Dec 2006 – Whose Marriage Is It Anyway
A rocky relationship in recovery
I know what it is like to be a total failure as a father. On a cool November evening, I sat on a bench in a park near my house, trying to decide whether I wanted to live or die.
My sixteen-year-old daughter rode up on her bicycle. “Dad, please come home,” she said. “Mom and I are worried about you.” I got up to follow this girl I loved so much, and my gun fell out of my pocket. The look of disbelief on my daughter’s face told me that she would carry an emotional scar for the rest of her life.
I know what it is like to be an absolute failure as a husband. I followed my daughter home to a house where I had destroyed the love and trust of more than nineteen years of marriage.
I drank for another year. The feelings I carried inside of me that year define “incomprehensible demoralization.”
When I got sober oh April 19, 1984, I did it for the right reasons. I got sober for me.
AA members suggested that I go to ninety meetings in ninety days; I could not handle that. That’s three months of going to meetings! I decided that I would go to a meeting today and would not drink today. I did that ninety times in a row.
I think God has a sense of humor. My marriage was so bad that I preferred to attend AA meetings rather than stay at home with her. As a result, I went to a meeting every day in my first year of sobriety.
Because I didn’t know how to let go of old ideas, I had a tough time that first year. I did not understand the Steps, and all the happy people seemed to be working the Steps. I just went to meetings and didn’t drink.
I did some things right. I got a sponsor, called him, and listened to him. When I was five months sober, he said something that affected every area of my life.
“Chuck,” he said, “contribute to that marriage to the best of your ability. If anything happens to end the marriage, you can walk away with the least amount of guilt and resentment. Guilt and resentment will get you drunk.” The word “contribute” is very powerful in my life.
I started contributing to my marriage because I wanted to stay sober. I knew the marriage was not going to work, but I wanted to stay sober. I changed my attitude. I had done things for my wife to please her, but now I did things for her to please me. I helped at home and started to pick up after myself. I took responsibility for my actions.
I was six months sober when we passed the twenty-year mark in our marriage. I asked my wife if she wanted an anniversary card or gift.
“Why would you want to celebrate a failure?” she asked, looking me directly in the eye. I answered by going to a meeting.
I still didn’t understand the Steps, but I worked them without knowing it. I wasn’t drinking and I was saying my prayers, even though I didn’t have a God of my very own.
While on my way home from a beginner’s meeting, a thought crossed my mind: Tomorrow is none of my business; tomorrow belongs to God I was nine months sober.
I turned my tomorrows over to the care of God and, in doing so, found a freedom I hadn’t known before.
It felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. “Tomorrow” meant five minutes from now or five days from now. I did not realize it, but I had made a decision and was working the Third Step.
Two weeks later, on my way home from the same beginner’s meeting, another thought went through my mind: My marriage was either going to work or it wasn’t going to work, and that was God’s business, not mine.
I would keep doing what my sponsor suggested–contribute to my marriage–but how it turned out was God’s business, not mine. Again, I was working Step Three without knowing it. I made a decision and then took action. All fear disappeared about when we would get a divorce, which still amazes me when I remember what happened.
When I first got sober–unknown to me–my wife called a friend who was a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bringing a Big Book, she visited my wife and tried to explain AA to a nonalcoholic. She left my wife with some great words.
“Don’t divorce him for one year,” she said. “Maybe, just maybe, something will happen.”
During that first year, my wife went with me to Saturday night speaker meetings. She heard the Serenity Prayer for the first time and loved it. She got to know other members of AA and heard their stories.
When I was eleven and one half months sober, my marriage changed. I mean, it just changed. On Wednesday, the marriage was not working and on Thursday it was.
I knew it. I felt it. I recognized immediately that it had changed. The anger was gone. The past was released. That day was our day and we wanted no other.
Coming home from that same speaker meeting about three months later, my wife said, “The foundation on which we built our marriage lasted as long as it was supposed to last. Now, we have built a new one.”
I cried when she said that.
We bought brand-new wedding rings to celebrate twenty-five years of marriage in my fifth year of sobriety. We renewed our wedding vows on a cruise.
Last April, I celebrated twenty-two years of sobriety, and last October my wife and I celebrated forty-one years of marriage. It’s an ongoing miracle–sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night holding hands.
Remember my teenage daughter who found me sitting on a park bench with a gun in my pocket? Fifty-seven days after I got sober, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous. On June 16, 2006, she celebrated twenty-two years of sobriety.
The Third Step works in my life.
In My Darkest Hour – February 2020
When he lost his wife after 51 years of marriage, he knew what to do and where to go
The December 2006 issue of Grapevine included an article I wrote about my recovery and my marriage. In my story, I told of how I learned to apply the Steps of AA to my marriage and to my everyday life. Upon the suggestion of a loving sponsor, I learned how to contribute to that marriage and how to turn it over to the care of God. The name of my story was, “Whose Marriage Is It Anyway?”
Around my one year AA birthday in April of 1984, my marriage didn’t just change, it blossomed. I felt as though God reached out and touched us and turned our troubled marriage into something beautiful. I saw this as a living example of the Twelve Steps working in my life.
The article closed with me celebrating five years of sobriety and us celebrating 25 years of marriage. My wife Dorothea insisted that we go out and buy new wedding rings and renew our wedding vows.
For the next 25 years, we were walking through life together. Friday nights became “date night,” as my wife loved to go to AA speaker meetings. In April of 2014, I celebrated 30 years of sobriety. In October, my wife and I celebrated 50 years of marriage. One more time, my wife wanted to go out and get new wedding rings and renew our vows. We did exactly that.
We had retired by this time and traveled all over the country and the world. I found meetings on the back roads of the U.S. and in the remote parts of Canada and Alaska. I got to meetings around the world, including Australia, Argentina, Germany and Turkey.
In 2016, just five days before my 32nd year of sobriety, my wife suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. Once I recognized the signs that something was wrong, that she was experiencing some sort of attack, I intuitively knew what to do. I immediately called 911. Then I called my daughter. Then my sponsor. Next I called an AA friend who lived near me, as I knew better than to drive myself. The paramedics were in the house and attending to Dorothea within five minutes of the original call. She was in the hospital in less than 10 minutes.
Half an hour later, the doctor told my daughter and me that we needed to “just let her go,” to allow God to take her. Those words still ring in my ears…“Just let her go.”
Right then, I gave my wife over to the care of God. My sponsor, my daughter and my AA friend were with me in those final moments of Dorothea’s life. I was not alone. My sponsor gathered me into his arms and held onto me as I cried.
At 3:05 a.m., on the 19th of April, on the very day of my 32nd year of sobriety, God took my wife home. I was able to kiss her on the forehead and thank her for being my wife for 51 years.
At 5:00 a.m., I parked my car in front of a building where I knew a 6:00 a.m. AA meeting would be held. I placed a small sign on the windshield of my car with the words: “Wake me at 6 o’clock. I need a meeting.” I was awakened by an AA member and entered that meeting as a widower. The outpouring of love and caring I felt there was unbelievable. I was not alone that morning.
Later, we had a “celebration of life” for my wife and the response from my AA community was overwhelming. At no time did I get angry with God. At no time did I feel alone and at no time did I feel afraid. The feeling I had was one of gratitude for the 51 years my wife and I had together, and I was grateful to God for the sobriety he had given me.
The Twelve Steps and AA gave me a life I would have never known. Even in my darkest hour, God and the Fellowship of AA was with me. And thanks to AA, I was never alone.