Friday January 18th 2019

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How to let go of an alcoholic

Many of us have a strong desire to rescue those we love most, despite the damage it does to us in the process. However, loving someone with an addiction can be emotionally, spiritually and even physically painful. How can you start to let go of an alcoholic?

We review here. Then, we invite your feedback about facing addiction in the family or with friends at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all comments with a personal reply.

The alcoholic knows best

Any substance we use to numb the pain can take a toll on our lives and the lives around us. I know from experience. My father and mother both dealt with their own addictions; one was a substance addiction while the other had more obsessive tendencies.

But no one can honestly express an alcoholic state of mind and the suffering involved quite like an alcoholic themselves. For this reason, I asked my father to give me a personal testimony in the epilogue of my book: The Journey Principles Book.

During our talk, he asked me to share a few key points that he holds dear. We will quickly notice how the voice of a former alcoholic can give us incite, change our perception, and help us to support them (without participating in any of these examples of enabling behaviors). After over thirty years of alcoholism, my father has now been sober just as long.

5 Key admissions from a former alcoholic

So what are some of the secrets to really helping an addict or alcoholic? First know this:

“It’s them, not you.”  

My father has shared with me that he often spent time moving the attention from himself by putting it back on those he loved. It was their fault that things weren’t going well, not his. But this belief is false.

“It was me,” he tells me now, “and there is no reason someone who loved me should have ever taken on my disease as their personal self-esteem. Don’t for one second believe there was any help, love, person or system that could make a difference until I wanted it for my own reasons…someone can love, yell or scream and to me none of it mattered until I decided it did.”

1.   You gotta acknowledge the term.

An alcoholic must realize they are an alcoholic before they can accept any true help. Loving them from a place of active addiction is difficult; it hurts because we want to do more, but we must love them at a distance and have firm boundaries of our own.

2.  Alcoholics will lie.

People struggling with addiction lie not to intentionally hurt others but because their desire for the substance is stronger than anything else. Please keep in mind they are lying to themselves far more than they are lying to us. Know that without honesty about what’s really going on, NO other steps can be made! Alcoholics live in a world where alcohol is like food. How long could any of us go without food before we began to lie, cheat and steal to survive?

3.  Don’t bail them out!

My father shared that the reason it took him so long to face his alcoholism was because he could easily manipulate others to bail him out. The “bailout” allows more time to pass without having to face the issue. When we choose to bail addicts out, we are choosing to let them continue the destructive behavior.

Rock bottom is where the light of Jesus steps in. Sometimes I wish people would have let me get there sooner so I could find him quicker. At the same time, some don’t make it back because of their own choices, not the choices of their loved ones.

4.  Tough love is mandatory.

You cannot expect change until its desired; change will never work by force of your own wishes because an alcoholic’s desire for change is required. Instead, you can control how you react. However, expect backlash. An alcoholic will say and do hurtful things. When we begin to set positive boundaries, we will hear and see an alcoholic do things that are not really meant for us; instead, it’s a force of projection.

5.  Your loved one is choosing alcoholism

“We as alcoholics are there for one reason and one reason only,” my father told me. “We choose to be! Knowing this could free up someone who loves someone who struggles.”

When someone you love struggles with addiction, it is vital to remember that they handle their own mistakes. It can be upsetting to watch a loved one make poor choices, but getting caught in the crossfires will only cause more pain. Love them enough to let them hit rock bottom; they may just thank you for it later.

Photo credit: Robert Neumann

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13 Responses to “How to let go of an alcoholic
3:39 am March 27th, 2016

Hey great article, I found great solution for giving up or reducing alcohol and I have stop it my alcohol addiction in 30 days.

6:21 am March 31st, 2016

I have left my husband before bc of his addiction. He just used more. Now he just lost his job of over 12 years. Im saving up for a divorce. Is there a rock bottom befote divorce? At the rate he’s going, rock bottom is death. Wouldn’t his death be our childrens and my own rock bottom? So letting him hit rock bottom drags us down with him. I really dont think anything besides death will help him. What do i do about that? Im not dragging myself and our children down with him. If i let him hit rock bottom, i would be dragging us down too and i just cant do it. I mean, yeah, i have thought that his death would make things so much easier, but i dont want that.

10:02 am July 23rd, 2017

Rena…. That’s exactly what I think and feel. Those seem to be my thoughts staring back at me. His rock-bottom is mine too. I am terrified of his dying if I letry him go. I wouldn’t be able to live with it.. I love that man.

3:26 pm August 18th, 2017

I’m in the process of ending things with my gf primarily due to her alcoholism. So hard.

4:34 pm October 23rd, 2017

Recently separated from a closet alcoholic. Although we are physically separated, I am still very much still there emotionally. He refuses to quit. He did a two-week stint at rehab and didn’t even last 24 hours once returning back home. As hard as it was, I changed my phone number and he does not know where I live. It hurts my heart because I still love my husband but I know it is time for me to love him from a distance. This entire ordeal has taken a toll on my physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being. I’ve never dealt with anything like this in my life. It’s like I’m caught in the middle of a nightmare that I can’t awaken from.

