Tough love – do you love enough to give it?
The following is a guest post by Carolyn Hughes, a freelance writer with special interest in alcohol issues. Carolyn is currently writing The Hurt Healer, a novel based on her own experiences of abuse and alcoholism, and lives in Northern Ireland with her husband and their two daughters. She celebrates 13 years sobriety and says, “My proudest achievement is that my children have never seen me take alcohol or had to live with a drunken mother.” Carolyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to visit Carolyn’s blog, The Hurt Healer, to read more of her insightful posts. You may also wish to follow her on FaceBook.
Do You Love Enough for Tough Love? by Carolyn Hughes
Tough love saved my life. After a 20 year battle with the booze, it was tough love that helped get me sober and more importantly it was tough love that helped me stay sober for 13 years. Of course it wasn’t easy and I hated what I had to go through at the time, but today I am eternally grateful for the addiction counsellor who was willing to be tough enough to tackle my alcoholism head on. She basically told me “Do what I tell you to do or die,” which I thought was a very risky thing to say to me at the time because she knew I had recently attempted suicide. For the next 6 months she was brutally honest, terrifyingly upfront and took me to hell and back. I fought my way to sobriety literally kicking and screaming. Sometimes I actually thought she must have hated me to have put me through such pain. Now I can see that I was missing the point, which was that it was because she cared so much that she was willing to take the risk.
Tough love is all about taking risks, and it’s the possibility that those risks will result in our worst fears being realised that can prevent us from confronting the alcoholic. If you are concerned for someone who drinks too much you may have tried all sorts of strategies to encourage them to get help and along the way formed your own patterns of behaviour in response to their addictive behaviours. Denial, anxiety, lack of self confidence, worry about the consequences can all lead to enabling the drinker. It may lead to a quieter life in the short term, but in the long term it is tough love that is going to lead to change. You may fear that by doing things such as laying down the law, refusing money, threatening divorce, refusing to cover for the drinker, telling them to leave, will lead to dire and possibly critical circumstances. And that somehow it will be your fault. Yet the awful truth is that no matter what is said or done by anyone else, unless the alcoholic takes responsibility and actively seeks help, alcohol will kill them in the end.
When after 12 years of sobriety my husband decided he could drink ‘socially’, I realised he was heading for a massive and potentially fatal relapse. It was like being put on a train that I knew was going to crash but I didn’t know when it would happen or whether anyone would survive. But I also knew that I loved him enough to do whatever it took to get our train back on track. He had to be confronted and I needed help to do that. For me, that meant involving members of his family, doctors, addiction counsellors and the police. I also had to be very clear about what my husband was expected to do and the consequences if he chose not to comply. It was a tough situation for us all – emotionally and physically exhausting. Essential for anyone who may be dealing with an angry and volatile drinker is to have a support network and a prepared plan of words and action. Tough love is not a solitary task – it is crucial to have encouragement and help from friends and professionals every step of the way.
If the prospect of tough love seems daunting, it’s perhaps because the ‘tough’ is being given more focus than the ‘love’. Being tough with the alcoholic isn’t about shouting and attributing blame, or demeaning the person or threatening to disown them forever. It’s about getting real, being truthful and laying down the boundaries not just for the alcoholic but for those whose lives have been impacted. Tough love is saying you mean and meaning what you say. You need to love the alcoholic enough to be able to insist on sobriety, demand a removal of their alcoholic lifestyle and offer only the options that will help them to save their lives and help restore yours.
Of course putting your own life back together may involve tough love of a different kind but is just as essential to recovery to better physical and mental health. In the beginning you may need to start loving yourself again. Tough love will require you to make your own life a priority for a change. You might have to be firm with yourself about finding ways to heal the hurts of the past and be stringent about pursuing your own hopes and dreams.
Without tough love drink would have killed me. Without tough love drink would have killed my husband.
For anyone dealing with the miserable and powerful disease of alcoholism, the question needs to be asked: “Do you love enough for tough love?”