Are you prepared to have LOVE get you through this?
We believe that, if your life is going to improve and your drinker is going to change then love is very important. Indeed, in Bottled Up one of our most important, and most fitting, acronyms is LOVE. It was no accident that we chose this word to encapsulate how to both help an alcoholic and live in a healthier manner. We chose this term carefully because of the positive connotations that it brings to, what can often seem like, a negative situation.
Letting the negative consequences happen: L stands for Letting the negative consequences of drinking happen. Psychology tells us that people change for one of two reasons or a combination of both of them. The first of these reasons is that lots of negative consequences happen and we like to avoid them. But this only occurs when the negatives outweigh the positives. If the drinker still feels that they get more good things than bad things from drinking, then they may be reluctant to change. In fact they may not recognize any reason for change.
This is one of the great mysteries for those who love the alcoholic. For the family and loved ones it's obvious that lots of negative things are happening and yet they still drink. Unfortunately the inventory of good and bad things is highly subjective, so your judgment of whether it's good or bad does not really count. It's the drinkers’ own assessment of the situation that is important. For example they may believe that a hangover is worth it to overcome the shyness that prevents him talking to people at a party. Or they might judge that the occasional argument is worth it to bring a quality of excitement into the boring tedium of life.
What many people do is they try and protect the drinker from some of the worst consequences of their behavior. For example, they defend them against criticism, clean up after them, keep the kids quiet when they have a hangover, delay dinner when they are home late, etc. All these actions are totally understandable and the motives behind them are commendable. However, since the negatives play such a large part in the change process, protecting the drinker can actually delay or even prevent change happening. This is what is often referred to as enabling. As we said already the reasons for the protection are understandable; no one wants to see someone they love in pain. But think of it more like going to the dentist: sometimes people need to experience short term pain so that they don’t suffer long term.
Optimizing the sober times: O stands for Optimize your time with the drinker when they are sober to build your communication and relationship. Instead of fighting about the last binge or making them feel guilty by silence, try spending some quality time together. It may make you feel better about your life and relationship and make them remember why they are in a relationship with you and make them want to change their drinking.
Psychologists tell us that this is the second reason for change – to get something better. So trying to do something that they like at these times will greatly help this process. Arguing just polarizes the positions of those involved, whereas reaching out breaks down barriers.
Your reaction at reading this is probably: "Are you insane?! They just came home drunk, created havoc with the kids, screamed abuse at me and you want us to go fishing – are you completely insane?!" During my drinking days my wife would wait in ambush at the foot of the bed. Almost as soon as I opened my eyes she would launch into her rage about the night before. Now please don’t get me wrong here, what she did was completely understandable and my only surprise is that she actually waited till I surfaced from my drunken stupor. If it had been her that had been drunk I’m not sure that I would have been as restrained. So I’m not judging her for what she did. However the outcome was almost always the same. She recounted all the things that I had done wrong (and there were usually plenty). I would then start to defend myself and both voices would rise to screaming pitch. I would stomp out of the house to head for the nearest bar shouting about what an unreasonable woman she was. I know: genius defense on my part.
What we are saying though is that for your life to change you need to make some changes to how you behave. Your response to that statement may be: "why should I have to change, they are the one with the problem, they should change, not me!" What we are trying to say is that the things that you are doing currently are not working, otherwise why would you be reading this? So it's time to try something different. What do you have to lose? At Bottled Up we are pragmatic; we are not trying to tell you what is right, we offer what works. Psychology tells us that people change for two reasons, to get rid of/avoid bad things and/or to get better things. So we suggest that you stop protecting your drinker from the bad things that happen when they drink and introduce good things when they don’t.
We will introduce the other two parts of LOVE (Value the person and Encourage change) in the next article. However if you can’t wait that long, you can find out more about LOVE and other strategies for living with an alcoholic at Bottled Up.