Friday, March 16, 2007
The alcoholic love relationship
I've heard it said over and over that co-dependents, especially those who had alcoholic parents, are attracted to alcoholics. If I'm any proof of that, then it must be correct because I grew up with a father who drank and I married an alcoholic. I also have a close friendship with an alcoholic. What is it about the alcoholic that is so attractive?
With my father, I tried to please him. I did this in all kinds of ways--getting good grades, graduating at the top of my class, being Phi Beta Kappa, and other things ad nauseum. He criticized me and my resentment would build but I would keep trying to please. When I was a kid, I accepted the criticism with hurt. When I became a teenager I got tired of the orders and the criticism. I would be angry and if pushed enough, would lash out. Otherwise, I tried to avoid him.
When I married, I thought that I had found a person who was troubled but I found that very exciting. I was willing to accept unacceptable behavior. I thought that by loving this person enough, I could make changes occur. Maybe what I was thinking was that I could somehow make it right this time since I was unable to change my dad. Whatever the reason, I married for all the wrong ones. My SO was the life of the party, until the alcoholic personality came to light. Then, the depressed angry drunk emerged. No amount of love ever changed that. In my years of marriage, I've tried just about everything except getting out. I've thought about that but instead I internalized my anger and stifled the love that I had. Gradually over these years, I fell out of love with the alcoholic. I love this person as one would love something that once was shiny and new but now has dulled with age. You remember when it was shiny and new and wish that it could be like that again. But, you know that it's worn out and you can't make it new again no matter how hard you try. That's the way I've felt for a long time. I've craved something that I've missed and used to have.
What I've come to realize is that love doesn't have to be like what I've experienced. If you love someone, then you are willing to be vulnerable but not willing to accept unacceptable behavior. You take care of yourself and speak up about your discomfort or concerns. You keep the communication flowing. You are honest and trusting. No relationship is ever going to be perfect or smooth. Crises will occur because that's the way life is. But it's okay to detach in a loving way if you feel manipulated. Al-Anon is providing me with the tools to better understand the alcoholics in my life. I'm not sure where my marriage is heading but at least we both talk now and admit when we've done something hurtful. We don't go to bed angry. We both are much easier to be around. The irritability with us seems to be lessening. My need to control anyone's behavior has ebbed until it's hardly a trickle.
It's ironic how that things have improved so much, yet I'm not sure that I want to be married anymore. I think about being on a boat by myself and doing the things that I like to do without discussion or consideration of anyone else. Maybe this is what recovery does---it makes you happy being in your own skin. It makes me realize that I've spent a long time making others happy and what I now want to do is make myself happy.