THE FAMILY AFTERWARD
OUR WOMEN FOLK have suggested certain attitudes
a wife may take with her husband who is recov-
ering. Perhaps they created the impression that he is
to be wrapped in cotton wool and placed on a ped-
estal. Successful readjustment means the opposite.
All members of the family should meet upon the com-
mon ground of tolerance, understanding and love.
This involves a process of deflation. The alcoholic,
his wife, his children, his "in-laws," each one is likely
to have fixed ideas about the family's attitude towards
himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or
her wishes respected. We find the more one member
of the family demands that the others concede to him,
the more resentful they become. This makes for dis-
cord and unhappiness.
And why? Is it not because each wants to play the
lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to
his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what
he can take from the family life rather than give?
Cessation of drinking is but the first step away from
a highly strained, abnormal condition. A doctor said
to us, "Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure
to make any wife or child neurotic. The entire family
is, to some extent, ill." Let families realize, as they
start their journey, that all will not be fair weather.
Each in his turn may be footsore and may straggle.
THE FAMILY AFTERWARD 123
There will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down
which they may wander and lose their way.
Suppose we tell you some of the obstacles a family
will meet; suppose we suggest how they may be
avoided--even converted to good use for others. The
family of an alcoholic longs for the return of happiness
and security. They remember when father was ro-
mantic, thoughtful and successful. Today's life is
measured against that of other years and, when it falls
short, the family may be unhappy.
Family confidence in dad is rising high. The good
old days will soon be back, they think. Sometimes
they demand that dad bring them back instantly!
God, they believe, almost owes this recompense on a
long overdue account. But the head of the house has
spent years in pulling down the structures of business,
romance, friendship, health--these things are now
ruined or damaged. It will take time to clear away the
wreck. Though old buildings will eventually be re-
placed by finer ones, the new structures will take years
Father knows he is to blame; it may take him many
seasons of hard work to be restored financially, but he
shouldn't be reproached. Perhaps he will never have
much money again. But the wise family will admire
him for what he is trying to be, rather than for what
he is trying to get.
Now and then the family will be plagued by specters
from the past, for the drinking career of almost every
alcoholic has been marked by escapades, funny, hu-
miliating, shameful or tragic. The first impulse will be
to bury these skeletons in a dark closet and padlock
the door. The family may be possessed by the idea
124 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
that future happiness can be based only upon forget-
fulness of the past. We think that such a view is self-
centered and in direct conflict with the new way of
Henry Ford once made a wise remark to the effect
that experience is the thing of supreme value in life.
That is true only if one is willing to turn the past to
good account. We grow by our willingness to face
and rectify errors and convert them into assets. The
alcoholic's past thus becomes the principle asset of the
family and frequently it is almost the only one!
This painful past may be of infinite value to other
families still struggling with their problem. We think
each family which has been relieved owes something
to those who have not, and when the occasion re-
quires, each member of it should be only too willing
to bring former mistakes, no matter how grievous, out
of their hiding places. Showing others who suffer how
we were given help is the very thing which makes life
seem so worth while to us now. Cling to the thought
that, in God's hands, the dark past is the greatest pos-
session you have--the key to life and happiness for
others. With it you can avert death and misery for
It is possible to dig up past misdeeds so they become
a blight, a veritable plague. For example, we know of
situations in which the alcoholic or his wife have had
love affairs. In the first flush of spiritual experience
they forgave each other and drew closer together. The
miracle of reconciliation was at hand. Then, under
one provocation or another, the aggrieved one would
unearth the old affair and angrily cast its ashes about.
A few of us have had these growing pains and they
THE FAMILY AFTERWARD 125
hurt a great deal. Husbands and wives have some-
times been obliged to separate for a time until new
perspective, new victory over hurt pride could be re-
won. In most cases, the alcoholic survived this ordeal
without relapse, but not always. So we think that
unless some good and useful purpose is to be served,
past occurrences should not be discussed.
We families of Alcoholics Anonymous keep few
skeletons in the closet. Everyone knows about the
others' alcoholic troubles. This is a condition which,
in ordinary life, would produce untold grief; there
might be scandalous gossip, laughter at the expense of
other people, and a tendency to take advantage of in-
timate information. Among us, these are rare occur-
rences. We do talk about each other a great deal, but
we almost invariably temper such talk by a spirit of
love and tolerance.
