Episode 120: When a Man Loves a Woman

This episode features a discussion of the 1994 film, When a Man Loves a Woman. The film starring Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia does an amazing job in depicting the relationship between an alcoholic and her spouse and how the dynamics of the relationship changes as the alcoholic gets sober and begins to recover. Benn B. and John S. bring their own experiences as recovering people into the conversation. 

Transcript

00:00 Alice: My bottom was 184 days ago, when my little girl watched me wash down aspirin with vodka. And then I hit her. And when I passed out, she was alone with me, and she thought I was dead. And all of my life, I will never know what that did to her.

00:35 John S: That was Meg Ryan as Alice Green in the 1994 film, When a Man Loves a Woman. And this is Episode 120 of AA Beyond Belief.

[music]

01:06 John S: My old friend, Benn B from Omaha, is back to talk about the film, When a Man Loves a Woman, starring Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia. Well, hey Benn, how you doing?

01:18 Benn B: Pretty good, John. How have you been?

01:19 John S: I’m doing great. It’s been a while since we’ve watched a movie and talked about it, so it’s nice to have you back to do that.

01:25 Benn B: Yeah, I’m excited for it. As you know, I love films, and I go back and listen to our Smash Podcasts once in a while and we did, I mean, tooting’ our own horn, but we did a good job on that. I really liked how we went through that. It really makes me think, when I listen to it.

01:41 John S: I kind of agree. I think that it would be cool if the producers of that movie would watch, would listen to that podcast, they might think, “Wow, that’s pretty good.”

01:50 Benn B: Yeah, yeah.

01:52 John S: But it is kind of cool to watch these movies about addiction and recovery because obviously, for us, because we’ve had the personal experience, but I do learn something from it. I do learn something from watching the movies and I’m always, “I don’t know why I’m surprised.” But it’s amazing to me how moved I am emotionally by watching these scenes, especially when it’s the addict who is realizing that they have a problem. For whatever reason, those scenes just made me cry.

02:22 Benn B: Yeah.

02:22 John S: So anyway, today we’re going to talk about, When a Man Loves a Woman.

02:25 Benn B: Yeah, yeah. I had forgot how moving this movie was, man, I wasn’t… I was prepared, but I wasn’t.

02:30 John S: Yeah. I mean, I was weepy throughout the entire thing, [chuckle] I really was. The acting is incredible. Meg Ryan as Alice playing the alcoholic, just perfect acting. It was like you couldn’t even tell she memorized a script or anything. And Andy Garcia as the husband, Michael, and the two children actually did a fantastic job. All the acting was really good.

02:57 Benn B: Yeah, yeah. It really was. It was interesting to see a young Philip Seymour Hoffman in there too and Ellen Burstyn. Yeah.

03:04 John S: That must have been one of his early movies or something, because he just had a kind of like a very small scene there, he had one line or something. I don’t know.

03:15 Benn B: I yeah, I think, yeah. I think there’s two instances he appears in. And also, a recovering addict and alcoholic too, before he relapsed and passed.

03:23 John S: Yeah. And another thing I noticed, and I don’t know if this is just a coincidence or not, but one of those actors, it was an actor that played Alice’s father, when her parents were coming to visit. That guy was in the movie, Clean and Sober, and he was Michael Keaton’s sponsor.

03:43 Benn B: Oh yeah, yep. I can’t remember his name, but yeah.

03:45 John S: I see these people, these actors, sometimes popping up. I don’t know if it’s just because they’re good at playing addicts or if they have some experience. You see sometimes some of the same people in these addiction movies, I think.

04:00 Benn B: Yeah. One thing I didn’t realize, and maybe I knew it and forgot it at once, but Al Franken was an executive producer on this movie and also a co-writer.

04:08 John S: That’s right.

04:09 Benn B: And he’s been speaking out the last few years, especially about being a very active Al-Anon attendee and his wife’s problem with alcohol. Yeah. So, it made a lot of sense thinking about it.

04:19 John S: Yeah, he’s very active in Al-Anon, and he’s a brilliant writer, and he did a great job with this. I don’t know what part of it he wrote, but it was brilliant, so obviously, he knows his stuff and he comes from an Al-Anon perspective.

04:34 Benn B: Yeah.

04:34 John S: And that was interesting too because the title of the movie, When a Man Loves a Woman, it’s a multi-faceted film, but it’s really focusing on him, I think, and his reaction to his wife, though I didn’t pick up on that so much the first time I saw it. So…

04:52 Benn B: Yeah, I agree 100%. The first time I had seen in a long, long time ago, I don’t think I was ever consciously paying attention to movies the way I do now. But this time, it felt a whole lot more about him than it did her…

05:02 John S: Yeah.

05:03 Benn B: To me.

05:03 John S: It did for me too. The first time I watched the film, and it was 25 years ago when I saw it the first time, so I’d been sober, what, five years or something like that. And I just thought her depiction of an alcoholic in early recovery was spot on. I mean, about how silly we are, how we get all excited about our new friends and our meetings and kind of self-absorbed, and she displayed all of those behaviors, and I thought she just did a perfect job. And also, the people that were in the treatment center with her. I mean, they’re all a little bit nutty, you know. [chuckle]

05:40 Benn B: Yeah, yeah.

05:40 John S: And they got that perfect. It was exactly right.

