They say that carrying resentment is like taking the poison yourself and waiting for the OTHER person to die.
Living with an alcoholic spouse, or a partner/spouse addicted to any substance or behavior, is one of the most debilitating, demoralizing and painful life experiences we humans can endure. Resentment, mentioned above, is but one of the many feelings we go through in our day-to-day living with a person crippled by the disease of addiction.
Fear, loneliness, shame, helplessness, hopelessness and sadness are but a few of the emotions we experience in our attempt to cope with this painful life situation. I have experienced this personally from just about every angle imaginable.
• I am the child of two alcoholics,
• my father’s alcoholism active as a child
• my mother’s active alcoholism today
• I’ve been the alcoholic spouse.
• I’ve married a sober alcoholic.
• Also, I’ve partnered with an active alcoholic/addict (in denial of his disease).
• I’ve partnered with one who was completely unaware of his disease and hit bottom, quite shockingly to him, in front of my very eyes.
So, it is from my own experience, strength and hope that I share my words on this topic. I’ve walked through my own alcoholism and that of many others. And in doing so, I’ve learned a few things along the way. I share them here with the hope that my words might find their way to one in need of them one who is less familiar with the disease than I one who needs guidance, education, empathy, and maybe most importantly, to know that you are NOT alone.
ALCOHOLISM IS A FAMILY DISEASE.
This means that we are all affected by the substance abuse of a loved one. Not only are we affected; we play our OWN part in the continuation and manifestation of the disease. Our marriage, our family, is like a mobile. Each of us has our own little piece of the delicately balanced structure. Every action on any of our parts shakes the mobile. Tenuous balance quickly becomes imbalanced, shaken up, disrupted.
Our role as spouses, children, friends on this mobile is just as powerful as that of the alcoholic’s. I believe this awareness is the first key in coping understanding that we play an equal part in the drama of living with an alcoholic. We are either part of the problem, or part of the solution with every word we speak, every secret we keep, every action we take, every action we avoid taking.
THERE IS HELP AVAILABLE.
I’m often amazed at how many people I meet who have suffered for years with the pain of living with an alcoholic and know not of the vast resources available to them for help.
Because alcoholism is indeed a family disease, there are 12-step programs for us all. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the “granddaddy” geared of course toward the recovery of an alcoholic. However, many meeting are “open” meaning that non-alcoholics are welcome to attend.
This is often a great starting point for a spouse, simply to get an understanding of what is going on inside the heart and mind of the alcoholic in their life. Attending AA meetings is both comforting and educational. Just listening to the stories of other alcoholics can bring insight and help you understand that the disease, as it manifests in your own life, is NOT personally directed toward you. It’s not about you. It’s about a disease that is eating at your spouse as much as it is eating away at you and your marriage.
Al-Anon is the sister program to AA. It is for those who are affected by the disease but they are not necessarily afflicted with it. These meetings are focused on how to cope with the wreckage of an alcoholic’s behavior and how to live with the disease without being a part of it. At the heart of Al-Anon is the learning that it is not our fault, we are not alone, we can be part of the solution not the problem, and that we can develop tools for coping that allow us to lead peaceful, productive lives even while living with an active alcoholic.
DEVELOPING A TOOLBOX FOR COPING:
1. Detach with Love
Detaching with love is one of the most powerful concepts I’ve added to my toolbox through Al-Alon. I can love my partner through his/her disease while also remaining detached from the drama, the damage, the pain of my alcoholic partner. This doesn’t mean I don’t care deeply, it simply means I’m not willing to play a part in the dance of the disease. Live and let live is a valuable slogan and detaching with love is doing exactly that. The freedom available to us when incorporating this tool in our lives is unfathomable.
2. One Day at a Time
When we look at marriage and marital vows, many of us think that our commitment to our spouse was a one-time event. At the point of “I do,” we are sealing the deal for a lifetime.
The truth is that we choose to commit every day we remain in our marriages. Commitment is a daily, sometimes moment-to-moment affair. Though we may not do this consciously, we do it. I am not speaking of formally renewing our vows. I am speaking of the decision to stay as a choice me make a commitment we make daily.
One Day at a Time is a very popular AA slogan. At the heart of it lies the understanding each day is a new beginning that staying sober is a daily event. That every day we make a choice to stay sober one more day or not. After 20 years of sobriety, this still stands true for me today.
The same is true of the alcoholic spouse. The decision to stay or leave, the decision to be a part of the problem or the solution, the decision whether to take of ourselves each of these we do one day at a time.
For me, there is freedom in this tool/slogan. There is choice. There is awareness. It liberates me from a stance of playing victim to that of empowered choice-maker. One day at a time I CHOOSE to stay or go —and I CHOOSE whether to be either a part of the problem or the solution I CHOOSE whether or not to take care of myself and my own needs.
3. Plan to Improvise
I have a bumper sticker that I’ve not seen on any other car yet. I wish I’d bought ten of them instead of one. It reads, “Plan to improvise.” I LOVE this concept. If we accept that life is ever changing, if we accept that we cannot control others or control life circumstances that we are powerless over others then why not PLAN NOT TO PLAN? Why not plan to go with the flow? Because in the end, it’ll be what it’s gonna be and we often have no choice but to roll with “it” whatever “it” is.
In 12-step programs, I associate this with the slogan, “This, too, shall pass.” These words have comforted me countless times as I struggle through a difficult passage of my life of my relationship. “The only permanent is change.” We are always changing, situations are always changing. Life throws us curve balls constantly. We can try and control our lives or other people all we want but eventually we learn this is futile. Fruitless. So why not release control, or the ILLUSION of control, and, as the bumper sticker says, plan to improvise —accept what IS and just go with it?
I could continue on this thread of writing indefinitely. But I will leave it here (if you are even still with me ) and simply close by saying that if another’s alcoholism is touching your life, you are sooo not alone. There are many of us out here waiting and wanting to support you. You do not need to keep secrets if you don’t want to. You do NOT need to cope with your situation alone. Please consult the phone book, a friend, or [others that can help… such as those who are linked within the following article posted on this web site: HELP! MY SPOUSE DRINKS TOO MUCH!] and let [them] help you.
May peace be with you it’s yours for the asking…
Skyler Sage wrote this testimony. This article was posted on the web site Helium.com, which unfortunately, is no longer available on the Internet. We appreciate Skyler’s outreach to help others who have or are trying to cope with an alcoholic spouse. We pray she is doing well, continually growing, and living a healthy, blessed life.