My partner has a drinking problem.
April 15, 2012 2:18 AM   Subscribe

Should I stay or should I go? If not, what do we do?

About us: SO and I have been together for 3 years, lived together for 1. We are in our mid-late 20s. We are both in the same (soul-crushing) industry but he probably hates it more than me.

Relationship: For most part it is truly a great relationship. We have fights here and there but in my mind he is a caring, sensitive person who treats me well. For instance, I've had a bad run at work and he has been extremely supportive. I would not be as competent at handling work stresses without him (not in a dependent way, just emphasising how much I value his support).

"Deal-breaker": He has had issues with his drinking. When I first met him he was going through a rough patch with a breakup from a long term partner and death in the family. He would habitually go out with friends and get completely obliterated, destructive and aggressive. I would put this on a Drinking Problem Scale - 8 out of 10, more because I imagine it could be alot worse, but in my mind this was unacceptable.

The drinking tempered off when we started hanging out and eventually going out many months later. It basically ceased to be an issue (he still drank, but not in a way I viewed to be problematic).

When his job began to take its toll (we work very long hours in a high stress environment), he started to repeat the same drinking behaviour. The jobs do encourage the work hard play hard culture, so there were many boozy functions where he would be encouraged to drink. However, there were at least 5 occasions in which he was so drunk he would lose all bearings and wake up the next day not knowing what he had done. Throughout these episodes there would be varying degrees of aggression to other people. DPS 7 out of 10.

After enough times of him being sorry the next day, I gave him an ultimatum to stop drinking (instead of the previous "cut back") and sort it out in therapy or I would leave. This is because I believe he is self-medicating because he hates his job and is deeply unfulfilled by it (his words not mine).

He stopped drinking altogether and went to therapy. After about 3 months of this working, he decided he had dealt with the issues he had. I agreed with this and he slowly started drinking again. DPS 1 out of 10 (pretty standard level of drinking, would get tipsy but thats about it). A while after that he stopped going to therapy as he felt better and it was getting expensive.

He has started to make plans to leave his job, which is great but has opened a whole new can of worms of "what to do once i leave". I feel that since December to now, we have had another 3 incidences of:

- We are at social function
- He starts drinking
- He starts "acting up" in that he behaves in a more outrageous, and attention-seeking way (including PDAing with me in front of other people, which I try to laugh off).
- I pull him aside to talk about how I think he is getting drunk. He says he is fine, but agrees to watch it.
- Within half an hour he is a completely different person. Last night he told an equally drunk (and known to be a bit of a bogan always up for a fight) acquaintance "not to mess with him because he would fuck him up" and proceeded to grab a bottle of spirits the other guy was holding and pour it onto the ground.
- I walk away because I don't want to make a scene.
- By this point he is a completely different person, I can't engage with him because he forgets what just happened, he denies being drunk.
- We have a fight either that night or the next morning.
- In the morning he is completely repentant.

Repeat ad nauseum. DPS at least a 7 but not to the same degree as when I first met him, although that may be because I didn't know about it to the same degree as I do now.

Question: I've booted him out of the house and spent the day with a good friend. He has agreed to give me space but was puppydog-ish everytime we spoke. What should I do? I feel that after typing this out I should just break it off. I am sick of being on edge at every party that he is going to get out of hand and that he might get into a fight. I don't think it is normal or healthy for people to act in this way. I am sick of him being sorry about it the next day only for it to happen again.

On the other hand, we have a great relationship otherwise, and I really love him. I am mindful that this question does not sound like I do, but please take my word for it that he is in every other way an amazing partner. I would rather not lose this relationship. If I do not break up with him, how can we go forward to deal with this issue?

Thanks, and apologies for the long question.
posted by nvly to Human Relations (39 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I gave him an ultimatum to stop drinking (instead of the previous "cut back") and sort it out in therapy or I would leave. He stopped drinking altogether and went to therapy. After about 3 months of this working, he decided he had dealt with the issues he had. I agreed with this and he slowly started drinking again.

Your boyfriend is a binge alcoholic who has repeatedly proven he cannot moderate his own drinking. Were it me, he'd agree to therapy to deal with his stress management, meetings and 100% sobriety, or we'd be over.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:46 AM on April 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

This won't really answer your question of whether to stay- but I can be a REALLY REALLY nasty drunk. It doesn't happen every time, but once it had happened a few too many times... I had to get REALLY REALLY honest with myself that the fact was:

I had become a nasty drunk. 10/10- an angry, manic, destructive, nut case. (the only difference was that this was not in public)

Nobody likes to admit that.

