By Irene Little, PsyD, LMFT-S, LCDC, CCC-SLP
Drinking alcohol has been thought of as a way to relax people, or bring people together. There is a reason we see so many photos of unhappy people alone to describe alcoholism and drug addiction. Being in a relationship with someone who is in a relationship with alcohol and other drugs is lonely, sad, unpredictable and hurtful. You know there is a reason you are still in the relationship, you know how much you love that person. The person who is not drunk or high is an incredible person with so many amazing qualities. You fight with yourself and your friends, or family if you dare share your secret about your favorite person in the world who continues to let you down because they ‘take it too far’ and they got drunk again. The broken promises, the broken heart and the feeling of betrayal is overwhelming. At times you think it is your fault they are drinking again. At other times you KNOW it is their fault. You go through the cycle too many times to count. First, it is the feeling of fear and wondering if they are ok. Have they been arrested? Been in an accident? In the hospital? And then you experience the anger. How can this be happening again? They promised! It was going to be different this time. And then the embarrassment of how could I have fallen for this again? How can I share this with my friends or family, they are just going to tell me to leave? And while you think about leaving way more than you would like to admit, you can’t seem to let go of that feeling of hope that this time it really will be different.
There is another scene we see so often with the people who are laughing, smiling and having a great time with an alcoholic drink in their hand. This can be a bit deceiving and confusing too. While everyone around you seems to have a great time watching your husband or wife drink because they are funny, fearless, loud, and all the other words to describe the life of the party, you are the one on edge waiting for them to cross that line and do harm. This might be harm to themselves when they fall and you have to rush them to the ER. It could be harm to a relationship that is important to you by saying or doing something that you wish they did not. Or harm to you through embarrassment, stress, hurt feelings, and disappointment. This is awful, because now you feel you are fighting the world, everyone loves when your person is drunk because they are a “happy drunk” but it is a problem for you and it does not make you happy.
So, what do you do? How do you tell your loved one it is time to stop drinking? How do you tell them they need to get sober, get help for recovery? It is important to be clear on what you feel and what you want. You need to take some time with this. It is important that you do this before your spouse starts drinking for the day. Before you are angry again. This has to be done from a place of love, honesty and clarity. If you tell them when you are angry, they will handle it like they have in the past. They will apologize and then wait for you to ‘get over it’ but they don’t understand that you haven’t and will not get over it. If you tell them when they are drunk, they won’t be able to hear it and they may not even remember you said it or worse, they may think you were drunk when you said it.
Ask for some time to share what has been on your mind. Ask to remove all distractions, the phone, the television, the radio. And look into your spouse’s eyes and share your feelings and thoughts. Let them know that when they drink, you experience fear, anxiety and disappointment. Let them know how much you love them and love being with them, but that you have been feeling out of control and on edge when they drink. And ask if they would be willing to talk to a professional, an expert in substance abuse to get their opinion on whether they have a problem. Share with them that you are willing to go to the assessment with them to learn what you can do to help. And offer to support them in making this change. This may mean that you will need to offer to stop drinking for a while too. And then when they agree, make sure you get in for the assessment as quickly as possible because if too much time goes by they may think you ‘got over it’ and the cycle will begin again.
About the Author: Dr. Irene Little is a family therapist specializing in addictions, and the award-winning author of The Book on Addiction. If addiction affects your life in any way, you can access her free monthly newsletter.