If I Just Love You Enough
My Love Will Fix You (loving an addict)
“I can’t control your behavior; nor do I want that burden…but I will not apologize for refusing to be disrespected, to be lied to, or to be mistreated. I have standards; Step up or step out.” ~ Steve Maraboli
Between 2004 and 2006 I dated and briefly lived with a man who I later discovered was an alcoholic.
I knew he drank a lot when we first started to date, but he was so funny and was the laugh of the party, the one whom everyone gravitated towards, and he adored me.
I had never laughed so much in all my life as when I was with him, and he was also very social and very outgoing.
These were both qualities which attracted me to him as I was shy, quiet and had only recently left the religion of my childhood and been shunned, so I had been socially isolated for some time.
Worked for Police Communications
He worked for the Australian police in Communications, which meant he manned the emergency phones and was one of the people at the end of the telephone line, when someone rang 000 for Police, Ambulance or Fire Brigade (911 in the United States and Canada, 111 in New Zealand, 999 in the United Kingdom, 112 in Europe).
He had an adult son who had been accepted into the Australian Army, and he loved cooking curries.
What more could a girl possibly want?
At first, we were very happy.
I did not see his drinking as particularly a problem, although I was aware he suffered from bouts of anxiety and depression.
He would go very quiet and sometimes would go days with not speaking to me hardly at all. I knew he worked hard and respected his need for privacy. I did not see it as anything more than a response to the normal stressors of life, and a particularly stressful job at times.
Life of the party
He would organize dinner parties most weekends, and on these occasions, our house would be full of people.
He was such a funloving and kind person, always attentive to the needs of our guests and would spend most afternoons cooking up a storm to cater for everyone who was coming.
He brewed his beer and was super generous at inviting all to share.
Depression and anxiety (self-medicating with alcohol)
However, it became apparent as time went on that his drinking was a lot more of a problem than I initially thought.
It was not until I had moved in with him after about a year that I realized how deep and often his depressive episodes were occurring. He said that he had them all his life.
His father had left his mother when he was only young, and his mother had turned to alcohol to cope. She drank herself to death, and when my partner was in his mid-teens, he woke up one day to find her dead (she had bled out) and he sat with her body for hours until the undertakers came to take her away.
He said that after her death it took six trucks to take away all the bottles that were in their backyard. His brother hardly touched alcohol due to their experience with their mother as an alcoholic, but my partner drank copiously.
I realized he used drinking to mask his anxiety and depression and to self medicate. I encouraged him to go to the doctor which he did do, and the doctor prescribed antidepressants. He started to take them but was meant to stop drinking while he took them so it would not decrease their effectiveness.
He did not lower the amount he drank. He took the tablets, but his depression grew worse.
He was the first man to ever write me a poem and give it to me in a card.
He truly had captured my heart.
We had so much going for us.
Tensions escalate in the first few months living together
So it was not long after we moved in together that issues started to arise.
He used to work in a city about four hours away. He had a flat he used to share a room with someone close to where he worked. He would work about four or five days on, and then have three or four days off in a row.
He would come home from work and go straight to the local pub before he got back. He would down 5 or 6 drinks quickly and then would come home.
The fact he would likely be driving over the limit did not escape me, but he would justify it, saying that he was only driving about 200 meters and also that his drinks were all consumed so quickly (usually in half an hour) that his blood alcohol level would only just be starting to climb by the time he got home.
I asked him why he felt he had to drink so much so quickly?
Usually, he worked 4 or 5 shifts in a row, and he would not drink on the days he worked. He then had three days off.
After coming off a few days of NOT drinking he could not wait to start again.
He always started with the drinks at the pub after his final day of work before his shifts ended and his three days of leave started. So, he would be drunk on the first night home.
He started to come home before he went to the pub, say hello to me, and then say, “I’m just going to pop down to the pub, for a quick one, is that alright?” Well, it was not alright. I knew he was doing this, so he could say I had “given” permission, and all I had to say was no.
I did not like being put in this position as if I said, “No” I did not want him to go to the pub, then he would sulk, go quiet and refuse to speak to me (sometimes for the entirety of days he was off work).
At these times he would sometimes answer in monosyllables, refuse to hold my hand if I reached out to him, refuse to kiss me or participate in any conversation.
It got so that, I would dread him coming home.
I would not know if he would go straight to the pub or come home first.
I was walking on eggshells.
He would not yell; he would go silent. But I dreaded those silences more than anything.
My stomach would be in knots.
- I tried ignoring him and not answering him if he asked me if he could go to the pub.
- I tried avoiding him.
- I would deliberately go out and not be home when I suspected he was due to arrive.
- I would make sure I was not home or out in the garden.
