Need advice from alcoholics
February 5, 2012 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I made my alcoholic husband of 10 years leave a couple weeks ago. How to I be supportive, civil, and not lose my newly found sanity?

I finally had enough and made my husband leave our home. We've been together for over 10 years, have pets but no kids. "P" (as I'll call him here) is a very likable guy: makes friends easily, social, etc. However, his drinking has increased to the point of him being on benders at least once a week (the week I kicked him out was a 3 bender week). When he comes home, he's not likable to me: no physical abuse, but apt to start arguments, etc. Besides that, when he does finally come home, I have to keep an eye on him so he doesn't do anything stupid or dangerous like burn the place down falling asleep smoking. Plus it's incredibly boring.

I have repeatedly told P during the past year that I can't take it anymore, offered to put him in rehab/counseling to no avail. His response is always "I'm trying", which is a silly refrain in that it's usually said 20 minutes after he gets up. He also makes excuses, blaming everything from his friends to the bus not coming to "falling asleep" (aka passing out) on the bus to, most alarmingly, me.

I think that he has gotten used to me putting up with it and also dealing with the nuts and bolts of being an adult: I pay for all our rent/bills/taxes/you name it. He hasn't put a dime in our joint account for years. He was in shock that I actually made him leave. He did get access to our place (called the police, who told him that I couldn't force him out if he was on the lease), but has only come back for clothes. He did ask if he could get an affidavit signed promising that if he came home drunk again he would get nothing. (We are in California.) I refused, even though I am going to lose most of what I've been working so hard for and will probably have to pay him support for the rest of his life. We are in our 40's, for gods sake: I'm not interested in having every day be like spring break. I'm resigned that I probably won't be with anyone again (I'm over 40, female, not great looking), but it's been worth it to not have so much stress in my life. (I didn't realize how badly I was sleeping until he left.)

Finally, here's my question: how can I be supportive of his not drinking without getting sucked back in? I don't really have any non-work friends; I haven't wanted anyone to come over because I don't know which P they would meet. I think P has been depressed and in a rut for a while. He is also not good at being alone. He usually texts me every morning to say he loves me and to have a good day. He also has texted a couple times saying he's still not drinking. I won't let him back or it will just start all over again in a few months. I'm telling myself that maybe this will be the best thing that could happen to him (but perhaps I'm just trying to make myself not feel guilty). How can I best help him without giving him hope that he can come back? I haven't responded to his texts except for the pragmatic ones about coming over and getting stuff. I thought about texting today to say "Be careful" (Superbowl) but decided against it. Anything constructive I can do? Obviously, I will help financially but would like to be friends with P at some point.

Thanks for reading. My throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Al-Anon can be very, very helpful. Please find a meeting near you, identify yourself as a newcomer and give it a try. Also, every meeting is different so if you hit one that doesn't feel right, try another. Unless you're in a really small town, you'll probably have several options.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:24 PM on February 5, 2012 [13 favorites]

"Finally, here's my question: how can I be supportive of his not drinking without getting sucked back in?"

Both fortunately and unfortunately, it does not work that way. You've already figured out that you can't be an adult for him, so don't. You are under no obligation to.

"I'm resigned that I probably won't be with anyone again (I'm over 40, female, not great looking)"

There was a beautiful piece of wisdom on shitmydadsays a while ago that was addressed to his son, but is really gender neutral:
    "Son. Let women figure out why they won't screw you, don't do it for them."

posted by Blasdelb at 4:26 PM on February 5, 2012 [25 favorites]

If its totally over and you're not interested in taking him back under any circumstances then make it a clean break. You don't need to be supportive of his not drinking, in fact - IMO you shouldn't be. He's only not drinking so that you'll take him back, if you're supportive you're implying that if he can quit drinking you'll take him back. If you wont take him back even if he gives up drinking forever then you need to tell him that, you need to make it clear that there is nothing he can do to change your mind. If he wants to quit drinking for his own benefit then that is his decision and you're happy for him but he shouldn't do it for you because its over.

Pack up his stuff for him and make arrangements for him to pick his stuff back up.
Contact your landlord to get a new lease drawn up in just your name.
Talk to your lawyer.

