anyone else who could use what we have to offer, please tell them about Addiction and the Family. If you have comments about this podcast, have a question you would like answered on the show, or want to contribute your voice, or just want to say hi, you can write to us at addictionandthefamily@gmail.com. We’re also happy to be your friend on Facebook, and we can be found tweeting on Twitter.

Kira Arrillaga: Addiction and the Family is produced, written, and engineered by