I am a really great person, I'm pretty, I'm funny, I like to do fun things. Mr. Pony loves me a lot. He would never want to break up with me.

But I could never lie to myself and pretend that my behaviour was okay. He didn't deserve a relationship with someone who couldn't control or admit their behaviour. And saying sorry and being sorry, doesn't make ANYTHING okay... and if I didn't knock it off we would have broken up. I knew that he would get to a point where he just couldn't take anymore- no matter how much he loved me.


I've got a life to live, you know? I didn't like feeling guilty about how I'd treated someone all morning, waiting for them to forgive me- I'd rather go shopping and have brunch. So I all but stopped drinking.

Maybe say to him: You're awesome, I love you, but I can't be with a nasty drunk.

I'm really sorry! Then see (not what he says) but what happens. And then when he starts to drink, just leave. But my fear for you, is that this could become something that will start, eventually, happening at home... you could get hurt.
posted by misspony at 2:48 AM on April 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Should I stay or should I go?

At this point it sounds like you still want to stay, even though you're aware of the difficulties. Great! No one's perfect; we all have our problems, and it's nice to have a patient and committed partner by our side.

But have a think about how far you're willing/able to extend yourself in these ways. You have your limits, and if you stretch yourself beyond your limits, you'll hurt yourself, and you won't be able to be there for your partner.

If I do not break up with him, how can we go forward to deal with this issue?

Can you agree before going out that he will only have a certain number of drinks?

It sounds like the drinking getting out of hand is the main immediate problem. Let him know (again) how negatively this is affecting you, and then ask him, for your sake, to only have only a certain number of drinks when going out - a number to be agreed upon between the two of you.

Also, when you go out, can you (the two of you) also ask a mutual friend who will be present to keep an eye on his drinking, too, so that it's not just you having to deal with it?
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 2:52 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Can you agree before going out that he will only have a certain number of drinks?"

I can imagine this working well in theory, and him agreeing to it. But then, once he's out, not being able to stick with it...

The easiest way to get people to buy you drinks- is to say you're not drinking. The second he says he's done for the night- some kind inebriated soul will buy shots and OP will be placed in the role of "party pooper." (neverminding that she's the one who has to deal with him)
posted by misspony at 3:28 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am sick of being on edge at every party that he is going to get out of hand and that he might get into a fight. I don't think it is normal or healthy for people to act in this way. I am sick of him being sorry about it the next day only for it to happen again.

You have to prioritize your own feelings over his here.

He needs to: quit his job, find a new job, go to therapy. There needs to be a time limit on it. Five months of planning to leave is too long. He really needs to take some action ASAP.

His therapy needs to be focused on more productive ways of dealing with stress. Otherwise, this will continue in your relationship whenever there is a major difficulty - it will be the go-to coping mechanism.

If he can do all of those things, then you will stay with him.
posted by mleigh at 3:47 AM on April 15, 2012

Couple of points:
1) I agree with @paleyellowwithorange, you sound like you want to stay, so let the focus be on making it work.

2) He's already proven that he's willing to do what he has to do, when you said, "Therapy or I bounce".

3) The real crux:

He stopped drinking altogether and went to therapy. After about 3 months of this working, he decided he had dealt with the issues he had. I agreed with this and he slowly started drinking again. DPS 1 out of 10 (pretty standard level of drinking, would get tipsy but thats about it). A while after that he stopped going to therapy as he felt better and it was getting expensive.

Not enough time in therapy. People often make the mistake that therapy is about how you feel. It's really about how you act.

4) There is no way therapy is more expensive than a heavy alcohol habit. Or what else will come from it in time. The key here is that he has to want to change. You both have correctly identified the cause -- stress and unhappiness -- that leads to the escapism.

Thus, let's imagine what happens when he stops drinking. The stress remains, now without the escape. Think of it like a tea kettle. The alcohol-fueled escape is the valve that releases stress. Without the release, the pressure will continue to build and cause suffering.

5) So there's two things that need to be addressed. The first is the accute problem of drunken foolery and it's result. If it is correct that this is the escape from the stress, then he needs to mitigate the stress in the short-term. Therapy will certainly help with the mental stress. He also needs something to mitigate the physiological stress. Long walks a couple of times a week may help.

