Can I call you friend?
I mean, I don’t know you. Not really. We’re separated by rivers and roads, oceans and state lines. But I know how you are feeling, and what you are thinking. I know that if you are here — reading this today — you’re probably exasperated. Exhausted. You’re at the end of your rope, and you are scared, for your life and the life of someone you love. You are also probably desperate: for hope. For help. For this nightmare to end. Because you are with an alcoholic. You love an alcoholic, but their illness is affecting you. It’s infecting you. And their drinking and destructive behaviors are making your relationship sick.
Yes, they are making you sick.
Of course, that may not be your primary concern, at least not right at this moment. Because right now you are probably thinking: How can I make my partner realize they have a problem? How can I make them put down the bottle? How the hell can I get them to stop? And I get it. I understand because I was you. I am you. My husband was an alcoholic for more than 10 years, and I searched in vain for answers. I Googled ways to end his suffering, and mine. But come in close, sweet friend. Listen, and heed my words: while you may be able to “get them to stop,” at least temporarily — while my husband did “take breaks” — your long-term efforts will fail.
Because no addict can get help, or be helped, if they do not realize they have a problem. No addict can get help if they do not admit they need it. And every addict needs to hit their own “breaking point.” Every addict needs to hit their own rock bottom.
Nothing you do will change that. Nothing you do will stop them. And it sucks. Plain and fucking simple: it sucks. The only thing you can change is you. Right now, the only thing you can control is yourself.
I know that is a hard pill to swallow, and I know that isn’t what you want to hear. I went to Al-Anon several years before my husband got sober, and when I heard those words I walked out. I mean, what bullshit! It sounded like ludicrous and delusional bullshit, through and through. But I say them to you now because they are true, and because there is a difference between telling you what you want to hear and what you need to hear. And the truth you need and deserve is this: you cannot save your alcoholic — or your partner. The only person you can save is yourself. By reaching out. By getting help. By backing off and establishing boundaries.
By caring for yourself first.
Make no mistake: I know how terrible that sounds. I mean, how can you just sit back and watch the someone you love hurt themself? Your vows said “for better or for worse.” You looked in their eyes and said “in sickness and in health,” and your partner? They are sick. You cannot give up. You cannot walk away. But here’s the thing: If you saw a car barreling toward a brick wall, you wouldn’t jump between the two, would you? (Between the car and the wall that is.) I mean, you may scream and shout and attempt to get the driver’s attention but putting yourself in the way — deliberately standing in harm’s way — wouldn’t do a damn bit of good. It would make a terrible situation worse.
But back to you: The one who lives in the eye of the storm. The person who somehow finds themselves at the epicenter of each and every earthquake. Let’s come back to you, because if you can’t stop them from drinking and — essentially — you cannot help, what can you do? Or is your marriage hopeless? Is your life hopeless?
First, make sure you are safe. If you are, keep yourself safe — emotionally and physically safe — and if you are not, get help. Immediate help. Legal help. Physical help. Walk out the door and go to a shelter sorta help. Stop lying for your spouse. Stop making excuses for them. Because by lying, you are hurting him. You are hurting yourself. You are feeding his addiction. And you are becoming a part of his sickness. That’s right: Not only is his illness driving you crazy, it is making you sick. Physically, emotionally, and mentally sick.
Go to Al-Anon. Go to counseling. Go to group therapy, or go to a friend. Honestly, go wherever the hell you like, but go somewhere. Talk to someone. And ask for help. To make yourself better. To make yourself stronger. To relearn what you need, what you want, and what you desire. To reconnect with yourself.
Figure out “your line:” what you can handle, what you are willing to handle, and what you cannot — i.e. what is your “rock bottom?” When is enough enough? When will you have to — when will you need to — walk away? And know that your partner’s drinking is not your problem. It is not the result of something you did — or didn’t do — and it is not your fault. No matter what they may say, or what their actions imply, their addiction is not your fault.
Nor is it theirs.
Because alcoholism is a mental compulsion. An emotional compulsion. A physical compulsion. Alcoholism is a terrifying, insidious, and indiscriminate disease. And while it can be treated and managed, it can never be cured.
But that doesn’t mean it is hopeless. You are not hopeless, nor is your partner or your relationship. It is just — well — different. It is just a “new normal.” Because whether you’re married to an active alcoholic or a sober one, loving an alcoholic is distressing, it is painful, and it is hard. Inexplicably hard. But you have a choice: Does the good outweigh the bad, or is time to leave?
And truthfully, there is no “right answer.” There is no universal answer. Just know that if you decide to leave, it isn’t because you were too weak to “make it work” and it isn’t because you’ve failed, as a person or partner. As a husband or wife. If you decide to stay, it isn’t because you are too weak “to leave” and it isn’t because failed yourself. It is because whatever you decide is right for you, on this day and in this moment.
So love yourself, and forgive yourself. You deserve it.