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Heart to Heart is a column for individuals and families struggling with addictions. It appears on the last Tuesday of each month.

Dear Heart: I have six month's sobriety in the Alcoholics Anonymous Program after 20 years of drinking. My doctor recently prescribed Valium for anxiety which may be renewed for an indefinite period, possibly to the point of becoming addictive. I want to be sure this won't add to the very attitude of dependency and denial I have been working so hard to overcome. Do you think I should give my program of recovery a chance to relieve my chronic anxiety before starting the Valium? Do you think I should get a second medical opinion?

-- Robert F.
Dear Robert: I am not qualified to give you medical advice but I will share with you my experience. Many alcoholics in early recovery experience anxiety. It seems we alcoholics used our booze to mask fears that caused panic and that when we get sober they naturally appear. Learning how to manage those fears gives us the skills to recognize them and to face them rather than hide or run away from them. Valium is not a life skill.

Getting a second opinion from a doctor who is trained in the field of alcoholism would be a wise choice. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Alcoholism" for the names of a few local professionals. Be careful not to seek medical advice from AA members. They can and will give you valuable opinions based on experience but this is not to be substituted for medical advice.

Medical issues should be addressed by medical professionals. The best place for advice about issues concerning the use of alcohol and alcoholism can be found by the experienced people who are successfully treating their own disease by working the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Congrats on your new-found sobriety -- isn't it great waking up sober!

For better or worse?

Dear Heart: I never thought I would be writing this letter. However, if I can help just one person with my story, it will be very rewarding. I was married to an alcoholic for eight years. Every day, I walked on eggshells. That resulted in depression and panic attacks.

There were many promises that were never kept. He was in love with his alcohol, not me. I wanted to leave. However, my wedding vows, "In sickness and in health" kept coming back in my mind. I felt trapped and thought that this was the way my life was to be. I was always very close to my family and could talk to them about anything but kept my home life secret. I didn't want to be a failure at my marriage. I was frightened of my husband because he was mean and unpredictable when he was drinking. I was emotionally and mentally abused.

Eventually he ended up having an affair. He needed someone with whom to drink and I wasn't that person. It wasn't easy but with the support of my family, friends and prayers, I was able to make it through a divorce.

If anyone out there is in an alcoholic relationship and is being abused and unhappy, you don't have to stay. You are not a failure and deserve the happiness that life has to offer. Alcoholics can only help themselves as we can only help ourselves.

-- Worthy of a better life
Dear Worthy: Thanks for sharing.

Rewards of tough love

Dear Heart: About six months ago, you responded to my letter about my alcoholic daughter. She was leaching off me and using me to support her disease. You told me to give her a choice between treatment or the street. When I did exactly that, we fought like a cat and dog for weeks. Finally, she left and bounced around from one friend to another. They couldn't handle her for more than a couple of weeks before they threw her out.

Thank God she finally hit her bottom and ended up in a shelter. They didn't tolerate her mouth or her drunkenness, either. They forced her to get into a counseling program. She's not completely better but she's headed in the right direction.

I'm writing to say thanks. At first I hated you for challenging me but I knew in my heart you were telling me what I needed to hear. It wasn't easy but if I didn't take action, she'd still be living here today. Never again will I allow that. This is tough love -- tough on me and good for her. I hope someday she can see that as clearly as I do today. Thank you again.

-- Mary G
Dear Mary: Thanks for writing and for being strong for your alcoholic daughter. She is lucky to have a mother who is willing to do the painful work involved in caring for a sick child. I hope someday she gives you the thanks you deserve but for now, please accept my compliments on being a wonderful, loving mother.

Write to Michael Ristau, c/o Toler Media Services, P.O. Box 168, Fort Edward, N.Y. 12828, or e-mail
For locations of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Erie County, call 853-0388; in Niagara County call 285-5319. For information about Al-Anon Family Groups, call 856-2520. Narcotics Anonymous has support groups and a 24-hour helpline, 878-2316.

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