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Road to Recovery

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Dear Brocha,

I am married for 5 years and am unsure how to proceed with my husband and his behavior. Our religion incorporates alcohol throughout the year and during life cycle events. Purim, Pesach, bar mitzvahs, weddings and every Shabbos kiddush (not to mention the kiddush club) all seemingly require alcohol as an integral and necessary ingredient. For my husband, it seems like there is always a “good reason” to make a l’chayim.

My husband is truly a wonderful and caring man. He is a faithful husband and an amazing father to our two children. However, when he drinks all of the positive qualities seem to disappear and the children and I are left with an irritable, moody, and at times, a very angry person. Whenever I broach the subject of his drinking, he tells me that I am being foolish. After all, he is a good provider, helps with the children, and is sensitive to our needs. “So, what’s your issue?” he always asks. He also keeps saying that he needs “an outlet.” He doesn’t tell me how to dress, and I shouldn’t be telling him what or how to drink. He gets defensive at the mere mention of his drinking – at times even becoming enraged.

Usually, after an outburst – meaning after he sleeps it off – he becomes very apologetic, regretful and promises to stop. However, every time he picks up that schnapps bottle he once again loses all self-respect, control and willpower.

It saddens me that my children are seeing this erratic and sometimes abusive behavior. They are young, ages 4 and 6, but as soon as my husband starts yelling they run to their rooms. I myself try to stay out of his way when he drinks hoping to prevent a major confrontation. I feel as if I live my life walking on eggshells. I am at my wits end, but I still love my husband and don’t want to get divorced over this. However, I feel that I might have to give him an ultimatum: the bottle or me?

Am I being too harsh, or do I need to let him have his “outlet?”

Seeking direction

Dear Seeking direction,

I feel for your situation and the traumatic events to which you and your children are subjected. You are not alone. However, I wish to laud you for your desire to salvage your marriage and wish you much hatzlacha in seeing this through!

Unfortunately, abuse of alcohol is one of the diseases that is swept under the rug in many homes. It is the cause of financial distress, emotional issues amongst children, continued cycle of abuse, break up of marriages, and is one of the major contributing factors to the ongoing youth at-risk epidemic.

The following is a list of symptoms of alcoholism, issued by the Mayo clinic:

Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Feeling a strong need or compulsion to drink. Developing tolerance to alcohol so that you need an increasing amounts to feel its effects. Having legal problems or problems with relationships, employment or finances due to drinking. Drinking alone or in secret. Experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don’t drink. Not remembering conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as “blacking out.” Making a ritual of having drinks at certain times and becoming annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned. Losing interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring you pleasure. Irritability when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn’t available. Keeping alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work or in your car. Gulping drinks, ordering doubles, becoming intoxicated intentionally to feel good or drinking to feel “normal.”

Alcoholism is a disease. One of the difficulties in recognizing alcoholism as such is that it simply doesn’t appear like one. At the onset, it doesn’t have recognizable physical manifestations, can occur unannounced and “under wraps”, and it certainly doesn’t act like a disease. To make matters worse, the abuser generally denies its existence and resists treatment.

Alcoholism has been recognized for many years by professional medical organizations as a primary, chronic, progressive and sometimes fatal disease. While the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers a detailed and complete definition of alcoholism, the simplest way to describe it would be as “a mental obsession that triggers a physical compulsion to use.” The rage, and what ensues when one uses, is a result of the compulsion to drink. In order to curb the rage and alleviate the mental anguish you are dealing with, the disease itself must be treated.

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