05:45 Benn B: Yeah.

05:45 John S: So, I was really amazed by that. And I don’t think I really understood back 25 years ago the incredible acting on Andy Garcia’s part of portraying the spouse of an alcoholic and the real complex, emotional dynamic in the relationship between the non-alcoholic and the alcoholic spouse. I thought that was… This time, I really picked up on that. It was pretty amazing.

06:09 Benn B: Yeah, yeah, it really was. I would imagine that’s probably Al Franken’s addition there, because, yeah, and Andy Garcia does a great job here, that brink of anger and almost violence a few times that he shows at his frustration level at what’s going on. And you go from being, we’ll probably get into this more, but you go from being the person who doesn’t have the problem and your spouse is the one that has the problem, well, go take off and take care of this and then everything is going to be okay, but that’s not… That’s not the way it works, as we know.

06:38 John S: What should we do? Should we just start from… Just talk about the movie from the beginning? The movie opens up with the scene of Alice, played by Meg Ryan. She’s in a restaurant, drinking, and a guy is trying to pick her up. And then Andy Garcia, Michael, comes in, and he’s a pilot, and they kind of have fun at the guy’s expense who was trying to pick her up. And it’s obvious that they’re in love. And then the movie moves on to their home life. And I think the first scene that I remember that focused on her drinking was the night when she needed a drink, she went out to the trash can, and I don’t know what she was doing, was she trying to… Was she thinking she was going to throw the bottle away, was she hiding it or what?

07:31 Benn B: Yeah, I think she had that thought in the middle of the night, “I got to get rid of that bottle, this has got to quit.” And then when she does it, then she’s like, “Oh shit, I’ll just have this last drink before I toss it.”

07:40 John S: Yeah. And then she was locked out of her house and it was kind of an embarrassing situation for her.

07:47 Benn B: And I think even before that, there’s little cues, like she’s drinking at the house before they’re going to go out for an anniversary dinner, and she takes the drink out the door with her. Little clues like that, like she’s always carrying around that drink. And then I think they went out for dinner that night, and they’re kind of drunkenly dancing on the floor, and we’re getting pulled into the romance of them after also that first scene that you… Meant to tell us how much in love they are. And she’s a little bit too drunk on that dance floor for where they’re at, just a slight bit tipsy and just dancing, whatever. And it really sets the tone nicely for how just a subtle drinking too much can slowly slip into something you never planned on it to be at all.

08:30 John S: Yeah. And I could see, during the parts of the movie where she’s drinking, how Michael was really the caretaker. He was the hero that would sweep in and try to solve all the problems. And the first time I watched the film, and I was watching Andy Garcia play that role, I thought, well, he’s a nice guy. What a great guy he is. [chuckle] He seems to be the normal one in the relationship. He seems to be the one that has it all together. He’s the one who’s not being treated right. And I just saw Meg Ryan as being the one who was selfish and self-absorbed and was the one that was causing problems in the relationship.

09:09 Benn B: Yeah, that’s the way I felt, I think, the first time around, too. And even as somebody who was yet to have a drinking problem, I think I was blaming her. It was just like, “Oh jeez, just go and quit drinking and everything would be fine.” Yeah, it’s not… And I think that’s where the movie leads us with Michael, too. He just wants to solve everything, he wants the problem to be taken care of, and I think there’s parts of the movie where she’s like, “That’s not what this is about. This is… You can’t fix this. It’s not about having a problem and solving it, it’s… ” On a deeper level, it’s about being aware of those emotions and being able to be there for somebody else and present for them without providing a…

09:48 John S: Yeah. I’ve got something I might want to play. This is a scene where they get into an argument. This is the first time that Alice lets Michael know that he can’t continue the role that he’s always played as the caretaker.

10:04 Alice: The thrilling part of all this, it just comes and hits and runs me over like a goddamn freight train.

10:09 Michael: Okay, when is the next freight train coming through? You got a printed schedule? because I could plan around these things, you know, and give you the space so you can, you know, smoke.

10:34 Alice: Maybe you shouldn’t have to, Michael. One of the women at my meetings is going to a halfway house because she’s not making it in her home environment, and I…

10:44 Michael: What? You’re actually thinking about this.

10:50 Alice: Oh no, Michael. Don’t start jumping to conclusions.

10:52 Michael: What? Excuse me for taking my life personally, Alice. What is wrong with our home? Nothing. You said it was something. What is it, huh? Is it the couch? Is it an area rug? Or is it possibly, Alice, Alicia, me? Is it me?

11:18 Alice: It’s not your problem.

11:19 Michael: No, it’s not my problem, it’s just my fucking fault! Everything is my fault! My sick wife is not making it in her home environment! Why, exactly?

11:29 Alice: I mean, I am not your problem. I am not your problem to solve! It was so much more fun in the old days, wasn’t it, Michael? I’d get drunk, I’d pass out, and you’d put me back together. That was the best, huh? That made you feel good. And that’s what hurts.

[pause]

12:07 Alice: Don’t. Oh, fuck that! Fuck making it better, Michael! It’s not getting better! I don’t know how to make it better, and I swear to God you don’t either!

12:22 Michael: Maybe.

12:24 Alice: Every time you say that, every time you look at me like that, Michael, I want to come right out of my skin. You make me feel like a stupid, worthless, weak animal. I don’t know how to try anymore.