- I had a conversation with him and directly told him I would no longer engage with him anytime he “asked” my permission to go to the pub, as he knew what I thought about it, and he knew I hated how he acted if he did not go, punishing me for saying what I really felt.
- I told him, do NOT ask me if he did not want me to say no.
He knew I was worried about him. I told him I was.
Why his drinking was an issue (besides “ignoring” me)
He told me he could go a few days without alcohol (as evidenced by the fact he already did this), but once he had one drink, he could not stop.
He HAD to drink once he started until he was intoxicated.
As he drank every day (his homebrew) when he was home and started in the mornings, he was usually heavily intoxicated by night time each day.
Him being drunk meant it was hard to arrange to go anywhere as it would interfere with his drinking and he would not want to do so, and he would get upset if I went out without him.
He wanted me to be there when he was home.
Because of his erratic behavior which had become the norm (silent treatment, refusing to hold hands, be intimate) I rang and spoke to a lady at Al-Anon.
Al-Anon stems from AA. It is a service that was set up to support families of people who were alcoholic. According to their website Al-Anon:
“…is a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. By sharing common experiences and applying the Al-Anon principles, families and friends of alcoholics can bring positive changes to their individual situations, whether or not the alcoholic admits the existence of a drinking problem or seeks help.”
The lady I spoke to on the phone was wonderful. She spent over half an hour explaining to me that relationships can sometimes work with a person who is an alcoholic if boundaries can be successfully put in place to protect the non-alcoholic and if myself as his partner could learn to separate myself and not engage in his behaviors.
Their website puts it so clearly:
“…those who care the most can easily get caught up in the behavior of another person.
We react to the alcoholic’s behavior.
We focus on them, what they do, where they are, how much they drink.
We try to control their drinking for them.
We take on the blame, guilt, and shame that really belong to the drinker.
We can become as addicted to the alcoholic, as the alcoholic is to alcohol.
We, too, can become ill.”
Their support service was designed to help people in relationships and families of alcoholics learn how to deal with an alcoholics behavior if they wished to remain in a relationship with them, without sacrificing themselves or being a doormat or having their own life ruined.
I loved him.
I wanted to try.
I could see the hurt little boy underneath and I loved the side of him when he was not drinking, that was also still funny and warm, generous and kind, and loving.
I did not want to abandon him because he had depression or anxiety.
They both were conditions I also experienced myself and was getting professional help and advice working through my childhood issues and issues from leaving the religion I had been indoctrinated in for many years.
He was supportive of me in that regard, so I felt a strong desire to be supportive of him.
When he was sober, and I appealed to him, he said all the right words.
- He wanted to get help.
- He wanted to be able to stop after one or two drinks.
- He did not want to give me the silent treatment.
- He did want to get on top of his drinking.
- He wanted to deal with his depression and anxiety and get them under control.
- He wanted our relationship to work and us to be happy.
Sometimes when he was sober, he would cry, apologize, and self castigate to such an extent I was worried he might harm himself.
His self-hate at these times was palpable.
First signs of anger and threatening behavior
One of the first things counseling helped me to understand was:
- You can’t fix the addiction.
- Addiction is complex.
- One of the best things you can do for an addict is NOT to enable them.
- Once you have identified how you may be enabling them, then you need to set up some boundaries, so you stop doing this.
So, one of the first things the Al-Anon therapist recommended I do (after speaking to me and isolating what my main issues were) was to have a conversation with him when he was sober, about boundaries and explain to him that:
- I wanted the relationship to work, but I no longer would engage in any conversation with him about his drinking.
- If he asked my permission about drinking, I would not be responding.
- If he went to the pub and came back drunk I would not comment, but neither would I be waiting at home for him to get back but I would pursue my own life and interests. If that meant going out with friends, and not waiting at home for him, or watching a television show (I would keep watching when he got home drunk and would not turn off to try and engage with him while he was drunk).
- I would no longer try and have a conversation with him when he was drunk but would carry on my own life. I would tell him once, if he tried to talk drunk with me, “Your drunk, I will talk to you once you are sober.” And that was it — no more engagement.
- If he came home drunk and vomited, I would not clean it up, clean him up, or help him get undressed and into bed. I would make sure he was safe but would leave him wherever he lay and would leave him to clean up the mess. In this way, I would no longer be enabling him as he often could not remember the state he was in the next day and would think I was exaggerating.
Psychology Today in an article entitled, “Setting Your Boundaries” states,
“ Sometimes boundaries are all we have to keep our dignity and self-respect alive. Though they are often painful to implement, it is worth the discomfort as the process invokes a feeling of self-empowerment and knowing that you are able to peel the tattoo of doormat off your forehead.”
