Surrounded – When your Loved Ones Still Drink

I keep thinking about an email I got from a reader last week. Let’s call her Sharon. Her spouse is a (problem) drinker and has no intention of quitting. And the guy insists she doesn’t have a problem either.

What to do when it seems like everyone around you drinks?

Sharon has been trying for years to quit drinking and her husband keeps derailing her efforts. She asked for advice – some tips on how to deal with a man who guzzles with impunity. She said she wants to be sober – “join the revolution.” How can she get through to her husband that she’s serious about this?

First, I don’t feel very revolutionary. I just feel like a woman who used to drink too much. In fact, crawling up a bar stool from a dirty floor seems more guerrilla than my current demure behavior… But, Sharon needs advice on how to deal with the guy she committed to for better or inauspicious. And I feel like I didn’t give her the guidance she really needed.

I told her there is a difference between being around people who drink and being with someone who drinks with a “tone in their voice.” But, this is the woman’s husband. And I am well aware that telling family members not to drink around you can lead to holidays alone…

She seemed somehow resigned to her fate. I guess I’ll just drink and try to cut back… I know that’s not the answer. So what is the answer?

Marriages last longer when both parties drink too much…

I did some research on this subject, and it seems marriages are perceived “happier” and last longer when both parties over-drink.  In fact, marriages with one heavy drinker end 50% of the time and marriages where both people are big boozers end 30% of the time. That didn’t surprise me. Drunkenness loves company.

Dealing with hard drinking loved ones…

Most of my family and friends drink alcohol. I have no problem with that. But what I was trying to say to Sharon was that it seems her husband is purposely keeping her off track. And his insistence that she doesn’t have a problem and that he has no intention of quitting, closes the door on dialogue. Tricky fellow.

Whether it’s to your significant other, your mother or your best friend, a person should be able to quit drinking without explaining or capitulating.

Here are some basic rules for the new-to-non-drinker:

  1. Stop explaining that “you are an alcoholic” – anyone who demands to know why you have quit drinking, or insists you don’t need to quit drinking with a “tone in their voice” is not your friend
  2. Which brings me to the significant other who will not deal with their own drinking issues and wants company…
  3. Set boundaries
  4. I’m going to say it again – set boundaries 
  5. If leaving a loved one is out of the question, there may be parties/events you do not attend or leave early (sorry if that seems like punishment for good behavior, but it’s the breaks when protecting your sobriety)
  6. Suggest Al-Anon
  7. Suggest counseling
  8. If that does not fly, find a time when no alcohol has been drunk and ask for a serious talk – lay out the new ground rules…
  9. Continue to have these talks
  10. Understand that with new rules there will be new challenges and push-backs
  11. Remember you are the person who is in control of your life

Does this seem too hard?

It doesn’t to me. Every recovery is unique, so the way I deal with drinkers around me might not be how you deal with drinkers. For example, I stay no longer than 3-4 hours at a party (the witching time when everyone “wants a hug” and begins to repeat themselves…). I will sit with my loved ones while they drink, but no one would dare suggest I should “just have a small one.” I do not apologize anymore. They are proud of me.

The point is – deal with it. Sharon, your husband sounds insensitive. He is certainly not thinking of you or your needs. So you will have to sit him down (see 7 above) and tell him how you intend to live the rest of your life.

No one said getting sober was easy. It’s not about sighing and going with the flow.

Maybe sobriety is a revolution…

Today I’m not drinking, because I have actually set boundaries for myself and others…

How come you’re not drinking?

E2E – Where in the world are you? You will always be with us…