This is a secret suspicion that many people harbor. Many times the truth is still denied even after a great deal of evidence. Ignoring the problem is ordinary. A boyfriend can lose a number of jobs and his girlfriend will still go out drinking with him. A wife can be caught at work and warned and the husband won’t pursue enough discussion about it. Coming to terms with alcoholism can be like taking cold showers all winter in a cold bathroom. Nobody wants to think alcoholism is true, not the alcoholic or their partner.
Talking about hard things increases the possibility of a relationship lasting. It’s not talking that kills off relationships. Back in the 80’s when AIDS was initially labeled GRID, the gay community wore a pin that said, “Silence = Death.” This is also true for relationships, but it never feels that way. “I don’t want to hurt them, ” is the ordinary response/excuse. It’s a feeling that is really self protective. The truth could be, “I don’t want to be uncomfortable in trying to deal with this.” A willingness to be uncomfortable, to rock the boat is required. Becoming addicted is a long complicated process, and so is undoing it which requires a lot of truth.
Why is truth so illusive? Denial is the most powerful force in the universe – we all pretend to ourselves. College students say, “I’m using my friend’s ADHD medicine to study, I’m not abusing pills.” There is a wonderful book that’s helped four people in the past year come to terms with the reality of being an alcoholic. The book is called “Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception” by Abraham Twerski. He started Gateway, a rehab facility here in Pittsburgh. I highly recommend it to partners of drinkers who are worried about the people they love. Then ask your partner to read it.
Addiction means self-regulation is missing. An alcoholic when they drink, drinks too much. They don’t have 2 beers and then stop. They may stop for a month to “prove” there is not a problem, but this is not proof. I ask problem drinkers to not drink for a year to see how life changes.
Unfortunately social culture in the 20’s and 30’s makes drinking too much an ordinary thing. Dependence on alcohol becomes a lifestyle and an integral way to cope with life. So asking someone to give up coping with life through alcohol will feel like asking them to walk through life without their skin. It is a very messy business to change and it is not a straight line of progress (Research by Tartar and Mezzich in 1992). Your liver needs to be alcohol free for at least 24 hours!
Honest dialogue has to continue through the entire process. The alcoholic will be very surprised that you know they’ve returned to drinking. Surprise them with your knowledge. Don’t preach or be self-righteous. Al-Anon recommends “Don’t Work Their Program,” and I balance this by suggesting that you add small truthful moments that offer a reality check. For example, your partner has agreed to go to therapy, but does the therapist know they’re on their second warning at work? Go to Al-Anon meetings which will teach you to detach with love and to look at yourself. Partner’s of alcoholics are usually bad at caring for themselves. Small moments of truth-telling is really all about self-care.
Educate yourself about alcohol addiction. Never add to the shame of the alcoholic . With determination pursue truth with quiet dignity. Real change is a tricky business, it begins with facing hard truths. If it’s a secret worry about your partner, it’s most likely an accurate one. Alcohol is too important to too many people.