6) The second thing that needs to be addressed is the life-style problem work is causing. If he can commit to dealing with the drunkenness first, he can make a promise to himself to address the life-style stress when he is on solid ground there. Often, it seems that there is a self-imposed cycle of failure with people. Why fix the drinking when something much larger is broken. Wouldn't it make more sense one day to just fix the big problem? Then that will fix the small problem. Fine, only that day may not come and in the meantime he will drive you off.

Thus, if he can make a promise to himself that he will start with the drinking, and when that is sorted, he can tackle the bigger issue. That puts it in time sequence.

7) Quitting things is hard because there is the sensation of losing something without knowing what will be gained. What happens when he stops drinking? He loses a component of his social functioning. What's missing is the benefit. And what will the benefit be? Who knows? Something new will fill the space created. He just has to create the space first.

8) I am not a fan of AA or things like that personally. That's treating the symptoms and not the illness. Now, some people really need it and flourish within those programmes. It is a truly wonderful thing that they exist. If he needs that then he should go to it. However, in the meantime, he can consider the drinking to be an output.

9) As far as you go, stop paying attention to the drinking. If you want this to work, then set a boundary for yourself as to when it is a dealbreaker. You don't need to tell him. Then, simply be the person you want to be. Stop fighting the drinking. Stop paying attention to it. If he chooses to continue, it will be heartbreaking but necessary.

10) It's a lot easier to beat these problems then it seems. It's going to take some time, but not long. It doesn't need to be difficult or ugly. It's really a choice. He can either be this same person, he is not enjoying being, or he can be a different person. He will actually make the choice of whether you stay or go not through his thinking but through his actions.

Good luck!
posted by nickrussell at 4:00 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My vote is complete abstinence or it's over.

I had a boyfriend with a substance abuse problem once who used to get so sad-puppy when he treated me like shit that I stuck around a lot longer than I should have. My new policy for dealing with such folks is called Don't Be Sorry, Be Better! (tm)
posted by TallulahBankhead at 4:45 AM on April 15, 2012 [23 favorites]

My vote is complete abstinence or it's over.

I second this.

As his drinking is clearly the first biggest issue, abstinence cannot be some short term thing. Now there are all sorts of arguments about perm vs temp abstinence and I won't get into that, however one thing is absolutely clear - 3 months is not nearly enough time for him. He needs a full few year or two sobriety to deal with whatever demons he has in his head and fashion a new way of living that does not fall back on drinking to cloud those problems.

Sorry to focus on the drinking, but without clearing that issue out first, every other option is tainted.
posted by lampshade at 5:04 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can't engage with him because he forgets what just happened

I was just talking about this with my sweetheart, and she told me about a friend of hers who at one point was behaving similarly to your partner - repeatedly getting drunk at parties and behaving inappropriately.

One of their close friends decided to discreetly video his behavior, to show him later when he was sober. The friend who had been getting drunk was really shocked and remorseful, and it was the first step on him changing his alcohol intake and his poor behavior.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 5:31 AM on April 15, 2012

Leave him out of the house. Seriously: alcoholics will not stop drinking until option A (drinking) is less attractive than option B (not drinking). And that takes a world of hurt. Also, abandon any delusions that this is the last time you will have this fight. People with addiction problems will lie & fake their way back into your good graces. We WANT to believe them. We want it so very badly... I'm not saying he won't quit, but this is an intensively difficult process for most people. It seems like a no-brainer: DUDE, don't drink! But it's much, much, much more complicated than that. You let him back before he has made real & observable progress, you're just telling him he can do what he wants [which is drink]. You let him back after a drying out period, know that you are embarking on a not-very-fun journey for both of you, in which you are pitting your collective willpower against his urge to get shitfaced. And they'll be a lot of days he doesn't feel like pulling his weight.

Ps: if you are having the "you're getting drunk!!" Conversation' you have already lost the day. I know it seems pushy, but the groundrule really has to be NO DRINKING.
posted by Ys at 5:51 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Al-Anon groups might be a good resource for you If you decide to stay
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:12 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I dated a guy for 2 years with a drinking problem. However to him it wasn't a problem- just normal.

Your boyfriend probably is never going to change (unless he suddenly, for himself, decides to. And even then he might slide back into his old ways.) Can you handle that?

