Writing from the front lines of alcoholism
Frances Simone is a professor emeritus of Marshall University’s South Charleston campus. Central Recovery Press recently published her memoir, “Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows.”
She talked to the Gazette about the book, which recounts the dynamics of co-dependency in dealing with her husband Terry’s alcoholism, from its earliest beginnings to the progression of his disease through all its stages.
She recounts his attempts at treatment and subsequent relapse, his suicide on Christmas Day in 1996 at the age of 48, and her own recovery through a twelve-step program.
Simone will sign copies of the book at Taylor Books, 226 Capitol St., from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Q: Why did you want to write this book?
A: What I really wanted to convey was, first of all, what it was like to be inside of that kind of relationship without having the tools of knowing how to deal with it.
In the introduction to the book, I talk about the fact that as I was writing it I realized I made so many mistakes. The way I behaved. But I wasn’t in any kind of program or recovery to know what to do. So, when I did finally get into that and learn the tools, that’s kind of the message I guess that I would like to come out of this. Even when you have a tragedy like this you can recover and have a decent life, a good life which I think I have now.
And I think stories help people heal. That’s another reason I wrote it.
One figure I read was there were about 25 to 30 million alcoholics and addicts in the United States. And if you extrapolate from that the family members, you’re talking about maybe 100 million folks that are dealing with some kind of addiction.
It’s a huge number of loved ones and family members who are dealing with addiction, watching people that they love kill themselves through drugs and alcohol. I’m hoping that my book will speak to them.
Q: How did you meet your husband?
I moved here as a single mom after a divorce. I had just gotten my doctorate at Duke. Terry moved here with a group of people from Texas. We met shortly after we came here and fell in love.
He apparently had been a heavy drinker since college. And I was not aware of that. There was a lot of drinking and drugging and stuff going on in that period of time. So, there were a lot of heavy drinkers and I didn’t think much about it.
It was totally out of context for me because in the Italian family where I grew up we had wine for dinner occasionally and it wasn’t an issue.
He was also a binge drinker so it wasn’t happening all the time.
He was a very gifted attorney. It was just this back and forth where things would happen and then we’d have these periods of time where everything was great.
Q: You say you “made so many mistakes.” What do you mean by that?
A: We would just keep going back and forth, I would bring it up that he was drinking. He did go into treatment at a center in North Carolina. Then he came out but he relapsed fairly quickly. He was a functioning alcoholic — he never lost his job or the family or any of that.
So, I just did all the wrong things. Either nagged or withdrew. It was just all of this co-dependent behavior. I didn’t know how to handle it. So I did what the recovery people would say were like all the wrong things. My situation is everybody else’s situation. It’s all about trying to control what you can’t control.
Q: You talk about putting on your “God suit” to get your husband to stop drinking.
A: That’s like I knew everything. I was omnipotent. I knew what he needed to do. If he would just do what I told him to do everything would be OK. So, I was very prideful and very arrogant.
We just kept on and on. I never stopped believing that he would get well. He was never a mean or nasty drunk. He was never abusive. He was a very sweet, mild-mannered guy. When he was drunk he simply just wasn’t there. It was like he’d disappear. So this went on and on and on.
Q: What happened after his suicide?
A: For the first year I was kind of pretty numb. There was a lot of grief and sadness. But I did join a widows’ group that someone was sponsoring here in town. That was helpful. Then I went to several conferences and support [groups] that dealt just with suicide. That was really helpful. You get through it. And I journaled a lot because I’m a writer and that was very helpful, too.
Q: You also have a son who had an addiction problem. In dealing with that, you eventually got yourself into a 12-Step program for families. How has that helped?
A: I would say I’ve been involved in that probably for the last eight years or so. One of the things that we talk about it in there — it kind of sounds like a cliché — but they do talk about sharing your experience, strength and hope. That’s what we do. That’s been helpful to me. My son’s in recovery. But I’m still committed to go and share my journey with newcomers, with people who are coming in and they’re very distraught and don’t know what to do.
Q: What are some of the things you have learned from being in this fellowship group?
A: You have to back off and let the folks that are behaving in a negative way experience the consequences of their behavior. And that’s a very, very hard thing to do. Particularly, at least I have found, with children, with your kids, because your DNA or your instinct is to help them. So that line between helping and enabling I think is a very, very thin line, What you learn is how to negotiate that line. And it’s not always easy, obviously.
Q: Who do you think the audience is for your book?
A: Loved ones in relationships with addicts and alcoholics and also professionals who deal with addicts and alcoholics — those are the people I would like to be my audience.
I hope that people who read the book will realize that even in the face of a very tragic situation that they can recover. And that there are programs and organizations and that there’s help out there and that people can recover and lead healthy and happy lives. But it takes a lot of work.
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-3017 or follow @wvville on Twitter.