Reader Mailbag – How to Escape from an Alcoholic Relationship

Patrick
  • By Patrick

    A reader writes in and asks:

    “I am with a “functioning” alcoholic. He owns a business, has a million dollar home and all the nice things that come with it. He is an angry alcoholic – toward me, his kids, whoever gets in his way. His dad was an alcoholic and he doesn’t see the similarities in himself. The biggest problem is that he has never had any consequences to face except for an occasional scrape. I would love to move out and not enable him, but with no where to go and no money how I can I do that in the same house?”

    Hi there…..I’m not sure there is an easy answer for you because you are in a tough situation. It sounds like you are saying that you are trapped because you have a dependency on this man, and that is limiting your options.

    If you approach this in a healthy way then you have to set limits and boundaries. If you set these boundaries and push comes to shove then eventually you might end up walking away from him. You might take a break from the relationship, leave him entirely, or simply tell him you need some space for a while because you find his behavior unacceptable. Regardless of the situation, you won’t have any leverage to make these kinds of decisions unless you have some options open to you.

    This is not about making threats to him. Instead, you should set healthy boundaries that any reasonable person would agree with, and then follow through with your decision. For example, you might tell him that if he gets belligerently drunk that you will go somewhere else for the night until he has sobered up. This is not a threat to him and it is not unreasonable on your part. So in addition to setting these boundaries, you need to have a way to follow through with your decisions. (By the way, don’t ever set a boundary that you don’t intend to enforce. Doing so will create huge problems).

    So at this point, you need to assert some level of independence and find some way that you can walk away from him for a while if need be. There is no way you can possibly make any progress unless you have the ability to walk out the door and be OK for a few days on your own. This requires either money or some alternative support system, such as a friends or relatives nearby that will take you in.

    If I was in your situation and I really wanted to see things change, then I would start exploring my options and work towards independence. If you develop the ability to walk away from the relationship then that changes everything. Not only does it empower you, but it might make him reconsider his drinking if he sees that you can walk away and still make a life for yourself. In other words, your achieving independence might eventually influence his drinking.

    You say that he has never really had to face any consequences. If he gets drunk and you leave for the weekend, that is a consequence right there and these are the kinds of things that it might take to make him take a look at his drinking.

    It is possible that he could get sober one day and things would work out. But you should not count on it. If you are counting on this, then it will never happen. The only way it can possibly happen is if you are strong enough to walk away from the relationship and make a life for yourself. Start working towards independence and look out for your own life. He will either continue drinking or make a decision to stop. Ultimately his decision will not affect your well being because you are going to start putting your life first.

    In order to do this I would recommend 2 things to you:

    1) Consider going to Al-Anon - they can help you with the kinds of ideas I’m talking about here.

    2) Seek employment - if you are trapped and dependent on him, then getting a job might be the easiest way to assert yourself. If you have steady income coming in then this empowers you to change your situation as you see fit.

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