If yes then stay, if no, then you have to break up. Sounds like you need him to cope with your job stresses and he needs alcohol to cope with his. Maybe you'd both be happier just with new jobs and not necessarily with each other?

I say, as someone who has been unhappy and too afraid to quit job for years!
posted by bquarters at 6:47 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not a fan of AA or things like that personally. That's treating the symptoms and not the illness. 

Um, have you ever been to an AA meeting? It does not sound like you have. Much of the literature is focused on the exact opposite of what you have said here. The first priority is to stop the drinking, but there is a wealth of focus on allowing your peers to help you focus on the underlying issues... If you are not familiar with AA perhaps you should refrain from advising the op on whether or not it could help her alcoholic boyfriend. OP, you should try an Alanon meeting and see if it helps.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:38 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

He can't control his drinking and many of the answers above presume that he can or that *you* can control his drinking.

I can't urge you strongly enough to go to an alanon meeting.

Really. Find a meeting and go today. Everyone at the meeting will be struggling with the same question - what to do when someone you love is destroying their lives with drinking.
posted by jasper411 at 7:46 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

As someone has pointed out, if he solves the drinking problem he'll have to deal with THE PROBLEM, which could involve expressing his emotions directly. Drinking is socially acceptable in ways that that isn't - it's frowned upon, sure, but it's also SOP to develop an outer problem such as drinking/eating disorders/whatever, to contain the real problem - until you can't any more. As you're observing, drinking is socially normal until it's not anymore, and then you have more than one gargantuan problem to deal with. From my point of view it's like you have been handed a script and are faithfully and doggedly acting it out and wondering when you'll get to the happy ending.

The next step is for you to go round and round for years bargaining about it, like, only have a certain number of drinks or whatever I do think the suggestion to video him might wake him up, at least for a while. But I wouldn't try more than once.

Myself, I wouldn't even try it once, but you can if you are really feeling the urge to try. Not letting him back until he can show you a certain number of sobriety chips is a great idea, but I suppose he'll refuse because AA is too theistic for him or whatever.

My dad struggled with this for many many years. I saw how hard it was for him even though he was really committed to succeeding. I'm told I didn't know about it or it didn't affect me or stuff like that, but actually my childhood was unstable and impoverished in lots of ways due, in large part, to the costs of his addiction. It never reached the catastrophic levels of dysfunction and neglect that I read about in books, though, so at the time I tended to believe the story that the effects weren't real or serious. Watch out for this in yourself, too. And don't get pregnant until he has a year of sobriety.
posted by tel3path at 7:59 AM on April 15, 2012

Why is he so aggressive? Doesn't that make you nervous? It makes me nervous, thinking about it. I think you should find someone else.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:21 AM on April 15, 2012

You can't control your boyfriend's drinking. Full stop. There's really no more to discuss about it, whether you're thinking about his terrible job, his anxiety about finding a new job, the therapy he got, the times he was sober, the times he drank to a level 1 on your scale. Forget all of that. There's literally no use spending another second on any of those topics because the true and single topic actually is: You can't control his drinking.

Please go to an Al-Anon meeting TODAY. If you don't like that meeting, try another, because they're all different.

There's only one thing that you can control in this situation, and that's you. (I speak from personal experience.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:58 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'd consider giving it a chance, provided you can come up with a very specific set of conditions that would show him to be serious about addressing the problem to your satisfaction. It might be going to a certain number of AA meetings per week, it might involve therapy, it would probably entail abstinence, and it would probably involve some combination of things.

It looks like the main reason he relapsed after his last attempt was because it was only for 3 months, so a time frame of at least a year, and it has to start NOW.

If he can agree to commit to the plan, and you can see yourself being able to give him a chance to stick to it, I think it would be worth a shot. But if he deviates from the plan, it's over, and you have to be comfortable doing that.
posted by alphanerd at 9:11 AM on April 15, 2012

It is going to be a long ride for you and frankly this addiction takes time and a lot of courage to get over. I dont see why you should put yourself in this situation if he is not ready to do the work.
posted by pakora1 at 9:18 AM on April 15, 2012

My dad always says his problem with drinking was that he never knew where the first drink would lead. No matter what his intentions were, it just as easily could lead to an all night drink-a-thon with violence and police at then end, as it could end with 2 drinks and a fun evening. He quit because he couldn't risk the first ending any more, no matter how rare it was (and it got increasingly less rare).