I initiated the first and last conversation we were meant to have about his drinking.
He seemed to understand and accept that the reason I was making these changes was that I was unhappy with the way things were between us and that I wished to follow the advice to give us a fighting chance of making our relationship work.
Neither of us was happy with the current situation. We both knew that.
I acknowledged he was an adult and could choose how to manage his mental health and drinking, and those decisions from now on, or not, were entirely in his hands. I would support him in what he decided. But I would no longer comment, nag or pursue trying to “help” him. I would focus on my own life, mental health, goals, and aspirations. If he wished to participate, he only had to express an interest, or ask, and I told him I would be happy to include him.
But from now on I was going to get on with living my life, without revolving myself and my decisions around his work shifts and his drinking.
I thought the conversation went well. He seemed to be on board and accepting of how I had decided to behave around his drinking.
However, reality became very different.
“Boundaries aren’t about trying to control someone or make them change. Boundaries are about establishing how you want to be treated; self-preservation in a chaotic or dangerous environment, and a path to healthy relationships.” ~ Sharon Martin
Things started to get ugly very quickly.
I was at university studying nursing. I was enrolled in full-time study and also worked part-time about three shifts a week at our local hospital as a nurse aide. I had two children living at home, a daughter aged about 11 and a son who was about five years old.
To say that life was busy and full would be an understatement.
One evening, very shortly after our conversation, my partner was very quiet sitting at the table. He asked me casually, “Where did you go today?” I told him I had been at university the whole day. He then asked me, “Where did you park?” I said I had parked in the university carpark. He asked me, “Which one?” I thought his questioning was strange, but I was busy preparing dinner so just answered, that I had parked in the front carpark.
He then exploded.
It was like a switch had gone down in his brain.
He was screaming and yelling, right up in my face (about two inches away from my eyes) that I was lying as he had “followed me” and had driven to the carpark at the university and driven around and around and my car “was not there.”
He was nearly spitting in rage in my face.
I suddenly remembered we had driven at lunchtime to a friend who lived only five minutes from the university and had eaten lunch in her air-conditioned house before going back to class. I told him this. He stared at me in silence.
He walked away. He did not say another word. He did not apologize. I had no idea if he believed me or not.
He started not to trust me, stalk me and became paranoid
I was afraid.
I genuinely had feared he was going to hit me.
I had never seen him in a rage like that. I had never experienced any degree of anger being directed right at me like that before in my life.
After a few minutes, I was angry. Angry at being unjustly accused. Mad at how he had accused me. Angry he would think I was the type of person to lie to him. I was angry; He had “followed me.” Where did he think I was going? Did he think I was having an affair? Why did he not trust me?
I did not confront him that night. He was drunk. I left it to the next morning.
I quietly told him exactly how I felt about his behavior the day before. I stated very clearly to him that I was not interested in having an affair.
I wanted our relationship to work.
I was TOO BUSY to have an affair and too tired, and if he ever screamed in my face like that again, then I would leave. I would not hesitate.
I did not deserve that type of behavior, and my children did not deserve to see that type of behavior.
Over the next couple of months, I caught him checking my phone and my email. I had nothing to hide, so he found nothing, but it still was a massive breach of trust and privacy. I told him so.
He started to make comments about my weight and what clothes I should wear. If we were going out to dinner, he would say, “I want you to wear that dress. You look hot in that. You look slimmer in that.” If I wanted to wear it, I would, but if I didn’t I would tell him, I didn’t. He would get angry and storm off and say I was not interested in “making him happy.”
He persisted in asking me “permission” to go to the pub. I would walk away from him. I then had the silent treatment.
The lady at Al-Anon said sometimes behaviors got worse before they improved as he no longer was getting all my attention focused on him and his drinking.
But, she also warned me that setting boundaries could put me at risk and I needed to carefully weigh up how much I was willing to tolerate if he was not willing to address his addiction.
“The only people who get upset when you set boundaries are those who benefited by you having none.” ~ Sarah Principle
I tried talking to him. Things were worse than ever. I carried on, just “getting on with my life.”
The final straw came one calm beautiful Sunday morning. My partner was at home. He had woken up before I had and I could hear him in the kitchen. I started to read my book quietly in bed.
He appeared in the doorway and asked me if I would like to have a cup of tea.
I drink coffee first thing every morning, so I politely said, “No, thanks” and smiled at him. I carried on reading my book.
Next thing, there is an almighty crash about an inch from my head as a full cup of hot tea landed just behind my head onto the wall. It grazed my forehead as it went passed.
The noise of the cup breaking and the hot tea cascading all over me completely shocked me into leaping out of bed. I was shaking all over.
