"It’s not my fault”- Reflections of the wife of an alcoholic

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Reflections of the wife of an Alcoholic

I am a wife of an Alcoholic. There I have said it and it’s out in the open.

Why do we feel the need to hide this fact? He is the one drinking, he is the one who is abusive, he is the one who is not earning and I have to sweep everything under the carpet and keep quiet because we want to protect the family name?

I am the one dreading family gatherings or shudder at the thought of calling friends over. After all, who likes to be embarrassed? So that makes me the spoilsport and he is always the life of a party.

So, I’m saying this aloud. “I am a wife of an Alcoholic”. And what I wanted to write about and give importance to is how over a period of years I have learnt to deal with it.

However, before we go there let’s talk about the alcoholic first and typical traits.

  1. Do you see your loved one finding an excuse to drink - good news, bad news, indifferent news- anything is a reason to drink.
  2. Do they start hiding their drinks? This not only helps them to access it quickly but also helps them to hide the amount of alcohol they have consumed after all they don’t want you to see that they finished X amount of bottles already!
  3. They only want to attend parties and gatherings where there is booze available freely. Everything else is a waste of time and boring! Never mind if you were looking forward to spending some quality time with these people or were so wanting to go hiking in the mountains or for a stroll in the garden.
  4. They gradually start drinking earlier and earlier in the day. In my case these days he is already high by 10 a.m. That’s the only way he can step out in the world.
  5. Money starts going missing from your purse; you might have some jewelry missing too. That’s when you learn the hard way that your belongings all need to be under lock and key always. Imagine having to stay like that in your own house.
  6. Then they stop eating proper meals, always on the lookout to have a drink only and start neglecting personal hygiene and that’s when you realize that you have an issue at hand. He goes without brushing his teeth for weeks, let’s not talk about baths! This is when the verbally abusive behavior begins. Physical abuse is not far away.  

These are just a few typical traits and mostly what I relate to however there will be plenty of other warning signs and trust your instinct… Always... it’s never wrong.

Sometimes you don’t need to read about typical traits after all the blood-red eyes, hangovers, the smell; the disheveled appearance is right in front of your eyes… all in plain sight.

I have been married for 18 years now and he has been an alcoholic even before we met. During our engagement phase, I didn’t realize it or rather did not take heed of all the warning signs and for various other social pressures went ahead with the marriage after all you are living in India and arranged marriages are a norm even now. Has been a roller coaster ride ever since.

 And through my entire journey of living with an alcoholic there is one thing that I have realized and that is I am powerless over his drinking.

You can drain his drinks down the drain, hide his bottles, don’t give him money, try to reason with him, put him in rehabilitation centers, try to be more loving or go the opposite way and threaten him with different consequences but all these are just ways to aggravate the situation more and waste of time if he is not ready to see reason. I have even left home twice now but nothing changes. Earlier it was easier for me because I would escape to my mother’s place every weekend which would make the week ahead bearable but after she passed away 4 years ago I lost that privilege too.  

That’s when I was told about Al Anon. This is a group for the family of an alcoholic. It’s a worldwide group where people with similar situations come together once a week. You can say it’s a byproduct of the Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) group because alcohol doesn’t destroy the alcoholic alone; it takes a toll on his/her family too.

I attended meetings for a couple of months and I realized that though the purpose of the whole thing was to give some semblance in my life this particular group was not working for me. Not that the group was not helpful or most caring but due to my own inhibitions.

But there are some learnings that I picked up from these meetings which have been embedded in my mind since then. It can be hard to hear that you need to change yourself when a loved one is living with alcoholism. After all, it's their problem, isn't it? Unfortunately, you can only change yourself, and the only way you can interrupt and change the current course of your interactions with an alcoholic is to change your reactions. I have tried to incorporate them in my daily life and it has really helped me cope up with my situation(not always successfully but patience is the name of the game and my friends do tell me that I should get an award for the level that I have reached). Anyway, let me share some of these with you.

My Life Learnings

1. Acceptance

The first learning out of this that one needs to take in is that of “Acceptance”.