12:52 Michael: Not giving up. Sticking together, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be trying for?

12:56 Alice: No, Michael. We’re supposed to try to be real. And when you feel alone, you’re not together, and that is real. And when you don’t know, you just don’t know.

13:11 Benn B: Wow, [chuckle] that was great, John. Good idea. And like I was saying, how frustrating, you’re the partner who feels like you’ve been holding everything together, while somebody goes for 30 days to try and take care of something, and then now you’re the one having empathy for his position. He’s the one who’s… He feels like he’s the problem because look, she’s gone and she’s working on things, and she’s probably seeing things clearer than he is in many ways, like the whole dynamic between them, and her being taken care of by him, and that for her to get better, stay sober, it requires her learning how to take care of herself. So, it just puts their whole dynamic in… Just in turmoil.

13:47 John S: Yeah, and what you said is spot on. She was the one who actually could see the truth of their relationship. She was the one who knew that something needed to change between them, and I totally missed that the first time I saw this movie. I thought… When I saw that scene the first time, I thought, oh, she’s horrible, she’s… [laughter]

14:08 Benn B: Right, right.

14:09 John S: And now I… And this time I say, “Wow, he does have some… He has some issues that he needs to work on, for sure. Wasn’t it before the scene when he would go to Al-Anon meetings, and he told her that he thought they were a bunch of people who felt sorry for themselves, and…?

14:26 Benn B: Yep.

14:26 John S: Prior to this scene, I don’t think he was really serious about doing anything for his own issues. But maybe after this scene, that’s when he started taking the Al-Anon more seriously.

14:36 Benn B: Yep. This is that turning point, and I think you’re right, right before this, he went to an Al-Anon meeting, and you can see him having contempt for the people sharing. And then he leaves early, I think. And yeah. And the jabs that he throws at her with all the sarcasm and spite like, “Let me know when the train’s coming through and you can just sit here and smoke.” And then she blows that smoke right in his face, which is a great move on her part if you’re in an argument. [chuckle] It’s not healthy, but then… And then he grabs the smoke out of the air and it’s just like, oh, back and forth, those barbs. And it’s just… Again, the empathy for him from his perspective, it’s like, oh, now you’re going to go off, you’re the one who had the drinking problem, come back and tell me everything that’s wrong?

15:14 Benn B: But she’s right, she is right, and that’s the tough part. And this is why a lot of relationships don’t make it. Al-Anon can be a great support for figuring some of that stuff out, but if… And this… Related to alcohol or not, if one person gets on board with becoming a better person and growing and changing, and the other person doesn’t, you can see how the dynamic that brought them together in the first place really doesn’t hold anymore.

15:37 John S: Yeah. I can see how it’s a lot more difficult for the Al-Anon to have to… The addict is… We’re kind of forced to look at our problem. There’s something that dramatic that happens that interrupts our addiction, whereas the Al-Anon… He wasn’t necessarily a bad person; he wasn’t doing anything. He was helping his family, his… Taking care of his daughters, he was cleaning the house, and taking care of things when she couldn’t and all of this, but it wasn’t what she needed. She didn’t need someone to take care of her.

16:10 Benn B: Yeah, she needed the opposite. She probably needed someone to… He talked, too, at different times about not seeing it at all. And how many people say that? But you really have to turn a blind eye to some of the things we do when we’re drinking like that to not see the problem, especially when you’re married to someone and you’re living with someone, you know?

16:29 John S: Yeah.

16:30 Benn B: It’s easy to not see… Or I think it’s common to not see it, but it’s kind of a sign of the detachment or the need to be the person who picks up those pieces all the time. So yeah, wow, that was a great clip. I’m so glad you played that.

16:43 John S: There were so many scenes in this movie that were incredibly powerful, and it really brought tears to my eyes [chuckle] when I was watching them. It’s just… They did such a great job. This is probably one of my favorite movies when it comes to addiction and recovery, and really because of just the amazing job that she did portraying the alcoholic, and also him. I did a little bit of reading last night about Meg Ryan, and in one of the articles I was reading, she was talking about how this was one of her… One of the movies that she’s the proudest of, the work that she did on it, and I… Was she married… Was it Dennis Quaid she was married to?

17:25 Benn B: Yeah, yep, yep.

17:26 John S: And I guess he had an alcohol problem at the time that she was making this movie.

17:31 Benn B: Okay, that makes sense.

17:32 John S: Yeah, and so she said all of these emotions were really fresh in her… With her. I thought that was kind of an interesting thing to hear.

17:40 Benn B: Yeah, that’s one of those things that comes along at the right time, I suppose. And Andy Garcia, too, he’s just got that burning hot temper right under the surface, you kind of know that about him, you know he brings that to the role, I think, and it’s…

17:55 John S: Yeah, explosive, explosive anger that just comes out. It’s just buried deep down inside him and it just explodes. I can certainly relate to that; I’ve got plenty of that myself.

18:06 Benn B: Yeah, yep. Well, and I think a lot of times those explosive instances, like tossing over that table right there, which is almost a threat of violence, is just… Often comes from burying and burying and burying and not being willing to acknowledge certain things. So, this whole situation with her is throwing that right into the light for him to have to take a look at, too. So, we don’t… This getting drunk and getting sober stuff is not just a one-person deal, it’s… We are part of a dynamic in a relationship with everybody that we know on some level.