He was screaming at me in the doorway. I don’t even remember his words now.
It was something like, “How dare you say no to me. I am just trying to be kind and offer you something for once.”
He was due to go to work that morning. I went into the bathroom, locked the door and had my shower and got dressed. I could hear him moving about the house. After I knew he was out of the bedroom, I went out of the bathroom and straight into the bedroom.
I shut the door.
He knocked on the door about an hour later to tell me he was going. I would not look up at him. I stayed still. He left.
I packed the kids bags and my things up, and I rang him and told him I was leaving him. He turned around and came back home. I had driven to my father’s house. He turned up at my father’s.
He begged me to reconsider. My father had no idea of our issues or what I already had tolerated. My partner promised to NEVER drink again if only I would give him ONE last chance. My father said it seemed reasonable. Against my better judgment, I said, “Yes.”
Maybe leaving him was the shock needed to get him to change for the better?
I went home. He went to work.
Three days later I got a phone call from him one evening. He was asking me how I was, and he sounded elated and happy. He told me he was visiting one of his oldest friend’s house. He said it was his friend’s birthday. I somehow just ‘knew” from his tone of voice and manner that he was drunk.
I asked him if he was drinking.
There was a pause.
He said he had a “couple” of drinks only as he had to celebrate his friend’s birthday. I hung up the phone. Throughout that evening, I had dozens of missed calls from him.
The next day I also had missed calls from his friend, and his friend’s wife. Both left voice messages. Both accepted “blame” for his drinking, saying it was their fault, he had a drink.
I did not reply.
I was friends with these people also as I had gotten to know them through my partner and they seemed lovely people.
I went to the Real Estate in my local town and within two hours had signed up for a rental that was vacant. I drove to my father’s and told him my partner had admitted drinking again, and I was leaving. He said “fair enough.” I asked if he would help me move the furniture that belonged to me out the house and he did. I was out of the house before my partner (now my ex-partner) returned from his work shifts.
I thought if I only loved him enough I could love him out of his addiction.
I thought if he loved me enough, he would put me before his addiction.
I did not understand addiction.
Unless, the person WANTS to change, and even then, it is super hard to change and requires a lot of effort and support.
Making a choice to not get treatment for his drinking
He chose NOT to get support from a therapist, counselor or doctor.
At his heart of hearts, he did not believe his drinking had anything to do with his depression. Maybe he was right? But he did nothing to address his depression.
Me, changing my behavior and no longer focusing all my attention on him escalated the situation. It was not that the advice was wrong, but that my partner while drinking became paranoid and suspicious.
My lack of attention escalated his anxiety and fears so much that he started to stalk me, suspect me of cheating on him and explode in rages.
I gave an ultimatum, and he made a promise to a warning. I should have known it would not work.
Employing emotional blackmail by going to a family member (my father) was also out of line. It was not acceptable. But he did it. I should never have agreed. But I did.
It ended within three days of him making the promise in front of my father to not drink.
I know he did not want to be the “bad” guy. He never disclosed to any of his friends or family how he behaved when he drank and why it was an issue. He intimated that I “must” be having an affair and they all believed him.
He stayed the good guy. The funny guy. The life of the party. The guy everyone liked and whom everyone enjoyed his company.
NOTHING could be wrong with HIM. It must be me.
I let it be.
And so it came to an end.
I still loved him afterward for at least a couple of years, and the hurt was an aching sadness. I also had anger inside of me towards him (which is also how I knew I still cared) for being a “coward” and not accepting responsibility and letting people think I must be doing something wrong (like having an affair).
I hated him for that, and it took work to release that hate.
Knowing when its time to let go
- If they refuse treatment.
- When you decide you need to let go of living with constant fear (fear of their behavior, fear of how they will act, fear they will never recover).
I now understand that no amount of love can help someone overcome an addiction if they have no desire to want to manage it or seek treatment.
The key to successful relationships where someone has an addiction is that the person with the addiction first recognizes it, and is also actively seeking help. Relapse is part of recovery, but this is different from someone who never even starts the recovery pathway.
Separating yourself both physically and emotionally will be crucial if you decide to let go of a relationship with an addict. It would be beneficial to seek support for yourself if you can find some.
Letting go does not mean you stop loving them.
It means you may now be loving yourself more.
The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame.
He might get burned, but he’s in the game.
And once he’s in, he can’t go back, he’ll
Beat his wings ’til he burns them black…
No, The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame. . .
The Moth don’t care if The Flame is real,
’Cause Flame and Moth got a sweetheart deal.
And nothing fuels a good flirtation,
Like Need and Anger and Desperation…
— Aimee Mann, The Moth