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Dear Life Matters,

My husband recently got sober & suddenly, I seem to be the family’s problem?

I have kept the family together, protected the children and, put up with many upsetting situations including total feelings of rejection & abandonment, getting the raw end of the deal & a constant anxiety and fear of where the family is going! What is going to happen to us?

Suddenly, he is the hero and I am the Monster Wife and Mom? Everyone says I am controlling and I feel really attacked and misunderstood.

I do not have a clue how to handle this.

Angry & puzzled

Dear Angry,

I hear your frustration and confusion. And I am sure this all feels very unfair.

It sounds like your husband got sober on his own, meaning AA or whatever but without a Rehab where you all might have had family therapy?

This is not to say that inpatient rehab is necessary but I do think family therapy is, after stability in sobriety is established.

Clearly you have been compensating for him while his alcoholism progressed, and being the one in charge you probably look to everyone else as someone super strong, not vulnerable and probably like someone without much feeling.

Of course, you and I know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Strong, yes maybe and I hope so because many spouses have cracked under this kind of pressure. I imagine you have had many private if not open very emotional feelings of anger and despair.

I can’t say but you may have had a tendency to control before this situation, and maybe even subconsciously picked someone not as strong as you that you could control due to whatever underlying fears you might have had. This happens frequently as things like this can be intergenerational from one family to the next. For example, was there alcoholism in your family of origin or some other type of mental disorder?

Yet often, this is not the case and the spouse simply takes over, little by little, trying to save the marriage and the family, and compensating slowly but surely for all the of matters abandoned by the alcoholic.

In so much, you have to take control, and the longer it goes on the more control you need and feel you must have just to make things work out.

Now everyone in the family knows that you are at the controls, and most likely for some time they have seen your husband as fragile and feared rocking the boat, so they have said nothing to him. Am I right?

But you don’t seem fragile or vulnerable; you are the strong one in their eyes, so why haven’t you done something to correct this, change it, to get him sober?

You haven’t because you can’t but your kids don’t know that and they probably harbor some bad feelings toward you because of this.

Also, you have had control and sometimes perhaps more than they would have liked, so now they really see it and feel safe to get angry about it.

Family therapy with a therapist that is truly skilled in the disease of alcoholism is critical here. You might need to wait a bit until husband is sober long enough to be involved and handle the emotional aspects of it.

But it really would benefit everyone to see exactly what has happened and why; that everyone has been a part of it and there are not any bad or good guys. The family just adjusts to the alcoholism until they can’t anyone. Everyone in the family needs to learn the truth and accept their part and everyone has some changing to do.

Your husband needs more control (over his behavior, not drinking) and you need to start working toward letting go of control.

But this takes time and trust doesn’t come overnight. So work at it but don’t beat yourself up. Al-Anon is an excellent free source of help for someone in your position. I think you would get a lot out of it and feeling the support of others who have been in your shoes would be good for you.

And there is no reason you can’t seek counseling on your own to help you learn, understand and begin readjusting. Then slowly but surely you can bring in other family members.

The family counseling should be mostly educative and focused on solutions. It absolutely should not be a vent your resentments type of thing because that will make things worse. Work on your resentments privately with your counselor or in Al-Anon.

Wonderful things happen for people who stay on this path and really the good news is that you and your family, with husband getting sober, have started down it.

Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage & family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Dr. Barge also holds special Certification in the Treatment of Alcoholism & other Substance Use Disorders. Visit www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous questions to newshrink@gmail.com

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