How A Woman’s Tears Brought Hope To Families Of Alcoholics

I came across this article that I wrote some time ago and thought that it might interest you.  This article describes the incident that led to the start of Bottled Up.

I have always hated it when a woman cries. I feel helpless, guilty, impotent and I just want to be somewhere else — where I can’t see the tears or hear the distress. Not really sure what it stirs in me, but it is a powerful feeling and I just stand there with no idea how to handle the situation. It would be good if I could say that this was an uncommon position for me. Unfortunately, there is no denying, I have been the cause of buckets of tears in my time, especially during my drinking years, but this time was definitely different.

I can’t remember exactly which date it was; I know it wasn’t the first, but it was early on in our relationship. We were going to lunch in a trendy eatery, the day was promising, and we appeared to be emotionally in a good place. Suddenly there they were—tears. Not a little tear in the corner of the eye, no no no — we are talking great gushing fountains rolling down the cheeks, accompanied by a look that I can only describe as desolation. I knew (at least I fervently hoped) that I was not to blame this time. Although deep within me there was a fear that I was somehow responsible.

We need to talk

She said, “I think we need to talk.”

How many times had I heard that phrase and, in my experience at least, it seldom heralded a conversation that I wanted to be part of. In fact, ‘we’ seldom talked. Usually she (girlfriend, wife, mother, teacher, authority figure) talked and I listened like a sullen child. This phrase usually meant the end of a relationship or, at the least, I was in trouble—again!  So, when I heard the familiar words I just thought, here we go—again! But what happened next took me completely by surprise.


Lou and I had recently got back together again after a break of 35 years during which we had no contact. We had been an item for some time in our youth, until one day Lou said, “I think we need to talk.”

After that we parted company and led our own lives, had marriages, children, jobs etc. Then one day after all that time I Googled her (admit it, haven’t we all done it). Long story short, I wrote to her, just to make contact, I had absolutely no expectations. However, after receiving the letter she phoned me and we chatted for two hours, just as if we had continued as friends for all these years.

It turned out that Lou had been recently widowed, her husband of 29 years had died of cancer. However, what had sparked her interest was that I had told her that I was a recovering alcoholic—who had progressed to being senior lecturer in Alcohol and Drug Studies at Paisley University. You see, Lou’s husband had been a problem drinker and she thought that I might be able to provide some answers.

A Vision

So, there it was again “We need to talk”.  When we sat down at the table, I gritted my teeth for what was coming. Lou started by saying that I might think she is mad, but she had felt as if a door had opened in her reality and she could hear crying and pleas for help coming out. There were people there who were desperate for help and support, as they were the family (mainly partners) of alcoholics.

We talked at length over lunch about how we could provide that help. We realised that we may not be uniquely qualified, but we are certainly in a very small group. Lou not only lived with an alcoholic for 27 years, but she also has her own private practice as a therapist helping people with life problems. As a recovered alcoholic, I bring the counterbalance to Lou; however I also bring the academic side as well. When I got clean and sober, I returned to education—obtained a degree in psychology and then a PhD. For the next 20 years I researched addiction and taught doctors, psychologists and therapists to treat addictive problems.

As we talked, we began to discover lots of things that we did not know. We found that being stuck in our own view of things meant that we interpreted the situation from a purely personal point of view. Things like, why does an alcoholic deny having a drink? Why do they hide alcohol? Why do they expect you to believe their lies? But how could non-alcoholics know these things? Nobody had told them!

What we did find was that the most prevalent piece of advice that this group was handed was — get out or throw him/her out! This advice was mostly, but not exclusively, given by people with no experience of the situation, isn’t the pinnacle of ignorance a great place to dispense advice from! The problem with this advice is that it did not take a number of issues into account. First, often there are children involved in alcoholic relationships and separation and divorce is not always the best option for them. Second, it can be extremely difficult and expensive to disentangle the mutual finances and property. Finally, but definitely not least, we have found that very often the non-alcoholic is still in love with the drinker. They want to find a solution not an escape route. They want to live with the person that they love, not the alcoholic who is causing them pain.

That day we decided to provide information that would help people. We decided that we wanted to empower people by giving them the knowledge they needed, not just for their survival, although that was a good place to start — but information that would allow them to live a happy and fulfilling life. Bottled Up is the result of that decision.

I still hate seeing a woman cry and I still cringe at the words “we need to talk”. However, that day the tears were tears of compassion and the talk laid plans for a future helping people by telling them about our experience.

If you live with a problem drinker, then we can help. We will tell you what you really need to know.

3 Replies to “How A Woman’s Tears Brought Hope To Families Of Alcoholics”

  1. Hi John and Lou,
    I’m still finding my way are undo this site. Thank you again for all your efforts. I will be looking to pay it forward.

    There are some things that apply and a number that don’t. Though I don’t believe in getting drunk, ever, I can see where I haven’t been balanced. My wife and daughter feel the solution is for me is to not to drink at all. I think think that the solution lies in communicating WHY I felt the need to drink. That has been difficult to get across. I don’t have anxiety or physical withdrawals if I can’t or choose not to drink. I am a 58 yr. old self employed (33 yrs.) husband and father or an 18 yr. old daughter. My wife helps take care of my 87 yr. old live in mother.). I am the main breadwinner.

    So, why did I show lack balance? Simply put, like so many others I used alcohol as a coping mechanism. My wife is a hard working God fearing woman. She is exceedingly focused on caring for our daughter. I know she loves our family. She has just lost some focus. Sometimes we hear the phrase, “Kindness to a fault.” Her focus has left me feeling that I our marriage is secondary to our daughter. If I try to correct her or get her to do chores, I hit a wall. Often times my counsel is redirected.

    For example, when I talk about my daughter do chores at home she makes up a list that includes my mother and I. I told my wife, M, that Mom is going to continue to digress. She’s not going to get better and move out on her own. I often work 6-7 days in a week. It’s not always all day, but a 12-15 hour day isn’t unusual.

    With all the focus on our daughter, C, we have very little time for us. Intimacy is something that is explained why we couldn’t and not how we can. I would never consider cheating on my wife. A couple glasses of wine (as in two) and I didn’t mind being denied quite so much. I also found myself working longer so that I wouldn’t lay in bed looking at the ceiling.

    Right now I have chosen not to drink anything at home. If I go out, it will only be in moderation. I am choosing not to use alcohol as a tool or coping mechanism. So, thank you for the help thus far. Even tonight I’m upset at some lack or consideration and appreciation while I’m sick. I’m headed back to work anyway. Such is life. I need to deal with it maturely and with self control. Thanks again for what you do and for listening. May Jehovah God bless you both.


  2. I’m not sure if this website is going to help me. I’m the mother of a 39 year old alcoholic son. He is desperately unwell mentally and probably physically. I’m totally at the end of my tether trying to advise him and trying to remain sane and well myself.
    The reason I question the website is I get the impression it’s about help for partners or spouses. Please tell me if that’s the case.
    Thank you. Teresa

  3. HI Teresa
    you are quite correct, the website was initially written for partners of drinkers. However, many parents, and siblings, and friends, have joined and found it to be very helpful. There are of course differences in the situations of spouses vs parents, but there are also differences between the situations couples find themselves in. We think that the strength of the Bottled Up program is that it is both robust and flexible enough to adapt to all these situations. It is not a rigid prescriptive program but rather a set of principles. Hope that helps.

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