SHAIR 145: Drinking Buddies - An Alcoholic Marriage with Colleen Cline

How does alcohol destroy a marriage?

How can you quit drinking if your spouse doesn’t?

Can two alcoholics recover together?

Today we have Colleen Cline. She emailed me because she wanted to share her story on the show. Colleen is involved in AA, Al-Anon, and an aftercare program. She is also active in our Facebook group.

As the daughter of a recovering alcoholic, the wife of a recovering alcoholic, and a recovering alcoholic herself, Colleen gives us an intimate view of the dynamic between alcohol and family/marital relationships.

CLEAN DATE: DEC. 22, 2009

Listen to Colleen’s story now!

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Here are a few highlights from our interview. To get the full story please join us on the Podcast now!

Colleen’s Daily Recovery Routine

Colleen manages her household, marriage, a full-time job, and still makes time for her recovery. She attends an aftercare program every Thursday night. It’s an intensive outpatient program that she attended when she first got sober, and as a reward is allowed to attend for free for the rest of her life.

Colleen says it’s a good place to share and inspire, and show people that recovery is possible. The aftercare program also gives her the educational information to help her understand addiction. In addition, Colleen attends Al-Anon meetings every Saturday morning. These help her with her codependency issues because her husband is also in recovery.

When you have that network of people you can rely on, it’s easy.

Spiritual Practice

Colleen admits, she is terrible at sitting quietly and staying still. When she hops out of bed, she’s ready to go, so she starts her morning routine when she gets to her office. Once she is at her desk, she devotes at least fifteen minutes to quiet time. She read her One Day At a Time and meditation books. Colleen is a busybody and really has to force herself, but she does it. She also has a reminder that pops up every morning at 6 am on her phone that says:

Are you being the best person you can be today?

The First Time

The first time Colleen drank she was 18 years old in the first semester of college. It was a wine cooler. She remembers the warm feeling that came over her and that for the first time in her life, she didn’t care if she was awkward or what other people thought of her.

The Battle, Wreckage, Rock Bottom, and Recovery

Colleen was an only child who grew up in Las Vegas in a partying neighborhood. She remembers on Halloween when the parents brought their kids from door to door, the kids got candy and the adults got shots. Colleen’s mom was an alcoholic and remembers the first time she saw her mom drunk. She was 5 years old and saw friends carrying her mom to the bedroom. When she asked what was wrong with her mommy they said, “She’s just tired.”

Her mom’s alcoholism progressed as Colleen got into junior high. She didn’t have many friends over because if it, and when she did, the first thing they would ask about is what was wrong with her mom. She found herself repeating the excuse she was given so long ago. “She’s just tired,” Colleen would say.

This went on for five years, until Colleen’s dad had almost divorced her mom. At the last minute, he changed his mind and took her to a rehab instead. Her mom relapsed afterward, but went onto to enjoy sobriety for the next 32 years until her death a year and a half ago. But Colleen’s alcohol problems were just about to begin.

Colleen went to a Christian High School, so she wasn’t exposed to alcohol until college. When she turned 21, she enjoyed being able to go to bars with her friends and indulge in “adult” cocktails like wine and Maritnis. She was responsible because she was single and was the only one to take care of herself.

Then I got married.

Not that marriage drove her to drink, she jokes. It was just that now she had someone to drive her home, clean her up, and take care of her. She and her husband met at a bar on Valentine’s Day. The relationship progressed quickly and they were drinking buddies from the start. First it was parties and weekends. But then they started getting drunk every night.

During the last 3 years of her alcoholism, Colleen began suffering paralyzing anxiety attacks. She went to psychologists and tried medication, unwilling to face the fact that it was the alcohol. She and her husband got into verbal as well as physical fights. She would black out (not pass out) and not remember what she did or said. The police ended up at there door more than once.

Colleen says she never got a DUI, she never lost her job, and she never lost her house. She never had a devastating rock bottom. She thinks it’s important for newcomers to know that you don’t have to wait till you lose everything to get help.

This is not the person I thought I would be… ever.

She finally was intending to leave her husband and go to her parents’ house when she realized that it wasn’t all her husband’s fault. She had a huge part in the dysfunction too. She admitted to her mom that she thought she might be an alcoholic. Of course, her mom as a recovering alcoholic had known and got Colleen to a rehab through her friends in AA.

What kept Colleen from getting clean?

The “What if” life.

Colleen kept thinking about stopping drinking forever and that there was no way she could do it. But later she realized you can’t think about ‘forever.’

The Spiritual Awakening

It wasn’t a burning bush. It wasn’t anything super-spiritual.

Colleen remembers after about thirty days of sobriety, a realization setting in that she knew she had people to go to. She was absorbing all kinds of advice and aha quotes. That’s when the light turned on for her.

Favorite book

The Women’s Way Through the 12 Steps

Best Suggestion

She remembers her sponsor saying, “I never said I was going to stop drinking forever. I just said I was going to stop drinking for today.”

You’re making yourself a promise everyday, and that’s all you can do.

For the Newcomer

Play the video through if you’re going to pick up a drink.

Colleen liked to romanticize alcohol. She admired a picture in a glossy magazine of a woman in a bath tub overlooking a beautiful scene with a glass of champagne in her hand. This was her fantasy of alcohol. But her husband liked to take pictures of her when she was passed out drunk as a joke. The two scenes were complete opposites.

As a reminder, Colleen made a collage. She put a picture of the woman in the bath tub on one side and all the pictures of her passed out in vomit and looking horrible on the other side–the fantasy versus reality.

Keep it realistic.

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Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.