Fighting with Monsters

“Whoever wants to fight monsters must beware of turning into one”. - Friedrich Nietzsche

If you love an alcoholic, you are suffering. “Wet” alcoholics can be desperately difficult to deal with. They can be most aware of your weak spots and willing to strip your self-esteem with snide precision – while hiding helplessness behind hostility. Your alcoholic has been deceitful, manipulative, disrespectful, and disloyal. S/he has also been sweet, loving, and all around adorable. S/he has blamed you, betrayed you, lied to you, and s/he has apologized for it all, only to stab you again before your wounds were healed. You are exhausted from a never-ending battle with forces beyond your power.

You may be utterly confused about what to believe and what to do. You may feel guilty, ashamed, and hurt – but unable to withdraw from the exhausting intensity of this relationship. You may feel tormented about your responsibility and your need to save her and yourself from destruction. You may feel unclear about your part in her disease and recovery, trying to make sure that she is safe, only to get criticized when you try to help; and you may still want to save her...

Once you truly understand that a drowning person will drag you down with her, you can give yourself permission to do what’s best for you. There is nothing you can do – if she won’t swim or hold on to a lifesaver. When you get hopeless you may be “hitting bottom” with the futility of this endeavor. Ultimately, you cannot control her wish and fate even if you sacrifice your own life.

The twelve-step program of Al-Anon uses the term “loving detachment” and suggests pulling back from all behaviors that are focused on controlling an alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous maintains that we are “powerless over alcoholism, that our lives have become unmanageable”. We must“ carry the message, not the alcoholic”. Alcoholics have a warped perception and are torn by a conflict of ambivalence. She may “bite the hand that feeds her”. She may resist her rescuers like enemies, while loving her enemies. If you try to point out the “blind spot” of her denial she may turn against you, and then you may be the one to be angry, resentful, and unhappy. You may get stuck trying to “make her understand”, help her against her will and lose yourself in the process. This is the dynamic that will pull you down – if you won’t let go. An alcoholic who doesn’t want to get sober won’t get sober, no matter what the consequences. While under the influence she cannot change. You can change, though, and get your life back. She may come around when she is ready, or when she has exhausted all her resources and “hit bottom”. Whether you are an addict or love an addict, or whether you’re a “double winner” (both), keep in mind that recovery cannot be forced upon another person. It’s an inside job.