Realizing my boyfriend of three years had somewhere along the way become an alcoholic was difficult for me. I am calling him Alex for the purpose of the article and to protect his identity. I also will be using the pronoun he, but all of this applies equally to a girlfriend or wife who drinks. I am in college and like most people have had a few nights where I drank too much and regretted it. It seemed like he drank too much every time we went out and simply went out too often. He was drinking every night and was lying to me about drinking. He spent nearly all his money on going to the bar and I was covering his part of the rent. Looking back I'm not sure how I stayed with him, but since we are still together five years later and happy I am glad that I did. When I did get to the point that I realized we either needed to break up or he needed to change these are the steps I took:
I researched alcoholism
I knew that alcoholism was where someone drank too much and it had a negative effect on their life. I kind of thought it was just a fancy way of saying people who didn't have will-power, but I researched it because I can be OCD sometimes. I wanted to know everything I could about it before I talked to Alex. After reading about it on many websites I realized that it was much more serious than I had thought. Make sure you know how the disease works, symptoms of the disease, and overall the realities of how hard it is for alcoholics to stop drinking. As a nonalcoholic it is almost impossible to understand why someone would not just simply stop drinking when it is ruining their life. Without understanding alcoholism it is hard to talk to someone with the disease about it because you can't understand their mindset.
- I decided I was willing to stay with him if he was willing to get help
After seeing how serious alcoholism is I had to think hard about whether I was willing to stay with him even if he did get help. It takes a lot of work and internal motivation from an alcoholic before they can get their life back on a better path. If they relapse they begin the spiral right back to and worse than where they were before and relapsing is a possibility for the rest of their lives. I decided that I was willing to stay with him if he was willing to get help, but that if he refused I was going to leave. I think this decision should be made before talking to a significant other because alcoholics are very good at being persuasive. If you are not ready for the realities of being with a recovering alcoholic you will be happier leaving now.
I talked to him about my feelings
Once I had decided that for our relationship to continue he needed to get help I waited until a Monday morning when Alex was not drunk and had the day off of work. Talking to an alcoholic when they are drunk is pointless because they are not themselves and most likely won't remember the conversation the next day even if they agree to get help. I told him how I felt and how his drinking affected my life without being accusatory or aggressive. I told him that if he didn't get help with his drinking by going to outpatient or inpatient rehab I was going to leave. I also told him that he had an hour to decide on the answer. You need to make sure that you don't have a conversation and not get a definitive answer on whether the person is willing to get help or not. I was lucky and he agreed to get help. If he hadn't I was prepared to leave like I had already decided.
I helped him get help
Immediately after he agreed that he would get help we looked online for rehab centers near us. Don't wait because it gives them more time to start drinking and change their mind. Alex made an appointment to meet with someone at a facility in our town, and during the meeting they decided he would do a 30 day inpatient program if his job allowed him to take the time off and an outpatient program if it didn't. Thankfully his workplace was very understanding and he was admitted to the treatment that day. Be aware that it is not always this easy. I got extremely lucky that he agreed to get help, he found a nearby program that had room immediately, and his job was okay with him taking the time off. Don't get discouraged if the process of getting your loved one into treatment is more difficult as long as they continue to agree to go. Even if they are not able to stop drinking while the details of being admitted into treatment are worked out remember the most important thing is that they are still willing to go. If at any point they become unwilling to go I recommend that you leave because you can't force them to get better. All you can do is tell them that you want them to get better or you are leaving and hope they do it.
I got support for myself
This was actually advice that his treatment counselor gave me on the first family session, and it is so important. There are millions of other people who have a loved one who is either an alcoholic or an addict of some sort. Finding a local support group helps you feel not alone and gives you a realistic idea of what life will be like living with a recovering alcoholic. It is important to stay connected to your friends and family as well, but most of them probably don't understand what it is like to live with a recovering alcoholic. Finding a support group of people who understand is important. Through Al-Anon I have made life long friends and found unlimited support.
I was patient
This is actually something I learned through my Al-Anon support group. It is easy to think that since someone is in a treatment program everything will instantly get better, but that is NOT the case. Once your loved one is sober you both still have a lot of feelings and issues that have arisen while they were drinking to work through. Though all of us would like to just instantly forgive and forget all problems that happened while they were drinking it is a lot harder than it seems. Also be aware that recovery takes a lot of time. My boyfriend still attends 4 AA meetings a week. He also attends retreats and other activities with his sponsor and other AA friends. I take this time to start new hobbies and hang out with my friends. Staying sober takes a lot of work and time, so I let him have all the time he needs to work at it. Also be aware that many people relapse and have to enter the program multiple times before it works. Thankfully it only took one try for it to click with Alex and so far he has not relapsed. We still see a counselor to keep our relationship healthy (nothing is wrong with it we just have an easier time talking about issues with a counselor present for some reason), and I recommend this to anyone who thinks it would benefit them.
I make sure that I am a supportive and not pushy
I have had to make a conscious effort to not be suspicious or quiz him on where he has been when he comes home late. When he was using he lied all the time and it is sometimes hard to not investigate everything he says just to see if it is true. If he relapses I am sure it won't take long for me to figure it out, and we both know I will leave if he ever starts drinking again. I support his recovery, but I realize that I don't understand what it is to be an addict. I let his sponsor and other AA members help him with his recovery and I focus on just supporting him. Since the recovery program is obviously important you might be tempted to "check-in" on him at meetings or retreats, suggest he go to more meetings, or insist on knowing the details of how he is working his program. DON'T do this. I repeat don't do this. He needs to be the one keeping himself sober and needs to have internal motivation to do so. You got the ball rolling by helping him get sober and now you have to step back and let him do his thing. He has a huge AA support group and a sponsor who will help him work his program well. He probably has things he shares with his sponsor that he doesn't want you to know about. This is not because he doesn't like you or trust you it is just because the relationship between a person and their sponsor is different than the relationship between you and him. They share things that only another addict could understand without being judgemental.
Good luck and I hope your story can end as happily as mine has. Just remember if he doesn't stop drinking you need to leave. He is not going to be the person who you remember and it will continue to get worse. It is a disease and he can't control it. Some people never get better.