A reader who goes by “hlg” writes in and asks:
“I need help and fast. I am engaged to a man who I now realize is an alcoholic. A very verbally abusive and sometimes physically abusive alcoholic. He drinks about 3 times a week, so I didn’t think of him as an alcoholic at first…just a real jerk every now and then. The nights he doesn’t drink he is very distant and quiet. We not only are supposed to be married but we are opening a business together in 2 weeks which puts me in a huge mess. Somehow he has managed to get me to quit my job, school, take the majority of time away from my kids and he has complete financial control. I am an educated woman who worked in the medical field for over 13 years. I now depend on him for EVERYTHING. He seems to always start a fight with me so he can go drink at our store. I try so hard not to argue with him but he will find the lowest untrue things he can say to really tick me off. I thought I would just ignore him when he does this so now he just leaves and I don’t even know he’s gone until I notice his truck missing. No matter what I say he would not acknowledge he was an alcoholic. Last week he did finally admit he has to quit drinking because he “doesn’t get much done when he drinks.” Is this a sign that he may be reaching out? If so he is at the store tonight while I sit here crying trying to figure out if I should leave him or support him. we love each other very much and I don’t want to give up but I can’t seem to compete with this rotten disease. He is the very self centered poor me alcoholic. I can’t live like this and am not sure how to help him help himself. How do you get a person to see this is happening to them if they don’t want to see?? Is the only choice I have to walk away???”
Hi there hlg, thanks for your comment and your question. I think in this case, you need to focus on getting some help yourself first, before you do or try anything else. This is critical. You need to get some help, not him. It sounds to me like he is not in a position where he is ready to listen or ask for help.
You mention verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Again, you need to get help, not him. I would recommend that you find an Al-Anon meeting at the very minimum, and the people there might direct you to other resources as well that might address the abuse issue. Keep in mind that an untreated pattern of abuse always gets worse over time, never better (unless the person is sober and seeking help for it). It will always get worse over time if left untreated. You need to get some help.
Part of your getting help will be learning about boundaries and how to set them. You are not a doormat and do not deserve to be treated like one. It sounds like this person is particularly manipulative and you need to be able to stand up for yourself. The people at an Al-anon meeting can help teach you how to do this.
In addition, setting these boundaries will help you and him. He will see that you are not going to stick it out if his behavior continues, so it will force the choice on to him. He can then continue drinking or address his problem. But in order for this to happen, you need to go get some help first so that you have the knowledge and strength to execute on this plan. Understand that you are not going to make idle threats in the hopes that he will change; instead, you are going to lay down a firm boundary and stick with your decision. That might eventually mean that you walk away from everything, but perhaps that is what it will take for him to wake up and make some changes in his life. There are always possibilities down the road in that case, no? But it seems hopeless for you to cling to a broken relationship when he has no real incentive to change right now.
His admission that “he need to quit drinking” because “he’s not getting enough done” is just that–an admission. I used to admit I was an alcoholic all the time–but it took several more years until I really accepted that I was an alcoholic, deep down, and decided to finally do something about it. An admission does nothing as far as action goes. He can sit there and admit it all day long, and keep on drinking. This solves nothing.
So I think you ultimately have 3 options:
1) Change nothing and hope for the best
2) Walk away from the relationship
3) Go seek help yourself (Al-anon, counseling, etc.)
I would strongly recommend that you seek help first. And whatever you do, don’t just continue on and hope that one day he will change. That is a recipe for long term misery. You deserve better than that!
Thanks again for your question and good luck to both of you…..
Does anyone have any additional input for the reader in question? Let us know in the comments.