Living with an alcoholic

Those who are or have been living with an alcoholic know very well what this means. Chaos, lies, sadness, fear, anger, hope, but also love are part of daily life. What I know from my own experience and that of others is that there are moments that you feel very alone. You just want to talk to somebody, but you feel that you’ve lost everyone around you. Perhaps they did no longer want to be part of your intense and chaotic life or maybe you chose to isolate yourself out of shame. The result is the same. Feeling alone, isolation. Modern technology is a big help for many. Social media groups can be a huge support and recognition is a strong healing factor in my opinion.

But I used to write a diary to make sense of my situation and that was a huge help as well. For this reason I’ve created a new Facebook group where I invite other people to write their story. This can be a short description of their life or for example a week out of their life. The group is called:

My Story – Your Story.

Writing your story about living with an alcoholic in a storytelling way can give you a better insight into your own situation. It also releases stress. Reading other people’s stories can help through recognition.

This is a new group so feel free to like and follow, even if you are not going to write a story. If you would like to try to write your story then do this in no more than 2000 words. For example: how it all began, how it makes you feel, why you cannot leave or why you did leave, and in the latter case, how you left.

It is important to create a beginning and some sort of ending, the ending doesn’t necessarily have to be that you have left, it can also be an open ending like in my example below. You could even write ‘and the story continues’, or ‘I need to make a change and I hope I can find the strength’, etc.

This is not a group to ask for help or to vent your frustration or anger even though that can be very helpful, however, there are other really good groups where you can do this on Facebook. For this reason your story will be approved.

To get inspired feel free to read a week out of my diary from when I was still living with an alcohol-addicted partner. (This story is also included in the My Story – Your Story group)


“Everything was clean when I got home. The carpet hoovered, the tiles mopped and the dishes done. A pleasant smell of incense drifted from the side table into the room.

He smiled but one of his eyes was slightly hanging and both looked watery and red. The stench of alcohol hung in the air, unmistakably. He was sweet, kind, smiley and unstable on his feet. “Hello sweetie, did you have a nice day?” he said, clearly attempting not to sound too drunk.

I wondered why I even thought this would never happen again. The ‘because he said so’ argument not the least bit convincing. I’d seen it all before and I couldn’t help thinking that it was a planned action by him. Doing things for me, like cleaning the house, so that I would seem and feel incredibly unkind and inhumane if I asked him to leave.

He knows the rules. He can stay if he is sober but he needs to go when he is drinking but he keeps trying to push my boundaries. Over and over again he cannot stick to my rule and forces me to do so. I feel guilty, upset and yes, inhumane but I ask him to leave.

He is upset, “I’m ill, how do you think I feel?… I’m homeless, the job I was promised is not happening, I have hardly any money left and you are kicking me into the street”. “You are writing a book about the human side of alcoholism and the next thing I know is you are telling me to get lost, that’s how it feels. I am lost, can’t you see?” he continues. “Your book should be called ‘me, me, me’, because you are only interested in yourself”.

I know I shouldn’t feel guilty but it somehow feels as if he is right. I can see the pain, the hurt but above all the anger in his eyes. He actually frightens me and I don’t want to be afraid of him. He feels like a wounded animal and his kind, sensitive side appears to be buried under a layer of anger and frustration with a mixture of irrational behaviour and frustration about me, but he packs his bag and walks out. I know he will sleep on the beach again tonight.


I don’t know how to help an alcoholic. How can I? I can’t even help myself. I’m not assertive when he shouts at me with well-chosen words. I’m afraid that I cannot be strong enough when he comes back and I know that he will. He knows my routines and knows where to find me. And he does, every day.

It breaks my heart seeing him strolling along the beach, too much sunshine having darkened his skin beyond ‘healthy glow’. He looks like one of those ‘handbag people’, as we used to jokingly call the expats staying in Spain for the winter who spend their days on the beach and in bars. Their often wrinkly camel-leather coloured skin peaking out of summery clothes while they enjoy a drink at a pavement cafe. Always the same people, the same time, the same chairs.

