When a loved one drinks too much, the world can get pretty upside down. The very thought that there are actually things we can do to feel better can be so difficult to hope for, let alone believe. This is especially the case if a person has been grappling with a loved one’s drinking behaviors for some time.
As always, I suggest the first thing a person do to start to feel better is to learn about alcohol abuse and alcoholism – why they’re different and how they’re similar – and what it is about these two that make our loved ones behave so differently. For that, I suggest these three resources:
- How Much is Too Much: “At-Risk Drinking” Explained
- Alcoholism is a Disease and It’s Not Alcohol Abuse
- Crossing the Line from Alcohol Use to Abuse to Dependence
Once you have a better understanding of the root of the problem, then consider trying these suggestions, which are excerpts from my book, If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!
Not all of these will make sense as having a connection to your present situation. But practicing them is what can help you start to see yourself as separate from them and their drinking. This detaching, if you will, is what can help you to start enjoying YOUR life, whether your loved one chooses to change their drinking behaviors or not.
Say what you mean and mean what you say; say it in as few words as possible and then walk away
This was really hard for me. I always thought I had to keep going with my explanation – often repeating it in various variations over and over and over – until they agreed with my point of view (which usually never happened!). I viewed “walking away” as “saying” they were right.
Once I learned to keep it simple, to say in as few words as possible what I wanted to say and then “walk” away (this doesn’t have to be physically walking, by the way – it can be just stopping talking), I found such relief.
Take people at their word
By this I mean to try not to attach your thoughts and feelings to another person’s words. Take their words at face value. If you really are wondering what they meant, then ask them – directly. “It sounds like you are unsure about whether you want me to go out. Am I hearing your question correctly?”
Say it only once
This is similar to the first suggestion. It is so easy to say something to a person and when that person doesn’t respond the way we want them to, to then try to use a prodding question or offer a “suggestion,” and then a similar, though slightly different suggestion, again, and again, and even a few days later – again. These kinds of efforts are actually attempts to manipulate and/or control another person’s thinking so it matches our own. Manipulation is a huge part of “communicating” in the homes of alcoholics/alcoholic abusers because it’s impossible to enforce the rules if one person starts telling the truth.
Know that NO ONE has to agree with your truth!
Think about it – when there’s an accident, there can be several witnesses and each one will see the same accident in a slightly different way. This is how we must think about speaking our truth. If it’s our truth, then it’s what we feel, we see, we want, we need. We do not have to get the other person’s agreement or approval in order to make it true for us.
Truly apologize and YOU will feel better
Because we interpret being “wrong” as somehow being bad, it’s hard for many of us to say we’re sorry. We often say something like, “I’m sorry your feelings got hurt, but I was just trying to help you.” Do you see how this kind of an apology makes it the other person’s responsibility to “unhurt” his or her own feelings and protect ours at the same time?
A true apology is when we honestly take responsibility for our part and leave the “but” out of it. Listen to this one, instead: “I’m sorry I interrupted your telling me about what you wanted to do this summer and instead jumped in asking how you thought you could possibly work and go to summer school at the same time. That must have made you feel like I didn’t trust your judgment or your ability to think it through. I’m really sorry.”
Now that’s an apology. And, with this kind of an apology you free mind space for yourself, as well. You don’t have to keep justifying to yourself in those hamster-wheel-type thought processes about why you said what you said because you were only trying to do what was best for them or nothing you seem to do is good enough or right, so of course you were justified in your response. Being honest with yourself about your part in the exchange and then sincerely apologizing for your part, will make YOU feel SO much better. The added bonus is the person you’ve apologized to will feel like you truly understand the nature of your wrong-doing and that you really are sorry for what you did. Often that helps the other person acknowledge their part, if any, and/or trust it’s okay to trust you.
Be gentle with yourself – sounds corny, I know – especially if you’re just starting to look for answers and resources like this blog. But it’s true. This stuff takes time, but remember, you’ve likely been doing it the other way for a long time. In essence, you are changing a habit and that kind of effort takes time. I’ll leave you with something I read, today:
“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” ~ Chinese Proverb