Check out Al-anon for yourself- it's good at keeping perspective on what things you CAN do to be supportive, and what things you can't, and it's good to have people to talk to about your situation, especially during bad patches, who aren't going to reflexively tell you to DTMFA or anything extreme like that. (I think Al-anon's great for life-hacks in general, like for getting along with coworkers or family or anyone, so even in the unlikely event that it doesn't end up useful for you relationship with your BF. it won't be wasted time.)

It doesn't sound like he's done with drinking yet, if he's only quitting for you and not because it's regularly derailing his life, which is what it's taken with the addicts in my life, but hisMMV.

My family has had good luck with AA, and if he (or you, if you're curious about it) decide to check it out, check out a few, because there are good meetings and bad ones and they all have their own personality, (That's true x2 for Al-anon, btw.) but if AA really doesn't work for him- and despite what the diehards say, it just doesn't for everyone- there are some good other programs these days that I've heard about but haven't tried. LifeRing is one I've heard good things about, and SMART recovery I've heard mixed things about. I'm guessing, that, like AA, it SMART's usefulness depends on who's involved.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:37 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your partner sounds great...and a lot like my former partner (but don't let the former bit make you think I left because of his drinking...).

Beer was never an issue, though his tolerance was so much less than mine despite the fact that I'm a teeny-tiny lady, but whiskey. It affected him differently than a few beers would and in no time, he'd be a sloshed mess who literally could not see or hear what a jackass he'd turned into. But in general and in all other aspects, he was a loving, caring, just nice dude who cared for me immensely.

After a whiskey-induced incident that left me teetering on the rails, I gave an ultimatum. Granted, I had brought this up before but was never too stern and never with any follow-up. That ultimatum was that we take a month long trial separation. If he could avoid all booze in that month period, we were good. We spoke frequently on the phone but I was adamant that we would not see each other and he was good enough to, even though he didn't see the problem as I did, give me this because he knew that I was feeling things about his drinking and because he loved me and wanted to be together.

During that month, he abstained completely from alcohol. When it was time to see each other again I insisted that he would never get that drunk around me, EVER, and that while I was fine with us having a night out at the bar or having a few beers together on a Sunday afternoon, I absolutely would not handle or put up with that behavior. At the time, I really felt like I was treating him like a child but honestly, that month we were apart let him know without a doubt that I was totally serious about this and in the end, he recognized that I would dump his ass in a hot second if his behavior continued. He was allowed to get whiskey drunk, if he choose, while not in my presence but honestly, he quit drinking that squizz altogether after that incident.

I guess what I'm saying is that maybe you could do the same. If he's been able to abstain or at least control his drinking in the past at your prodding, then perhaps if he knows that you absolutely will not tolerate his taking it too far, he'll see that. At the very least, know that your concerns and feelings about this should be taken seriously by him if he really loves you. While he might not agree, part of being in a healthy relationship is taking your partner's concerns to heart, whether you're on the same page or not, and he really needs to say, "I hear you. I'm gonna work on it." and then he actually needs to work on it. Maybe ask for a trial separation, during which you clearly expect him to evaluate his drinking habits and their effects on you and your relationship. Stay with a friend for a bit, if it's possible. Give him space to really view his relationship with alcohol and give him the choice: Do you love your drinking or me more?

On the other hand, you know him better than the lot of us commenting on the internet and if you, deep down, think this is an issue he just cannot control on his own or even with the help of therapy and your support, then I'd bail. And as small_ruminant says, "If he's only quitting for you and not because it's regularly derailing his life..." then there's your answer.
posted by youandiandaflame at 10:12 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

- Within half an hour he is a completely different person. Last night he told an equally drunk (and known to be a bit of a bogan always up for a fight) acquaintance "not to mess with him because he would fuck him up" and proceeded to grab a bottle of spirits the other guy was holding and pour it onto the ground.

I don't understand how he thinks this is at all acceptable behavior, or how you think this is only 7/10 on a "Drinking Problem Scale."

If my partner got drunk and threatened physical violence to others at a gathering on a fairly routine basis, "no more drinking, full stop" would be the bright line for me.

Your partner clearly can't handle moderate drinking, because it sounds like most of the time when he has any drinks, he drinks until he gets drunk and it affects his behavior.

