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Great, He Quit Drinking – When Will He Recover? – Why The Families of Alcoholics Need AA Alternatives

By Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes

You May Never Get Him Back

“I thought when he quit drinking…,” or “The program he went through says he’s successful, but…?” and “Is this all I have to look forward to?” The words vary but the underlying question is pretty much the same, “He was a drunk, now he’s a ‘recovering alcoholic.’ When’s he going to get over it?”

That’s the sad, and unnecessary, truth about most men who supposedly are “in 12-Step styled recovery.” They aren’t going to get over it. Indeed, they are continuously warned against even trying. Wives are warned against discussing it lest you interfere with him “working his program” and precipitate a relapse.

“Recovery” Is For The Men Who Don’t Want A Life

For some men it’s even true, except for the nonsense about your possible responsibility for his forever-pending relapse, of course. He is responsible for any future drinking, just as he was for his past drinking. Don’t fall for that red herring.

Still, a lot of men lack the maturity, the coping skills, the social supports, or the outside interests that make outgrowing AA-style “recovery” possible or desirable. It’s a crutch they could throw away along with their alcohol dependence, but it probably isn’t going to happen.

Men Have Been Brainwashed

A lot of them are just plain scared, and with good reason. They have been brain washed by treatment programs, Dear Abby, the minister, their fellow meeting devotees, “sponsors,” the press, TV and so on. They’re told they have “a lifelong, progressive disease for which there is no cure, only endless recovery in the form of ‘working the program,'” as a substitute for getting a life. It’s enough propaganda to scare anyone and it’s been around for fifty, mostly unchallenged, years.

What’s A Wife To Do?

If you want a real marriage while he’s still pursuing an affair with his “disease” your options are limited. There isn’t a lot of help out there to support you in seeking a better and more intimate relationship with your spouse.

Few therapists have the experience necessary for the task of refuting treatment industry ad copy and dire predictions. Fewer still can resist the temptation to simply “process” your frustrations with you for months or years on end, rather than help you formulate active solutions. Better to listen, nod sympathetically, and send the bill.

If You Still Want More – Change Yourself

Creating a more intimate relationship doesn’t come with a road map. The best you can manage is to head off in that general direction and hope that he follows along. No guarantees, just the possibility, which is something you don’t have now. Otherwise you’ll need to resign yourself to whatever comforts you current life offers. Many wives do. Some like it.

However, for you, remember that the basic rule of change is that you can only change yourself. The hope is that in doing so, he will also change and that this will bring you closer together. That’s the real process.

Try a few changes, see what happens, adjust, try some more, see where that goes. Assess your feelings. Add another change. Resist ultimatums, threats, and coercion. Change yourself and your circumstances for the better and see what responses appear.

Remember: Active, Assertive, Responsive

If you are going to be seeking solutions, it’s good to have some support, but finding it may not be easy. You won’t find it in the traditional “families of alcoholics” settings populated by women thrilled to have him sober and out of the house, or with others who are deathly afraid to rock the boat. Many counseling professionals don’t know anything to do with women except to “process” endlessly, consigning you to “contemplation hell” while you cover their car payments.

Get Real Support

This comes from those who facilitate short-term, focused and active change. It will also be found among women who are attacking their dissatisfactions in alternative and non-traditional ways.

Look for support in unusual places and activities. Take up strength training at a real gym, not a girly spa; head down to the gun shop and sign up for a shooting class (that’ll get someone’s attention); head off to a serious self-defense class; go whitewater rafting. Head on down to your local animal shelter and get a dog to train and trade affection with; or take community college classes in “guy” things like carpentry or auto mechanics.

Doing Stuff

Why? Not be meet guys (darn), but because this helps break our tendency to process rather than “do” stuff. You know what I mean – we love to sit around and talk about our problems, and talk and talk and talk and we rarely do or fix anything. Or, we take a class in “journaling” – which is just processing on paper, again without doing much to fix the situation. When you go do some “guy” things, you will not spend much time processing, but actively doing and learning. The women you meet will be those who like doing stuff. And doing stuff is both an empowering and a depression-avoiding prescription.

