Monday, September 6, 2010

One percent of the time

I received a comment from a reader about difficulties and trust issues with his wife who is alcoholic. He wrote:

"My spouse is an alcoholic ... she blames her drinking on me. She calls me controlling because I ask her where she's going or what she's doing ... or that I don't like to give her cash.

She calls me insecure because I don't always trust her ...

It seems our lives are great 99% of the time and 1% destroys all the good.

I feel like she'd rather drink then be in this relationship ... help."

I can remember for many years how I stayed silent in misery, convinced that no one else could possibly have the misery in their life like I did.

It didn't matter that most of the days were good ones. I could really only see the times when things didn't turn out the way that I wanted them to be. Or the times that I was let down. I had built up a lot of resentment that tended to overshadow all that was good.

The help that I needed didn't come for many years, until the resentment had nearly consumed me. I didn't have any trust when it came to our relationship. I had been lied to so many times. I wanted to put an end to my misery but had no idea how to do that.

Finally, a friend who knew what was going on told me that I needed to go to Al- Anon. He said that it would make a big difference in my life. He also said that I would have a better understanding of the disease of alcoholism and what it had done to me.

So I am saying to any one out there who feels as if their relationship with another is being ruined by alcoholism, go to an Al- Anon meeting. Give it a try for at least six meetings. See if you don't hear your story told in those meetings.

And you will likely hear about something called the Three C's. This little slogan means that with alcoholism "I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I can't cure it". This tells me that I'm not responsible for someone else's drinking. And I cannot stop them from drinking.

What I had to learn to do was address my own issues of trying to "fix" another person and make her well. Some of these issues that I had as a result of my being around alcoholism were very self-destructive. The controlling behavior, the anger, sadness and fear made life miserable.

What I've come to learn through Al-Anon, is that the alcoholics in my life don't drink because of me. They drink because they are alcoholics. Nothing that I can say or do will change that. Instead I have learned to work on myself and to take care of myself. When I do that, then I can begin to recover from the effect that the disease has had on me.

The first part of the Three C's is that I didn't cause my loved one's alcoholism. Nothing I did caused the alcoholic to drink. The drinking started many years before I even knew the alcoholics in my life. What I heard from my wife was a lot of blame thrown at me for just being me. It's not unusual for alcoholics to cast blame on the people who are closest to them. This is simply an attempt to justify the drinking. By accepting that I didn't cause alcoholism, I am relieved of guilt that I could have done things differently in my marriage. I learned that no matter what I would have done, nothing would have been different for the alcoholic. It's an illness/disease that caused the problem, not me.

Learning that you can't control your loved one's behavior is another crucial part of recovery. You can share your thoughts and feelings with an alcoholic. You can even impose certain consequences if your loved one drinks. But the decision to seek recovery is one that only your loved one can make. For some, this means watching a descent into the abyss. I had to learn to detach and no longer manipulate situations so that the alcoholic would't drink.

The final part of the Three C's is understanding that I can't cure my loved one's alcoholism. There is no cure for alcoholism. Alcoholics may fully recover from alcoholism, but there is no treatment that allows alcoholics to return to moderate drinking. Although it's best for an alcoholic to completely abstain from alcohol, the decision to abstain rests with the alcoholic, not me. By not being able to cure alcoholism, I don't need to repeat all the same old things over and over hoping to find a solution. There is no magic cure I can provide. I've learned that I don't need to exhaust myself hoping that the "last ditch" effort will make the drinking stop. I know now that the best help an alcoholic can get is from another recovered alcoholic.

Remembering these three points has allowed me to respond to an alcoholic's behavior by taking care of myself rather than reacting based on anxiety or resentment. If I start feeling anger, fear and resentment, then I will take the steps necessary to stop my destructive thoughts and get back into myself. This may involve leaving for a while, calling my sponsor, going to do something that I want to do or a host of other things that will get the focus off the alcoholic and onto me. And this is the essence of detaching with love.

I hope that you find the help that you need so that the 1% doesn't destroy all the good that life offers.


  1. Perfect post and love those three Cs. They have lots of applications besides alcoholism. There are lots of things that happen with loved ones that I didn't cause, can't control, can't cure.

    Thanks for the reminders.


