Her husband dealt with alcohol addiction and it was tearing their family apart. Could she save their marriage?
Posted in , May 20, 2019
“Good morning, folks. This is Lucky Lawrence, bringing you the latest and greatest—” I turned the radio down, wishing I could still the turmoil I felt as easily. Shaking with anger, I attacked the dried food on last night’s dishes, and tried to focus on the errands I had to run before the girls got home from school. But I kept hearing the deejay’s voice in my head, asking mockingly, “What are you going to do now, Sue?”
That was because Lucky Lawrence was my husband, Larry, and only a few hours earlier I had given him an ultimatum: Shape up or ship out. Suitcase in hand, he had stormed out of our house—probably for good. After 10 years, our once happy marriage was falling apart. The morning before, Larry had called from the radio station. “I’ve invited some people over for dinner,” he informed me.“ On such short notice?” I said.
“Come on, I can’t take back the invitation now,” he said. “Besides, it’s no big deal. You don’t have to do anything fancy.” I spent the whole day cleaning and cooking, and gave the girls their dinner early. I was setting the table with our good china when the doorbell rang.
It was the station manager and his wife—our first guests, and Larry wasn’t home yet. I nervously made small talk, hoping my husband would walk in the door. One by one the other guests showed up. But not Larry.
“He must have got hung up,” I said finally. “Why don’t we eat?” I knew what he was up to. Larry’s coworkers probably did too. Mercifully, they ate and left quickly. I leaned my head against the front door. I just can’t handle it anymore! Too drained even to clean up, I left the dishes and went to check on the girls. Then I collapsed into bed.
The creaking of our bedroom door woke me. I turned on the light. Larry stopped in his tracks. “Do you realize it’s one o’clock in the morning? How could you do that to me?” I demanded. “Couldn’t you at least pick up the phone?”
“I couldn’t get to one,” Larry replied, shrugging.
“You were out drinking, weren’t you?” The stench of alcohol had already answered my question. “Yeah,” he said. “So what?”
“So you’re never here where you belong, with your family!”
“I’m here now. I provide for you. What more do you want?”
“You still don’t know?” How often had I told him exactly how I wanted him to change?
“If you’re that miserable, why don’t you leave?”
Something snapped inside me. “Why don’t you?” I cried, the words flying like bullets. “If you’re not going to change, just get out!” Larry dragged a suitcase from under the bed and started flinging clothes into it. Before I had a chance to say anything, he was gone.
Well, we’re better off without him! I thought furiously as I heard his car screech around the corner. Now, standing in the kitchen, my arms elbow-deep in soapy water, glowering at the radio, I found myself wondering how the early promise of our marriage had soured. The good memories came flooding back: waltzing across dance floors in Larry’s arms ... tearing open the tender love letters he wrote me every day... giggling as we snuggled together, trying to keep warm in a cabin we had rented for the winter. Deep down, Larry was a decent man. What had gone wrong?
Larry and I met in college, and I soon fell for his outgoing, fun-loving personality. I was impressed with the way he managed to hold down two jobs, serve as student body president, ace his classes, and still be the life of the party. Three months after our first date, Larry and I were married.
We settled in Phoenix, my hometown. We joined a good church. Larry got a job at a radio station, and our daughters—Linda, Luanne and Laurie—came along in quick succession. I figured we had a start on a warm, loving family like the one I had grown up in.
But gradually I noticed the more success Larry achieved, the more distant he became. It was little things at first—he had less and less to say at dinner; he seemed distracted when the girls wanted to play. I didn’t feel right complaining because he worked so hard.
Then Larry began not showing up for dinner at all, and I started smelling alcohol on his breath. “Larry, do you have to go out after work all the time?” I asked.
“You know broadcasting,” he said. “Either I get the ratings or I lose my job. I’ve got to unwind somehow.”
“You could relax at home,” I suggested. “The girls—”
Larry cut me off. “It’s not the same.”