The first and foremost advice that I would like to share with you is to stop trying to change him. You need to accept the fact that it is a choice that he is making of staying in this drunken stupor and only he can decide when to stop. To say it in simple language it means that you can take the horse to the well but you cannot force it to drink water. You also need to accept that Alcoholism is a disease just like any other disease like cancer and should not be underestimated.

Nothing works for the simple reason that YOU are trying to change him. If you tell him how he looked, how he acted, what you think of him for it, it won’t work. He’ll just fall back on the old excuse, ‘She’s picking on me again,’ and he’ll have a grievance against you again and another excuse to drink. They never want to discuss what triggered us, just how you reacted! You have to say what you mean but you have to say it without being mean and let him draw his own conclusions. He has to learn that there are always consequences for each and every action and he has to take responsibility for his actions. He is an adult and you cannot control him, accept that it is for his own good. It is very difficult to do it, trust me I have been in such situations. Your maternal instinct kicks in and you want to avoid an ugly scenario and help him however you can but LEAVE HIM BE.

I have learnt this the hard way. He had taken money from some moneylender and when he was not able to pay back there were thugs who came home and threatened the entire family with dire consequences if we did not pay up within the next 48 hours. I did pay up at that time but refused the next time.

Another time a person actually called the police and as he had contacts they came and took him in, beat him black and blue and kept him overnight at the station. Sounds like I am heartless but he had to bear the consequences.

An active alcoholic will always be in a stage of strong denial and will never accept that he has an issue. He can come to a stage where he realizes that he is unable to get out of this vicious circle and needs help. A stage where he accepts that alcohol is a cause of all his troubles and he wants to come out of it. This is where we can help him/her with the help of Rehabilitation Centers and AA Meetings till then you are completely helpless and nothing you say or do is ever going to work.

You also have to accept that he might never reach the stage where he realizes that he has an issue. Such cases can go to the extreme where he can have multiple organ issues and might not make it. Harsh truth but it is what it is.

2. Expectations

The second thing that we have to learn is “Expectations”.

We feel that if he really cared about me and if he really wanted he could stay sober and avoid drinks totally.  We have too many expectations not from ourselves but from another human being. Why?

I so wanted to get inside his brain and turn the screws in what I thought was the right direction based on what my expectations were. Why can’t he be a sober husband with a good job, a loving person and a caring and supportive father? 

There are days when he is sober and he makes all types of promises. “My drinking is not that serious, I can stop whenever I want”, “I swear I will not drink again”, “I swear I will be a different person now just help me out from this situation” etc. And the very next day when he comes home drunk again I am so hurt by the broken promises and take the lies personally.  We naturally expect them to be sincere to us.  This is what expectations looks like.

What seems like a reasonable expectation in some circumstances might be totally unreasonable when it comes to someone with an addiction. Is it reasonable to expect someone to be honest with you when the person is incapable of being honest even with themselves and admit that they have a problem and need help?

In reality, we as a family should do nothing and can do nothing. When a person with a substance use problem reaches a crisis point, sometimes that's the time the person finally admits they have a problem and begins to reach out for help. It is very difficult to sit back and let it play out to its fullest extent. When an alcoholic reaches the point that they get a DUI, lose their job, or get thrown in jail, it can be a difficult concept to accept that the best thing you can do in the situation is to do nothing. It may seem like it goes against everything you believe and against all your expectations.

In a nutshell, the only person you can work upon is your own self. Once you realize this trust me life will let you breathe easy. When you reach this stage you will feel a burden on your shoulders and will be able to admire the view. My happiness, my peace of mind, my attitudes, the way I look, the way I stay, the way I behave are all my responsibility. Only I have the power to change all that and the thought that I don’t have to take responsibility for the alcoholic’s behavior is such a relief.  

I hope this has helped in bringing some sense of comfort and ease to your life. If you know of any dear and near ones who are going through the same situation and feel that it could help them in any way then please do share this.

And to end this let me tell you that working on Acceptance and Expectations is less than half the battle won. You can then move on to what I call the second stage.  I shall touch base on that another time. Till then keep repeating the three “C”s of Al Anon to yourself:

I didn’t Cause it

I can’t Control it and

I can’t Cure it

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