  2. Sad isn't it how many people live with people who are alcoholics and also addicts. Your post is helpful I think for people who are hurting. It tells them where they can go to find people like them and it also suggests they attend at least six meetings. I think that is important. Some people go to one meeting, listen to the people sharing and for whatever reason don't go back. It takes courage to attend meetings and find what works and it also takes courage to wake up and know that you need to take care of your own stuff and let go of trying to run everything else for the alcoholic.

  3. i wish this person the best of luck!

  4. Hi Syd -

    It sounds like you've had a couple of hard days...but you're a very positive person and are bouncing back!

  5. nice. i hope that the person behind the comment comes back and reads what you wrote...good stuff...

  6. I hope the person who shared with you is reading tonight. I've come to see, finally, that the three C's also apply when one's family member has a personality disorder or any kind of mental illness. I don't know what made me feel that it was my job to redeem my family member! That's between her and her HP. It is not my business. I can only pray that my family member asks her HP for guidance. I have had to turn away and live my own life

  7. Oh the 3 c's they are really my darlins. The program saved my relationship and allowed me to see some of the good times.
    I liked to focus on the 1% to keep my disease alive and growing.

  8. Excellent post Syd. It's a difficult disease to understand and cope with. Your words make a lot of sense.

  9. great post. excellent explanation of a !! difficult to explain process. very easy to understand.

    poor guy. i hope he goes to al anon and gets a better perspective of things. blessim. her drinking has absolutely ZIP to go with his behavior. He has to stop buying her party line, which is just a ruse to throw him off the scent, and not play the alcoholic game. then the alky will be well and truly flummoxed. i do the same with newcomers very regularly. I refuse to buy into their excuses. They don't wash. So they give up trying to manipulate me after a while. But it takes time, and it is hard work remaining unmoved by their protestations. Only when they see that its a lost cause, do they give up stringing you along. But sometimes they just carry on lying and then I just tell them I can't help them and they should look for another AA they think they can be more honest with.
    Tricky. I hope he gets well soon.

  10. The hand of Alanon...amazing how this stuff works, amazing and a miracle for me. You said it well and as long as I keep taking up a seat in a meeting, I will be okay, no matter what..


  11. This is a very valuable post, Syd. Lots of good information here.



  12. What I couldn't accept was that I was powerless. Because for a long time the control I forced on others actually seem to work. I struggled when the abuse escalated and my world fell apart. I played God for a long time and my own ego couldn't accept that I couldn't fix this, I had to try everything before got to my first meeting. I had to be broken first before I was willing. I was no different than my alcoholic I thought I could do it all on my own. It took devastation to make me see who I really was. The 3 C's make it seem simple but it really is to me the foundation of the program.

  13. 2 thoughts:

    1. I heard a newcomer accidentally introduce a 4th C: We didn't cause it, we can't control it, we can't cure it and WE CAN'T COMPETE WITH IT.

    2. Boy is it hard to get it, to really get it, that just because someone hurls an accusation at me ("projection") doesn't mean what they say is true.

  14. I was one that went to a meeting & said, "Not for me!"

    As the disease progresses I found the hope I had was to "commit," to make the meetings a priority in my life and do everything asked of me. It took a year or so of hard work (working the steps and having a sponsor etc.) but I only have one word to describe the benefits, "PRICELESS."

  15. As usual, a wonderful article. I love the Three C's concept.
    Recently we had a wife come with her alcoholic husband to an open AA mtg. At the end she complained bitterly about our program and said "Don't tell me to go to Alanon. They're all just a bunch of losers." It was heart breaking to see the look on her husband's face. Thanks for encouraging the 6week trial period, Syd.

  16. you know Syd, I think that I can take some of this into my own relationship with my wife (the 3 C's). Although we don't drink, we still suffer from alcoholism. Maybe if I follow those I can be more accepting and less upset over things between us.

  17. Syd,
    I just met with a friend who entered treatment right around the same time I did. He wanted to know how I dealt with my nonalcoholic spouse. We talked for hours and learned a lot from both our situations. Its so great to read your blog and get the al-anon side of view. You are an important part of my recovery. Thank you!

  18. Thank you. I find the 3 C's helpful but so far I have to repeat them often like a mantra. I've attended Al-Anon for 4 weeks. I look forward to each meeting and learn every day.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.