Another principle we observe carefully is that we do
not relate intimate experiences of another person un-
less we are sure he would approve. We find it better,
when possible, to stick to our own stories. A man may
criticize or laugh at himself and it will affect others
favorably, but criticism or ridicule coming from an-
other often produces the contrary effect. Members of
a family should watch such matters carefully, for one
careless, inconsiderate remark has been known to raise
the very devil. We alcoholics are sensitive people. It
takes some of us a long time to outgrow that serious
Many alcoholics are enthusiasts. They run to ex-
tremes. At the beginning of recovery a man will take,
as a rule, one of two directions. He may either plunge
into a frantic attempt to get on his feet in business, or
126 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
he may be so enthralled by his new life that he talks
or thinks of little else. In either case certain family
problems will arise. With these we have had experi-
We think it dangerous if he rushes headlong at his
economic problem. The family will be affected also,
pleasantly at first, as they feel their money troubles
are about to be solved, then not so pleasantly as they
find themselves neglected. Dad may be tired at night
and preoccupied by day. He may take small interest
in the children and may show irritation when reproved
for his delinquencies. If not irritable, he may seem
dull and boring, not gay and affectionate as the family
would like him to be. Mother may complain of inat-
tention. They are all disappointed, and often let him
feel it. Beginning with such complaints, a barrier
arises. He is straining every nerve to make up for lost
time. He is striving to recover fortune and reputation
and feels he is doing very well.
Sometimes mother and children don't think so.
Having been neglected and misused in the past, they
think father owes them more than they are getting.
They want him to make a fuss over them. They expect
him to give them the nice times they used to have be-
fore he drank so much, and to show his contrition for
what they suffered. But dad doesn't give freely of
himself. Resentment grows. He becomes still less
communicative. Sometimes he explodes over a trifle.
The family is mystified. They criticize, pointing out
how he is falling down on his spiritual program.
This sort of thing can be avoided. Both father and
the family are mistaken, though each side may have
some justification. It is of little use to argue and only
THE FAMILY AFTERWARD 127
makes the impasse worse. The family must realize that
dad, though marvelously improved, is still convalesc-
ing. They should be thankful he is sober and able to
be of this world once more. Let them praise his prog-
ress. Let them remember that his drinking wrought
all kinds of damage that may take long to repair. If
they sense these things, they will not take so seriously
his periods of crankiness, depression, or apathy, which
will disappear when there is tolerance, love, and spirit-
The head of the house ought to remember that he is
mainly to blame for what befell his home. He can
scarcely square the account in his lifetime. But he
must see the danger of over-concentration on financial
success. Although financial recovery is on the way for
many of us, we found we could not place money first.
For us, material well-being always followed spiritual
progress; it never preceded.
Since the home has suffered more than anything
else, it is well that a man exert himself there. He is
not likely to get far in any direction if he fails to show
unselfishness and love under his own roof. We know
there are difficult wives and families, but the man who
is getting over alcoholism must remember he did much
to make them so.
As each member of a resentful family begins to see
his shortcomings and admits them to the others, he
lays a basis for helpful discussion. These family talks
will be constructive if they can be carried on without
heated argument, self-pity, self-justification or resent-
ful criticism. Little by little, mother and children will
see they ask too much, and father will see he gives too
128 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
little. Giving, rather than getting, will become the
Assume on the other hand that father has, at the
outset, a stirring spiritual experience. Overnight, as
it were, he is a different man. He becomes a religious
enthusiast. He is unable to focus on anything else. As
soon as his sobriety begins to be taken as a matter of
course, the family may look at their strange new dad
with apprehension, then with irritation. There is talk
about spiritual matters morning, noon and night. He
may demand that the family find God in a hurry, or
exhibit amazing indifference to them and say he is
above worldly considerations. He may tell mother,
who has been religious all her life, that she doesn't
know what it's all about, and that she had better get
his brand of spirituality while there is yet time.
When father takes this tack, the family may react
unfavorably. They may be jealous of a God who has
stolen dad's affections. While grateful that he drinks
no more, they may not like the idea that God has ac-
complished the miracle where they failed. They often
forget father was beyond human aid. They may not
see why their love and devotion did not straighten
him out. Dad is not so spiritual after all, they say. If
he means to right his past wrongs, why all this concern
for everyone in the world but his family? What about
his talk that God will take care of them? They suspect
father is a bit balmy!
