My oldest friend is an alcoholic.
January 22, 2013 9:29 PM   Subscribe

She's important to me. She used to be so smart and so much fun to be around. I feel like I can't just walk away, and in any event, I don't want to. Help me figure out what to do. Avalanche of details to follow.

So my best friend - let's call her Liz. Liz and I met nearly a decade ago during my freshman year of college. She's always been a partier, and when we met, so was I. But our friendship deepened and was not about drinking and partying; over the years we became closer and closer, to the point that when I was at a critical juncture in my life with lots of options, I moved to her state and started the rest of my young life there.

I should stress that when I met Liz, she struck me as intelligent, interesting, and insightful. She was also a very good friend to me for years - we have seen one another through many ups and downs, and I have met many positive people who have had a wonderful impact on my life because of my friendship with her.

Things started to go downhill in her world about five years ago. She is a creative type - a brilliant artist and amazing musician - and she's struggled to find her place in the world. She has always had trouble following through on her commitments, but her father was the same way in his twenties and eventually became quite successful, so I think that myself and her other close friends cut her a lot of slack because of her upbringing/life story.

Anyway, about five years ago she lost a huge amount of weight. For the first time in her life - at 25 - she began to receive lots of positive attention from men. She got involved with someone who drank way too much but who was very charismatic and attractive. That involvement turned out to be a very negative force in her life; the man was in a relationship at the time and she became the other woman.

When that (predictably) disintegrated, Liz started to disintegrate too. She was arrested twice for driving while intoxicated within a very short period of time, and dealt with the legal and financial fallout from that for several years. I really believed that, after that ordeal, she was seriously evaluating her life choices. She went through AA - which wasn't for her, as she's not religious - but took away some positive insights from the process, including (what I thought was) real shame and incredulity about what she'd allowed to happen in her life and how much time and money she'd wasted on drinking.

Liz (like me) worked in bars and restaurants throughout her early and mid-twenties. About a year ago, she enrolled in culinary school, but ended up dropping out, ostensibly at the behest of one of her instructors, who told her that spending more money on culinary school was not worth the investment and stressed that she should find an entry-level job in the industry and work up that way.

After Liz dropped out of culinary school, she was working as a waitress along with a group of people I would describe as generally unsavory. Some of them were/are good people, but I would consider most of them transient drinking buddies. A problem that I would say Liz has is that she undervalues herself and trusts people that she should not trust. She does not seem to realize that the vast majority of her drinking buddies are just that, and do not genuinely care for her. When things go wrong in her life, I am generally the one who gets the phone call. Anyway, Liz fell for one of her co-workers, and a few months ago, was arrested again for driving while intoxicated after a night out with him.

This time it was very, very serious. She was in a major accident (no other vehicles involved, thankfully) and hurt herself and her passenger quite badly. I was devastated by the accident and am fearful about what will happen to her (even though I know that facing serious consequences will be good for her). This third offense has rocked her family and will make her a felon.

I should mention that her mother is apparently a severe alcoholic. I always knew that when Liz was younger, her mother had a drinking problem, but I was not aware that her mother's drinking had been an issue, consistently, for the many years leading up to the present.

The most disturbing thing about the fallout from this most recent accident (her legal responsibilities are about to start - there's been a lull between the accident and when court begins) is that she has slipped entirely into a life that revolves completely around alcohol. It is like she's given up. I notice all the little things: she is unable to have almost any conversation without mentioning alcohol and partying; even when, right after the accident, she wasn't drinking, she would speak longingly about alcohol; she is unable to see events as they truly are (for example, her account of the way others perceive her and the way others perceive her in reality no longer match up).

I encouraged Liz to seek therapy, both for her own good and because it would be a plus with the court, and she agreed that it would be a good idea; she even made noise about getting herself into an inpatient rehab program. I know that she went to at least one appointment, but I suspect that she either never went after that one or stopped going only a few appointments in. As far as rehab is concerned, she tells me that she and her family don't have the money to put her into rehab at present (I believe this). According to her, she's on a waiting list for a program that will cover most of her costs, but I really can't judge whether or not that is true.

The one close friend that Liz had, other than myself, has known Liz longer than I have. That friend has distanced herself from Liz's life without explanation. I suggested to that friend that the two of us try and stage an intervention with Liz, and she (the friend) agreed that would be a good idea. Both of us feel like our relationships with Liz mean we owe her that much.

