On the morning of my sister’s high school graduation, I found my boyfriend so drunk that he could barely stand up. Even so, he adamantly denied that he’d been drinking—even as I watched him pour vodka into his glass and claim it was just water. I went to the ceremony alone and simply told my family that he wasn't feeling well.
Looking back on that experience, I remember the feeling of rage, confusion, and helplessness that I felt. I could not understand why this was happening to him- to us- or why he seemed to be completely unable to control himself. Most of all, I remember the loneliness of it all. Like many others, I stereotyped alcoholics as poor and disheveled people. Alcoholism wasn’t supposed to affect us, not with our high-price education and promising careers. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone that I was faced with a problem that I was powerless to solve and had yet to even fully grasp. Not only did I lie to my family about his drinking that day, but I repeatedly lied to my friends or simply avoided seeing them so I wouldn’t have to discuss what was going on at home.
As addiction consumed him, I found myself trying to hang on to any semblance of normalcy. I tried to clean him up after a binge and put him in a clean shirt before we attended a social event. I tried to use whatever leverage I had over his drinking to force him to get help, even making appointments for him to see specialists myself. "If he loved me, he’d get help," I told myself. I became almost paranoid: nagging him about where he’d been, pouring out all the liquor in the house, and feeling anxious anytime alcohol was present at a social gathering.
Relapse eventually turned to recovery. “I can handle it” turned into “I’ll never take another drink." Yet, even expecting him to keep his promise and never drink again turned out to be an unrealistic expectation. An addict can never be honest with you unless they are honest with themselves. Even after proudly handing me his one month of sobriety chip from Alcoholics Anonymous, he turned to the bottle again only a few weeks later.
You see, alcoholism is a disease that attacks not only the addict, but also the addicts loved ones. Most people immediately sympathize with the demons of an alcoholic. But my life slowly became all about him, leaving me to suffer any slight, any disrespect, and all hurt feelings in silence. The needs of the alcoholic can soon overwhelm your own. Even after he cheated in a drunken stupor, I was reminded by his friend that he “needed me right now more than ever” and I should put my feelings aside. I repeatedly found myself accepting unacceptable behavior and simply blaming it on the alcohol. When you love an alcoholic, their drinking defines you too, until it drowns you like a wave crashing over you.
I decided to write this for all the other people who may be suffering in silence in the shadows of someone else’s alcoholism, too embarrassed to say that they are in over their heads. I still struggle with accepting the mantra known to many friends and relatives of alcoholics: You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it. You can’t cure it. However, accepting my own limitations has helped me accept his limitations as an alcoholic, and a boyfriend. His drinking is not a reflection of my shortcomings as a woman. It is a reflection of a disease that has taken over his life.
Alcoholism is a degenerative disease. It continues to get worse until the alcoholic seek helps—and most alcoholics need to hit rock bottom to do so. What they don’t tell you is that his rock bottom will undoubtedly be rock bottom for you as well. After that point came this time, I decided to remove myself from the cycle of relapse-recovery-relapse and focus on my own healing. A good friend of mine said something to me that I think is important to share with others going through this, especially women: you can't let someone else's illness kill you. I wish him so much love and health…but I cannot destroy myself trying to help him get there.
Similar to AA, Al-Anon provides meetings and support groups for the family, friends, and partners of alcoholics.
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