When Is It Time to Leave Your Alcoholic Mate?
By Carole Bennett, MA
Deciding to walk away from a relationship is usually a difficult decision. In a "conventional" scenario it can be tough enough, but add in the element of substance abuse, and there can be added stress.
With an addiction landscape, there may come a time when you feel that you have exhausted all your avenues in trying to live with your mate's substance abuse issues and your own personal well being is now in danger. You have run out of gas and the only healthy option is to throw in the towel and make a dramatic, earth-shaking move.
Like the alcoholic/addict who may hit "bottom" before realizing that it's time to change the course of his or her life or die, the family member or friend can hit bottom as well. With months or even years of weighing this gut-wrenching decision, it can finally culminate from anger to frustration to sheer exhaustion. Either way, you have probably shed buckets of tears, and can't believe that your life has come to this fork in the road.
I know that when I decided to leave my husband because of his out-of-control addictive behavior, I spent what seemed to be a decade of sleepless nights pondering my decision. After all, regardless of his disposition, I did love the man, we had a family and after 20 years had built a life together, but deep down I knew I had to bail. I didn't know who I was anymore, and, like someone drowning, I was desperate to grab on to any piece of wood that might allow me reclaim my life.
Despite the excruciating pain I knew would accompany my decision I had to believe it would be better in the long run for myself and my family. I kept in mind that the big picture of making a new life had to outweigh the almost impossibility that maybe tomorrow would be different if I stayed. I had been down that disappointing road so many times before that I found it helpful to burn those memories in my head as I knew I would call upon them in the future when I felt shaky about my decision.
With all this said, here are a few reasons why one stays in a relationship with the alcoholic/addict possibly longer than they should:
1) Gripped with fear as to what life might be.
2) Feeling that children are better off with two parents rather than one, regardless of the discomfort and tension in the household.
3) The alcoholic/addict is the chief money maker and you would be left financially compromised.
4) Fear of retribution.
5) Fear of being alone.
6) Hanging on to the few shreds of normal behavior that the alcoholic/addict randomly shows (and continuing to hope that one day it might stick).
7) Social, family (extended or otherwise), and peer pressure that you should keep trying to stick it out.
8) Believing that if you "do this" or "do that" things will change.
9) Failure is not an option.
10) Embarrassed and ashamed.
11) What will people say: gossip.
12) Made a commitment -- religious constraints.
13) Poor reflection on self and self-esteem.
And, here are some reasons that might propel you to make a difficult, but life-saving decision:
1) You are mentally and physically exhausted in dealing with the alcoholic/addict's out of control behavior.
2) You can no longer trust what the alcoholic/addict says or does.
3) The alcoholic/addict continues to bully, ridicule, disrespect and blames you for their short comings and failures.
4) You are weary of the constant merry-go-round of rehabilitation attempts that don't seem to stick for long.
5) Realizing that you deserve better.
6) You are no longer fearful of being alone, since you realize that you are already alone, as the alcoholic/addict is living a life apart from you with his or her drug of choice.
7) Everyone's world is revolving around the alcoholic/addict and consequently other family members may be suffering.
8) You are fearful of any communication and find yourself walking on eggshells in an effort as to not engage the alcoholic/addict's anger.
9) No matter how hard you try, the alcoholic/addict keeps raising the bar for you to "do your part" in the relationship; satisfaction is never reached.
10) The thought of spending one more minute of your life like this is beginning to make you physically ill.
11) You no longer care how it looks to others, what anyone says, or what the ramifications may be of your decision; you have the exit gate in your sights.
If you have indeed hit your bottom and are ready to take the painful, but appropriate step to move on with your life without the alcoholic/addict, please don't beat yourself up for not having acted on this resolve sooner. Other than the list mentioned above, people stay in unhealthy relations substantially longer than they should, or know that they should. It is very hard to blow out the candle in the window that might represent hope, but realistically doesn't.
Try and remember that a few years of discomfort, uncertainty, and fear are better than years and years of an agonizing and miserable commitment.
Some may feel that they are a failure if they abandon their relationship. Coming to this conclusion and realizing that the end is upon you, can actually be incredibly empowering. Take some comfort in knowing that you have taken control of the situation. Sometimes it's the bravest option, because it requires you to face what you might think as a failure, but is not. In life, there really is no such thing as a "crash-and-burn" scenario, only lessons to be learned for a better, healthier go around the next time.
Please do leave a comment below or drop me an email with your thoughts, suggestions or requests for future areas of focus.
© Carol Bennett