That intervention hasn't come to fruition yet, not least because I am very, very busy in my graduate program. I have started to think that maybe I should do something before the intervention, like writing Liz a letter, or something along those lines. I've read all the AskMes about alcoholism, and I've educated myself as best I can (Al-Anon, lots of reading). The thing is, I have so much invested in Liz. I am completely convinced that in her heart, she is good, and in a corner of her mind that she makes every effort to repress, she knows that she has screwed everything up. I am also certain that she is terrified about the future and is actively rejecting the idea that she will go to jail because she is unable to deal with it.

Liz currently has a job working in a kitchen that she loves. This may help with her situation in court; then again, it may not, since kitchens are just a heartbeat away from booze. The last detail I'll mention: Liz takes enough responsibility for herself that she does not accept handouts. She has not asked me for money and pays her bills. I suspect that asking others for money is a final frontier for her as she's always been resourceful and self-sufficient, despite her many issues.

This girl is like a sister to me, and I mean that with all my heart. I am afraid to lose her but this has reached the point where I feel like I already have. What should I do? How can I be of greatest help? How can I make it clear to her that this behavior is destroying her and destroying all of her relationships? Trust me, I have no interest in getting sucked down into the ugly vortex of addiction codependency, and am self-aware enough that I know I need a strategy for dealing with this that keeps me at a healthy distance yet lets her know that I love her too much to watch her do this to herself anymore. I know that whatever action I take will probably make her angry in the short term. I'm okay with that. I just want to do whatever it is a family member would do in this situation. I refuse to abandon her without explanation because I am essentially all she has left. Her whole life is connected to drinking.

I know that an alcoholic has to hit bottom before she gets help. I don't want her bottom to be death, and am willing to be the hand under her head that makes the bottom an iota less excruciating, in the sense that I don't want her to die. Is that stance a bad thing? More to the point, is my desire to help her see the bottom actually hindering her from getting there and thus coming to some kind of final realization/getting help?

Sorry for the length.

TL;DR My best friend is an alcoholic and I can't imagine what her bottom will be if it wasn't her third drinking-related offense - a terrible car accident that almost killed her. I know I need to step away but I want to make it clear that I love her and want her to get sober before I could ever consider walking. How?
posted by sevensnowflakes to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been through this with a few different friends, but none were as close as you are with Liz - I can only imagine how painful this is for you right now.

IANA Psychatrist/therapist/counselor, but from what I have read, this is both not exactly true and also a tricky thing to balance:

I know that an alcoholic has to hit bottom before she gets help. I don't want her bottom to be death, and am willing to be the hand under her head that makes the bottom an iota less excruciating, in the sense that I don't want her to die. Is that stance a bad thing? More to the point, is my desire to help her see the bottom actually hindering her from getting there and thus coming to some kind of final realization/getting help?

There's a lot of controversey about whether or not "rock bottom" is actually necessary. I believe the idea that it isn't is the reason interventions exist - a way of shaking an addict out of their self-absorbed downward cycle before they hit bottom. I have no idea if this idea has merit or not, though.

But as for your desire to soften the blow for her - that's the rub, isn't it? I don't actually think you can do that, beyond doing what you can to protect her from physically harming herself or others. Anything else, and you get sucked right into that codependency vortex. And you definitely, for instance, can't soften the emotional blow for her of the danger she put herself and others in by driving drunk. She needs to feel that.

But I don't think you need to walk away from her, unless you're doing so to protect yourself. I think this is where the idea of "loving detachment" comes from. You keep offering to help her do whatever she needs to get sober, whether that's having a non-drinking day with her or driving her to rehab. But you also accept that you have no control over the outcome. She might never get sober. A more likely scenario: she gets sober for a while and then falls off the wagon again, repeated several times. I know that sounds harsh, but that's the most likely scenario, statistically speaking.

Can you continue to be there for her, and try to help her, while also taking care of yourself and remaining "lovingly detached" from the outcome? It's hard, and I never could. But some people can.

One last thing: you mentioned that AA wasn't for her because she's not religious. I actually have several non-religious friends in AA. They've made it work for them because it was the only thing that would keep them sober. I'm not saying she has to do AA. If there's something that works better, great. But if she is serious about getting sober (and honestly, it doesn't sound like she really is now, but she may be in the future), she's going to have to do something, on a regular basis to get the support she needs.