18:40 John S: That’s really true. I’m fortunate that I was young, I wasn’t married, I didn’t really have a lot of relationships outside of my original nuclear family. And so, my situation, I had… I did have an enabler, my father was a bit of an enabler, and there was a change in our relationship for sure. And it turned out to be something that took a lot of time for us to, I think, really be comfortable with that new relationship. But it happened, and I’m glad that it did. But it’s not near what I did… What I experienced wasn’t near on the level of someone who has a spouse, who isn’t drinking, but is enabling them or taking care of them.

19:28 Benn B: John, let me ask you this, John, because it’s just more of my experience, I know I’ve said on this podcast before, I kind of ran from healthy… What appeared to be healthy relationships when I drank, because I knew it would require me to change probably or I just didn’t have the skills to make one work, so I didn’t even bother. Is any of that true for you at all?

19:49 John S: I think so. I was a person that I just… I couldn’t form relationships. When I was younger, I remember dating and a girl would like me or whatever and we seemed to get along, and I would just get drunk or something and just walk away and just disappear and it was really sad, because there were some really nice women that I met and dated, and they were lucky to not have to deal with me, because I had a lot of problems, but yeah. I just avoided relationships. The drinking helped with that, I guess, and maybe that was intentional on my part, subconsciously, because, like you say, I probably knew deep down that I couldn’t.

20:32 Benn B: Yeah, it’s just an interesting thing for me to always think about because it’s kind of a chicken or the egg. Like, did I end up drinking more because I was running from growing up and getting into a decent relationship or did the drinking just help me not do that or it’s both. I think it has to be both, probably.

20:47 John S: And relationships are difficult anyway even without drinking. I mean, my…

20:51 Benn B: Oh, gosh, yeah.

[chuckle]

20:54 John S: I’ve been married for since 2006, long time now, [chuckle] and it takes work. It takes a lot of work. I’ve changed since I’ve been married and so has my wife, and we have to… We really have to work at this thing, at not falling into patterns of just… I could just ignore things, rather than talk about things. It’s just a lot… It just takes… It takes a lot of care and when I was drinking, there’s absolutely no way I would even have a clue of what was required to have a healthy relationship and nourish it. It’s really required. And I’m not so great about it now either, but at least I have an idea that this is something that I really have to work at. It’s not like we can just, you know?

21:44 Benn B: Oh, yeah. Well, and like you said, that’s… Without that, there’s no chance of a relationship working. And how many people don’t even believe that that’s something you have to do? I know my perspective on relationships and marriage changed a lot too, and my wife and I were just talking the other night, it’s hard enough when you really love and like the other person to make it work. And you have enough time, like, we’re fortunate. I get to stay home with the kids and my wife has a job where she’s off work at 4:00 and home by then, so we have about the most ideal situation we could to make something work. Now, throw in two little kids on top of that, and then throw in two people who work from, say, 7:00 in the morning till 6:00 at night and have two kids. I mean, the odds start to get a little stacked against you and it’s without that knowing that you absolutely… It’s actually something you have to consciously work on, no matter how good it is at its base, is huge.

22:37 Benn B: And again, let’s say, like Andy Garcia, his character in this movie. He probably wouldn’t be somebody who would think you’d have to work on things. He would think, well, this is… We love each other, we care about each other. It should be able to work. And getting back to the movie a little bit too, like, leading up to that fight too. I think, she has come home, and you know her feelings are so raw, and when was probably the last time they had sex and weren’t drunk? He’s making moves at her here and there, and showing her that he’s interested and attracted to her, and she kind of rebuffs all his advances, and I’m sure he’s feeling like, “Well, what’s the hell is going on? My wife gets sober and now she doesn’t even like… ” So it’s… Again, yeah, that’s tough.

23:18 John S: I’m sure that your relationship has changed a lot since becoming a parent, and I guess, probably the way that… How was your reaction to the movie when you were watching the children?

23:29 Benn B: Oh my gosh, that tore me apart. Forgive me, I’m probably going to have a tough time not tearing talking about it, but it made me think, self-disclosure here, there are times where I lose my anger with my kids. And kids, it can be very frustrating, I have to own that, but if I holler at my daughter too much, she starts to cry. Again, you should never holler at a kid, but I’ll admit it. I lose my temper sometimes. And to just see the influence that all this stuff in this movie has on a child. And there’s those times where it’s like, holy cow, I got to chill out. What is it going to solve yelling or anything? But, to see the stuff going on in this movie and realize that you’re writing on your kids’ script for their life, and then I also had thoughts about how…

24:14 Benn B: I think I downplayed for myself too. I’ll come back to my crap, but I downplayed the effect my dad’s drinking had on me, even though I always talk about it all the time, I think I’m apt to write it off as not a big deal, but when she comes up and her mom fell through the shower door and is lying on the ground. I mean, how many times did I come across my dad passed out on the carpet in the bathroom after he was sitting on the toilet and spilled his beer everywhere and I cleaned it up and just waited for him to wake up?

24:42 John S: God.

24:43 Benn B: You know, I didn’t call 911 or anything. I knew it happened often enough that I knew dad had just passed out on the toilet again or something, but that stuff does write on the script of who you are. And it really made me think long and hard about controlling my anger and making sure that I’m taking care of myself too, and yeah. I don’t know, I don’t want to pass that crap on to my kids.

