Things had been going fine. It was all fine. Until… it wasn’t.
There was a fight. It wasn’t supposed to be, but it was. It started out simply talking about us, then turned into being about the alcohol, his job, our kids…
Something was said and we lashed out. He found the bottle he had hidden so well the last time. It was in the basement, under a rug, in the corner by the washing machine. The laundry is done every weekend, but somehow I’d missed it.
He drank it. The routine of his alcoholism started again.
As the wife of an alcoholic, there is this pit that starts out in the bottom of our gut. The one that feels like a tidal wave… swelling and dragging us under the current in a turbulent ocean. We’ve spent months picking up the slack around the house, making excuses to our family and friends, and balancing more than is reasonable for an individual person.
We’ve felt alone, tired, scared, frustrated, enraged, and so much more during this rollercoaster ride. Our relationship goes from white-hot fire and romance to unpredictable storms in the night.
It’s exciting. It’s exhausting… and I’m simply over it. I just can’t do this anymore. Something needs to change, but every time we talk about getting treatment or drinking, everything spirals out of control again.
Maybe the approach needs to change? How do you broach this touchy subject without “nagging”, or without ultimatums and a flood of emotions?
Under Pressure: Help Yourself Then Him
Before looking at ways to help get a husband or loved one into treatment, let’s take a moment to focus on ourselves. God knows we need it. We can get so caught up in caring for others that we leave nothing left for ourselves, especially when it comes to addiction and mental health issues.
Why does what we’re doing seem to backfire every time? Looking at what can change about our approach can help eliminate some of the pressure that we are experiencing.
Talking to hundreds of women, and helping them through this exact situation, here are some tips we’ve learned over the years:
Stop blaming ourselves and focusing on the past
When it comes to someone else’s drinking habits, it’s more about them than it is about us. A common occurrence is a fight that ends with him saying, “you’re the reason I drink…”
While this can cut deep when emotions are running high, the truth is that it’s not our fault. Our husbands have become dependent on alcohol. And you know what, it’s not all their fault either. Most addiction issues stem from trauma in a person’s past, mental health issues, or just being overwhelmed in the present.
Who or what’s “at fault” doesn’t really matter. We need to stop playing the blame game and leave the past in the past. Focusing on the problem and the present is critical. Harping on past mistakes, events, fights, and choices does nothing but undermine the positive changes we can make in the present.
Stop taking his drinking personally
We are all guilty of thinking “if they loved me, they’d stop drinking,” said usually after the 100th time they’ve promised to stop drinking, and yet they’ve picked up the bottle once again. The fact is that those thoughts in our heads are unfair, not only to us but to him as well. An addiction to alcohol can change the brain in ways that sometimes shape the decisions he makes.
So, if he starts drinking again, it’s important that we focus on NOT taking it personally. After all, between 40-60% of those struggling with alcoholism will relapse. It isn’t about us, it is about helping them and our family.
Stop trying to control everything, especially his alcoholism
Many of us are used to being in control. Most of that comes with the territory of being a wife or mother.
After all, we’re the ones who have to remember who needs what jersey cleaned by what day, what homework needs to be done before dinner, how much milk is still in the fridge, and when the last time was that the dog went to the vet for his shots.
A significant part of our lives is spent planning and juggling everyone else’s schedule alongside our own. It’s not a surprise that, when it comes to his drinking, we would really rather control that too. The problem is that it’s exhausting. It can feel like it is draining us down to the bone trying to control it all.
We’ve done all the things we can think of to control it and it has only made it worse. Maybe it is time to stop rescuing him and time to try to rescue ourselves first. At a certain point, without us stepping in to take full control of everything, he will recognize the problem and want our help. Rather than constantly covering for him or helping him deal with the latest problem due to his drinking, we need to let him fail and see the problem for himself.
Stop accepting unacceptable behaviors and excuses
Sometimes we make excuses for the ones we love, even when we know it’s wrong. That’s common even when it isn’t about drinking. How many times have you let something slide because, well, “he just had too much to drink”? Have you ever covered for him with work? We have to ask ourselves, is that helping him or is it simply helping him hide the problem longer?