Good luck. Feel free to memail me if you need support or commiseration.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 10:06 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Good luck. I'm sorry you are going through this, and I'm sorry for Liz too.

You may not have to step away completely - there's no rule that you have to abandon an alcoholic. It sucks to be close to someone who is actively ruining their lives and other people's, and it also kind of sucks to be the person who is creating boundaries if others aren't. But I've never really embraced the extreme tough love approach that results in total exile from friends and family. It seems like that would create reasons to keep drinking, rather than reasons to stop.

You should absolutely be as upfront, tactless and blunt with her as you can about her situation. Then you should explain to her the boundaries you are going to place on the friendship. And then you should stick to them. Don't coddle her, don't protect her from the consequences of her actions, don't take responsibility for her physically, emotionally or financially. But you could hang out with her when she is sober, and you could actively support any steps towards sobriety.

On preview, I agree with the previous answer. Please make yourself your top priority through this. You sound very healthy now - but it's crazy in there...
posted by yogalemon at 10:33 PM on January 22, 2013

Oh, and as for your last question:

I know I need to step away but I want to make it clear that I love her and want her to get sober before I could ever consider walking. How?

I missed that you do feel you need to step away, sorry about that. I've done this. It was after a while of offering resources, words of encouragement, etc. It became clear this friend wasn't ready, and they were engaging in really dangerous behavior. I started to feel like there was no way I could be a friend without being an enabler, so I told them that, and also that I cared and was there for them whenever they were ready to get sober.

I wish I could say there was a happy ending and that this person is now sober and we're still friends. Unfortunately, neither of those things is the case. But I do know of happier stories, including those of other friends.

Anyway, only you can know what's right for you in this situation. Good luck again!
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 10:41 PM on January 22, 2013

I have personal and intimate experience with pretty much exactly this kind of situation.

I don't mean to be unkindly in saying this but while I'm sure your graduate program is making your life very busy I'm also quite certain that you are not so busy that it is impossible for you to set aside a few hours of your life to join Liz's friend in speaking to her. You are avoiding moving forward with the intervention, and I can appreciate why because it is a terribly difficult thing to do. But personally engaging Liz about the reality of her condition, especially with others who are invested in her well-being, is probably the best option you have. A letter is a very, very watered down version of this and much, much easier to dismiss and ignore. It is also classic avoidance of confrontation. I think you should look hard at whether you just really want to avoid what you know is going to be a painful, stressful interaction. I want you to believe me, though: it will be the fastest route to whatever is next for your relationship with Liz.

Work out what you have to say. It isn't very complicated. Establish a time with her friend. Just follow through and have it done. Don't overthink it. The facts are simple: Liz is an alcoholic. She comes from a family history of alcoholism. Her behavior when she drinks is out of control and very dangerous to herself and others. In an immediate sense every time she drinks she risks a legal incident that would drastically increase the likelihood of even more severe legal consequences than what she already faces.

Alcohol has substantially ruined her life and her drinking, left unchecked, will inevitably kill her. She may well kill innocent people as well. You cannot continue to be part of her life unless she recognizes the necessity of complete abstinence and is doing everything she can to achieve that.

Depending on how heavily and frequently Liz is drinking if she does recognize the necessity of abstinence she may need to confront the possibility of withdrawal which in extreme cases can be dangerous.

You can't enable your friend to cling to her alcoholic behavior as if it is something normal in your presence any more.

I'm absolutely speculating here but I doubt very much your friend is in denial, really, about the fact that she is likely to serve time in jail. I think she is in an alcoholic spiral fueled by hopelessness and the knowledge that she has wrecked her life with drinking. Fleeing into accelerated indulgence in the face of descending, catastrophic consequences is very typical for an active alcoholic. Alcohol is her escape and she needs escape badly right now. She may well be thinking "I'll be in jail soon so I might as well scrape the bottom of the barrel now".

I know AA is a divisive topic at best. I would still contend that the most obvious first step for Liz is to get into a group meeting (or more than one) and her resistance on ideological grounds isn't really acceptable. It depends on the size of your community but there are atheist/agnostic AA groups, there are alternative groups (I have grave reservations about moderation approaches for alcoholics of the type it sounds like your friend Liz is - I believe some people are simply not suited to drink alcohol in any quantity, but that's an active debate to say the least), many AA meetings explicitly defer to their members to arrive at their own understanding of what "higher power" means, and many atheists and agnostics simply attend groups for what they can offer and ignore the religious content as irrelevant to their situation.

