Working on your demons around booze can be a huge challenge for some people. We know this and we accept it as the cross we have to bear when trudging our way through the murky quagmires of our own self-sabotage but what about the crosses of our loved ones?
How much weight do we have to bear when the choice has been made to put alcohol in its box and live a life less intoxicated, but our partners don’t quite see things the same way?
I was inspired to write this blog after reading a touchingly open post on Instagram by a regular contributor to the magazine Kate Taylor aka @walking_the_straight_line who after 16 months alcohol-free has come to the sad realisation that she can no longer sustain an air of indifference regarding her husband’s drinking but is at a loss as to how to reconcile these differences without heading down a difficult and devastating path (the alliterative 'd' here is no accident!)
Once again, I find myself feeling surprisingly ‘lucky’ when it comes to my own drinking (or current lack thereof). Despite my relationship with my husband being founded on a bed (or should that be a bath) of alcohol-fuelled late nights, he has taken my decision to explore sober curiosity with nothing but praise and support for my choice to make better decisions for my life.
And this is a big but…
He still drinks. Both inside and outside the house.
Having not been inspired to quit drinking after rebounding from my own rock bottom, my choice to reduce my alcohol intake is not grounded in a need for recovery, complete sobriety and total abstinence. Instead, it is a choice made purely to better myself by my own standards. Because of that, I actually have no issue with there being booze in the house. I don’t feel tempted, I am not triggered, and I barely notice its existence other than for his drinks shelf being above mine on the kitchen unit. (he’s 6ft 4” to my 5ft 7” so it makes sense)
I have never asked my husband to stop or reduce his drinking. For me, it is not my place to make such demands on the man I married – he is a grown adult (all be it eight years my junior, I know – well done me!) and an intelligent human being who knows what impact alcohol has on his mind and his body.
What I have found though is that as I have travelled further down this path Chris has naturally walked it with me and found himself cutting back in his own way.
Does he still drink at home, sometimes, sure. He has his traditions such as taking a first sip of a related drink at the start of every Grand Prix race, but what used to always be a large pour has now reduced to a mere thimble, and I can’t remember the last time he got drunk on the sofa while we watched our Friday night movie or spent an entire Saturday making cocktails just for himself.
For me, the biggest challenge is when he goes out. My husband works in a very high-pressure, masculine, environment and when they go out for a ‘few drinks’ after work they don’t tend to do things by halves. So it was a shock to me when a few months ago he announced proudly that he no longer enjoys the mammoth late-night sessions and will from now on be leaving every party early enough to ensure he gets the last train home (and stays awake on it). The 2/3 am nights out are now few and far between, where they would previously be a twice or thrice monthly occasion and the moody hangovers are almost all gone.
But what about those less fortunate? Those whose partners still enjoy the drink a little too much and allow it to impact their sober-practicing spouses. If you are in recovery and struggling to stay strong in the face of homely temptation, what then?
Two recent Low No Drinker Magazine articles have addressed this. One was from Kate Taylor whose original post inspired this blog. The other is from Low No Drinker’s very own Agony Aunt, Dear Aunty Pearl who had this to say in response to a reader's question on the topic:
Dear Aunty Pearl,
After partaking in the Dry January a few months ago, I decided that I wanted to try sustaining this alcohol-free lifestyle. I just turned 50 years old and have become increasingly concerned about the amount of booze I am drinking and that I am now often blacking out by the end of the night. It hasn't been easy, but by reading quit-lit, listening to podcasts, and creating a "toolbox" around staying alcohol-free, I have been pretty happy with my success for the most part. I have had a few slip-ups since January, but have had several 2-4 week stretches of not drinking.
Honestly, the most difficult part of this journey is that my wife drinks daily, and she doesn't want anything to do with becoming alcohol-free with me. It seems that whenever I try talking to her about how difficult it is for me to quit with her drinking around me, she just gets irritated and says she wishes I could just be a "normal" drinker. We have been married 16 years and have a really good relationship for the most part, but she just doesn't understand how much I am struggling with alcohol because she hasn't gotten to that bad place of addiction like I have.
