Do You Love Enough for Tough Love?

Tough love – do you love enough to give it?

Do You Love Enough for Tough Love?

Carolyn Hughes, Novelist, “The Hurt Healer,” writes about Tough Love

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, 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?”

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25 Responses to Do You Love Enough for Tough Love?

  1. Jane C Woods says:

    Caroline, what an inspirational story- it brought a tear to my eye. Thank you for recounting it; I hope it helps others in a similar situation. You are so brave to share it, much respect to you for that. Maybe you should be one of my Inspirational Women!
    My very best wishes,

    • Carolyn Hughes says:

      Thanks Jane!
      I do share in the hope that someone will benefit and be able to identify with what I say.
      It also does me good to remember the tough times because it makes me appreciate the good times so much more!

  2. Anita says:

    Tough love works for many 🙂 I’m happy it did for you. The easy part is stopping, the hard part is putting ones life back together! Took me 10 years…worth every day ! Congrats on 13 years 🙂

    • Carolyn Hughes says:

      Congratulations on your 10 years Anita! 🙂
      It is hard to start over again but look at what can be achieved with the right mindset and positive attitude.
      You’re the perfect example of that!

  3. Great post, Carolyn. Getting real is the only way to break the delusion of denial. Thanks for sharing your wisdom

    • Carolyn Hughes says:

      Thanks for you encouraging comments Lisa.
      You’re right – getting real breaks the delusion. Denial cripples both the alcoholic and their family members. Tough love is sometimes the only option!

  4. Sharon O'Day says:

    I had no experience with addictions growing up, so I was sure I could handle a budding relationship with someone that an “experienced” friend warned me “felt” like an addict to her. She was right. I was wrong. He turned out to be the most brilliant, most impactful person in my life. I honor what I learned from him. But I could not change him and had to let him go on his own path.

    • Carolyn Hughes says:

      Loved your reply Sharon, especially this – “I could not change him.” No matter what anyone says or does to an addict it’s not until the addict wants to change for themselves that they will seek recovery. I’m glad you could take something positive from the relationship even though you eventually had to let him go on his own path. Sometimes, when tough love is not enough, letting go is the only way.

  5. Nisha says:

    Tough love can be a really powerful tool, but I think sometimes the problem is convincing the person who needs to use it. I was involved with a situation where the person who really needed to implement tough love just couldn’t even consider it because of the possible ramifications. It felt too much like just turning her back on the person who needed help.

    • Carolyn Hughes says:

      Thank you for your comments Nisha. You are so right to point out how hard it can be to implement tough love if the person won’t accept it or if someone feels they can’t manage the possible ramifications.
      It is very hard! Tough love is not for the faint-hearted and requires lots of support for everyone involved!

  6. I love that you celebrate your sobriety, Carolyn, and bringing up children who have never seen you drink really is something to be proud of. Breaking the cycle – any cycle – can be a tough and lonely place, but people who do it are blazing a trail for others. Inspiring.

    • Carolyn Hughes says:

      Thank you so much for your kind comments Jenny! As you say, breaking the cycle can be a tough and lonely place but the benefits afterwards make it so worthwhile.
      I enjoy celebrating my sobriety because it’s something I never dreamt I would be able to do and maybe along the way others will think they could do it too!
      Love your own work on helping others to write about their dreams because I know that it is possible to make them a reality!

  7. Marie Leslie says:

    What an inspiring story. I am thankful that I have never had to deal firsthand with an addiction, but I have seen the devastating effects on those around me, and been blessed to be (hopefully) a support in their recovery. And you are so right. For tough love to really work there much be as much emphasis on the “love” as on the “tough.” Thank you for sharing your experiences for us to learn from.

    • Carolyn Hughes says:

      Marie, thank you for your encouraging comments. It is true that apart from the alcoholic, the effects of the addiction can be devastating for everyone involved.
      Its easier to get tough with someone that you don’t love. What takes great strength is being tough with a person you care about when they are at their most unlovable. More ‘love tough’ than ‘tough love!’

  8. Kim says:

    Great Blog and i really appreciate the one about recovery resentment. My BF is an alcoholic and it took me about a year of reading researching and ect. to get to a place of calm and know there is nothing i can do or say except uphold my own boundaries but wow was i angry that first year 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to help others in the same situations… He is still actively drinking think he is finally at the last stages bc he has lost his job and can not afford his mortgage this month it is very sad but quite possibly the rock bottom i feel he might need… The best quote i heard was: “Rock Bottom was the foundation in which i changed my life”

  9. Well done Kim on getting to a place of calm in such a difficult situation. Stick with your boundaries and know that whatever happens to your BF it is not your fault. In fact staying strong yourself is the best way you can help him. Only he knows his own rock bottom and for many reaching that stage is the catalyst for change.
    Whatever happens for him, do make sure that you have your own support system and take care of yourself.
    Thank you for taking the time to share your story.