What a 12 step group like AA can do if nothing else is to provide an immediate, free environment of people who will admit their alcoholism and frankly discuss its consequences, and provide her with a sponsor which provides a source of accountability and an experienced person to reach out to in times of crisis.

Another thing Liz can do is have a sober, accountable person assisting her in reviewing all of her treatment options and encouraging her to follow through. Active, accountable efforts at getting treatment are about the only thing she can do, besides abstaining from alcohol, to improve her chances in court at this point.

These things aren't your responsibility but you can at a minimum communicate them. As everyone else has said keep yourself a priority, only Liz can decide to embrace the option of real recovery. Sorry you are dealing with this and good luck.
posted by Luke Skywalker at 10:47 PM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

I know that an alcoholic has to hit bottom before she gets help.

This isn't universally true. Some people develop physiological and/or psychological dependencies on alcohol, yet choose to stop drinking before catastrophe strikes.

Stepping away is a valid choice. Perhaps have one good heart-to-heart with her, where you tell her your concerns. Let her know you need to step away for your own well-being, but that you'll be there if/when she is ready to change.
posted by nacho fries at 10:52 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The one close friend that Liz had

I am really sorry to burden you with advice that stems from personal experience. There is a passage in the chapter "More About Alcoholism" of the AA Big Book that states the following:

"Despite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics are not going to believe they are in that class. By every form of self-deception and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves exceptions to the rule, therefore nonalcoholic. If anyone who is showing inability to control his drinking can do the right-about-face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him. Heaven knows, we have tried hard enough and long enough to drink like other people!"

To me, AA is not a coercive religious doctrine because it says there, plain as day, do you think you might have a problem drinking? Don't go to more meetings, don't get a sponsor, don't do any of the steps - if you think you are a normal drinker, go out and prove it. Hats off to you!

I am sorry if you personally don't think Liz - who is by your own admission, down to one friend - needs a spiritual reboot. This person has an addiction, does not know how to take care of themselves, much less others, and if her parents are not even in the picture to provide her with a ray of sober hope, well, I don't even know what to say. I don't think an individual is capable of getting themselves out of that mess. And I feel extremely bad about that, so I chime in on threads like this.

I am not looking to provoke a conversation on the merits of AA in this thread - there are other roads to recovery, many of which I am not familiar with - but I would strongly urge her to start attending meetings again. Depending on your state, the courts will look favorably on this - sometimes they will offer rehabilitation over jail time - although if I read correctly this is her second offense and I'm not sure this is going to be an option for her.

I'm also not a huge fan of intervention, but Liz sounds like she needs an intervention. My very limited understanding of how interventions work is that they seem to involve an opportunity for you to bear your soul to someone - tell them exactly why you love them, and how they are hurting you - offer them help, and if need be walk away. You walk away and let it sink in. In a non-threatening, matter-of-fact manner. This is an extremely serious situation, and "can't pay for rehab" and "yeah thanks I took your recommendation and went to a meeting and meh it was ok. So how are you?" is not going to cut it. A proper alcoholic, by design, will do the bare minimum and make it seem like they do more than most.

And let me let you in on something. Despite the controversy over hitting bottom, many thankfully recovered alcoholics I know have hit tons of disastrous bottoms before they finally snapped. They've been arrested, thrown in jail, and gone to the hospital - none the wiser. I mean, it's not like we're saints over here. We're the lucky ones that didn't end up dead. Instead, many deluded alcoholics tell themselves everything is fine, and break when they finally see themselves for what they are. An intervention is simply a stage for this to happen.

If you're reading Al-Anon books, go to meetings in your area and talk about your problem. What limited experience I have in that program would lead me to suggest that some attendees would try to talk you out of doing an intervention, but maybe that's not the case. I think you owe your friend - and maybe even yourself, since you are clearly a wonderful, empathic individual - an opportunity to really let them know exactly how you feel before they go out and completely destroy their life.

