Alcoholism, Shame & Couples

Never underestimate the legacy of alcoholism on many generations in the same family. It’s a disease that extracts an excruciating price. Mothers leave children behind, fathers are fetched out of bars by elementary school kids, money disappears in a pile of empty promises and that’s just the beginning.

Alcohol becomes the most important part of your life, often because of deep wounds that never seem to heal and the incredible power of genetics. Burying pain becomes the priority which means erasing the past, present and future.

It’s shame that drives relapse and an inability to stay with the daunting task of recovery. Shame is the biggest obstacle to healing for all of us. When shame feels insurmountable it interrupts life completely. The power of Alcoholics Anonymous is in attending meetings which by their nature defuse the shame. Everyone has terrible stories to tell and listening to others helps you creep towards accepting your own. Accepting your own story and taking responsibility in the company of people you’ve grown to respect is the start of the long journey to claiming self-respect. Accepting our own humanity can be an arduous task for all of us, which is why there is so much pretending “that’s not me.”

This is very fragile ground for a couple to struggle with and find their way. AA does not offer enough support to couples because they have a large enough task with the focus on the individual. Couples that have limped along for years can blow up when one person begins the recovery process because they have created a system of deeply troubled cooperation.

Often the non-drinking partner has been unaware of how important the payoffs of an underfunctioning partner have been. If the non-drinking partner refuses to go to Al-Anon meetings then learning their part in thing is often ignored. Blame is so much easier than self-examination. Blame and feeling self-righteous can be tough habits to break. Couples have to learn to tread lightly and not add on to the pile of shame, how to negotiate time consuming AA meetings which intrudes on family time, the fight to not drink, learning about codependency and control issues, and developing new ways to understand where growth takes both people. All of this is HUGE and it’s easy to want to give up. Real change means embracing struggle.

Shame is most often entangled with profound alcoholic self-destructiveness. Alcoholics hate themselves and find it all too easy to keep on proving how worthless they are. Deep down too many people want to be loved no matter what. Growing up means knowing it’s wrong to ask for that as an adult from another adult. Only parents can do that for their kids, a partner is not required to make up what was missing from childhood. It’s incredibly sad to watch someone who is lovely in so many ways determined to prove to you how terrible they really are.

AA is crucial because it restores hope. Self-respect returns because of the process of truth telling by people you grow to appreciate and recognize because they represent different parts of yourself. It is essential the non-drinking partner not add to the shame in any way because shame will stop the healing. The non-drinking partner needs to face their history of built up anger and resentments. For couples it’s as if they are on a wooden raft negotiating giant blue chunks of glacier ice melt, a very difficult proposition.alcoholicIMG_0517

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