25:07 John S: I’m going to play another scene; this one is sure to make anybody cry.

25:11 Michael: Casey, is that you? Oh, God.

25:17 Jess: I did her hair.

25:18 Michael: Oh, I like it. Let’s see another hairdo… Oh, that’s a little tight thing, you see there.

25:30 Casey: Ow!

25:30 Michael: Oh, sorry.

25:30 Casey: Mommy does it better.

25:31 Michael: Oh, Mommy does everything better. She cooks better, she looks better, she kisses better. Mommy is a better person. You know, I bet you have a lot of questions, things you’re feeling about mommy. We could talk about that. Something like, if you’re sad or scared or angry or something, you could just…

25:50 Casey: What’s a alcoholic?

[pause]

25:58 Michael: Someone with a bad habit, like if you drank stuff that made you sick, but you really liked it, so you kept drinking it and it kept making you sick. Wouldn’t you want to learn how to stop?

26:09 Casey: What’s a alcoholic?

26:15 Jess: It’s why she does all that stuff. When she does all that stuff, like when she talks like she’s sleepy, forgets stuff. When she’s sad.

26:26 Casey: When she cries. She cries in the bathroom.

26:34 John S: Yeah.

26:34 Benn B: And I always think too, the oldest daughter there, who isn’t Michael’s daughter biologically, but just how they nail it because she’s so much more grown up and older than her age, and that’s very common with the old “living with an alcoholic.” And you also hear Michael there, he’s very good about helping guide the kids emotionally through this and ask them, “If you have questions, if you’re feeling a certain… It’s okay to talk about it,” which is something he’s not that good at doing himself.

27:00 John S: And when he was listening to his daughter talking about their reactions to their mother and how they would see her cry, it was like this was news to him, and it was… You could tell from the expression on his face that he had no idea that it was this bad that it was affecting his kids the way it was.

27:20 Benn B: Right, and she had an ideal situation for a husband, too because he was gone for days on trips, flying to… It makes sense that he didn’t see a lot of it, too. I guess I was kind of hard on that earlier, but yeah, it would be hard to have a firm grasp on it.

27:34 John S: And we’re good about hiding it, too. She did hide her drinking pretty well, because at one point, I think it was when she came back from treatment or something, maybe it was that argument scene, I can’t remember where it was, but she was explaining to him about how she drank, how often she drank, and it was hurtful to him because he didn’t know. He didn’t know it was that bad. And he, he said, “Oh why didn’t I know?” And she said, “I hid it from you.” That’s amazing. [chuckle] I hid… I hid it from a lot of people, too.

28:04 Benn B: And he definitely was blindsided. She’s talking about starting at four in the morning and all that stuff, and then it really probably starts to hit your own ego about, well, what kind of partner am I, what kind of parent am I that I allowed this to happen right under my nose? Yeah, it’s wow! And the trauma with the kids, and what they go through and all that stuff, but just how resilient they are too in the movie. That’s very accurate in my experience, too.

28:29 John S: At one point in the movie, they have to separate, Michael and Alice have to separate, and he gets a job. He gets transferred to Denver.

28:36 Benn B: Oh, that just ripped my heart out, watching it the second time. When he goes to see them at the park on the playground equipment, especially the older one, Casey, I think is her name. She already feels like she’s been left by her first dad. He’s got to tell her, she says, going on… Well, I think the younger one says going on a trip, but he tells her that he’s going to call and come back. [chuckle] Sorry… Every chance he gets and just giving her that reassurance, and then having to go talk to the younger one who’s not as aware of things and how much, I guess, “easier that went” but, yeah, just… This is, it’s fiction, but holy cow, this stuff’s powerful. And it’s so accurate, it makes you wonder… because that older little girl, what’s going to happen to her, and through all this. And because there’s so many of us like that. And yeah, that’s so powerful and he doesn’t want to go in the realities of our economy and how you have to take care of your financial interests of your family too. And because he was being threatened with being laid off and all those things.

29:47 John S: All those scenes with the children were really powerful, and the movie just does such a great job showing how addiction and alcoholism affects everybody. It’s just… Sometimes child actors aren’t so great, but these kids were really good in this movie. [chuckle]

30:05 Benn B: Big time.

30:07 John S: It was like, it wasn’t even acting. It was so well done. I think the acting in this movie was better than… Oh, what was the movie we saw about the sex addicts? That was some good acting too.

30:18 Benn B: Oh, yeah. Thanks For Sharing. Yeah.

30:19 John S: Yeah, Thanks For Sharing. That was a good movie. But this one, I thought the acting was on a whole different level, I think, for me. I thought it was just so that good.

30:27 Benn B: And it’s… Too, the… I want to mention the nanny. She plays her role too in the movie for showing his frustrations and taking her for granted, and all that stuff that he goes through, and how much she helped and how she could probably see what was always going on. But there’s that power dynamic between her and the mom, where you don’t want to call it out, but you kind of do want to call it out, but you’ve got your own stuff going on and because you know she can see the issue too.

30:53 John S: I think at one point, she quit, right, because of [chuckle] of his… He was going off on her, it’s not…

31:00 Benn B: It’s abuse, basically, yes. Way more abuse.

