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Living with an alcoholic – Believe in yourself

believe in yourself

You don't need to hunt for evidence of drinking, believe your gut feeling you are probably right.

You feel it, sense it, know it, you just haven’t found the evidence yet, but you will, oh yes you will!  So like some detective with an obsessive compulsive disorder you hunt all the previous hiding places, add in some new ones, just in case, and then go round them all again.  If you can just find the stash where the booze is hidden you will know for certain that she/he has been drinking, and then …?

In many households round the world this ‘game’ will be played.  He will deny having been drinking, maybe even adopt an expression that is a combination of hurt at the lack of trust and sanctimonious disdain that you could even, for one second, consider that he is not telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

This sends you into a spin, “What if I’m wrong, he sounds convincing, but …” and it is a big BUT deep down inside you know, you really know.  You have the experience of years, maybe decades, so you know all the signs, the way he pronounces certain words, the way he stands, his attitude and many, many more tells that you have learned from bitter experience.

However, even though you ‘know’ it’s not enough.  You need to produce concrete evidence, like a prosecuting lawyer.  In your mind you see the scene – he denies drinking, tries to make you feel guilty for even daring to think such a thing.  With a flourish you turn to the jury and from nowhere you produce the damning evidence.  The spotlight now shines brightly on your drinker.  He looks trapped, embarrassed, stammers, stutters and then breaks down and confesses to his drinking excesses, swearing never to touch another drop as long as he lives.  You have been vindicated, you are not going mad, in fact your intuition was completely correct and now he has no choice but to stop.  Is this the kind of scenario that you see when you search for the evidence of his drinking?

Ok your thoughts may not be quite as vivid or dramatic as that.  Nevertheless, as Lou described, there is a powerful need to find this evidence, to be proved right and stop feeling that you are going mad.

Many years ago an American psychologist (Solomon Asch) carried out experiments on conformity.  They recruited some students and, in a group, showed them some slides and asked them questions about them.  What it boiled down to was that they were shown 3 lines of different lengths and then another with a single line which matched the length of one of the lines.  They were then asked to say which line this new line matched A, B or C.   Mostly the participants were able to choose the correct line.  However imagine their surprise when everyone else in the room said that the line matched a different one. 

What they did not know was that everyone in the room was a stooge and the experiment had nothing to do with judgement of the length of lines and everything to do with finding out if people would hold to their own opinions when they were different from the majority.  As you can imagine the situation was extremely uncomfortable for the subjects of the experiment.  In the majority of the cases they tended to go along with the majority even though they felt conflicted about it.

To a large extent this may be where you find yourself.  You know the correct answer, he’s been drinking, but you are conflicted because he denies it and he denies it very convincingly.  So for that reason you search for the evidence that will prove that you are right and, even if he does not stop drinking, at least it will resolve some of the conflict that you are feeling.

So what can you do?

The first thing is to stop hunting for the evidence.  I know that this is not easy because of all the reasons above.  You know within yourself that even if you do find the evidence, it is going to make very little difference.  He may still lie and say that the bottle has been there for a while and he has not touched a drop today.  Or he might start a fight where he tries to take the moral high ground by shifting the ‘discussion’ to trust.  Either way producing the evidence is not going to have the dramatic effect that your vision has.

Second, start believing the evidence of all your senses, not just seeing the actual bottles.  If you suspect that he has been drinking then he probably has.  You can smell alcohol on the breath, even if he has been using mouthwash or mints.  The tell-tale smell is difficult to mask.  You can often see the effect of alcohol in the eyes which can be bloodshot or glazed.  You can usually see the effect by how he walks, his coordination, how he speaks.  There are many, many signs.  Believe your intuition.  You are almost certainly correct. If occasionally you get it wrong, will it cause any less conflict than you have at present?

Try and find support.  One of the main findings of Asch’s work was that when the subjects had someone to support them in their judgements, they rarely conformed to the wrong answers of the majority.  Having support reduces the conflict and allows you to believe your own judgement and helps you to stop hunting the bottle.

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