For most of us, our pain started there. We slowly start to let more things slide. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to fight, we want to avoid conflict. Other times, we really don’t have the energy or the time to stop and hash it out right there. The fact is we do not have to accept damaging behaviors that are done by those around us, even those we love.
Not to mention the fact that much of the time we are also trying to set examples and expectations for our kids. Letting too much slide sets a bad example for them and will not protect them from the experiences or consequences.
Stop setting unreachable goals and expectations
Boundaries are as important as setting realistic expectations. We cannot expect this problem to fix itself overnight, so we need to be realistic in the goals we set for both ourselves and him.
Some expectations we set can be outlandish to those with an addiction. For someone drinking in an addictive manner for the past 20 years, stopping cold turkey without extensive support or replacement skills to help deal with depression, anxiety, and stress can be too daunting. This is why it’s important to set incremental goals, maybe only drinking 3 nights a week instead of 7.
Often, to really go cold turkey, extensive support is needed, which is why treatment programs can be a great option, especially for those who chronically relapse. The best treatment programs will not just address the drinking, but address the underlying mental health and trauma that is often fueling the negative behavior.
Keeping that in mind can help us set reasonable goals and expectations for our loved ones without violating our boundaries. Not to mention it can also help us avoid a lot of heartbreak, stress, and anger later!
These aren’t the only things that we can do to stifle the stress of loving someone with alcoholism.
Handling the Stress
The stress and emotions we experience while coping can spill out and into all the other aspects of our lives. It can follow us to work like a dark cloud hanging over our heads. It can impact our dinner time discussions or the fun family outings with the kids. We can even take it with us when we spend time out for girl’s night.
That’s normal, but it isn’t good. Coping with the stress of living with and loving someone addicted to alcohol can be a real challenge. Sometimes finding a network to communicate with and talk to can help. Having a group behind you that truly understands what you are feeling can help better process and understand the events and emotions that are swirling around.
Another strategy is to seek out counseling sessions for yourself to help find better ways to address your concerns and emotions. Sometimes processing the stress in our lives can be exhausting and challenging, adding alcoholism into the mix can make it even more challenging.
Also, we can find ways to stop carrying our stress with us by lightening our load. This is easier said than done of course. However, the best way to eliminate some of our burdens is to get him into treatment.
Most of us have had the discussion turned into a fight about how it’s “not that big of a problem”, “I can stop anytime I want”, and “I can’t leave work or home to go get treatment”. So, getting started on the road to recovery without some help can be a bit daunting. Let’s look at some guidance many of the families we help every day have found helpful.
Starting the Conversation
It is critical to start the conversation and to not let it fall off our radar because codependency is a slippery slope that can drag family members down a rocky trail. Keeping the problem at the forefront is important. A lot of times it may be easier to avoid the topic of drinking, but ultimately it doesn’t help to bury our heads in the sand.
Start the conversation by selecting a time to talk about drinking and treatment. Choose a time when there are no distractions, like when the children are with friends, and when he is sober. Fighting when he’s been drinking is always going to be counterproductive, if he even remembers the next day.
Remain calm and try to avoid lecturing, or becoming overly emotional. Focus on the facts. Talk about specific examples of behaviors that are bothering you and the consequences of these actions. Don’t be afraid to let him know about your worries. For example, say, “Derek was so said you missed his game again last week,” instead of, “You’re a drunk and a liar.”
Also, avoid ultimatums. Suggesting that it is this way or the highway is typically incredibly ineffective with those struggling with alcoholism. Sometimes, we feel that it is the best option, especially when we are at our wits end. However, it tends to alienate and drive others away rather than help.
It is important to work toward understanding his needs and wants too. Find commonality and help him to see how the drinking is interfering with his goals, then use that to suggest he gets into treatment. People are more likely to work towards a goal they believe in versus external pressure put on from others.
At Black Bear Lodge, we recognize that finding a treatment plan that fits your schedule, as well as your family, can be tricky. That’s why we took the time to create an article to help you navigate the challenges of finding a program for you and your husband.
Our specialty is treating the mental health and trauma issues underlying many individual’s alcoholism, so you know that you can count on our expertise.