You are strong, you have to be, otherwise you would not be where you are now… living with an alcoholic. Now this might come as a surprise to you as chances are you are feeling worthless, dependent, stuck, imprisoned by your situation and perhaps even a victim who cannot change the situation.
Chances are your other half is making sure that you feel bad about yourself, telling you how useless you are, that all the problems that occur are your fault, that you are to blame… Deep down inside you must know that this is projection, as surely the things he or she is saying about you are very similar to the things you think about your partner, but when you are living the moment of verbal or even physical abuse, there is no space for logical thinking and you shift into a defending or survival mode.
So how can I even claim that I know that you are strong?
Well I guess that knowledge comes, to some extent, from personal experience. I was 40 and very independent when I met my (now ex) alcohol addicted partner. I was on a short break in the UK with the intention to write stories. That first evening I went into a bar for a drink and I saw him. Quite frankly I fell in love head over heels. We had a very special week together, but already in those initial days together I had my first encounter with his alcohol problem. However, I ignored it. I had to get back to Holland for a couple of weeks and then returned to the UK to stay with him for a month.
That’s when I also met both his exes. His first wife and mother of his son, an incredibly strong, independent business woman, and his last ex before me. She stalked both him and me, as she did not want to let go of him, but she also was a single mother of five and a grandmother of a couple more children that she raised. In her own mad way she was strong, I could see that.
I also met my ex’es solace, cider, litres of the stuff, and he soon told me that he was an alcoholic. However, he was able to drink nothing, or just a few glasses, quite a few days in a row, and then had a binge every now and then. I could not see what I was getting myself into and was sure I could be the one who would make him stop drinking. After all he had taken the first step… he admitted that he was an alcoholic. At a later stage in our relationship, a period in which he was sober, he told me that he felt attracted to strong women. I felt strong.
Quite early on in our relationship I went to a few Al-Anon meetings. I don’t know what I expected. I remember being a bit apprehensive, but I was more than surprised that, without an exception, all the women present (there were no men in that particular group) were very strong and interesting women. Of course they all had a story to tell.
There are various groups on Facebook of partners of alcoholics and I recognise myself in many of the stories and cries for help in those groups. I remember that sensation of being in a crisis situation. When you are living with an alcoholic you are in a constant situation of crisis, in my opinion, even when the alcoholic stops drinking for a period of time, as the worrying continues. I believe it can take many months or even years for that trust to come back. The fear that he or she will fall back into their old destructive habits, is often there. When you live with an alcoholic you can feel weak, lonely, and think that you are the only person who has to suffer that way. You think nobody understands it, that nobody has to go through a similar challenge. You just deal with things as best as you can. For sure venting in these groups can be of great help.
Based on what I already know, my own experience and from people I interviewed about the subject, I simply had to come to the conclusion that in order to being able to live with an alcoholic you must be very strong. Think of all the things you have to find solutions for, about how you helped your partner, perhaps making excuses to keep up the appearances, smiling whilst feeling horrible inside. You are most likely to be the one who is taking care of possible children, making sure that there is food on the table, finding solutions for every problem that might occur, taking care of the daily facts of life, such as paying the bills, working to get money to pay for everything, etc. You are a true magician if you can do all that, yet you might feel useless, not worthy. All the negative comments can numb you and make you feel incapable of leaving and starting a new life on your own.
If you are finding yourself in such a situation, I suggest you think about, or even better, make a list of all the things you do! Don’t write a blame list about what he or she did to make you feel bad. Just write down what you have done or do on a daily basis. A simple list of all the things you do to make ends meet, to keep the relationship as normal as possible, to shield your children, if there are children involved, etc. Then sit down and go over your list a few times and realise how strong you really are.
Maybe you want to ask yourself whether you want to continue your current situation for the rest of your life or whether you want to leave one day. Perhaps you think, “yes I want to leave, but I can’t leave him or her alone, he or she can’t cope without me”, or “I’m weak and don’t know where to go.” You might still feel love for your partner and responsible for what could happen to him or her when you leave. But you could ask yourself “is this really me?”
If your answer is “no”, but you feel that you don’t know how you could possibly make a change, you could read your list again.
If you are strong enough to live with an alcoholic then you are also strong enough to leave and build a new life for yourself. You will be able to find the help and the resources that you need. I’m not saying it’s easy, but when you close the ‘unhealthy’ door behind you, you will find that ‘healthy’ doors with possibilities for a new life will open. No doubt you will have to go through a grieving period, this is very normal, but please realise that you are strong, otherwise you would not be where you are now.
Perhaps you don’t want to ask yourself the question “is this really me?” Know that it’s also OK if you are not ready (yet) to leave. Don’t judge yourself if you want to hold on to your hopes and dreams. Try to be honest and also forgiving and loving towards yourself, no matter what you decide. If you stay that’s fine too, but know that, if the day should come that the time is right for you, and you do decide to leave, you will find the help and resources you need to break free, as there is no doubt about it… you are strong!
My name is Renate van Nijen. I am a Dutch born, artist and writer living in Southern Spain. On my website, www.renatevannijen.com you can find more information about my books, including about Cheers, the hidden voices of alcoholism, and my art. If you are affected by the drinking of a loved one please feel free to subscribe to my blog and you will get instant access to two chapters from Cheers!