We Are Not Immune: Judaism & Alcoholism

Alcohol-desgraciaMy three-and-a-half month old twins woke up on the morning of June 27th, 2012. Since birth, they had been sleeping in a twin bassinet next to our bed.  They were awake; they were ready for the day, and I could not move. I had not slept at all that night, and I did not know how I was going to face that day.  But, I did know two things:

  1. My husband was an alcoholic.
  2. I could not live like this anymore.

The boys were up and my husband lay next to me passed out from last night’s drunken rage. The evidence was splattered across the house in clothes, bottles, the stench of alcohol, wine stained counter tops, pizza sauce on the walls, and dents in the floor.  Anyone who has ever had an out-of-body experience knows that that experience is a very real thing. I certainly wasn’t operating my body or mind. I was not making it move to feed two infants, get them and myself dressed, and picking up the phone to call a crisis counselor.  I truly believe my future self inhabited my spiritless body and helped me literally move on that day.

Four hours later I sat in a counselor’s office. I had to bring my sons.  I remember her coming down the stairs to help me carry the double stroller up.  We sat in her office; I looked at her, and for the first time, I said it aloud, “Tim’s an alcoholic.”

Alcoholics and their partners negotiate this intricate, ornate, fantastic, and tragic silent dance.  For years, and coming to a head when the boys were born, he drank too much, blamed my concerns about it on my perspective, and I helped him keep his secret.  I cleaned up bottles, and stains, and laundry, and vomit. When I was seven months pregnant, Tim puked in our bed. It seemed like bottles and bottles of straight red wine just poured out him.  And, I leapt from the bed, and got him a bucket. And, as he passed out and started snoring, I cleaned it all up. I scrubbed the beige carpets, I changed and washed the sheets, and then I got up in the morning and went to work. I told no one.  Tim flipped and broke our dining room table when I was three months pregnant.  We still have dents in the floor and cracks in the walls from where he hit the wall as I hid.  For years, I kept his secret.  He never asked me to, and I never questioned why I didn’t share it with anyone.

Flash forward to that counselor’s office.  She looked at me, a new mother, twin sons, she saw my pain.  Her reply was perfect: “Oh shit,” she said. “Oh shit is right,” I thought. Now what do I do?

*                           *                           *

As of today, as I write this, Tim is 22 months sober.  Sobriety is a joyful, complicated and beautiful way to live.  I have learned that sobriety is precious. I can’t say, “Tim will have 2 years sobriety at the end of June,” because he might not.  Each day sober is a gift, and we have both learned to live in the present.  Our lives have changed in profound, deep, and meaningful ways, ways I never thought possible.

So, why is this post in TC Jewfolk? Where’s the Jewish angle?  The Jewish angle is that addiction knows no race, income, religion, sexual orientation, etc.  It’s shocking to me to see flyers in the women’s bathrooms at synagogue that advertise help for domestic violence by stating, “it can happen in a Jewish home too.”  Yes.  We aren’t immune from some of the atrocities of humanity.  Jews are addicts.  Jews are wives in recovery.  We’re just like everyone else in many regards.

What I would like to see is less stigma around this topic.  When I first started telling people about Tim’s addiction, I heard on more than one occasion, “Well, had you just married a nice Jewish boy…” (Tim was not raised Jewish.)

Many people, let alone Jews, do not know the true nature of addiction: that it is a disease, that my husband did not choose this for himself or our family.  But, go onto the website for Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon and you will find literally thousands of meetings in the Cities each week.  You will find one, many two meetings at synagogues.  Most meetings are in churches or community centers.  My first Al-Anon meeting was in a church basement under the watchful gaze of Jesus on the cross.

And, since his sobriety and my own recovery as a partner of an alcoholic, I have been an advocate and a voice for this disease especially the effects it has on partners.  And, I have heard from many women about their struggles.  And, in each case that I have met a Jewish woman facing this struggle, the request is always, “Please keep this private; our friends and families don’t know.”  I want to see the stigma lifted.  I could not have gotten through this time in my life without the help of our friends and families both Jews and non-Jews.  The last thing I would ever need is judgment during a time when I was simply trying to stay afloat.

If you are struggling with addiction or are a partner of someone struggling, I urge you to seek help, name it, face it; life on the other side is beautiful.