We interviewed Syd, who is on the path to his own recovery. Syd himself is not an alcoholic, but has had multiple people in his life struggle with alcoholism. He created a blog to express his struggle and path to serenity: F.I.N.E.-Anon. In the interview below, he talks at length about dealing with loved ones who are alcoholics, how his life has been impacted by them, and becoming a member of Al-Anon.
Hi, Syd. Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview. Before we dive into things, would you mind briefly telling us about yourself?
I grew up in Virginia and moved to coastal South Carolina after finishing my Ph.D. I have worked professionally as a scientist for over 30 years and recently retired. My wife and I met in graduate school and have worked in the same career since then. We live on a small farm with three cats and eight dogs. I enjoy doing just about anything on the water, although sailing is a particular passion. I also enjoy writing, reading, gardening, and photography.
Who specifically in your life has struggled with alcoholism?
I don’t know whether my father was a real alcoholic, but he did have a problem with alcohol. His sister and her daughter died from alcoholism. My wife is an alcoholic. And I have a very good buddy who is also an alcoholic.
What was your relationship with your father like? How do you think his being a problem drinker affected you?
I loved my dad and learned a lot from him. But I also was afraid and ashamed of him. I didn’t want my friends to visit because of his drinking which was confined to days that he was off from work. I would mostly stay in my room when he was home.
I developed a strong dislike for drinking. To this day, being around drunks makes me uncomfortable. I believe that I developed a lot of resentment and fear about drinking. His criticism of me also affected my early self-esteem.
Can you speak about your wife? How long have you two been married? Was she an alcoholic before you met her, or did she become one after you met?
Living with an alcoholic is difficult and will eventually make those who do sick with worry and self-doubt.
I have been married a little over 30 years. I do believe that she was an alcoholic before I met her, although she didn’t call herself that at the time. She was a major drinker in graduate school. That slowed down a bit after we were married, but there were many drunken episodes over the years.
Do you think it’s possible that there’s a correlation between growing up with an alcoholic and marrying one?
Yes, I think that there is. I hear that in Al-Anon a lot — that our chooser is broken. I think that I was looking for someone to help (=fix) and believed that she needed me.
Describe how you deal/have dealt with your wife and father on a daily basis. What has worked? What hasn’t worked?
The way I have lived with alcoholics has been often one of resignation. But there have also been quite a few battles. I know that I kept hoping that they would change. It’s the mantra of Al-Anon — I kept repeating the same thing over and over hoping for different results. That is the definition of insanity. With my father, I was too young to do much except stay away from him when he was drinking. And then I left home to go to college so I got the “geographic cure.” With my wife, I was in the midst of it every day. And not every day was bad. But finally I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t cure this problem. She didn’t want to, so I had to do something for myself. That is when I went to Al-Anon.
You are now a member of Al-Anon. For those who don’t know, can you briefly explain what it is, how it works, and its purpose?
Al-Anon offers help for friends and families of problem drinkers. We learn that alcoholism is a family disease and that there are solutions to help those of us who are affected by someone else’s drinking. Living with an alcoholic is difficult and will eventually make those who do sick with worry and self-doubt. By practicing the 12 steps, we learn how to find happiness in our own being and through spirituality. The Al-Anon web site offers some great information about the purpose of the fellowship.
Even though you, yourself, are not an alcoholic, you say you’re in the process of working toward your own recovery. Can you elaborate on what exactly you’re recovering from and the process?
I am recovering from many of the same issues that drove the alcoholic to drink. I, too, suffer from low self-esteem, anger, fear, and a host of other character defects. Some of these were those that helped me to cope with the dysfunctional family situation when I was a kid. Others have taken hold over the years of being married to an active alcoholic. It isn’t an easy thing and eventually I was as sick or sicker than the alcoholic. Al-Anon’s 12 steps have helped me to realize that I can’t cure or control another. Because the program is a spiritual one, I have come to believe that another person cannot be my sole focus and that there is a power greater than myself.
Your blog is so full of truth and insight into your life. What made you start blogging? How has blogging helped you in your own road to recovery?
One of the things that my Al-Anon sponsor told me from the start was to keep a journal and to think in terms of gratitude. I do keep a hand-written journal but thought that having an online journal of sorts would be good as well. It has evolved over time. Some days I write about aspects that have helped with my ongoing recovery from the effects of alcoholism, some days I write about what I’m doing, some days about things that I am grateful for. All of this helps because there is a community of people in cyber space who have experienced the same things that I have. My story isn’t unique. It is told over and over by thousands of people who love an alcoholic/addict. So writing my thoughts down not only helps with my own recovery, but it helps me to read what others write about theirs.
You write in one of your blog posts, “Misery truly is optional.” Can you elaborate on this?
I used to be miserable but would fake that I was happy. Today, I know that misery is based on the choices that I make. I can choose to be happy by getting as much of the drama out of my life as I can. I can choose to live one day at a time and make this day count. I can mind my own business and not get enmeshed in the problems of others. So it comes down to whether I choose misery or happiness. I like the happiness idea myself.
You also write, “This is my journey in search of serenity.” How would you say this journey has gone thus far?
It will be a lifelong journey. I have pieced together many hours of serenity and peacefulness since beginning recovery. I no longer have great anxiety and a lot of desperate thoughts. The people in my life are sober and working on their own recovery. That is their journey. I am still moving forward with mine.
Any last words? Words of advice, hope, or encouragement to those pitted in a similar situation?
I would say that if you are living with alcoholism and feel that your life is difficult, then think about attending an Al-Anon meeting. Inpatient alcohol rehab may be the best choice for severe addiction to alcohol.There is only this one life. And it doesn’t have to be filled with heartache and sadness. There is a solution and it is one that involves reaching out for help. Just reach out your hand and someone will be there to grab it.