 Artwork by Renate van Nijen

I’m slightly allergic to that. I stir my coffee and spot him; he looks lonely, incredibly lonely. I don’t understand why he cannot stop drinking alcohol. I wish he would go to an alcoholics anonymous meeting, or check into an alcohol treatment programme, but he is still in denial, which he also denies. I’m glad he doesn’t see me; I cannot handle another confrontation now. I need some peace and quiet. I pay for my coffee and go home.


I’m lying in my bed but I cannot catch sleep, it is 11 o’clock in the evening.  He joined me for a cup of coffee this morning.  We spoke about his alcohol addiction. We laughed about some joggers passing by, clearly holiday joggers, puffing and sweating in colourful Lycra.  We always laugh a lot, when he isn’t drinking.

His clothes were full of stains and he looked tired and burned.  I heard myself offering him to come to my house to change and wash his clothes, get a rest and sober up.  He was grateful and I immediately felt slightly uncomfortable, yet filled with hope.

We did some shopping and he helped me with my book. He offered to do a final proofread and to write some articles.  I was really happy about this. Reading my book meant reading the words he never wants to listen to when I try to explain where I’m coming from.

In the evening he cooked me a lovely meal, he is such a good cook, but now I’m totally tired and yet wide awake.  I have done too much today and feel stressed out and stuffed.  Wondering why I could not stop eating when I was full.  It makes me understand the mechanism he must experience when he cannot stay away from a drink.

Struggling with my own addiction to food.  Comfort eating a term all too familiar to me.  And now I hear him snoring in the living room.  I feel a sense of relief.  At least I know he is safe.  I find it hard to think that he is sleeping in the streets.  Not knowing if he will be mugged when he is drunk and just lying there, powerless.  That is how he must feel, powerless.  That is certainly how I feel as I realise there is nothing I can do to help him stop drinking.


I feel a smile on my face.  We had a really good day.  He looked for jobs online and received a nice email that he will be able to start working in a week’s time.  We were both so happy.  We talked a lot.  About the book I have written, about changes that he suggested and were very well pointed out.

His openness and contribution to my book, a book about alcoholism, about addiction; a book about the experiences of other people with the problems excessive alcohol consumption can create; a book about my experience of living with an alcoholic, living with him.

We openly talked about it and he was totally okay with me publishing this book.  And we talked about his new job.  He said he didn’t want to screw it up this time.  He said he was going to stay sober and make the best job ever of this chance.  He was so happy.  I’m happy.  I feel a smile on my face.


I don’t feel like writing in my diary today.  I have had a totally fantastic day.  I finished my book.  He finished proofreading my book.  We went out for a walk and a meal and laughed about life, about the future.  We laughed so much.  I thought I’d wet myself at some point.  I probably did.  I had such a nice day.  I’m grateful.


I wake up.  The sun is shining and why not.  I live in southern Spain.  I hear him in the bathroom, brushing his teeth.  I walk into the kitchen and put the kettle on.  I prepare two cups of tea.  While enjoying our tea we make a shopping list.  Lots of healthy bits.  Today it is my turn to cook so it will be a meal of small dishes.  Tapas as the Spaniards call them.  Time to go now.  We will have some breakfast in town!


He’s really doing great and he is proud of himself.  He is totally committed to his new future, but I also sense doubt creeping in.  He should have heard back from the manager of his new job yesterday and he didn’t.  He tries to wave his worries away, but I can feel the tension.  He doesn’t want to talk about it and says that everything will be fine.  I like to trust that, I want to trust him.  So we pretend there are no worries and hang in front of the television, watching an old episode of Columbo.


Everything was clean when I got home…..I fear the worst.  I hate this horrible disease of alcoholism.  I hate the effect it has on my life.  I don’t want to be living with an alcoholic anymore.  I wish I was rich so I could ship him off to a nice alcohol rehab centre in Florida, or in Timbuktu.  Far away but with a reassurance that he is safe.  I guess I still need him to be safe.  But where does that leave me?”

If you like to share your Living with an alcoholic story in the Your Story – My Story group please click on the link to go to the page.


Renate van Nijen

About me

My name is Renate van Nijen. I am a Dutch born, artist and writer living in Southern Spain. On my website, 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! I will also upload one chapter of my book every month!

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