For the Affected Others: We Who Love the Active Alcoholic/Addict

Each week I receive a handful of emails from folks who are struggling with addiction and/or mental health. The overwhelming majority of them are from good women who are partnered to addicts or alcoholics that have a long history of being in and out of Recovery. They describe a man or woman who is the proverbial Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Their partners are wonderful when sober and terrible when addiction is running the show.

It saddens me that too often they stay silent and suffer alone. It’s heartbreaking when they choose not to share with friends and family because they are afraid of how those folks will come to see their partner. With good intentions they seek to protect their image/reputation. Unfortunately, this is just another form of enabling.

Only when we have suffered sufficiently do we reach out. Usually when we can’t stand it one more moment. Then and only then do we turn to those who love us and share that our lives have become unmanageable due to addiction.

It’s just not our addiction.

I’ve written hundreds of letters like the one I sent this morning. I share this with those of you who are in similar straits and urge you to seek out the support of friends and family as well as the amazing folks in Al Anon & Nar Anon.

Lisa wrote to me explaining her partner’s history in hopes that I could help her understand what’s likely to come next and what she can do for herself and her partner.

Dear Lisa,
I’ve heard a lot of stories just like John’s. After 60-90 days sober he starts to “thaw” and is flooded with emotions. All the inner conflicts he’s avoided resurface and he goes to the thing that makes the pain go away. From what you’re saying I’m confident that there’s an escalation – it gets a little bit worse every time he goes back out.

His family is clearly enabling him. His mother may mean well but helping him to medicate his feelings or protecting him from the natural consequences of his choices is the worst thing one can do to an alcoholic or addict. This too is something you cannot control. People only see the truth they’re willing to see and too often they harm with good hearts.

It doesn’t surprise me that John is successful in running his business. Most of the alcoholics I work with have incredible work ethics – they are generally very successful in their careers and it’s a source of pride – while they may never feel good about who they are, they know how to feel good about what they do professionally.

So…you’re in a familiar place, wondering how many more chances do you give? He’s great when he’s sober and wretched when he’s drinking. There’s no easy answer and analyzing it will only cause you to lose sleep.

In AA there’s an expression that the longest distance in the world is from your head to your heart – meaning that how we feel emotionally never matches up to what we know intellectually. This is why I encourage people to go with their gut feeling – it’s our best guide and it’s simple – even if we don’t like the answers.

Powerlessness is one of life’s hardest lessons. Keep separating what you can do from what you can’t and accept that taking care of you is not selfish – it’s necessary.

Don’t put your life on hold. Don’t put your fate in the hands of a person who is battling the demon of addiction. Invest in yourself.

The truth is you already knew the answer before you wrote to me. The truth is you already know what you’re going to do and that’s okay. There’s no right and wrong here – there’s just a choice and it’s one you’ll make everyday. I say to you as one who has watched the battle be won and lost – of all that you could choose:

Choose you.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.