Unless you both move on I don't think its realistic to think you can be friends without him expecting more. As long as you're both single, being "friends" is asking to get sucked back in.
posted by missmagenta at 4:28 PM on February 5, 2012 [12 favorites]

It sounds as if you've been dealing with (enabling, I am sorry to say) P for so long that you have not had time to find out who you are -- or who you are has been submerged in all the drama. Now you can do that. Now you can take walks, go to the library, take up a hobby, write a memoir... live yourself a life. There's plenty of time for that.

Get yourself a good lawyer. P will sink or swim. In either case it should no longer be your concern aside from whatever legality must be dealt with.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:33 PM on February 5, 2012

The thing that struck me about what you said is that you tell us all of these things he has done to you and then ask, "How can I help him?"

I would suggest that the best way to help him is for you to help yourself. I say this as someone who has a very close relationship with someone who used to be addicted to crack. It was very difficult to start to say, "no more," but when I did, things got better. On both sides.
posted by orsonet at 4:42 PM on February 5, 2012 [12 favorites]

It's over. You just have not internalized it yet. What "over" means, is that you cannot be with P regardless of what happens or does not happen with his drinking. You are not responsible for P in any way.

However, you are still not yourself, at this moment. So any long-term decisions you're contemplating, are colored by your still being psychologically enmeshed with P and his issues - that's only natural after such a long time together.

You must decompress. That takes time. And is best done with minimal contact with P - obviously, since this is headed for divorce, some minimal contact may be inevitable. Get a good divorce attorney, and then follow his advice.

Once you decompress, you can take stock of who you are, what you want, what your prospects are, and what the future holds. You can't see any of this clearly yet, because you're still under the huge pressure from the years of unnatural life. It will take time for you to get back to the norm - and there's no way to shorten that time. As you come up for air, you'll gradually gain back yourself.

Take your time. You have no choice, but to take your time. Right now, what's critical is to make a clean break with P.: IT'S OVER. OVER. Digest that, internalize, accept and stick to it. That's your job for now. Good luck!
posted by VikingSword at 4:42 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I understand why you want to be supportive, but I don't think you can do that without giving him false hope. I don't see a way to do this other than make it a clean break and let him deal with his shit on his own.

You definitely can't decide you want to be friends someday. You're ending your 10+ year marriage. This is not something he wants, and you don't get to control his feelings.

Is the issue really his drinking? Frankly, it sounds like maybe you just don't like him all that much. I don't think a weekly bender is a good thing, but it's not really the end of the world. He says he's not drinking now... if he continues to not drink for two months, do you want to give him another chance? A year? Two years?

This is all very recent (a couple weeks ago), so you should give yourself time to process before making any big decisions or actions... but I kind of get the sense that you feel obligated to look after him but don't like him or love him or really think of him as a husband. If that winds up being the case, you can't look after him, and trying to have it both ways will only wind up prolonging the pain for him.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:45 PM on February 5, 2012

*sits and thinks of three very large and homely women over 40 off the top of my head that are getting plenty of interest/have long term partners/etc*

There are things you can do to improve your appearance: hair, clothes, makeup. Take the money you're not spending on him and spend it on that. Date casually. You will find lots of interest, please PM me if you want some more detailed advice here.

Get involved in activities. When I got summarily dumped in September that's what I did. I got involved in my beloved community that I'd been in for years that my ex isolated me from, just like yours has. I've got a new boyfriend from this community, although we are taking it slow. I thank myself daily for the communications skills I have learned from the last two years.

Separate yourself from his affairs. A good lawyer can ensure you don't need to pay as much as you worry (check that all-or-nothing thinking about paying and your attractiveness; see a therapist). There is no reason to be his friend right now. I thought I could be friends with my ex but any attempts I made made him and his new woman (with whom he had been cheating on me)'s skin crawl, and he only contacted me when there was some new rumour about him that he accused me of spreading. This man had years to sort things out, there's no reason for him to do so now except to meet his own selfish needs. Friendship would just make your heart ache, seeing him wearing a shirt you bought him or a certain mannerism he has. Wash these memories away with the force of a water cannon.

You seem like an intelligent, interesting and thoughtful person. I would like to be your friend. If you're in the southwest of England, or alternately in Scotland where I visit from time to time, give me a call, or mefimail me and I'm happy to chat online. I am sure that you can make lots of friends with the right support.

