Living with an Alcoholic: Control, Detachment and Love
Posted Jun 25 2009 1:58pm
This is a guest post by Irene Watson, author of awardwinnin gThe Sitting Swing: FindingWisdom to Know the Difference(see complete bio below).
Is loving an alcoholic driving you crazy? You know your loved one has a drinking problem. Maybe your loved one even knows he has a drinking problem. But he keeps drinking. You don’t know what to do. You have tried everything. You’ve hidden the alcohol, you’ve dumped it down the drain, you’ve found the secret stash in the snowbank or in the toilet tank, and you’ve gotten rid of that as well. You’ve gone out to the bars at night to find the alcoholic and bring him home. You’ve switched around the wires on her car so it’s impossible for her to drive drunk. You’ve cleaned up his vomit. You’ve told lies to cover for her when she has a hangover. You’ve even tried to explain to the alcoholic how much you love him and how his behavior makes you feel.
None of it worked. You’re fed up. You keep telling yourself that if only your loved one would stop drinking, you could have a happy life together.
It’s time to have a happy life, regardless of the alcoholic’s behavior. Your happy life does not depend on the alcoholic, but it does depend on your reaction to his or her behavior. If your reaction is to feel crazy, then it’s not making you happy. So what do you do?
First, realize that you can’t stop an alcoholic from drinking. You can’t control another person, least of all an alcoholic. Only alcoholics can stop themselves from drinking. It’s because you’ve been trying to control them that you’ve driven yourself crazy.
Breaking the cycle of alcoholism is not easy. Neither is breaking the cycle of the co-dependent crazies that afflict the family members of an alcoholic. You can’t fix or help anyone if you’re driving yourself crazy worrying about someone’s drinking problem. Once you realize you can’t control someone, you need to detach from the problem. You need to stop letting the alcoholic’s problem be your problem.
If the alcoholic wants to go to the bar, you let him go to the bar. If the alcoholic wants to drink, you let her drink. You don’t yell or preach at him or try to get the bottle away from him. You don’t react to the drinking. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about him anymore. It doesn’t mean you don’t love him. It means that you accept that your being crazy does not help matters. It means that you love yourself.
If necessary, you leave the relationship. You can let the alcoholic know you love her, but you just can’t live with an alcoholic. If she begs you to stay, you tell her you need to see some change first and then you go on your way. If you stay in the relationship, you remember not to react to the drinking.
Sometimes the alcoholic lives for drama as much as does the codependent trying to control him. The alcoholic might actually quit drinking if he is not reacting against your efforts to control him. Don’t expect this to happen, but it is possible.
Whether you stay in the relationship or not, it’s important you get help so you don’t end up giving in to the alcoholic’s efforts to manipulate you, or ending up in another alcoholic relationship. Many wonderful groups exist including Al-Anon, Alateen and Children of Alcoholics. Another helpful group is Codependents Anonymous — codependency is at the root of most addictions. Attending any of these groups will help you learn how to deal with an alcoholic, how to detach and how to love without trying to control and drive yourself crazy.
Attending a group is extremely important. At first, it might be scary to go, to admit there is a problem in your relationship, especially when you’ve hidden it for so long. But the people there are just like you — they’ve gone through the same situations. You will find some of the best friends you’ve ever had there. Almost every town will have at least one of these groups — larger cities tend to have multiple groups that meet everyday. Please go to a meeting. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself in this situation.
As for the alcoholic in your life, it is up to him or her to decide what to do about the drinking problem. That is why when alcoholics attend Alcoholics Anonymous, they introduce themselves by saying, “I am an alcoholic.” They need to admit they have a problem before they can solve it.
You wouldn’t have read this if you weren’t looking for help. Now you’ve found it. Don’t be afraid any longer. The worst is past. Find a meeting. Detach. Stop trying to control everything. Love yourself. You’ve done everything you could do except take care of yourself. Now it’s time to do that.
Irene Watson, author of award winning The Sitting Swing: FindingWisdom to Know the Difference (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Loving Healing Press, 2009,) was born and raised in a tiny hamlet of Reno in the northern area of the province of Alberta in Canada. She received her Master’s Degree in Psychology, with honors, from Regis University, Denver. Irene and her husband, Robert, live in Austin, Texas.
She is also author/editor of The Story That Must be Told: True Tales of Transformation, and, Authors Access: 30 Success Secrets for Authors and Publishers and is in the process of co-authoring another book, Rewriting Life Scripts: Transformational Recovery for Families as well as having a chapter in an upcoming book Letters to New Grandparents.