My personal belief is that active alcoholics are so deluded in the mind (and go through bouts of trying to straighten themselves out mentally) that they have lost their ability to even consider thinking with their heart. They have forgotten about that thing in their chest that beats, no matter how bad they've been hurt in the past, and no matter how many drinks they pound into their system. It's like having a death wish. They don't know how to love anything anymore, at best they can talk about it love as if it were a concept. And I like to tell people that the "psychic change" that is often discussed in AA has nothing to do with the mind - because in Greek the word "psyche" means soul - and that is what your friend sounds like, a lost soul.
posted by phaedon at 11:03 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know I need to step away but I want to make it clear that I love her and want her to get sober before I could ever consider walking. How?

I think that you should schedule some time with a counselor for yourself, with the intention of getting clear on what you will and won't do in this situation. Until you're clear on your own limits you're not going to be able to present the sort of firm but supportive face you are talking about.

Letting go of someone under these circumstances will be brutally tough. Talking it through will help.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:06 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know that an alcoholic has to hit bottom before she gets help.

This is 100% false.
posted by thelonius at 2:56 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know that an alcoholic has to hit bottom before she gets help.

This isn't false, but it isn't true from a universal perspective. One person's bottom is a lot different from another person's. Hitting bottom is just code for when the realities of alcoholism finally get through to that person and they get shaken up.
posted by gjc at 4:18 AM on January 23, 2013

I know that an alcoholic has to hit bottom before she gets help.
An alcoholic has to realize that he/she has a problem and actively want to resolve it. Part of the problem is admitting it to themselves and part is admitting it to others.
Be careful about getting sucked into a maelstrom. Manipulation abounds. Al-Anon can offer good insights but their solutions may well not be your solutions.
Make sure that you have a good support network because if you intervene you are going to need it, and remember not to feel guilty if you have to walk away.
posted by adamvasco at 5:06 AM on January 23, 2013

Anyway, most people would consider facing being jailed for a 3rd DUI a respectable bottom to hit. I regret posting what I did, because it is derail-y; I just think that particular idea is actively harmful because it encourages alcoholics to think that they are OK because they haven't utterly destroyed themselves yet. I personally could have carried on for some time as a so-called high functioning alcoholic, I believe, but I chose a different route - if that's "hitting bottom" in someone's vocabulary, fine.

The point is that OP's friend needs to want to get better and to believe that she can get better. Getting to that point can be a long process. If I knew the magic words to make her see that these things are possible, I'd happily share them. I'm touched by your caring and compassion, sevensnowflakes, and I hope for a good outcome here.
posted by thelonius at 5:22 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

The convenient thing about alcoholism is that it consistently manifests the same, even with people of all different backgrounds:

The alcoholic becomes a problem.

Everyone grapples with the problem.

The problem becomes the center of attention.

Everyone's lives get uprooted.

Eventually the alcoholic has some experience with rehab, 12-step programs or therapy, and decides that they're different from alllll these hundreds of thousands of other alcoholics, and this assistance isn't for them, and here are the thousand reasons why.

Then comes the complicating stage, a thousand details and dramas, all of which are extraneous to the central problem.

Eventually, something snaps, and the alcoholic stops drinking, or dies, or ends up in the hospital, or the loony bin. Then generally they benefit from whatever assistance they previously rejected. If they're alive and stuff.

What you can do is: be honest with her. Set boundaries about what you will and won't do with her. Give real-world feedback—reflect her situation back to her. Don't issue threats or ultimatums; just say what's okay with you and what's not. Have a dialogue with her, and support her in trying new things. And, most importantly, have a life. You can be helpful and supportive without contorting your life to accomodate an alcoholic. When your life, or your relationship, becomes all about their alcoholism, that's when alcoholism is winning. Things finally change when you least expect it, and are most tired of waiting for it.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:49 AM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

You MUST make time for the intervention, and more importantly, have a plan for her to implement right on the spot.

If you watch the show Intervention, they pretty much whisk the person away to rehab on the spot. Even then, some of them don't make it there.

Addiction is a horrible, horrible disease. You won't be talking to Liz, you'll be talking to her addiction. You can't reason with Liz, because you'll be reasoning with Johnny Walker instead. This is why, although she agrees with you in theory about what you're telling her, she's not taking any action.

You are going to have to walk her through everything, and at some point, she's going to have to trust the process, more than she trusts her judgement, because her judgement long ago left her.

