The Alcoholic/Addict's Art of Self-Sabotage
By Carole Bennett, MA
Today was my ex-husband’s birthday. I tell you this not because he is a famous sports hero, international movie star, or political head of state. He is (actually was once) just a plain, caring, fun-loving man. Years ago I fell in love with this man who had a boyish, mischievous sparkle in his eye — a partner that loved dogs, noodles and butter, and me. We lived in a beautiful part of the country, where the ocean and mountains were at our doorstep; our house was warm and inviting; we cherished each other’s company; and our friends and family were welcome any time. Life was good.
I knew when I met my ex-husband he was in recovery. He had long been a self-proclaimed alcoholic with fits and starts in a myriad of recovery programs, but this time he professed that he had his addiction well under control and with the help of his AA 12-Step program and me the beckoning devil of alcohol was firmly arrested.
We waited a few years to get married as I wanted to make sure that his road to sobriety was now his lifestyle and not just another hopeful goal.
I am sharing this with you because shortly after our marriage (and what seemed to me for no apparent reason), he began sabotaging our relationship and his own world as well. Self-sabotage started picking away at his core; and the more the picking, the more he was reverting into his own world and what he once knew. Eventually and inevitably his behavior became more mercurial and with that the situation that I most feared was upon us: relapse.
One relapse turned into two, three, and God knows how many more. By then I couldn’t live with his unpredictable lifestyle, and sadly, we went our separate ways.
My ex-husband is 49 years old today. Once upon a time, he so successfully sabotaged his life that he no longer had the beautiful home, loving wife, friends, or family; he so successfully sabotaged his life that he no longer had a job where his employers and co-workers respected and cared for him; he so successfully sabotaged his life that he soon was out of money and became homeless — his belongings were in a paper bag. It breaks my heart.
So what motivates an individual to purposely put an invisible, destructive gun to their head and pull the trigger time and time again? As “normies” or healthy ones, we can’t imagine how anyone can go down such a path that would deliberately obliterate everything that we hold so near and dear.
Sometimes, when alcoholics start to get a handle on their recovery, or the going gets too good, they sabotage it. Though they freely admit that they are healthier and feel better, this new way of life can feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable, no matter how hard they try accepting a clean, sober, and enjoyable lifestyle. They have known one way for so long (probably a destructive path, but oddly familiar and comfortable nonetheless), it’s exceptionally hard to shake old habits, thoughts, and actions.
They might have difficulty trusting that their new life is good, that they’ve earned it and worked hard to get there, and it will continue to remain so as long as they stay on a clean and sober path. Alcoholic/addicts may not feel they deserve some of the good things that are happening to them, and this can be at the root of their self-sabotage. In addition, the expectations of others that they will “keep up the good work” can be a lot of pressure.
However, too often, with the slightest hiccup or a continued barrage of hiccups (whether real or imagined), they retreat to what’s familiar, even when they know it’s detrimental or may produce substantial wreckage. The ups and downs of life that the “normie” experiences and can work through become monumental hurdles to the alcoholic/addict. Life on life’s terms can be so daunting and overwhelming, their thinking tells them to bail at whatever cost.
I can look back at our relationship and see that the more I was confident in persevering my dream, the more he was getting lost. The lack of creativity and fortitude he thought he needed in order to keep in step with me started to chip away, slowly at first and then faster and faster as his own self-esteem and confidence started to take a downward spiral.
I tried very hard to downplay my own self-assurance and heap shovels of positive reinforcement on him as it pertained to any goal, dream, or idea he had — whether it was to quit his job and find something more fulfilling or to go back to school. But, in actuality, my being his own personal cheerleader only made matters worse. He once said that I was just too good and that he wished he could be like me, but couldn’t. I was damned if I did, damned if I didn’t. He had an invisible, secret calling to self-sabotage our life and his life; and he succeeded.
I believe that the alcoholic/addict knows when they are on the road to self-sabotage. They know that their behavior will result in substantial and probable irreparable damage. Their credibility, accountability, reliability, and dependability will be shot to hell; and like a car out of control, they can’t bring themselves to hit the brakes or pull to the side of the road.
The alcoholic/addict may justify their plan of self-sabotage by roping you into the scenario. Comments like “It’s all your fault,” or ”You won’t do what I need you to," or “I’ll show you,” or my favorite, “You’ll be sorry.”
Deep down inside they realize that using you as a dart board for their actions is ridiculous, and that they alone are responsible for their own proceedings. However, pointing the finger at someone else as the catalyst for this reckless behavior makes it palatable and gives them fuel to follow through with their intentions.
So, if you are in a relationship with someone who is hell bent on playing Russian roulette with self-sabotage, know that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, and you will drive yourself crazy trying to appease. Moving locales, expanding your family or switching from Republican to Democrat will not change anything; or if it does, it’s only for a brief moment. It’s solely and completely up to the alcoholic/addict to take and keep control of their life, whether in a strong and resilient recovery program or on the slippery slope of relapse and self-destruction.
A hopeful birthday wish for my ex-husband is that one day he will once again realize how good life can be and that the companionship of sabotage is truly no companionship at all.
© Carole Bennett
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