I knew then I would have to get Larry to mend his ways. From that moment on, whenever Larry came home late or drunk (usually both), I let him have it. “Where have you been?” I demanded. “How many drinks was it this time?”
I nagged Larry ceaselessly. I slipped pamphlets about alcoholism into his sock drawer, and left phone numbers for recovery programs on the dresser. Nothing worked. I found a measure of peace in my Bible study group, but as soon as I had to deal with Larry, I lost it. There were times when he tried, really tried, but even then he overdid it, the way he overdid everything.
Once, Larry surprised me with a classic 1956 Thunderbird. He had had the car restored, and he was hurt I didn’t jump for joy when I saw it. He didn’t understand that extravagant gifts couldn’t heal our marriage. I stacked the clean dishes on the drainboard. I was relieved Larry wasn’t home. I needed some time.
“Daddy’s on a trip,” I reassured our daughters, but that didn’t fool them. Later that week Laurie’s teacher phoned to say Laurie had asked her kindergarten class to pray that her daddy would come back.
After a few days Larry called. “I’ve made an appointment with our pastor for this evening,” he said, surprisingly. “Will you come?” I had been the one suggesting we see a counselor, but I wasn’t about to make it so easy for him, not after what he had put me through. “No,” I snapped.
“Well, I’ll be there,” he said, and hung up.
Reluctantly I met Larry at our church. “Think of your daughters,” our pastor urged. “Can you work out your differences for their sake? Remember what the Bible says: ‘Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another’” (Colossians 3:13, New International Version). Our session ended without anything being settled. As we walked down the church steps, Larry asked, “Can I please come home? I promise things will be different.”
I knew the girls missed him. And I knew somewhere inside him there had to be the funny, tender man I was still in love with. Our pastor’s words about forgiveness ringing in my ears, I took a deep breath and said, “Okay.”
When Larry came in hours later it was obvious he had made a familiar stop along the way. Speechless, I slumped on our living room couch and watched as he stumbled into our bedroom. I wanted to scream andlecture, but I no longer had the strength. There was only one place I could turn.
Closing my eyes, I prayed aloud, a desperate prayer. “Lord, I’ve done everything I can. Show me how to make Larry change.” It was odd. Suddenly I found myself replaying all the criticism I had directed at Larry. How many times had I accused him of not caring about me and the girls? How many times had I berated him in front of ourdaughters?
Then I knew what God wanted me to learn. A marriage involves two people, and I bear some responsibility for what has happened. Could it be that the nagging coming out of my mouth is almost as toxic as the alcohol going into Larry’s?
That took me aback. I had been so wrapped up in condemning Larry’s actions I had never considered the destructiveness of my own behavior. Not that I was responsible for his drinking, but I was responsible for the way I reacted to it.
You can’t change Larry. I almost heard God speaking the words. Only I can do that. Give him to me. What I could do was ask God to change me. I could work on building a forward-looking life for our daughters, for myself—and for Larry, if he wanted to stop drinking and join us.
The next day the girls were so overjoyed to see their daddy I knew I had done the right thing by letting him come home. Larry soon fell back into his old pattern, but it didn’t torment me as it had before. God had given me a sense of peace and security. Of course, I wanted our marriage to work out, but I knew that even if it didn’t the girls and I would be okay. Whenever I felt like lashing out at my husband or succumbing to worry or despair, I reminded myself, Larry is in God’s hands now.
Larry gradually became reinvolved in our lives, driving Linda to track practice, making sure he was front and center for Luanne’s gymnastics meets and Laurie’s horse shows. He even asked me to pray with him. Slowly, that tender, passionate man reemerged. Eventually he stopped drinking. It was as if a fog had lifted from our lives. We were becoming the loving family I had always dreamed about. I knew we were on the right track when one evening at dinner, Luanne got quiet. Looking back and forth between Larry and me, she said, “I’m so happy you and Daddy don’t fight anymore.”
God changed Larry. Just as important, he changed me. Where bitterness and despair had taken root, now love flourished again.
This story first appeared in the April 1997 issue of Guideposts magazine.