Understanding the alcoholic


Is that even possible…understanding the alcoholic? I think everybody who is in some shape or form affected by the behaviour of an alcohol-addicted person will try to understand. Why can’t they just drink socially? Why can’t they simply stop drinking when other people can? Why do they continue if everything around them is falling apart? How can they say ‘I love you’ and then their actions prove the opposite? It is said that love speaks louder than words, is there any truth in that? The words said so often loud and painful, leaving deep scars in those close to the alcoholic. The ‘I love you’s’ expressed in a sober state can feel so meaningless and confusing.

When I was looking for answers

I remember vividly that I could not understand my alcoholic partner. I wrecked my brain about why he would not comply with his promises to do something I knew he loved doing together.

With all his irrational behaviour he still had one rule that he always stuck to, even when drunk out of his mind, he would never drink and drive. I did not understand that either, why could he stick to this one rule and not to drinking less or not drinking at all even when he knew the consequences could be rather devastating. I didn’t understand how he could remain sober all week and then start drinking as soon as he got home after working all week. And why every holiday turned into a period of non-stop drinking.

There were moments when I did understand. Around the birth date of his son, who he missed very much and had lost contact with. On his own birthday, because he didn’t hear from his son. On festive days like Christmas, for the same reason. I felt for him and tried to be there for him, but he often chose to be with his solace, beer or cheap wine, lots of it.

I looked for answers in his past, from what he told me, but I didn’t find any. Many of us have experiences in our childhood or youth that subconsciously or consciously trigger unwanted or unhealthy behaviour, I’m sure of that. But he confused me. He told me he hated his drinking. He told me many times that he din’t like the ‘morning after’ feeling, that he didn’t even like the taste of alcohol, usually during moments of sobriety. But when he was in a drinking or a pre-drinking mode – which was recognisable by his urge to try to get into a fight with me over trivial things – he ‘switched off’ and waved away any problems related to the fact that he was drinking too much.

Testimony of an alcoholic

A few days before he stopped drinking for a period of 9 months he was sitting behind my computer. He was proofreading my book, which in itself was special, considering the book is about the experiences of people who are living or have lived with alcoholics. Also about my experience of living wit an alcoholic, living with him. I felt a change in him as we could openly talk about it and he was totally okay with me publishing the book. He even wrote the ‘about the author section’.

He offered to write some articles for my website as well. I was really happy about this.

The ‘why’ questions that I so desperately wanted to be answered didn’t get a clear-cut explanation as he himself was looking for the answer as he wrote:

Why do I want another drink? Is there an incremental improvement in how I feel after another drink? That would be motivation. But it suggests that I am not happy where I am. Is this then about happiness? Ask me to make a list of the ten things in life that make me happy. I can guarantee you that twelve tins of beer will not be on the list.” You can read more in Testimony of an alcoholic

Aren’t we all addicts in some way?

However, the article did give me some insight in why it is so hard to understand why someone chooses booze over a healthy body, relationship, etc. and perhaps it helped me understand that I have to let go of trying to understand and focus on me.

I also realised that although not understanding why he had to drink, I sort of understood the mechanism. I personally struggle with my weight and I can find myself eating a bar of chocolate and while I’m eating it I wondering why I’m doing it, but continue anyway. Those moments where my brain seems aware, but too numb to act and I continue to put food into my body that I know is not doing me any good. I love healthy foods. A day without vegetables and fruit is not a good day for me, but I still go for the bad stuff as well! Isn’t that the same mechanism?

I certainly can see the addict behaviour these days with entire families chatting on their phones during a meal out instead of chatting to each other. Addictions are everywhere and I think part of human life. Addiction to soap series, to whats-app messages, to sex, to extreme sports, to drugs, you name it.

Understanding ourselves

Perhaps we should start with trying to understand ourselves. We are the other side of the coin.

As little as I knew him, I very much got to know myself. I was 40 and had not even lived with a man before, so I was extremely independent. People said’you never get a man, you are too independent’ but then I met him. Living with my alcoholic partner for 12 years taught me so much about myself and it also changed me. 

I learned to care for someone, I got in touch with my mothering skills, I became a genius in finding solutions, I learned to forgive and love with more intensity than I had every experienced before. I also learned to give and accept. But through all this I had to learn to put myself first and love myself more than I loved him. I could only see this after we broke up, now, years later, it is very clear to me and I can even be grateful for my years with him.

So although it is very normal to wanting to know why your partner is behaving the way he or she is, perhaps we have to stop trying to understand and instead try to understand ourselves.

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, 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! I will also upload one chapter of my book every month!

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