12:01 pm November 1st, 2017

fabulous article, i hear what you are saying, I am not able to follow it yet, but I agree it might be the only way.

10:33 pm November 27th, 2017

Thank you. This helps a lot .. I am in the midst of letting go. It’s so painful. But it’s more painful to watch him suffer. And then be blamed for his drinking.
Thank you

10:20 am January 22nd, 2018

Nicole! We have the exact situation. My husband of 5 Years relapsed again for the 7the time. I am emotionally, spiritually, and mentally drained. I always did the BAIL OUT. I enabled and I filed for divorce in 2015, but he manipulated his way back in to my life. I last saw him in December 5th as we were already separated since April 2015 but I would spend time with him at his apartment. We would have 2-3 months of incredible bliss. Then it was “I’m gonna have a glass of wine” then hard liquor. Which all of this would lead to his cocaine use. Most nights he would stay up for hours watching pornography and then would want to engage in sex all day the next day. On Dec 5th, the last day I saw him, he showed up to the home where I live with my 2 kids from a previous marriage. He wants bleeding profusely from his head and he told me he got into a fight on the street. I shut the door on him as before I would clean him up and let him stay. I feel devastated as I love this man… but I can no longer expose myself, my business, or my children to this. his addiction is more powerful than his love to His family. It’s so hard to love a person with alcoholism.

8:28 pm May 5th, 2018

I lost one son to addiction eleven years ago. Now I am in the midst of alcoholism with another son. I am trying to be strong and carry on but it is so hard. YES, hitting rock bottom does result in death at times. This is a very hard fact to face. I do however, realize that addiction is not OUR choice. I know I must let go of my son as difficult as it is to do. I only pray that he will make the right choices…that is ALL I can do at this point. I wish all of you dealing with this my best. PLEASE BE STRONG AND DO NOT ENABLE THEM.

2:55 am June 7th, 2018

My ex is an alcoholic and schizophrenic. After two years of trying to help him, loving him, giving him my all I had to leave. I was losing myself in his battle which was never dealt with. He was in absolute denial. We’ve been divorced now for one year and I can finally say I have my emotional, physical and mental health back. I know I did my best, tried my best and realize there was nothing and will never be anything I can do for him. It’s his choice of health or sickness. I will always love him and that’s the most painful part. I often wonder how I will love someone as dearly as I loved him. At least I have my sanity and health back and a safe environment. The journey has made me realize how grateful I was to have known and loved him but even more grateful that I have my life back—-safe and sound.

12:47 pm June 27th, 2018

Your article makes perfect sense to me. I just went to my first Al-Anon on meeting. My son is an alcoholic. So far I think I’ve done everything wrong. I just don’t want him to die. I’m afraid if I cut him loose that’s what’s going to happen.

1:44 pm October 4th, 2018

I recently divorced my husband of 28 yrs.He is alchoholic and addicted to pain killers for the past 10 year’s. He has been in and of work cause he can’t hold a job. It’s sad cause he is a very smart man and very easy to like. He has been to detox rehab and hospitalized. He’s a type 1 diabetic and puts life at risk with no insurance. He let his sugar get so out of control that it was over 1,000 and was in CCU we also found out that he had a heart attack after they examined him. I just lost my home it was foreclosed I lived line that for 7 year’s. I worked to pay the bill’s just keep the lights on. I recently moved into a apartment with 2 of my children grown. He still lives there and it’s getting closer for the bank to remove him. I’m not sure if he is paying the bills I believe everything will be turned off any day. He has money to drink and drug God only knows from where, I love him not even sure why at this point and I’m afraid for him. I am also afraid he will be knocking at my door. needing a place to go. I’ve also dealt with repo for his car at least 3 times and it was not very pleasant. Their is so much more as you can imagine stealing etc. Bottom line I’ve been with him since I’m 15 it breaks my heart. I know I can not be with him while he is on this path and know I need to have boundaries. I want to thank you for sharing your story to help me get out of his way. It is very difficult to do nothing!! I pray he finds his way and finds his higher power.
Thank you

3:28 pm December 23rd, 2018

So many stories EXCATLY like mine. I have lived for 20 years with a raging alcoholic covering and lying for him. I am to blame for enabling him. I don’t understand why I can’t let go. I don’t know if I am scared of failure or being alone or? Strange thing is that I am alone as he is never really “present” . He is having huge memory loss now and just won’t stop drinking. I have 2 kids and I am trying to find a way to be strong and give up everything I know which is the right thing to do and to start fresh. He is never going to get better as he refuses rehab and so the cycle goes and I take care of him. My biggest fear is that he is going to die hitting rock bottom. I thought it was only something that I was going through but I see others have the same problem and I guess that makes me feel more normal. Why is making the decision so difficult when I live in hell. It should be easier!!!

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About Stephen Scoggins

Stephen travels throughout the country teaching faith and self-understanding. His goal is to empower others to use the bricks of past failures to build a new foundation for success, reigniting a passion for life and purpose to make large steps toward a bright future. Find out more about Stephen and the Journey Principles Institute here.