The most constructive thing you can do for him is to be true to yourself - don't try to be his friend now, be his friend when he has quit drinking for himself - not for a selfish objective of resuming his comfortable life with you. It is difficult and will take time. Al Anon WILL help. The change in him will take years and will be night and day.
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:45 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

'm resigned that I probably won't be with anyone again (I'm over 40, female, not great looking)

This is most definitely not true. There are many, many average looking 40+, 50+, 60+ women who date and have happy, fulfilling relationships!
posted by insectosaurus at 4:46 PM on February 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

how can I be supportive of his not drinking without getting sucked back in?

By walking away, thereby acting as a permanent example of the consequences of his failure to not drink. If that doesn't work, there's nothing at all you can do that will.
posted by flabdablet at 4:46 PM on February 5, 2012 [10 favorites]

Kudos to you. It's refreshing to read about someone standing up for herself in a situation like this. Enjoy your fresh start. You'll be fine, you sound strong and sane.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:51 PM on February 5, 2012

Be supportive by transitioning your relationship from married to friends. When he texts you, say 'good for you' if you need to, but start to disconnect if you can't do it all at once. He needs to do this for himself. But I am not of the black and white school. If he needs support every 3-4 months for example, by a simple positive email, I don't see anything wrong with giving it to him.

And, I'm 46. I would never in the world think I was too old for anything I wanted to create for myself. Not even close...
posted by Vaike at 5:09 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

My ex is not an alcoholic but he was very dependent on me and when I left him just over a year ago, it was hard not to keep rescuing him. He has since learned (somewhat) to stand on his own two feet and find it empowering, and he has finally chosen to get the professional (medical & psychological) help he needs. My advice to you is to set boundaries for yourself and make sure they're kept. If he rings asking for money, for example, "I can't help you with that, goodbye." If he contacts you, complaining that no-one will ever love him again, you might say "I understand that that's the way you feel right now, but I don't think that's true." and let it go.

Lastly, while I'm not in a long term relationship, I've developed some wonderful friendships with great guys, and had a couple of nice flings. I am overweight, freckled and have a lazy eye and social anxiety, so this seemed completely impossible. It's not. It's maybe a little more complicated than 20 years ago, but nowhere like the barrier it appears to be.

But seriously, continuing to support him, emotionally, financially - not a good idea for either of you. (I - and my credit card- speak from experience). You are not his keeper. You've tried so hard for so long. It's time to take care of yourself.

In terms of your social life, my earlier question may help and maybe this one too.

Good luck and feel free to memail me.
posted by b33j at 5:13 PM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding Al-Anon. I went, after years of trying to be supportive and helpful, to a few meetings and finally made a clean break from my alcoholic husband. A lot of what you're describing sounds familiar, the drinking kept escalating, and the lame excuses kept coming. It was such a relief to be free of him and his bullshit. I was 45 then. My life is good. He, on the other hand, never got it together and drank himself to death about 7 years after I left.

Get back in touch with old friends, chances are good they'll be as supportive as mine were. Stay strong.
posted by mareli at 5:26 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Consider that you're lonely, and you're keeping the door open to your ex not because he's a spectacular friend, but because of the fact that due to your alcoholic ex, you lack other friends.

Fix the friends, not the ex.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:34 PM on February 5, 2012 [16 favorites]

How can you be supportive? Wish him good luck and then keep yourself as far away as possible. You have been bouying him up for years. He may do all kinds of things to win you back but he's got to take control of his own life and he is more likely (though not certain) to do that if you're out of reach. No matter how much he may love you or you him the very best thing to do, for you and for him, is to live your own life, separate from him, the best way you can. And, by the way, you should not feel guilty about this for a nanosecond.
posted by Cuke at 5:59 PM on February 5, 2012

I think you need to cut off all support, and let him sink or swim on his own --- you know: hopefully, grow up and become the functiuoning adult he's supposed to be. See a lawyer immediately and cut all financial ties; don't just accept that you'll have to continue to support him financially forever. Stop accepting his daily texts --- block his number if necessary, but stop supporting him emotionally, too.

The best way you can 'support' him is to stop supporting (ie, enabling) his drinking: as long as you and he keep your current patterns, he'll never change. And check out Al-Anon groups near you: that's for your emotional well-being.
posted by easily confused at 6:29 PM on February 5, 2012

One more vote for Al-Anon. It will really help restore your sanity, figure out how to handle weird situations, and put the focus back on you, where it probably hasn't been in ages because you've been consumed with this problem and his behavior. Seriously, it's so good. Please go.
posted by Miko at 6:43 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Draw the boundaries where you need them to be drawn. Protect yourself financially. Protect yourself emotionally.