Aunty Pearl, do you have any wise words of wisdom as to how my wife and I can navigate this often tumultuous situation?
Congratulations on identifying that alcohol is a problem and showing willingness to fight for the sober life that you deserve. I hope you have your boxing gloves on because the bell is ringing.
From your letter, I took away three headlines:
“I am reassessing my relationship with alcohol.”
“My sobriety isn’t sticking.”
“I need my wife’s support.”
A milestone birthday has made you take stock and analyse your drinking habits. Dry January (or other such motivators) is the perfect kickstart for anyone who feels the same, whatever their age. I didn’t realise how far-reaching my dependency was until I stopped boozing. Alcohol violated every aspect of my mind, body and spirit. It was a knockout realisation.
You refer to your alcohol use as an addiction. By your own reckoning it has gone past the point of no return, which is scary, but also freeing. Rigorous honesty with oneself brings a huge sense of relief. The abominable boulder has been lifted and you can finally scrabble out of the tunnel.
Regularly blacking out is a worrying alarm that shouldn’t be ignored. It suggests you are bingeing to get a chemically induced oblivion after periods of sobriety. Why? Dig deep. Is it simply boredom or is there trauma? Investigate.
“My sobriety isn’t sticking.”
You are making great progress by adding resources to your recovery “toolbox”. Quit-Lit, podcasts and the online sober community are all great aids to a sober life, but the unavoidable truth is that you must be clear to those around you about the gravity of your situation. They cannot give support if you bumble along in silence. I know this kinda sucks.
Sobriety is full of paradoxes, one being that you cannot do it alone - but only you can do it.
Being vocal about our needs means there is no going back. The internal gremlin sabotages and sets you up for failure “Don’t tell everyone you’ve got a problem - then you really will have to stop drinking!!” Perhaps you feel like you’re fussing over nothing. It’s not nothing.
Alcohol addiction is a progressive illness, driving you to the most obscure acts of insanity, and an early grave. I needed to explicitly declare to my inner circle, “Continuing drinking will kill me.” Any other disease would induce sympathy. Unfortunately, there is stigma and blame attached to AUD (alcohol use disorder), like you’ve brought it all upon yourself. “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it, you scumbag!” Are you still wearing your boxing gloves? These people need to know that nothing about what we are doing is fun.
“I need my wife’s support.”
Let’s talk about the Missus. When one person in a partnership decides to get sober there is an inevitable shift in relationship dynamics. We personify alcohol, it plays an emotional role in our lives. It’s a welcomed and accepted part of the family!
When both people are drinkers, booze creates a thrupple. We hold it in high regard, a prize guest that puts us at ease, providing a common ground to lean on and bond over. After 16 years of marriage, this cunning substance has marked its territory and has slyly established the top tier of hierarchical importance in your household. Now you want out. You see this liquid as the noxious third wheel to your marriage.
Is your wife being disloyal by devoting her time and attention to this poisonous irritant? Are you disloyal for disowning the beloved substance that has gaslit her into co-dependency?
She’s annoyed that you can’t be a “normal drinker”. If your relationship is “really good for the most part” then discuss definitions of “normal”. Someone who can moderate? Get specific. What is the profile of a moderate drinker? If “normal” means someone who will drink daily at the same pace as her, work out how many units are being consumed and see how the statistics speak. Specifics and clarity are key here. If you pine for alcohol and infer that you wish you could join in, then that gives a green light for her to easily twist your arm.
Early sobriety was fragile for me. I tried for more than a decade to achieve the continued sobriety that I am enjoying now. It needs protecting and nurturing. By clearly setting out your objectives it will not allow for wiggle room or crossed wires.
Ultimately you are responsible for your own recovery. I wish you strength in your convictions. I hope that one day you can hop on the pink cloud together.