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An Open Letter to an Alcoholic’s Wife

I know what you may be thinking right now: How can I make my husband realize he has a problem? How can I make him realize he is an alcoholic? An alcoholic who is destroying himself. Killing himself. An alcoholic who is destroying me, and our entire family. How can I get my husband to put down the bottle? How the hell can I get him to stop?

Don’t get me wrong, I know you are thinking and feeling other things too: You may be hurt or angry, broken and despondent. You may be fearful or resentful. And while you probably hate the man he has become, you may also miss the man he was.

You may feel desperate.

You may feel hopeless.

Your relationship and your life may seem beyond repair.

But odds are, if you are reading this, you are searching for ways to help him stop. To make him stop. Because you want him to, and you need him to. And you may even be able to get him to, at least temporarily. (I cannot tell you how many times I got my own husband to “take a break” for his health. For his wellbeing. For me.) But more likely than not, your long-term efforts will fail. Because no addict can get help, or be helped, if they do not realize they have a problem.

The only thing you can change is you … the only thing you can control is yourself.
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No addict can get help if they do not admit they have a problem. And every addict needs to hit their own “breaking point.” Their own rock bottom.

There is nothing you can do to change that. There is nothing you can you do to stop it. And that sucks. Plain and f**king 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 want to hear. I know, because I went to Al-Anon myself several years before my husband got sober, and when I heard those very same words, I walked out. What bullshit! I thought. What ludicrous and delusional bullshit.

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.

You see, alcoholism lies. Your addict lies. And it is time you hear the truth — the truth you need, and the truth you deserve: You cannot save an alcoholic, and you cannot save your husband. The only person you can save is yourself. By reaching out. By getting help. By backing off and establishing boundaries.

Make no mistake: I know how terrible that sounds. How cold. How callous and uncaring. I mean, how can you just sit back and watch the man you love hurt himself? Your vows said “for better or for worse.” You looked in his eyes and said “in sickness and in health. And now, he is sick.

You cannot give up. You cannot walk away. You cannot watch him kill himself.

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, and you would get killed.

Let me repeat that: If you stand in the way enough, you can get killed. Eventually, someone
will get killed.

But back to you: The one who lives in the eye of the storm. In the center of the tornado. 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’re not, get help. Immediate help. Legal help. Physical help. Walk-out-the-door-and-go-to-a-shelter sorta help. And then stop lying for your spouse. Stop making excuses.

Of course, I know why you do it: You are trying to help him. You want to protect his image — because he really isn’t a bad guy — and you want to ease the burden he carries. You want to alleviate some of his pain, shame, and guilt. (Hell, I did the same thing. For 10 years, I did the exact same thing.) But by lying, you are hurting him.

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.
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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 — away?

And know that your husband’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 he may say, or what his actions imply, his addiction is not your fault.

Nor is it his.

Because alcoholism is a mental compulsion. An emotional compulsion. A physical compulsion. Because alcoholism is a disease.

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. Your husband isn’t hopeless, and your relationship isn’t hopeless. 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? Is it time to go?

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 wife. And 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.

Article Posted 2 years Ago

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