I have never had a drink. I have taken a few sips to see how something tasted but I have never downed a complete beverage. Alcohol wreaked havoc on my family so I have lived my life as if I was an alcoholic. I will not drink. I have a strong aversion to it and avoid it completely to the point of irrationality.
My wife learned about my irrationality early in our marriage. We had been married only a few months when she went to the wedding of a friend. I worked Saturdays at a market and was unable to attend so she went alone. When I came home late that evening she told me about the ceremony and reception. As a part of the story she mentioned having a glass of champagne for the toast. This bothered me terribly and I did not hide the fact well (I would never make it as a poker player, my face tells all).
She asked me what the problem was, it had only been a single glass of champagne. I told her that while there was nothing wrong with anyone drinking a glass of champagne, that the image of the woman I loved with a drink in her hand was terribly upsetting to me. I knew it was silly, but it really bothered me.
Lisa hasn’t had a drink since. Not because it is wrong for her to drink and definitely not because my argument was powerful and persuasive. She decided to never have a drink because she loves me. My revulsion to alcohol is irrational and extreme, but it is real and based on real hurt from my childhood. Alcohol is nothing more than a beverage to her and she gladly set it aside to ease my pain.
I thought of this story recently in counseling a patient. He is in the process of working a 12-step program after 30 years of an alcoholic life. He has fully embraced his recovery, going to counseling and hosting meetings for those he met in rehab. While he has been doing well with sobriety his relationship with his wife has struggled. One of the areas of conflict has been the coed nature of the meetings he hosts. His wife is not comfortable with him having friendships with women, even though he does not meet with them one on one.
“So don’t have friendships with women,” I interrupted. He defended the practice and explained that he was never alone with the women and that it was all centered around recovery. He told me he had invited his wife to the meetings so she could chaperone and see that there was nothing untoward going on, but she did not want to go. He could not understand why his wife was as bothered as she was. No explanation or protestation of innocence could sway her. He felt trapped, as he felt the meetings were important but wanted to respect his wife as well.
“Don’t have women at the meetings,” I said, “Make them men only.” I told him that his wife’s fears and concerns did not have to be rational to be respected. His wife had endured decades of his alcoholism and was no doubt deeply wounded. She did not owe him an explanation and did not need to defend her position. Instead of arguing with her, he should choose an act of love by telling her, “I understand,” and changing his meetings to men only.
I shared with him the story of my wife and the wedding champagne. I explained that while my request that she not drink was irrational and absurd, my wife honored it because she could. She loved me that much. My wife did not need to be persuaded by logic or convinced by argument. She needed only to understand my heart and my fears. After a little more conversation with the patient he decided that he would honor his wife’s request. He had been selfish in his drinking for years, he could now do this one thing for her.
As he left I thought of the incredible example of love my wife has been for the last 34 years. She has accommodated so much. Raised toilet seats, cupboards and drawers NEVER closed, as well as my fears, anger and anxieties. I thought of the hundreds of failed marriages I have seen over the years and how many times a marriage might have been saved if someone had let go of “being right” and simply given in out of love.
I went home that night and told my wife that she is wonderful and amazing. Because she is.
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