There are people so far into their addiction that although they don't verbalize it, they don't believe that there's any other kind of life for them. Liz sees that others have a different life, she just can't see that she could have it too.

As for not being into AA for the religious aspects, there are AA meetings for agnostics and athiests. So quitting because the religious part doesn't appeal is kind of lame. (I'm no 12-step hard-liner, but it really works for a LOT of people.)

Check out Al-Anon, find out what resources are available to Liz regarding rehab and get your ducks in a row.

If you truly want to help her, you need more information and a solid plan.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

IANA therapist, psychologist, or smart person generally but the idea that one has to hit rock bottom is a myth. If alcoholism is a disease, why wait that long to treat? We don't wait until diabetes claims a limb to treat it, not if we don't have to.

Interventions work best when they have consequences. I understand not wanting to walk away from a friend but I like what one of the guys on Intervention says: "the only call I will take from you from now on is a call saying I want to go to rehab."
posted by kat518 at 6:56 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry this is happening to someone you love, and I can't recommend Al-Anon highly enough. I've been going to a similar 12 step meeting for years and found its principles very helpful in dealing with my alcoholic father.

I can tell you that what helped me the most were setting boundaries with my dad about what I would and would not be willing to participate in. For a while that was: I will not talk with you or be around you unless you're sober. After a couple of years, he was not able to abide by that anymore - that is, he couldn't not be drunk - and I had to cut him off completely, for my own sanity's sake. It was a horribly hard thing to do, but it was right for me at the time and I don't regret it.

There is no logic to alcoholism. What looks like a "bottom" to any rational, sober person may not be for the person actually doing the drinking. And some people don't get better, despite losing everything. My dad didn't. It's a sad reality but you do need to be aware of the possibility that she just might not get better. It's a terrifying, terribly sad thing to allow yourself to believe, I know, but I have found that alcoholism and addiction are much, much easier to deal with if you acknowledge the full truth of the situation. And the truth is: You can't make her stop drinking. Nothing you do is going to have even the slightest effect if she wants to keep doing it. You can only control your own role in the relationship you have with her.
posted by something something at 7:07 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please do check out an Al-Anon meeting. It is for people like you - friends and relatives of alcoholics.

I highly recommend it - it's a place to get the reality check of understanding how these problems manifest and how they begin to consume your own attention, and also developing strategies for living with someone you love even if they never stop drinking, while remaining sane yourself. It will help you gather the language to talk about things with her and with others, and it's great to be around people who know what you're dealing with and can lend you that support.

It has the same vaguely "higher power" oriented structure that AA does, but I can honestly say you can ignore that and still benefit very much from the program.

You've chronicled Liz' history here as though this is about who she spends time with and where she is -- that didn't cause her alcoholism. It's probably the other way around - she grew up with alcoholism, has always had those tendencies, and is consistently gravitating toward environments where drinking and its effects will be normalized. Nobody caused this. And nobody can cure it but her, and she might never have the wherewithal.

Turn the attention to yourself and giving yourself a hand coping with your grief and frustrations.
posted by Miko at 7:11 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your situation is really similar to the one that brought me into Al-anon and it saved my sanity AND in the long run saved my relationship with my dear friend. It is damaging to watch someone you love self-immolate over and over! But it's damaging to walk away from a dear friend in need,too. Al-anon helped me back up just enough that I didn't have to walk away permanently (I did for a couple months) from the relationship and when he finally started to get it together I wasn't drained dry- I now had some energy to spare (as opposed to the energy that I couldn't spare that I was dumping into the relationship anyway, because otherwise he might die!)

I had exhausted myself trying to get him well, because I loved him so much, and in the end I was starting to hate him, because giving 100% of myself was STILL not helping and why why why wasn't he GETTING it? Well, he was getting it, but he was alcoholic, which trumps all sorts of "getting it."

There is no way that we would be friends today without the tricks and tools (I think of them as hacks. Sorry.) that Al-anon taught me.

I have no interest in getting sucked down into the ugly vortex of addiction codependency, and am self-aware enough that I know I need a strategy for dealing with this that keeps me at a healthy distance yet lets her know that I love her too much to watch her do this to herself anymore.

^ This? is exactly what Al-anon will do for you if you stick around awhile. Give it three months of regular meetings and see where things are at.