He is not so unbalanced as they might think. Many
of us have experienced dad's elation. We have in-
dulged in spiritual intoxication. Like a gaunt pros-
pector, belt drawn in over the last ounce of food, our
pick struck gold. Joy at our release from a lifetime of
THE FAMILY AFTERWARD 129
frustration knew no bounds. Father feels he has struck
something better than gold. For a time he may try to
hug the new treasure to himself. He may not see at
once that he has barely scratched a limitless lode
which will pay dividends only if he mines it for the
rest of his life and insists on giving away the entire
If the family cooperates, dad will soon see that he is
suffering from a distortion of values. He will perceive
that his spiritual growth is lopsided, that for an aver-
age man like himself, a spiritual life which does not
include his family obligations may not be so perfect
after all. If the family will appreciate that dad's cur-
rent behavior is but a phase of his development, all
will be well. In the midst of an understanding and
sympathetic family, these vagaries of dad's spiritual
infancy will quickly disappear.
The opposite may happen should the family con-
demn and criticize. Dad may feel that for years his
drinking has placed him on the wrong side of every
argument, but that now he has become a superior per-
son with God on his side. If the family persists in
criticism, this fallacy may take a still greater hold on
father. Instead of treating the family as he should, he
may retreat further into himself and feel he has spirit-
ual justification for so doing.
Though the family does not fully agree with dad's
spiritual activities, they should let him have his head.
Even if he displays a certain amount of neglect and
irresponsibility towards the family, it is well to let him
go as far as he likes in helping other alcoholics. Dur-
ing those first days of convalescence, this will do more
to insure his sobriety than anything else. Though
130 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
some of his manifestations are alarming and disagree-
able, we think dad will be on a firmer foundation than
the man who is placing business or professional suc-
cess ahead of spiritual development. He will be less
likely to drink again, and anything is preferable to
Those of us who have spent much time in the world
of spiritual make-believe have eventually seen the
childishness of it. This dream world has been replaced
by a great sense of purpose, accompanied by a grow-
ing consciousness of the power of God in our lives.
We have come to believe He would like us to keep our
heads in the clouds with Him, but that our feet ought
to be firmly planted on earth. That is where our fel-
low travelers are, and that is where our work must be
done. These are the realities for us. We have found
nothing incompatible between a powerful spiritual
experience and a life of sane and happy usefulness.
One more suggestion: Whether the family has spirit-
ual convictions or not, they may do well to examine the
principles by which the alcoholic member is trying to
live. They can hardly fail to approve these simple
principles, though the head of the house still fails
somewhat in practicing them. Nothing will help the
man who is off on a spiritual tangent so much as the
wife who adopts a sane spiritual program, making a
better practical use of it.
There will be other profound changes in the house-
hold. Liquor incapacitated father for so many years
that mother became head of the house. She met these
responsibilities gallantly. By force of circumstances,
she was often obliged to treat father as a sick or way-
ward child. Even when he wanted to assert himself
THE FAMILY AFTERWARD 131
he could not, for his drinking placed him constantly
in the wrong. Mother made all the plans and gave the
directions. When sober, father usually obeyed. Thus
mother, through no fault of her own, became accus-
tomed to wearing the family trousers. Father, coming
suddenly to life again, often begins to assert himself.
This means trouble, unless the family watches for
these tendencies in each other and comes to a friendly
agreement about them.
Drinking isolates most homes from the outside
world. Father may have laid aside for years all normal
activities--clubs, civic duties, sports. When he renews
interest in such things, a feeling of jealousy may arise.
The family may feel they hold a mortgage on dad, so
big that no equity should be left for outsiders. Instead
of developing new channels of activity for themselves,
mother and children demand that he stay home and
make up the deficiency.
At the very beginning, the couple ought to frankly
face the fact that each will have to yield here and
there if the family is going to play an effective part in
the new life. Father will necessarily spend much time
with other alcoholics, but this activity should be
balanced. New acquaintances who know nothing of
alcoholism might be made and thoughtful considera-
tion given their needs. The problems of the commu-
nity might engage attention. Though the family has
no religious connections, they may wish to make con-
tact with or take membership in a religious body.
Alcoholics who have derided religious people will
be helped by such contacts. Being possessed of a
spiritual experience, the alcoholic will find he has
much in common with these people, though he may
132 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
differ with them on many matters. If he does not
argue about religion, he will make new friends and is
sure to find new avenues of usefulness and pleasure.
He and his family can be a bright spot in such con-
gregations. He may bring new hope and new courage
to many a priest, minister, or rabbi, who gives his all
to minister to our troubled world. We intend the fore-
going as a helpful suggestion only. So far as we are
concerned, there is nothing obligatory about it. As
non-denominational people, we cannot make up
others' minds for them. Each individual should con-
sult his own conscience.