31:02 John S: Yeah. [chuckle] And she wasn’t going to take it, but then eventually, they did reconcile and when she had the baby. Amy was her name, yeah.

31:10 Benn B: Amy, yeah. There’s that time towards the end, too, where she has the baby, and he’s looking through the hospital door window at his wife holding all that stuff. That was moving, too.

31:19 John S: Through this whole movie, we start with watching the progression of her. We see that… We see her and him in love and being funny and all that kind of stuff, and then we learn a little bit more about her drinking and how it’s impacting her. And then we start seeing how it’s impacting the relationship. She goes off to treatment, she gets sober, and then we see how her recovery is almost causing more friction in her relationship. It’s even more difficult for him to figure out his role now, and ultimately, they have to separate. And then, at the end of the movie, I don’t really know. It’s kind of an open-ended movie because… Open ending, I guess, because it ends with her speaking at her, what is it, six-month anniversary or something like that?

32:04 Benn B: Yeah.

32:04 John S: And so, she’s giving a talk about her recovery and she’s very honest about it. She’s very open about her own shortcomings and what she’s done. It’s a very moving thought, and then he shows up at the end and… I hope they got back together, but I don’t know.

[laughter]

32:24 John S: We just don’t know for sure.

32:25 Benn B: Yeah, I think it was an opening to him coming around to being emotionally present for her and understanding just being able to be there for her on some level. We’ve seen him go to Al-Anon before then, and he finally opens up and talks and speaks. I think that leads into that, too. And I had just one criticism of the movie at the end. It gets a little cheesy, obviously, but with what he says about her, but… And then they have that make-out session in front of everybody that looks like they’re about trying to stick their two heads together as hard as humanly possible.

32:58 John S: I will say this, too, about one thing that movies never get right, is when they portray an AA meeting or an Al-Anon meeting. They can never really get that exactly right. And maybe the meetings are just different in California, maybe that’s exactly how they are in California. But it just seems to me, when I see the actual meeting itself, seems a little, that part, the acting seems to get not so great or for whatever reason.

33:25 Benn B: Yup, I agree.

33:26 John S: Maybe it’s just because I’ve been to so many meetings myself…

[laughter]

33:28 John S: That I know what they’re supposed to be like. [laughter]

33:31 Benn B: Right. Right, yeah, like everybody would start cleaning up around them and say, “Hey, we need to get all these tables in the right order here. Would you guys quit kissing, please?”

[laughter]

33:40 Benn B: Oh, geez. Yeah, no, I’m with you, though. The vibe is always a little bit off on those AA meetings. It’s more like group therapy then they actually tend to be.

33:49 John S: Exactly, and they never ever… They never show the praying at the end.

33:55 Benn B: Right, right, right, for sure.

33:57 John S: And I remember that too, as a kid, watching any kind of a movie about AA. I knew nothing about that they prayed or that they had steps, or I knew nothing like that. So, I show up at my first AA meeting, and I saw, “Oh, 12 steps. Well, I’ve never heard of those. And God all over the place with all this God stuff?” Of course, now, everybody knows before they go to their first meeting, they know all about that stuff. Isn’t that funny?

34:17 Benn B: Yeah, it’s, and I didn’t know what to expect either.

34:20 John S: because movies never portrayed it that way.

34:23 Benn B: No, they don’t.

34:24 John S: And they still don’t. They still don’t show the all the religious stuff.

34:27 Benn B: No, they definitely do not. I appreciate that this one didn’t, I guess, because I felt that’s the last thing I want to see again, but you’re right, it’s not accurate for sure.

34:35 John S: But wouldn’t that be an interesting movie though? There was one thing that they did show. They did show when at the treatment center, the treatment center that she went to, how some of the people were crazy. Like the one guy who said, who said, “It’s a cunning and baffling disease.”

[laughter]

34:50 Benn B: Accusing her husband of being in denial, right. Yeah, for sure.

34:56 John S: All kind of crazy stuff like that. They did a pretty job at showing that, but it would have been interesting too. It would be an interesting movie just to show someone who’s having a really bad problem. They go to AA and they’re confronted with all this crazy shit. [laughter]

35:10 Benn B: It doesn’t serve that warm fuzzies very well. It’s…

35:18 John S: But in reality, you have a lot more to deal with. It’s like, “Okay, yeah.”

35:23 Benn B: Yeah, for sure. And I think they did a great job of showing how raw her emotions were, and then of course, she takes up smoking again, which is maybe doesn’t quite happen as much as it used to as far as everybody’s just smoking their life away at meetings, but…

35:35 John S: Well, this movie was dated 1994, and I think that they were probably still smoking in meetings around here back in ’94, if I remember right, I think.

35:43 Benn B: Oh, I would be…

35:44 John S: I think.

35:44 Benn B: They would be…

35:44 John S: I think that’s probably true.

35:44 Benn B: We were forced to smoke to enter the room.

[laughter]

35:48 John S: That was crazy. Well, the group that I went to, for many, many years, it was just, the smoke was so thick, it was just crazy. It was worse than any bar, but then, we went to another building and they decided they’re going to make half of the… I don’t know how you can do this, but half of the room is smoking, and half the room is not smoking, but it’s still the same room.