In your post you say you educated yourself through Al-anon and books but I'm wondering if you gave Al-anon enough time. It does have some decent literature, but the strength of it is in listening to people tell what worked and didn't work, and that isn't something you can get in just a couple meetings or from reading- unfortunately you have to put the time in.

Fwiw, it has ended up helping me in all sorts of relationships in my life, so it's not like you'll end up doing it 100% for her. Sort of like, you might take First Aid for a particular babysitting job, but it's very useful to have in general.

Al-anon also has god-talk in it. If you're in a particularly religious area god-talk will be harder to escape, but keep trying different meetings. If you've been to one, you have NOT been to all- they really have different flavors. I am fortunate enough to live in an area that is religiously very heterogeneous, with a large Buddhist-lite population. It is the BEST! But even the religious meetings will provide very practical bits. It's just unfortunate when you have to sort through a bunch of cringe-worthy language to get to it.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:35 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am going to answer your question as you have asked them, because I believe that the backstory here, while interesting, is irrelevant. All kinds of people end up addicts for a variety of reasons – along the way, the whys and wherefores stop being important. I will say, though, that for someone who doesn’t want to become embroiled in a codependent relationship, you are showing many signs of having already done so. I see a lot of projecting and mind-reading in your post, and that is not helpful in this situation.

You cannot make her see the bottom. No one is that powerful. What could you do that would possibly be worse than facing serious jail time as a felon? If that wasn’t incentive enough, what will be?

What you can do is figure out what your boundaries are – actual boundaries. Not “do this or else”, but “If X happens, I will do Y.” Your boundaries should not leave the power in her hands. Once you’ve figured those out, communicate them to her clearly and calmly, and then carry on. If/when she violates those boundaries, stand firm and do whatever you said you would. If she doesn’t and instead makes an honest effort to become sober, keep your friendship as is. That is how you help her. You are essentially all she has left because she has alienated everyone else with her behavior and her drinking. That is not your responsibility or your problem.

If she’s ready to quit, she will. If she isn’t, she won’t. You can only control yourself. I know how horrible and helpless it feels to watch someone you love careen out of control. Take care of yourself.
posted by lyssabee at 8:39 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've gone through this with my brother. I highly recommend seeing a counselor and learning about how to set and maintain boundaries. Since you're in school, you may be able to see one on campus for free or reduced cost.

Some things I've had to say to myself, over and over, over the years during the Bad Parts of my brother's drinking cycles:

From a therapist: "People stop drinking when they've had too much of the consequences. Sometimes you are the consequence" - that is, sometimes losing you and your companionship is the lynchpin to the "too many consequences" pile. No one wants to be the consequence, but sometimes you have to step away for your own sanity.

From a friend who dealt with her father's alcoholism: "It's not their drinking and the self destructiveness that kills you. It's the HOPE - the hope that rises every time they sober up for a stretch, then gets dashed to pieces again when they start drinking ... again."

Remember that there are a lot of other folks out there who deal with loved ones. It's terrible, and I'm sorry you're going through this, but know you are not alone.
posted by RogueTech at 12:29 PM on January 23, 2013

I have an agnostic friend who is into AA. According to him: I don't know if there is a God of this world, but I know that there is something greater than myself. That is his higher power. I've had other friends find that to be useful.
posted by kamikazegopher at 2:27 PM on January 23, 2013

I am an alcoholic. Speaking from experience, I didn't ever "hit bottom" (no arrests or accidents or anything), but nobody could have convinced me to quit drinking. I wouldn't have listened to *anyone* because I felt that my drinking was under control.

It was only when I made a conscious decision to not be a slave to booze any more that I was able to change my life.

On other words, an intervention might be useful, but it's also possible that Liz just isn't ready to admit her problem and change her life. If she won't "choose to change" then there's not a thing you can do about it. You should be aware of that possibility.
posted by tacodave at 3:28 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

The intervention is a dangerous myth, for it perpetuates the idea that someone other than the alcoholic can call time on the drinking. She is not a drunk because she works in a restaurant; everywhere in the world is a step away from a drink. You don't have to push this friend away: if you are clear on your boundaries with her and do not enable her drinking she will probably push you away. Do meet with her and the other friend to state your love, concern and your bounaries. Let her know that whenever she decides to quit you will both be there for her unconditionally, but do not expect this meeting to influence the course of her drinking.
posted by ptolemy chennus at 1:11 PM on January 24, 2013

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