An alcoholic reading through the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous for the first time might be tempted to skip over Chapter 8 since it is titled “To Wives” but on further examination, will find that it was actually written by Bill W. Skipping this chapter for any reason would be a serious oversight and one that might hinder, rather than help, the soon-to-be-recovering alcoholic.
Why would that be the case? One constant among alcoholics is the tendency to believe that their problem, even after they admit there is one, is theirs and not anyone else’s. Unfortunately this is not completely true. As Chapter 8 points out, “…for every man who drinks others are involved—the wife who trembles in fear of the next debauch, the mother and father who see their son wasting away.” (p. 104) This does not even include the children, friends, coworkers, neighbors, community members, doctors, police officers and others who are also suffering in some way from the effects of someone else’s drinking. Chapter 8 can be helpful in revealing the impact someone else’s drinking can have and every alcoholic needs to be aware, in the process of recovery, that they are not the only ones affected.
What, then, should these other people do? “To Wives” suggests many changes in the non-drinking person affected, but most of them boil down to not trying to solve another person’s drinking problems for them, since this will never work and may cause resentment from the alcoholic who sees other people “interfering” in his or her problem.
The ultimate solution is a spiritual awakening for these other people, use of the 12 Steps for themselves, and realization that they are dealing with someone who is seriously ill with a condition which may very well kill them if not controlled. Chapter 8 suggests, in fact, that the non-drinking spouse or other remember “He (the alcoholic) is just another sick, unreasonable person. Treat him, when you can, as though he had pneumonia.” (p. 108)
That this is a difficult thing to do is obvious from the content of Chapter 8. These women have suffered along with their drinking spouse, have become angry, resentful, frightened, and desperate, just as the alcoholic has! They may have made multiple attempts to control the disease for the drinker, may have enlisted others in the fight, even divorced or separated from the alcoholic, only to find that even extreme measures have not cured the problem.
Reason: it is NOT their problem. Only the alcoholic, with the aid of a Higher Power and the strength of Alcoholics Anonymous, can find the solution. The affected others can only see to their own spiritual health, follow the precepts of the 12 Steps themselves, “Let go and let God” take care of the problem drinker and, perhaps, as is suggested on page 121, find an Al-Anon group of their own to support them through the struggle.