[laughter]

36:11 Benn B: Like half the room used to be smoking and the other half didn’t? Yeah.

36:15 John S: Yeah, yeah.

36:16 Benn B: Yeah. The movie does a great job on the emotional level, I think, and it’s… It was just so interesting to me that it’s about, he finally comes around to acknowledging, getting open and honest himself at those last few Al-Anon meetings that he went to, and finally opens up and to me, that shows that he’s prepared to engage on this change with her and realizing what he needs to do differently. because the tone of it from, especially from an Al-Anon perspective and the family, is just so dead on. And here you are, you’re watching your wife, like when Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character’s over at the house, when he comes home from a trip and he’s especially frustrated. You’re trying to get close to your wife, you’re trying to be there for your wife in all the wrong ways. But here she is sharing these intimate details and stories and times with people she barely even knows and it’s still people who he probably still looks down on because he doesn’t understand alcoholism.

37:06 John S: Yeah, and I love that scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman too in the house and everything, because it shows the goofiness of the… Of our… And especially the early sobriety, the goofiness of our relationships, and…

37:18 Benn B: For sure. Yeah. My wife would be like, “Why aren’t… ” Like, somebody I’d touch base with at a meeting that was like a 65-year-old woman that I just happened to click with. She goes, “What the hell? How’s this, what’s going on there?” [chuckle] Well, no nothing. It’s nothing, but yeah. It’s a great thing about AA, too. You’re hanging out with people that are so different, yet so similar and it’s so diverse and can be so diverse that way, that it’s one of the things I do love about AA.

37:46 John S: Yeah. Did you say when we started this, that Al Franken has been speaking out a little bit more about his experience?

37:54 Benn B: Yes, I can’t remember where I heard. I think it might have been a Fresh Air podcast a year ago or something. Some of these podcasts I download and don’t catch up to them for a while, but it was when he came out with a book not… Sometime within the last year or two. Obviously, he’s had to disappear for a while for other reasons, but so I think the banishment is starting to end. I also saw that he started a podcast where he’s starting to talk to other famous people about issues.

38:21 John S: You know what? I should check his podcast out. He’s a really brilliant guy. It would be interesting to know how much of his story was in this movie.

38:29 Benn B: Yeah, yeah. I did a quick search last night to try and find him talking more about the actual, this movie, and I didn’t as much, but I’ll try and figure out those podcasts that I heard him on and maybe get them off to you, because he was really, really well-spoken on the issue and very open and vulnerable while he was talking about it, and I really appreciated that.

38:49 John S: Well, the person who wrote this, and he was one of the writers, if not the principle writer, had to understand the complexity of that relationship with the drinker, the non-drinker, the spouse. Obviously, he knew what he was doing when he wrote that.

39:04 Benn B: Oh yeah. Yeah.

39:06 John S: We usually step back and think about what’s involved with making a movie, like actually writing a script and getting the actors to act about the way that you want it to be acted. I mean, it’s really pretty incredible when you think about it. I mean, when I just go to watch a movie, I never even stop to think about that kind of stuff, but it’s pretty amazing.

39:21 Benn B: Yeah, you see those people that accept awards and seen pretty modest and humble, I think those are the people who have a real understanding that it is, it’s like an orchestra. Everybody’s got to play their parts. The actors and directors get all the accolades but if there’s something off that most people can’t put their finger on, it can screw the whole thing up.

39:39 John S: So anyway, thanks… [chuckle]

39:41 Benn B: Yeah, it was great. I mean, yeah, you… Those clips you played were great and I had… It was a really good time for me to return to this movie. I mean, with the kids stuff and… You know, I think, in general, I tend to… I probably belong more in Al-Anon than I do AA, even though I definitely, definitely believe I’m an alcoholic, but.

40:00 John S: I’ve always heard it suggested that, that for people in AA to go to Al-Anon because you get a different aspect of the recovery. You get to see the relationship side and, you know…

40:09 Benn B: Well, and I think for most people, if they’re ready to look at it too, it’s more about the nitty-gritty, I think, Al-Anon is and looking hardcore at who you are. I mean, I know the steps are supposed to get us there, too, but I think AA, as typically practiced or as typically sounds in the room, tends to be… And I’ll be accused of AA bashing, but I think it tends to be a lot of pomp and circumstance or whatever that. I… It’s just not… Or whatever. I’m sorry.

40:33 John S: I hear you. [chuckle] It is. [chuckle]

40:35 Benn B: But, you know, and it’s all this just rigidity and it’s like lately, when I’ve… I went to another meeting last Friday, after I came down to your meeting, and those were the first couple of meetings I’ve actually been to for myself within the last year. I’ve gone to a few for birthdays, and I’ve had a tough time speaking. There’s a good thing about AA is and it gives a kind of structure to the way you can talk and helps get things out because of that structure. But then on the other hand, it… We all, from my perspective, everybody starts to sound exactly the same. And maybe that serves a newcomer well sometimes, or maybe most of the time, I don’t know, but I just… Just not so sure that it’s helpful for a long-term recovery.

41:13 John S: Yeah, I sometimes wonder, “When am I going to retire from AA?” [chuckle] It seems like I should be able to retire now. They should give me a watch or something. But I… Well, I think I’ve been actually, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with AA and how it’s been changing. But I’m really at a point now where I’m almost becoming an observer because I realized that there’s nothing that I can say or do that’s really going to make a tremendous impact on someone’s life. It’s the cumulative experience that they have with each other. And I have been enjoying watching people come to the group and watch them form relationships, get their lives back, pursue activities that they’re interested in or maybe something new for them, just really enjoying their life.

