"I'm Sober, So Why's She Still Angry?"
Laurie Monday, MA, MFCC
James Conway, MA, MFCC
| Bill finally got sober. After years of heavy, progressive drinking, he received
treatment and had been faithfully attending a Twelve Step Program. Bill loved his
recovery! He began to understand his illness, obtained a sponsor, worked the Steps and
went to all kinds of meetings. The one thing that really baffled him was why his wife
still seemed to hate him so much.
After all, Lois had willingly attended the Family Week at Bill's treatment center. She was polite and appeared enthusiastic. Bill was so involved in his recovery that he didn't pay very much attention when Lois didn't follow through on the family counselor's recommendation that she attend Al-Anon and obtain counseling from a therapist who was well schooled in addictions and ACA issues.
Bill began feeling discouraged and developed a fatalistic attitude regarding the future of their marriage. Lois seemed relentless in her criticism. Everything he did was wrong and of course everything that went wrong was his fault. If the kids were slow getting started in the morning, he was a lousy father. If he rushed them, ditto, he was a crummy parent. It certainly wasn't difficult to make Bill feel guilty. He knew well enough that during his drinking years, he alternated, between being quietly unavailable or in-your-face hostile and nasty. He was acutely aware that he'd let his kids down a lot. But, he also knew he was getting better. He spent a lot more time with the family in spite of his heavy schedule of meetings and work. The children were loving it - if Dad said they'd be going to the beach on Saturday, they trusted it would happen.
So why was Lois so unrelentingly angry?
Lois had been damaged by alcoholism not only during her marriage to Bill but prior to her adult years as well. One could describe her condition as an environmentally induced mental disorder. Although that sounds like an incendiary label to stick on a woman just because she married an alcoholic, let's examine what it actually means.
If we live in a stressful, punishing environment with no healthy alternatives, many of us sustain damage. Emotional toxicity can harm all aspects of our health: physical, mental and spiritual. The damage is cumulative and doesn't disappear when the major stress (the active alcoholism) is on hold.
Over the years, Lois became emotionally locked in anger. she was angry with her alcoholic father who never got better. She promised herself she'd never get involved with an alcoholic, and that made her angry. She was enraged at her work situation, at people in general and especially at those who didn't do things right (translation: her way). But Bill held a special place in her anger hierarchy, and she let him know, often.
It's easy to dismiss Lois with notions like, "the spouse is sicker than the alcoholic" or "just get over it." But Lois needs a great deal of help, and getting her to accept treatment is difficult.
Family members like Lois are trapped in a vicious cycle. Lois was frozen in her anger. It could just as easily have been fear, if she was a more passive type person. The cycle, ever repeating and escalating goes like this: When I'm angry I create a story to explain and justify that anger, then the story stimulates more anger, and the cycle repeats. So, experiencing the anger doesn't relieve Lois, it propels her more deeply into her "story" and increases the angry feelings. Eventually, Lois lives day to day in a state of simmering rage. Friends and family eventually get tired of the repetitive cycle, Bill gets more withdrawn and Lois feels increasingly isolated.
Lois needs people who can listen, and listen patiently, understanding that this is a necessary phase of healing. We call it "draining the boil." Bill, the kids, Lois, family and friends aren't the right ones to do this. Lois needs support systems filled with people who are not damaged by her words. It will take time for Lois to go from blame to taking responsibility for her feelings and actions.
With the right help, Lois can learn to interrupt her angry cycle with new awareness and principles. Over time, her anger will become less automatic and relentless. Eventually, she can accept the healing around her and discover something really great: sober, Bill's a pretty great guy. And she's a woman who can laugh again.
Laurie Monday, MA, MFCC, is a therapist in private practice with offices in Venice and Burbank. She treats individuals, couples, and families and specializes in woman's recovery issues. She can be reached at: (310) 823-0876 or faxed at: (310) 823-5208. She is blissfully married to: James Conway, MA., and MFCC, also blissfully married. Coordinator of the UCLA Extension Alcohol and Drug Studies Program. He has worked in the field of Chemical Dependency for 25 years and maintains private practices in Venice, Burbank and Redlands
Article Contributed by Steps For Recovery Magazine
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