We have been speaking to you of serious, sometimes
tragic things. We have been dealing with alcohol in its
worst aspect. But we aren't a glum lot. If newcomers
could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn't
want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life. We try
not to indulge in cynicism over the state of the nations,
nor do we carry the world's troubles on our shoulders.
When we see a man sinking into the mire that is alco-
holism, we give him first aid and place what we have
at his disposal. For his sake, we do recount and almost
relive the horrors of our past. But those of us who have
tried to shoulder the entire burden and trouble of
others find we are soon overcome by them.
So we think cheerfulness and laughter make for use-
fulness. Outsiders are sometimes shocked when we
burst into merriment over a seemingly tragic experi-
ence out of the past. But why shouldn't we laugh?
We have recovered, and have been given the power
to help others.
Everybody knows that those in bad health, and
those who seldom play, do not laugh much. So let
THE FAMILY AFTERWARD 133
each family play together or separately, as much as
their circumstances warrant. We are sure God wants
us to be happy, joyous, and free. We cannot subscribe
to the belief that this life is a vale of tears, though it
once was just that for many of us. But it is clear that
we made our own misery. God didn't do it. Avoid
then, the deliberate manufacture of misery, but if
trouble comes, cheerfully capitalize it as an oppor-
tunity to demonstrate His omnipotence.
Now about health: A body badly burned by alcohol
does not often recover overnight nor do twisted think-
ing and depression vanish in a twinkling. We are con-
vinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most power-
ful health restorative. We, who have recovered from
serious drinking, are miracles of mental health. But
we have seen remarkable transformations in our
bodies. Hardly one of our crowd now shows any mark
But this does not mean that we disregard human
health measures. God has abundantly supplied this
world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practition-
ers of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your
health problems to such persons. Most of them give
freely of themselves, that their fellows may enjoy
sound minds and bodies. Try to remember that
though God has wrought miracles among us, we
should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist.
Their services are often indispensable in treating a
newcomer and in following his case afterward.
One of the many doctors who had the opportunity
of reading this book in manuscript form told us that
the use of sweets was often helpful, of course depend-
ing upon a doctor's advice. He thought all alcoholics
134 ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
should constantly have chocolate available for its
quick energy value at times of fatigue. He added that
occasionally in the night a vague craving arose which
would be satisfied by candy. Many of us have noticed
a tendency to eat sweets and have found this practice
A word about sex relations. Alcohol is so sexually
stimulating to some men that they have over-indulged.
Couples are occasionally dismayed to find that when
drinking is stopped the man tends to be impotent. Un-
less the reason is understood, there may be an emo-
tional upset. Some of us had this experience, only to
enjoy, in a few months, a finer intimacy than ever.
There should be no hesitancy in consulting a doctor or
psychologist if the condition persists. We do not
know of many cases where this difficulty lasted long.
The alcoholic may find it hard to re-establish
friendly relations with his children. Their young
minds were impressionable while he was drinking.
Without saying so, they may cordially hate him for
what he has done to them and to their mother. The
children are sometimes dominated by a pathetic hard-
ness and cynicism. They cannot seem to forgive and
forget. This may hang on for months, long after their
mother has accepted dad's new way of living and
In time they will see that he is a new man and in
their own way they will let him know it. When this
happens, they can be invited to join in morning medi-
tation and then they can take part in the daily discus-
sion without rancor or bias. From that point on,
progress will be rapid. Marvelous results often follow
such a reunion.
THE FAMILY AFTERWARD 135
Whether the family goes on a spiritual basis or not,
the alcoholic member has to if he would recover. The
others must be convinced of his new status beyond the
shadow of a doubt. Seeing is believing to most fam-
ilies who have lived with a drinker.
Here is a case in point: One of our friends is a heavy
smoker and coffee drinker. There was no doubt he
over-indulged. Seeing this, and meaning to be help-
ful, his wife commenced to admonish him about it. He
admitted he was overdoing these things, but frankly
said that he was not ready to stop. His wife is one of
those persons who really feels there is something
rather sinful about these commodities, so she nagged,
and her intolerance finally threw him into a fit of anger.
He got drunk.
Of course our friend was wrong--dead wrong. He
had to painfully admit that and mend his spiritual
fences. Though he is now a most effective member of
Alcoholics Anonymous, he still smokes and drinks
coffee, but neither his wife nor anyone else stands in
judgment. She sees she was wrong to make a burning
issue out of such a matter when his more serious ail-
ments were being rapidly cured.
We have three little mottoes which are apropos.
Here they are:
First Things First
Live and Let Live
Easy Does It.