42:03 John S: And I enjoy watching that. And I also enjoy watching their care for the group itself. It’s just that kind of thing like right now, we’re doing a… We’re going to… We’re putting… We’re raising money for some big anniversary we’re going to have in September. And the group… I mean, I was afraid to tell them because I committed to all these things that cost quite a bit of money. And so… Anyway, so I thought, “Oh, I feel terrible. I’ll just have to pay for this myself.” But anyway, they’re all pitching in and I mean, we’ve got enough money to pay for all the crazy stuff that I’m doing.

42:36 Benn B: Wow, that’s great.

42:37 John S: We’re actually, we’re going to bring Joe C down here from Canada. Okay, so that’s one thing. We’re renting this hall, the place that you saw that where we had the speaker meeting.

42:47 Benn B: Lovely place.

42:47 John S: And… Mm-hmm. And we’re also going to have this thing in Kansas City called Sans Bar. They do like non-alcoholic beverages and they are going to have a musician playing there, as well.

43:00 Benn B: Oh, cool.

43:01 John S: Yeah. [chuckle] So we’ve got all kinds of… We’ve got entertainment and… Oh god. So yeah, but that costs money too. So anyway, I was like, I was a little stressed out but a couple of people from the group, they kind of came together and they started organizing it and getting people to donate money, and now we’re going to be just fine. So, but watching that kind of stuff, it’s really heart-warming. It’s like, “Oh wow, you know, you guys are just wonderful.”

43:26 Benn B: Yeah, what kind of turnout you think you’ll have, John?

43:28 John S: I don’t know. I think the last time we had about 70 people there.

43:32 Benn B: Oh wow.

43:32 John S: Yeah, if we have that this time, I’ll be happy because the room actually only holds 75. So, if we get like 100 or whatever, that’d be cool, but it’d be kind of tight, but that’s okay.

43:42 Benn B: It was great coming down and speaking at your meeting, but it’s just so great to see the diversity of it, of a… Well, a meeting, in general, but I… What I… It seems like secular meetings tend to be more diverse and people are more open about their gender identity and tend to be younger people, who I always think like, aren’t well-served as well-served in more traditional AA. So, it’s just encouraging to see people, like you said, walking their own path.

44:06 John S: Oh, you see, my AA experience though is kind of twisted because I went to an all-men’s group for so long and it was all white guys like me pretty much. And so that was the world I lived in for a long time. So now, this is the first time since we started this group, we agnostics, that I’ve had other people, and I’ve learned a lot. Yeah, I like to see that too. I like the diversity of our group.

44:30 Benn B: Yeah, it was great. And… You know, and I really wish I could come down. My niece is getting married that weekend and it could be a big mess of a weekend trying to take care of two little kids and all that, so I’d… There’s a part of me that I just wishes that I could come down there and get away for the weekend, so…

44:45 John S: Well, we’ll have it recorded too. There’ll be other opportunities. It was nice to see you down here. We’ll have your… We’ll have that talk posted pretty soon too. I got to get caught up on that.

44:53 Benn B: I came away feeling like, “What the hell did I just say?” But, you know, how many times have I walked away from speaking at an AA meeting and feeling like I just… That was exactly what I wanted to say. Never. You know.

45:04 John S: Well, it’s interesting because that meeting always gets, every single week, somebody new. And they’re not necessarily secular people. And oftentimes, they’re not. Sometimes they come from other AA groups and so forth, but they all seem to accept the group just fine. We read our own little version of the AA preamble and all these different things and no one seems to mind, so.

45:29 Benn B: Well, group autonomy.

45:30 John S: Alright, Benn. Well, thank you very much. It’s been great chatting with you. Thanks for suggesting the movie. I really did enjoy it and I hope… I hope that we did a good job in this podcast of giving people an idea of what the movie’s like and what we can get from it.

45:45 Benn B: Well, I think most people are familiar with this movie so it’s probably a little bit easier to just kind of want to know about it…

[music]

46:00 John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you for listening. If you would like to support our site and podcast, there are a couple of ways you can help out. You can post a review on iTunes, hopefully a favorable one. You can help us out financially with either a recurring or one time contribution. You can do this by setting up a small recurring contribution at our Patreon page, which you can find at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief, or through PayPal at PayPal.me/AA Beyond Belief. And you can always just visit our site, aabeyondbelief.org and click on the donate button. Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief.


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Denise
Denise

Thanks for this, made me re watch the film. It reflects the story of my husband and I. I watched again looking more from his point of view,
Sadly the marriage didn’t last. Without somebody to rescue we fell apart. But he went on to find God and marry a lovely lady. Now 30 years later we are still good friends.

Benn B
Benn B

It is sad that often the marriage doesn’t make it even if we personally do get better … I hope you are doing well Denise!

Steve K
Steve K

Great discussion John and Benn! It’s made me want to rewatch the film and I’m sure I’ll now get more from it after hearing both of your insights. Thanks!

Benn B
Benn B

So glad to hear that Steve! The film really spoke to me differently this time around!