His drinking and irresponsible behavior (because it seems like he's not really functional even apart from the drinking--no matter what anyone here tells you, three benders in a week really is a big deal! Especially for someone over 40) are his problems to manage, not yours. I believe you wish him well, I really do, but the difference between wishing someone well and trying to fix their lives for them (or make it possible for them to put on a facade of functioning when they're really not) is the difference between health and codependence.

Al-Anon can help. Individual therapy can help. Group therapy can help.

And as somebody closer to 50 than to 40, I can tell you that quite a few of my same-age friends have gotten out of hideous relationships and created really great relationships with new people. It's a possibility for you, for sure! But even if that isn't how things fall out, or that isn't what you choose, your living your own life on your own terms is going to be amazing once you get used to it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:45 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree your life isn't over at 40 or 40+.
posted by jbenben at 7:02 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Coming in to nth Al-Anon. It was recommended to me here on MeFi, and it was a total game-changer in every way. I can't even figure out why it is so effective, and I am still quite new to it, but it's the first thing I ever did that helped me feel like these kinds of issues were remotely survivable, and gave me tools that I had no idea I was lacking to become more of a healthy, full, self-caring person who could allow others the dignity of making their own (even 'bad') choices. I use those tools on a daily basis, in all kinds of unexpected situations. As a note: I am an atheist, and haven't been bothered by the spiritual aspect. No idea if it would resonate with you, but it can be very helpful, and it's a possible option. (I didn't want to address this personal experience to the public at large or presume to encapsulate Al-Anon, but you are anonymous, so i can't send a personal message!) Good luck to you.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:00 PM on February 5, 2012

To Wives (pdf)
posted by caddis at 8:05 PM on February 5, 2012

How can I best help him without giving him hope that he can come back?

You can't. You're not going to be friends. If you want to end it, you need to completely stay out of his life.
posted by spaltavian at 8:33 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go make friends. Now's your chance! You go, girl!
posted by amtho at 8:56 PM on February 5, 2012

I just wanted to reinforce this: you are not responsible for his drinking. You are not the cause of any of his drinking. You are not responsible for him.

I understand your wanting to be supportive. However, be supportive of yourself first. You did the right thing by drawing the line and throwing him out - the most important treatment for addicts is making them face the consequences of their actions. Many addicts get that second (and then third, fourth, fifth, etc) chance, and as soon as things blow over they fall right back into their habits. Addicts also get help in the form of money (spent the rent money on booze, hey, wonder who will loan me some cash), places to stay, etc, from well-meaning family members or friends. This help keeps the addict from facing the real consequences of their actions. When they find that the rent money is gone and no one will lend it to them, or that they can't stay a night or two with so-and-so - or if their spouse throws them out instead of trying to understand - then they have a real incentive to take a honest look at their problems. Some will, some won't. It's another way of saying they have to "hit bottom." That's different for every addict. Nothing you can do will help him until he has come to the realization that he doesn't want to live the life of an alcoholic any longer. From the info you've provided, he isn't there yet.

I won't prognosticate on your future with him. But I do think that you might be well served to get a consultation with a divorce attorney. If you think this is it, or even if you just think this could be it, get some idea of your options first. "P" is bargaining, but you should be the one holding as many cards as possible.

Lastly, never, ever sell yourself short. Whatever you decide, you've got a lot of life in front of you and you've got a good heart. Follow that heart and see where it takes you.
posted by azpenguin at 9:54 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

[There's a lot for anonymous to deal with here, but the actual question is: how can I be supportive of his not drinking without getting sucked back in? Let's stick to the question, and OP can always get more advice about other aspects of the situation in other questions. ]
posted by taz (staff) at 7:10 AM on February 6, 2012

how can I be supportive of his not drinking without getting sucked back in?

You can be supportive by completely cutting him off from contact.

If he's still carrying a torch for you (and it sounds like he is), it might actually make it worse for him if you check in on him every now and then. Your kindness could be misconstrued for something else. He could build that kindness up in his mind for your wanting to re-kindle the relationship. When he learns that the relationship is not going to be re-kindled (after mentally allowing himself to be sucked back in), he could easily go off on a binge to self-medicate.

He's got to get his disease under control before attempting any post-break up relationship with him.
posted by PsuDab93 at 7:21 AM on February 6, 2012

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