I mean, I can believe that there are different standards for what constitutes "moderate drinking" in Australia (I presume from "bogan") than there are in the US, where I am, but surely "He gets drunk and belligerent" doesn't count as "moderate drinking" in your social circles?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:35 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Based on your description, he's become dependent on a substance to moderate his stress. He coping mechanism is now: drink until numb.

That's a serious problem on his end. He needs to be able to acknowledge that it's a problem and take matters into his own hands to fix it. This, IMO, should be your "deal breaker" moment, if you have any stake in this relationship – if he can't even own up to his problems and commit to treating them, no matter the difficulty.

It's hard to gauge just what the situation is as we're only hearing your description of it, so I don't want to make too many assumptions about your relationship, but I would guess that he's using his relationship with you as a dumping ground for all his stress. The alcohol is just his way of lowering inhibitions to the point where he is able to do so.

Within half an hour he is a completely different person. Last night he told an equally drunk (and known to be a bit of a bogan always up for a fight) acquaintance "not to mess with him because he would fuck him up" and proceeded to grab a bottle of spirits the other guy was holding and pour it onto the ground.
You should not stay in a relationship with this man. If you can't trust him to not act aggressive toward an acquaintance at a party, what's to stop him from abusing you? This is a dangerous relationship of the sort that affects far too many women. You absolutely should not stay with a man who abuses himself and others. It's only a matter of time before he abuses you.
posted by deathpanels at 11:03 AM on April 15, 2012

I work with addicts and in my experience "quit drinking" is not the most effective strategy to help someone get sober. Alcoholics can't control their drinking, so telling him to quit doesn't mean much since you're telling him to control something he obviously can't. Lots of alcoholics can dry up for a few months with little difficulty, staying sober takes work.

You certainly do not have an obligation to stay in the relationship, but if you do I'd suggest tweaking your condition to stay from "quit drinking" to "get into treatment, comply with treatment, develop a recovery plan and stick with it." This is what he can control. The end goal is the same, this is simply a more concrete and specific framework for that to happen.

Therapy can be an important aspect of getting sober, it may not be enough by itself. There is a joke in my work that therapy without sustained sobriety simply creates a very self-aware drunk. I also don't think it will be all that helpful to tell him he has to attend x numbers of meetings a week. Formal treatment will help him hammer out the details for himself.

This does not mean he will actually quit drinking. Ultimately he's the one who has to show up. If he doesn't, you have a lot more information to work with in deciding what to do.

For your own safety and emotional equilibrium, I's suggest developing a plan to not be around him when he is drinking. Let him know now that if he decides to drink it will be without you. And yes, Al-Anon and therapy are definitely worthwhile avenues to explore for you too.

Best of Luck.
posted by space_cookie at 11:27 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with oceanjesse. If I ever saw my partner that aggressive I'd be gone. Booze or otherwise.
posted by ead at 12:40 PM on April 15, 2012

Thanks for all the answers.

Is aggression still a problem if it is only ever when he is drunk and he finds a way to be properly sober to the point that it never "comes out"? Or is this an innate problem that will never go away?

His explanation, fwiw, was that the whole incident with the acquaintance was a joke and that everyone could tell he was joking. I couldn't tell, and even if he was, I was nervous that the next drink would tip him over into being serious.

I think I will give it some time for us to be apart before we have a conversation about anything (whether it be an active treatment plan or just to break up). I am attending an al-anon meeting tomorrow night.
posted by nvly at 12:52 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear you are going through this. One thing to consider is this: are you comfortable going through the rest of your life walking on eggshells, watching him out of the corner of your eye and worrying every time there is a social event where he might choose to drink? It's such a tough situation as, the way it stands now, you have found yourself in the undesirable role of Your Partner's Keeper.

Please choose the road that appeals to you the most, but realize that the likelihood that things will change are very, very slim. Often the impetus to change for an alcoholic involves hitting rock-bottom. As long as you are there, your partner will be able to land softly (on you).
posted by lulu68 at 1:16 PM on April 15, 2012

Yes, the aggression is still a problem even if it happens only when he's drunk. He needs to find a more appropriate way to deal with his feelings. Do not wait until he turns his aggression on you. It is a matter of when, not whether.

