Loving an alcoholic puts you in an incredibly difficult situation. Not only are you dealing with your partner's behavior, but the people in your life are likely pressing you to leave him or her immediately, say addiction specialists Dr/ John McMahon & Lou Lewis in the article "Love and the Alcoholic." What they don't know is that you're still in that person's life because you love them. You appreciate their problems but you also remember the person you fell in love with when you first met. That person may still exist in some capacity, except when they drink -- and then they become thoughtless and selfish. Unfortunately, this hasn't stopped you from loving them. While it may be difficult to cut off your feelings, there are steps you can take to protect yourself that will also help your partner.
Stop Enabling the Alcoholic
The Al-Anon book "Courage to Change" says that people who love alcoholics often make excuses for their partner or cover their mistakes. This type of behavior actually isn't helpful, though -- instead you're enabling your partner's alcoholism. You allow your partner to keep drinking without facing the consequences of their behavior. If your love is enabling the alcoholic in your life, Al-Anon advises that a more compassionate response is actually to let them pay the price of their behavior. It will cause them hurt, but it gives them a better chance of breaking the cycle of alcoholism. With your intervention you're actually part of the problem, not the solution, advises substance abuse counselor Carole Bennett, MA. While this won't squash your feelings, it will break the cycle of pain you're both enmeshed in and promote possible future healing.
Examine Your Behavior
Bennett says that people enable alcoholics by covering for them because rescuing something makes them feel needed. If their lives are not as fulfilling as they like, they may get a rush from helping someone who desperately needs it. The alcoholic thanks and praises them and the rescuer feels happy to be at the center of their world. Often enablers are insecure or uncomfortable with themselves and need the attention of an alcoholic to feel good about themselves. This may be harsh, but it's very important to realize your own role in the cycle of alcoholism in order to keep your love from destroying your life. Acknowledging that your rescuing tendencies play into the love you can't escape from will help you break loose -- most people have no idea that these habits are keeping them imprisoned.
Stop the Denial
You've watched as the alcoholic has progressed from drinking to alcohol abuse to full-on alcoholism. To survive this progression, you've likely had to join in with the alcoholic's denial that's allowed them to slip downhill, advises Lisa Frederickson, an author, speaker, and researcher on addiction and alcoholism. This denial usually takes the form of attributing the drinking to external events like bad bosses, stress at work, kids, or fights with his or her partner, not a serious brain disease that needs treatment. This denial may also have made the alcoholism OK. Realize that the situation is not acceptable for you or the alcoholic. Getting rid of denial will help put the situation in perspective and may also help put your feelings in perspective as well. (ref 3)
Ask for Help
Dealing with your role in the alcoholic's cycle of addiction can be hard to grasp and painful. Many enablers protest that it's the alcoholic that needs help, not them, says Frederickson. Still, it's important to explore your role in their addiction to help both you and the alcoholic. You may not stop loving the alcoholic by doing so, but you will be in a much healthier place. Attend Al-Anon meetings to get support from others who care about alcoholics. Read as much as possible about codependency, the term to describe the condition of enablers, whether in books or on websites. Finally, solicit the help of a good therapist, particularly one who has training in addiction issues and alcoholism. If your loved one is at a treatment center, attending family group sessions there can also be immensely helpful to free yourself from pain and reach a new level of self-awareness.
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