I’m my own good example. I joined a real gym, hired a smart, strong, woman trainer and consequently, I much stronger and healthier, feel safer, and I am empowered and happier. Feeling this way, I can better handle the problems life throws at me and I can also pursue opportunities that previously would have frightened me.

But He’s Still Missing In Action, “Working His Program”

As you actively develop your own life, you will have less need for him to complete your life and more opportunities to find fulfillment through other interests. And as your life becomes more interesting, perhaps he will also become interested in alternatives to endless meetings.

That’s the hope and the strategy is two-pronged: make yourself and your life more interesting regardless of what he chooses and prepare yourself for a renewed marriage if he becomes capable.

Re-exert Control Over Your Life

It is scary. Plotting an unpredictable course into your future takes nerve and the willingness to let the results unfold. That’s a lot of control – even false control – to give up. But it is also taking back control of yourself, for yourself, and taking it back from his obsessions with alcohol and recovery.

Regardless of the various outcomes, you will find that actively developing skills is self-enhancing in any case. You will be more independent, more confident, more capable, and more attractive to yourself and others. Your dependence on your current situation will ease and your expectations will increase as experiences grow. Life will get better if you allow it to.

Whether he’s stuck in the bottle or in recovery we can help you reclaim your life, with or without him. Call us today at 888-541-6350.

By |2016-11-14T06:14:14+00:00May 11th, 2010|For Women|2 Comments


  1. Jim H May 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Dear Dr. Barnes,

    You and Ed have told me to in short “back off” concerning my wife’s involvement in AA, because you think 1. She is doing OK, 2. Because she will likely grow tired of AA, and 3. Pressuring her will only cause her to “dig in her heels.”

    I found an interesting article on the web indicating that I might never have her back. She is lost to AA. Other articles at that same website explain how AA and Al Anon can be detrimental to any sort of real recovery.

    My wife says she is no robot concerning AA but after attending 5 meetings with her she certainly seems like a robot at the meetings, repeating all the rituals, saying the slogans, smiling the “Stepford Alcoholic’s” smiles. She no longer wants me to attend because although I say nothing she knows I have bad thoughts and that makes the meetings less meaningful. Also I have been approached by members asking if I am “one of them.”

    All I see is something akin to what is described in the article. Looking ahead I see nothing but sorrow for me, my family, and a lifetime of confessing to strangers and day at a time guilt for my wife.

    I can’t understand why Ed did not explain to my wife the evils of 12 step. All she said about the conversation she had with him was that he started talking before she had finished her sentences, that was it.

    Anyway, I appreciate the time you have given to me but I cannot imagine standing by while the love of my life wastes hers with these idiots.

    And here is the article, you may have seen it.


    Jim H.
    January 10, 2010 Newsletter

    The Real “Steps” to Overcoming Alcohol Abuse

    Between us, Mary Ellen and I have over 30 years of experience helping people leave alcohol abuse behind. We use that experience, along with real research and our clients’ experiences, to create individual solutions that will actually work for you.

    Here are the “Real Steps” that make up our full recovery program

    1. It’s not the alcohol, it’s your life! Forget the focus on drinking and demeaning labels and concentrate on creating your life. Think about building fulfilling relationships along with satisfaction in your professional, social, and recreational life. The alcohol abuse won’t just disappear, but it will cease to be a problem, as it takes up less and less time and fills fewer unmet needs.

    2. What do you value? What are your private and personal motivations? Health? Family? Career? Vanity? It helps to start by focusing on one or two and then actively building on what really matters to you.

    3. Pick your peer group with care. Hang out with the people who are leading the kind of life you want to lead. Avoid the losers with their negative focus, labels, and infantile slogan-riddled existence. Don’t fall into The Bucket of Crabs.

    4. Creating your own life really does work! You can manage your own behavior and you can enjoy health, self-respect, improved relationships, productivity, reduced stress, along with happiness and contentment.

    5. Engage your loved ones. Remember, habits and behaviors exist within the context of your day-to-day life. No, other people aren’t responsible for your choice to drink, but they are affected by both your choice to abuse alcohol and your decision to stop. Think about how they can help you, and ask. Focus on the present and future, and let the past go.

    6. Plan! Becoming an alcohol abuser probably wasn’t your plan, but changing this does require planning, focus, attention, and effort. Unplanned time is not your friend and you’ll have trouble changing what you’re unwilling to track.

