Saturday, November 19, 2011

Changed attitudes can aid recovery

I was reading The Dilemma of the Alcoholic Marriage and thought that the following excerpt was good.  I suppose that learning to communicate would apply to an addict as well.

"You know that no improvement can be accomplished unless we're consistent. If we haven't the courage to speak up when the drinker is in a sober phase, he'll just go on believing that there's no limit to what we can tolerate. But we have to know what we think before we can say it convincingly. We can't just bury it and hide our heads under a blanket of hope. Our husbands have a right to know what we expect from them. It's up to them to decide whether or not they want to live up to our expectations. Not letting them know how we feel is dishonest. It's just another way of pretending we accept the situation when we don't. It's a cop-out. If we want the alcoholic to face reality, we must face it first, and not be afraid to share our feelings." from the chapter on "What Manner of Communications are These?"

I don't think that it is easy to communicate when someone is drunk.  In fact, I would communicate a lot of anger because that is how I felt--angry, frustrated, and bitter.  And during the sober times, there would be the passive aggressive kind of communication--sighs, rolling eyes, muttering under my breath.  What is the right kind of communication to have with someone who is actively drinking?

It certainly isn't about nagging and repeating the same stuff over and over about hurting me, hurting others, hurting yourself.  The communication then was basically one way, with little in the way of acknowledgement or reciprocation from my wife.  Sharing feelings was difficult and the moments when we had a real conversation based on honesty were few and far between. It's amazing how much love I felt,  but I had a hard time communicating in a loving manner because I was so angry about the drinking.

Alcoholism makes all those associated with it lonely.  For me, it is a lot easier to be alone and lonely, than be with someone and still lonely.  Wanting to communicate and get the other person to understand was a huge need.  Sometimes I would be overwhelmed with my feelings.  They would come out, and she would either sit and say nothing or get up and walk away.

I know now that I was spewing out my emotions, and it was too much for her to process.  And it was too much for me to contain all the feelings.  In Al-Anon, it is a good idea to process a little at a time. Start slowly and work through the steps.  Take baby steps, a little at a time, one day at a time.  This is true for me and for the alcoholics in my life as well.  I don't think that any of us can handle all the emotions thrown together all at once. It's a jumble that needs to be sorted out.

What I have learned to do is to work on one thing at a time. It may take a long time to be able to communicate honestly and without fear.  I am not wanting to air every emotion and feeling like I did before.  I can sit with what I feel and not look to blame it on someone else or pass the hot potato to burn another.

I am grateful that I am looking at what we can give each other, rather than what we aren't able to give at this time.  We have made a lot of progress in learning to communicate with love, concern and respect.  I know that both of us are much happier.  It is true that "changed attitudes can aid recovery".   I'm getting better, we're getting better.


  1. this is solid syd...and works even in the non alcoholic but similarly addicted marriage...marriage and communication take work no matter what is in the way...

  2. When they are drunk/high I don't believe they are comprehending our communication. It's all about them. I've found actions, not words, communicate most effectively if someone is not ready to change.

    I think Lois should have acted more strongly, but then she lived in another time.

  3. I suspect someone in the grip of alcohol or any other intoxicating drug for that matter is not available for conversation, so I agree, you need to leave the communication till later when sober. The after math of my father's drinking though in some ways was worse than the drinking. All his guilt and remorse knowing that it would only last as long as the next bender.

  4. Lou is right. It's all about them. When my daughter was sober she was very defensive.

    I think I tried everything except forcing my family to acknowledge she was drinking, much less an alcoholic.

  5. Slow and easy...yes. But the outcome is well worth it. My children and I talk about everything now and often refer to that time when we couldn't.
    Sometimes I think it's miraculous that anyone can get sober ... the first years are SO HARD.

  6. Syd,

    I believe this post is relevant not only to you, but your blog's main focus. I wrote the piece for the San Diego CoDA Newsletter in 2006:

    Have a great day. I know I am.


  7. This is so encouraging to read Syd -- those baby steps are what we need as we learn to move forward.

    When I listen to those newly sober, I can see how little they are able to process because everything is clouded in withdrawal and shame. I was like that in my first year sober.

  8. Incredibly powerful. A changed attitude makes a difference. The more the alcoholic sees their spouse/family members work on themselves, the more the alcoholic realizes that they have to pull their own weight. No one ever won an argument with an active drinker. It's hard to figure out how to express your feelings. Without feelings, though, what's left?

  9. In the past if I didnt process my feelings immediately I was living a lie. As time passes in recovery I sometimes can mindfully sit with myself. Often for me it is about not reacting to others drama I have my own feelings on matters. This could mean "What you think of me is none of my buisness".
    Figuring out what my feelings are has been a slow process.

  10. "Spewing" is just what I did with my emotions, and as long as I did, the alcoholic was completely unable or unwilling to hear me. I had to learn to speak up calmly and concisely at the time, rather than stuff my feelings until they erupted in that spew.

  11. Good advice for any relationship, in my opinion.

  12. I can relate to just about every word of this post. I find a lot of great insight in that book. Thank you for sharing.

    Living with an active alcoholic is very lonely. When he drinks, that's when he wants to have the heart felt conversations. I'm getting better at being consistent in these situations to take care of myself, being honest with myself and him. But on the other hand not just blurting all my feelings and frustrations out loud until I've had time to sit and prayer about it.

    I'm getting better at facing the reality today, taking one step at a time.

  13. I know the fear of talking about alcoholism with the alcoholic in a sober time. It's scary to upset the apple cart. Those sober times are so precious. I learned not to waste my breath while he was drunk and, not to take any of his rants and ramblings to heart. Good post.

  14. The dilemma of the alcoholic marriage is but a false dilemma, the true dilemma being mariage per se, whoever with. That book is outmoded.


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