In this post we are going to examine “To the Wives” from the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous. The most important thing to remember as we read excerpts from this chapter is that it was written by an abusive husband, who didn’t think his wife knew how to wife as well as he did. But then put her name on his words (put his words in her mouth) as if she really felt exactly the way he did, and she had no unique insights (or even sober ones) he was lacking. It is an abuser telling wives what an abusive husband (he) wanted and how to comply.
“As wives of Alcoholics Anonymous, we would like you to feel that we understand as perhaps few can. We want to analyze mistakes we have made. We want to leave you with the feeling that no situation is too difficult and no unhappiness too great to be overcome.”
Wives didn’t write that. Bill W. did. So he was not understanding what being married to an alcoholic is like “as perhaps few can”. He was guessing, and as an abuser, he was guessing it was really her fault. He wanted to analyze the mistakes he felt she had made, to correct and scold her and publish it for the AA world to see. He wanted Lois to believe no unreasonable behavior he inflicted on her was good enough reason to leave him.
While listing all the things his wife tried to get him to stop killing himself with rotgut gin, Bill makes it clear her first sin was ever daring to try.
“We have struck out viciously. We have run away. We have been hysterical. We have been terror stricken. We have sought sympathy. We have had retialatory love affairs with other men.”
Lois of course did not have “retaliatory love affairs with other men”. Bill Wilson was the one engaging in open and ongoing affairs and fondling newcomers at meetings. But by putting his sin in her mouth, he told all AA membership to this day that this wife slept around in vindictive ways. He was the one who did this, but she was the one with a scarlet letter written into the new cult’s Bible.
Substance abuse is a strong predictor of violent behavior. A large longitudinal study of American youth, the Northwestern Juvenile Project, found that mental illness diagnoses other than substance abuse did not increase the odds of violent behavior. However, substance abuse did. Teen boys with a diagnosis of substance abuse were more than three times as likely to commit future violence. This strong correlation, and his own history of domestic violence, makes Bill’s words of ” wisdom” nothing more than abuse apologia.