Nthing Al Anon. Also the suggestion that if you don't like the first one you go to, try a different group. And don't be shy - share. These people have heard it all - experienced it all - and they will not judge you. They will not tell you what to do, but they will enable you to make the decisions that are best for you.

I too speak from experience. I watched while the two beers in the evening became a six pack of malt liquor and then margaritas for breakfast and a bottle of tequila every day.

Don't do what I did. If you deal with it now your relationship might - might! - have a chance. If you don't, you'll be stuck with a load of awful memories.

You have to save your own life, and I am not being melodramatic. Don't wait until it gets worse.

(I am an atheist and never found it a problem at Al Anon. It still helped me enormously.)
posted by caryatid at 2:05 PM on April 15, 2012

Is aggression still a problem if it is only ever when he is drunk

I think it's actually more of a problem, because he isn't dealing with it when he is sober and he is letting it get out of control when he is drunk. That may sound overly cryptic, but I can't think of how to unpack it more than that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:09 PM on April 15, 2012

It doesn't make any sense to ask if the aggression will go away if and when he's sobered up, or if the aggression was waiting to come out and he used the alcohol to disinhibit himself enough to express it, or if he would never have become aggressive without the alcohol.

It doesn't make sense because he hasn't sobered up, so until he does you can expect the aggression to increase. Alcohol addiction causes personality change, usually for the worse.

Meanwhile, the aggression is something he did, not something his drunk evil twin did. It doesn't matter if he threatened his friend because of alcohol or not, because the alcohol couldn't have done it without him. When confronted, he told you that what he did was right. Those are all the behaviours of an unrepentantly aggressive person.
posted by tel3path at 2:17 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is aggression still a problem if it is only ever when he is drunk and he finds a way to be properly sober to the point that it never "comes out"? Or is this an innate problem that will never go away?

The aggression is a problem.

I said in my first comment that 'the drinking getting out of hand is the main immediate problem'. We've all been primarily addressing the drinking problem because that's what you asked us to do.

But if you stick with him, you and your partner (with professional help, if necessary) need to explore his motivations more deeply than you have thus far. Even if he never drinks again, he needs to understand himself and what makes him tick, because underlying aggression (and other negative behaviors) will find a way to come out eventually, unless dealt with.

As for whether it will 'never go away' - who knows?

My father is an alcoholic, but has been sober for 29 years. He believes he will be an alcoholic til the day he dies, but since 1983 he hasn't given alcohol a chance to unlock the negative behaviors that follow in its wake. Meanwhile, he's done all he can to understand his motivations and to replace bad habits with good habits. I would characterize him now as a friendly, warm and well-behaved man.

But when he was still drinking, my father's alcoholism eventually led to violence towards women and children. His inability to manage his alcohol intake destroyed two marriages (each with children, from whom he was also estranged) and caused many other problems. And even though he's been sober for so long, his subsequent life has been shaped by his years of alcohol abuse. His alcoholism also had permanent negative effects on the lives of his wives and children.

My father didn't make it to AA until he'd been hospitalized due to his alcoholism - his first AA meeting was in the hospital. It's truly tragic (for all affected, including me) that he didn't get the support he needed until he hit rock bottom.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 2:52 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

His explanation, fwiw, was that the whole incident with the acquaintance was a joke and that everyone could tell he was joking.

This looks like a good candidate for gaslighting, though probably more with the goal of covering up his problem than of controlling you.
posted by alphanerd at 3:00 PM on April 15, 2012

Unless the Drinking Problem Scale is a "thing" I'm not aware of, or I assume that is a tool you made up to help yourself quantify your feelings. It's useful, I'm not trying to minimize that; but I think that the point at which you are creating a DPS to compare various incidents is the point at which you need to leave.

I'm sorry you're going through this, and I'm glad to hear you're attending an AlAnon meeting. I think the additional support will be extremely helpful when you decide to end this relationship. I wish you the best.
posted by juliplease at 4:33 PM on April 15, 2012

The aggression is part of his personality. It will still be there when he's not drunk: The drunk moments are when he let's it off the leash. He will have to find new ways to run the dog when alcohol is gone.

Here's one of the many things I discovered while drying out my drunk: they are the same person sober or drunk. The behavioral modes may change, but the things you didn't like about them, and the problems you had with there behavior, are still there after the booze has been wrung out.

