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Cafferty: My battle with alcoholism

  • Story Highlights
  • Cafferty admits that alcoholism caused stress in his second marriage
  • Jack says he turned his life around when his youngest daughters were 4 and 8
  • Cafferty remains grateful and amazed that his wife, Carol, remained by his side
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Below is an excerpt from CNN commentator Jack Cafferty's new book, "Now or Never." Jack appears daily in "The Situation Room" on CNN from 4 to 7 p.m. ET.

Cafferty on alcoholism's impact on his marriage: "There was a relentless, unspoken tension between us."

Cafferty on alcoholism's impact on his marriage: "There was a relentless, unspoken tension between us."

For years, the most complex and stressful situation Carol Cafferty had to cope with was my drinking problem. When I'd get up in the morning, I immediately wondered, What kind of mood is she in and how soon can I start drinking today? How do I get all the booze I want, and get myself half or three quarters f**ked up without winding up in divorce court?

On weekends I wanted to get to drinking right away. I knew that she would be watching to see how early I'd go to the fridge and reach for that first beer. If we got up on Saturday and Carol went out someplace to, say, get her hair done, that was my green light to have a few extra ones. If I held off till three or four in the afternoon, we had a much better day, but I was suffering.

This is where she proved how tough she was, stronger than any man I have ever known. I still don't know how the hell she did it. I'd have told me to go f**k myself long before I quit drinking. I had her walking on eggshells, just as my parents had done to me. Now it was Carol who had to constantly be on guard, wondering what mood I was going to be in, how much I'd been drinking, how it would impact the emotional tenor in the home with the girls around. I knew this was hard on her and worried her to death, but like all addicts who have earned their Ph.D's in denial, I figured, I can finesse all this s**t and keep an even keel, addictions and all. But no one finesses it indefinitely unless the spouse/partner becomes an enabling doormat and says, "Okay, I'll pretend this isn't happening or I'll excuse it this one last time."

'Now or Never'
Jack's new book: "Now or Never: Getting Down to the Business of Saving Our American Dream"

That wasn't Carol's style, and our marriage was seriously tested and threatened. We didn't have a lot of knock-down, drag-out fights, but we had our share of loud, explosive arguments. Ugly things were said and threats made -- I'm getting a divorce, I'm going to do this or do that. Sometimes, to be sure, Carol could overlook what I threatened and ignore me. Other times she was provoked beyond her limits and fired back, and we got into shouting matches.

I have no doubt that the girls heard their share of screaming and yelling and profanity. If I had enough booze in me, I could have found fault with Jesus Christ.

The interesting thing is that as an alcoholic, I knew all of this was happening and it didn't matter. Afterwards, I felt like an idiot and made amends to keep more precipitous things from happening. I'm ashamed to say I probably taught Carol how to fight, yell, and confront people. I don't know that she had ever raised her voice to anybody before she met me. How the hell she survived and why she stayed I don't know, but I am so grateful she did.

Video Watch Jack discuss "Now or Never" in The Situation Room »

There was a relentless, unspoken tension between us caused by the chemical I was addicted to. Eventually, your personality splits apart; you're living a lie and a scary double life. It requires tremendous mental energy to stay in that game and keep living that lie, all the more so with two young kids in the house bearing witness to the worst of it. You know you're not fooling anyone, least of all your spouse. And as my ability to handle the booze diminished over time, I needed more of it, and it began to consume me. I just wanted to walk through my career and do the drinking; do the marriage and do the drinking; do the parenting and do the drinking. How many drinks do you have at dinner when you go out? Do you drink at home before you go out and have more drinks at dinner? What about after dinner?

It finally came crashing down on me when Leslie and Leigh were eight and four, respectively. The handwriting wasn't on the wall; it completely covered the wall -- and it said, Game over, Charlie. You pushed this to the extreme, and if you keep going, your life, your marriage, your health, your relationship with your kids, and your career are all going to disappear.

I was forty-five years old when I decided to turn my life around. I had watched my parents grow old with their addictions and die broke and alone.


I was at a fork in the road. For inspiration I drew on the courageous example of my uncle Jack, who went cold turkey the morning after a scary, booze-fueled incident nearly got him into some serious trouble.

I wondered whether I had the stones to go through with it -- the determination, the guts, the will to make this change. Fortunately, I did. I'm very lucky that I made the decision in time and gave myself and my family a shot at living a healthy, decent, stable good life.

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