Living with an alcoholic means anger is a frequent visitor if not a resident.
I was working in my counseling room and smiled sympathetically as she was describing a recent interaction with her errant husband. My personal circumstances were somewhat different to hers but, oh I knew how she felt. I had had angry days and angry weeks, and angry months that had now turned into my angry life. Impotent fury that was eating toxically into my soul undermining everything that was good about “us.” Us had turned into “you.” Your drinking, your selfishness, your constantly broken promises and I was a helpless bystander grinding my teeth in fury.
Whoever penned the phrase “nobody MAKES you angry” has clearly never been around an alcoholic. I was angry because when my partner drunk he turned into a parody of the person I fell in love with. I was angry with the secrecy and lies. I was angry with the irresponsible parenting and the drain on the household finances. I was angry at the embarrassment in public and their sarcastic venom in private. I was angry because some people thought he was wonderful but didn’t know the half of it, and then judged me for the times my mask slipped and my negativity leaked out. And I was furious that I couldn’t defend myself because above all the secret HAD to be kept. I felt completely trapped and consequently it felt totally unforgivable. And then there was the anger I felt for myself. Stupid stupid stupid woman; falling for the same old pack of promises and apologies. Letting it all go (AGAIN) and daring to believe and hope it would be different. Forgiveness, wrenchingly hard to muster over and over, thrown back in my face as drunkenness reappeared. How could I have been so foolish? (Love believes all things, love endures all things. Love is a gullible idiot!). Anger, so exhausting to process because the grievances are very very real, and coming at you over and over again. You get rid of one lot and turn round and there’s more and more until you’re drowning in it.
Incandescent with rage! If you live with a problem drinker then you will know exactly what I am saying. Sisters of Mercy meets the Incredible Hulk. The angry drunk has not cornered the market here. And their anger may well disappear in the cold light of a sober morning but ours does not vanish in the morning with the fumes of the alcohol, ours is a constant companion.
So what do we do? What do we do to survive this most crippling and persistent of feelings? If at this moment of time we are choosing to stay with our alcoholic partner, (be it man or women) how do we cope with the resentment that could so easily root itself into scorn and bitterness.
Firstly be realistic and kind to yourself. Living with a persistent problem drinker would try the patience of a saint! You WILL get mad because there are plenty of things under your nose to get mad about. However; learning to handle that anger wisely may make a lot of difference to your day to day survival. Believe me; even when you become better at some of these strategies listed below, there will be days when it all becomes too much and you will let rip. That’s okay. Lets not pretend this is easy. It may be necessary but it wont be easy; for the simple reason that, in the marriage you signed up for, it shouldn’t ever have been necessary. So here goes:
- Never argue with a drunk no matter how much you’re tempted. It can be fuel to an already raging fire and your drunk will fight harder, dirtier and longer than you will. He may even lash out physically. (Also, make a decision that if he\she looks as if they are drinking they probably are! One of the most vulnerable flash points is that point of challenge where you say they are drinking and they deny it. Your frustration will be high here because you will know that the lies almost feel worse than the inebriation itself. Understand your vulnerabilities and leave any challenge until a more opportune moment when your partner isn’t so drunk.) This is really important advice to keep you and your family safe from harm and escalating danger.
- Understand that your anger is congruent to the situation, so it’s okay to feel mad. However, unleashing that turbulent feeling in all its’ fury now or later may well end up with you jumping into the out-of-control arena with your drunk. This might be understandable but it will certainly not be helpful. Walk away and leave them to it. You may not be able to stop this but you sure don’t need to watch it.
- Find a safe place and person to express your feelings to. Obviously this needs a bit of thinking through. A counselor or support group, or sympathetic friends and family members may be very willing to share this burden so you don’t need to carry it alone. Try to spread the load a bit if you can. I tipped the lot on my poor mother, who was wonderful but I dread to think about what I must have put her through. Try not to collude with your partners’ world of secrets and lies. Selectively disclose so you don’t explode. (As these supports may not always be immediately to hand think of some delaying strategies to calm you down like journaling in your diary or distracting yourself by doing something else you really enjoy.) And finally, do remember, tempting though it might be at the time, try NOT to use your children as either a venting board or a listening ear.
- Learn to detach. A steady hand at the helm of your family unit is really needed right now and you truly can become a hero in your own lifetime. Our web site is crammed full of life’s unsung heroes. Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers holding precarious households together, keeping down jobs, caring for kids, fighting for relationships against what feel like enormous odds. You are one of these. You are amazing. Drinking is controlling him, but it doesn’t have to control you too. So...
- Use your anger as a fuel and force for good. Don’t descend to his/her lack of control instead use your anger to GAIN control. Do not allow the drink to rob you of your self- respect, your sense of self or your quality of life. If you feel your love is worth fighting for then make sure YOU still have a life with both rest and fun. Take time to tackle your problems wisely, seeking sound support and input and having a game-plan that is thought through and has some realistic chance of bringing about change. Knee jerk reactions bring temporary relief but rarely lasting change.
Above all, as always, remember you are not alone.