I suppose you could compare it to PMS (you are a woman, yes?). I am a raging bitch one day every month. I mean raging. But the other 29, 30 days? The same things make me mad, I'm just more on top of it. And things can still get out of hand if the right triggers are hit hard enough, or on a bad day, or...

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: As huge as sobriety is, it is not a magic gate to Happily Ever After. It is a ginormous step in the direction of Happily Ever After, but if there are trouble in how he treats you/other people/how he deals with life, they may not go away just because the alcohol does.
posted by Ys at 6:19 PM on April 15, 2012

FWIW, in those days I was HELLA aggressive when sober, and an entire marshmallow when drunk. I'm not sure what that means in terms of your question, but there ya go. I can say I've become a 300% nicer person since my son was born. It's not so fun to be angry or on the edge of "just but mean," in front of him.

Just popping in to tell you my hand involuntarily flew up over my mouth, and stayed there, when you recounted the story about you bf challenging that guy and dumping his drink. It seemed to me (an outsider who does not know the backstory humor your bf claimed was at play there) that you are all lucky it did not come to fisticuffs.

Whatever you do is right.
posted by jbenben at 9:41 PM on April 15, 2012

Telling you the incident was a joke is an example of euphoric recall. Drunks remember things in a positive light, their victims, not so much. In general, you can expect them to remember things differently from you. Sometimes they confabulate and are convinced that things happened when they didn't. Sometimes they are playing the "I don't remember, I was drunk" card which seems to be accepted in many areas of society. I've known someone to pretend to be blackout drunk because seeming to be out of control was less unsavoury than what he was really doing, which was very carefully thought-out conniving behaviour planned months in advance, though that was something of an edge case that probably doesn't apply to you.

Nobody can tell you whether he's "really" aggressive or not. This reminds me of the argument about whether A Movie Star was "really" racist or not when he was spewing forth an anti-Semitic rant. While he was saying a bunch of anti-Semitic things he was being racist, yes. Since he said it while he was drunk he could be expected to do the same thing again when drunk. Whether it was indicative of his being "really" racist, that is, harbouring racist thoughts while sober, I don't know and I think it shows a lack of understanding to even ask the question.

I don't know whether, a year or two from now when he's fully sober (optimistically) your bf's aggression will have disappeared because he is/isn't "really" aggressive.

All the confusion that's going on in this thread - that's going to be your life. As you can see, society in general tends to react to drunks with the same disorientation that you are experiencing.

Do you want to spend your life figuring out what's really going on, what is the real him and what's not, what he remembers and what he's lying or gaslighting you about? And will this behaviour disappear when he sobers up or will we then be able to go into therapy to address it, or... Meanwhile, you'll be overjoyed at every bit of progress. An inch, he moved an inch! Yay!

I wouldn't consider living a life that is all about somebody else's addiction, but I guess this is the kind of thing you will sort out at AA. Good luck.
posted by tel3path at 12:03 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

So... I went to an al-anon meeting. Although lots of the rituals felt foreign and uncomfortable, there were lots of things that I identified with. I will be going back.

Last night we met up. My idea I suppose was to put it all on the table and say what I needed to say. At the back of my mind I thought if he would commit to sobriety fora year and go to meetings and haves treatment plan then I would stay.

Turns out he had given it some thought and feels like he has to start proactively dealing with his depression and associated problems. And that although he loves me he feels that he has to do it on his own.

Kind of feels like I got dumped. I've gone through all the "if only I didn't say anything" thoughts.

Barely keeping it together. Guess I should read all the break up threads now...
posted by nvly at 1:05 PM on April 18, 2012

Oh shit! Well, give him time and space if you've got the bandwidth to do so. Honestly, the folks I know who got sober kind of DID need to do a lot of it on their own, but that won't last forever. I'm not saying wait for him, I'm just saying don't assume any bridges are burnt and don't burn any. Fill up your time with other people as best you can. Still- so, so hard! I'm sorry.

I'm glad Al-anon has something to offer you. Try a few out- some are weirder than others. Also, what you want out of it might change. I found the perfect one when I first started and now it annoys the heck out of me, so my mileage varies with my situations.

Hugs to you, nvly.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:23 PM on April 18, 2012

It sucks & I'm sorry. Truthfully, though, he just took the bullet for you. You have YEARS of emotional beat-down that you are going to miss because of this. I'm sorry you feel dumped, but I'm happy for you all the same.
posted by Ys at 9:19 AM on April 19, 2012

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