    7. Aim high. Aspire to more and better things. Do you want your legacy to be that you were a slave to your urges or that you contributed to the world? That you were just an “alcoholic” or a person with real accomplishments? Decide what you’d like to focus on, at least for now, and start!

    8. Finally, remember to be gentle with yourself. Reverses happen and we all occasionally repeat old habits or dabble in another self-destructive one. That’s not failure. That’s learning. We just need to get up, dust ourselves off, and continue. No, we don’t go back to “zero” and start over, mindlessly counting days of life-sucking “recovery”.

    Got it? Good. Ready to give your life a chance? Give us a call and let’s get started. Today!

    Assertiveness, Anyone?

    We’re always looking for common themes among our clients (not to mention ourselves) and how these play into alcohol abuse. Over the past 20 years a number of traits have emerged as contributory factors.

    What are the conditions that lead many of us to seek relief through alcohol abuse?

    While the ones we often share are loneliness, boredom, anxiety, and escape, the traits that lead to these conditions and the need to escape are often rooted in intelligence, sensitivity, and a fear-based (as opposed to anger-based) personality.

    As complicated as this all sounds, it usually comes down to problems within our personal relationships. Afraid to assert ourselves, we allow ourselves to be taken for granted, neglected, abused, and/or exploited.

    In return, we drink to ease the resulting loneliness and, often, as a passive-aggressive way of getting back at our spouses, other family members or boy/girl friends. But that backfires and only reinforces our “one down” feelings and position.

    The solution? Assertiveness training – which is, of course, anathema to the AA/12 Step based philosophy that stresses “powerlessness” and victumhood and their adherents’ inability to deal with other people (the fear of “normies”).

    Is it really any surprise that traditional treatment usually fails and even results in increased alcohol abuse?

    Instead, we work with clients to replace passivity, stigma, and depression with assertiveness, confidence, and health.

    Yes, it’s tough to change established habits and responses, but it’s better than continuing to sacrifice yourself to neglect, manipulation, and abuse, whether it’s self-inflicted or comes from others.

    Odds and Ends

    If you’re a new subscriber, or if you’re wondering about something you read in a previous Newsletter, most of the newsletters are archived on the website under the tab labeled – you guessed it – “Newsletters“!

    More popular links:

    Resources For You! for the Goal Setting; Cost/Benefit Analysis; and Weekly Planner Models – all free and available again for the 2010.

    Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism, and 12 Step Programs That Can’t Tell the Difference, don’t care, and will gladly burden you with an inappropriate and damaging label that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

    Women and Alcohol – What To Consider In Treatment and why women need and deserve services built around women’s needs, not just another recycled (and failed) men’s program – which is all anyone else has to offer.

    Confidentiality, why you want to avoid residential treatment, groups of all kinds, and/or using insurance for treatment or medications.

    The Bucket of Crabs or Why AA and Al-Anon are Bad For Your Health.


    And, as usual, whether you need to abstain or cut back, or discover what’s possible for you, we’re here to help.

    For information, or just to talk, one of us answers the phone personally from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Pacific Time, Monday – Thursday, unless we are with clients, or from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

    If we don’t answer, leave your name and number and one of us will usually be able to get back to you within an hour.

    4 Responses to “January 10, 2010 Newsletter”

    August 1, 2010 Newsletter says:
    August 2, 2010 at 1:12 pm
    […] The Real “Steps” to Overcoming Alcohol Abuse […]

    August 8, 2010 Newsletter says:
    August 8, 2010 at 3:05 pm
    […] The Real “Steps” to Overcoming Alcohol Abuse […]

    October 3, 2010 Newsletter says:
    October 4, 2010 at 12:56 pm
    […] The Real “Steps” to Overcoming Alcohol Abuse Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Sent My Brother Off To Rehab; […]

    January 9, 2011 Newsletter says:
    January 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm
    […] “How Can You Possibly Cure My Years of Alcohol Abuse in Just 5 Days?” The Real “Steps” to Overcoming Alcohol Abuse […]

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  2. Gabriel Cole November 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Very enlightening appreciate it, It looks like your trusty followers might probably want more stories of this nature maintain the great content.

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