  10. Jackie says:

    Thank you for sharing. It is comforting to know that someone else “gets it” and understands.

    I am still having severe anguish since my tough love session from a few days ago. A ringing phone punches me in the gut as I wonder if it is news of a funeral to attend.

    It is an exhausting and emotional roller coaster. My loved one is worth it though.

    • So sorry that you are having to go through such a traumatic time. There is nothing worse than wondering if the next call is going to be the worst news anyone can hear. But you have such strength and that is fuelled by love. ‘My loved one is worth it.’ They are and so are you.
      Know that by sticking to the resolve is giving them the chance to face up to reality and seek the help they need. Tough love shows just how much you care by not giving in and not enabling.
      Keep strong and take care.

  11. Steve says:

    Tough Love doesnt always work. Be cautiously prepared for whatever may happen.

  12. julie says:

    I’m dealing with a very hard case of alcoholism in my bf right now. I’ve been through withdrawal with him several times including hospitalization and a heart attack. I think he’s either too mentally ill for me to deal with or too far gone. I withdrew yesterday and I’m scared to death he will die but nothing keeps him off the bottle for very long. Hes my best friend and lover but I can’t

  13. Hello Julie,
    I can feel your fear through your words and it’s clear that you have stood by your loved one through every crisis caused through his addiction. And it’s because you love him that you are now finding it so hard to withdraw.
    The horror of addiction is that it is an illness that controls not only the body but the mind. And the man you love is caught up in the downward spiral of self-destruct. The reality is that unless he wants to fight for his life, he could well lose it. And as the woman who loves him, you know that.
    There is always hope for recovery but that is his choice alone. Nothing you can do or say can help him get sober and stay sober. Only he can decide that.
    Just know that his drinking and his decisions are not your fault. And that the love you have for each other has nothing to do with his addiction.
    He will drink if you love him. He will drink if you don’t.
    At this moment you are in an emotional crisis of your own and I would love you to reach out to others who have been and are going through your pain.
    For your own health and well-being you need to withdraw. Love from a distance if necessary, but surround yourself with others who can love you and nurture you through this difficult time.
    Al-anon are a great place to start and you will be welcomed there and meet others who understand.
    Take care of yourself, Carolyn

  14. Joyce says:

    Carolyn, your story is very motivational. My boyfriend has been relapsing for the past year after being sober for 10 years . He drinks for days then goes to the ER hospital to detox. He stays sober for 1 or 4 weeks then start drinking again. His brother, sisters, friends have done an intervention but he keeps relapsing. He’s bee to 2 rehab places, Lutheran hospital and 12 step house in Chicago. He needs a counselor like yours to help him. Do you have suggestions ? Joyce

  15. Your boyfriend is very fortunate to have such a caring person in his life and I’m sure everyone is weary of his cycle of destruction. I know it is hard to understand how someone can relapse after so many years of sobriety, but unfortunately that is the power of alcohol and the permanent effect it has on the brain. (Lisa writes some excellent articles here about how this).
    So it actually doesn’t matter what he’s done before, what matters is now. If he has been in and out of rehab he clearly needs a longer placement. But his motivation is key to his recovery. Denial will often get in the way of accepting the seriousness of the situation which is why it is important for you and other family members to be honest with him and lay some clear boundaries.
    You know yourself that you can’t make him get sober or seek help, but you can control what you do and how to respond to him. It is so difficult to be tough with those that we love, but remember that being firm and refusing to continue to enable him to drift in and out of sobriety could help him save his life. But the choice is ultimately his.
    Wishing you all the best.

  16. Andrea says:

    I just came across your article about tough love. I am currently in the depths of hell dealing with my husband who is an alcoholic. He came home wasted on Christmas Eve, and after an argument insued, he took the keys and got in our truck and left again. We have been together for 13 years and have 4 kids. He has had numerous dui’s and does not have a drivers license. At first, I didn’t realize he actually left. When I did, i turned around, grabbed the phone and called 911. I could not live with the idea that he was out on the road, severely impaired and not only risking HIS life, but the lives of countless others. Obviously, he hates me right now because he is dealing with all sorts of legal consequences. I was not, am not ready to bury my husband….my kids father because this disease is SO SELFISH! I don’t know if we will recover as a couple or as a family, but in my heart I know I did the right thing. I wish there were more stories of people who have had to make the TOUGH call, in one way or the other….so we know we are not alone. It is a very scary thing to do and our future is uncertain as a result. One thing IS certain though….I will no longer live that life of enabling, being too scared to act and living in constant worry and stress because of alcohol.

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