What it Means to Detach From the Alcoholic

Ask Angie: What can I do as a Christian woman to stop my husband from drinking too much beer? He doesn’t think it’s a big deal because he is not drunk and because in his eyes he is a good man.

Ask Angie:What about love? I get the detachment thing, but will the love I still have in me disappear too? That is a fear.

**This marriage column has three marriage videos that go along with it. Listening to these videos will help you get a better understanding about what detachment from addiction really means for you and for the alcoholic. These videos talk in more detail about how to detach with love and to let go…<.em>

Marriage Guidance: We can’t stop our spouses from drinking. We can beg, plead, threaten, and scream and yell, but it isn’t going to do a bit of good. That’s why it is called an addiction. Only the alcoholic can make the alcoholic quit drinking. If you think your husband is drinking too much beer then he probably is. Sings of alcoholism are many, but when a person can’t stop at just one beer or one glass of wine, or if they drink every single weekend, or if they allow alcohol to control their lives in any way, they are alcoholic.

There are different stages of alcoholism. The first stage of alcoholism is denial, which I talk about more in our book called How Do I Detach from the Alcoholic Spouse?. This book is available as a hardcopy or ebook. The alcoholic himself may even think he can stop drinking. Or the alcoholic may justify reasons why he can drink. The alcoholic starts to find new friends, friends that are most likely also alcoholic. And old friends disappear.

At first, no alcoholic thinks they have a problem with their drinking. But they do think they NEED alcohol to feel good. Drinking for the alcoholic fixes emotional problems, it makes us feel better about ourselves, and helps us to socialize and come out of our shell. Unfortunately that person coming out, I like to call him Hyde, is not really who a person is, it’s what the alcohol makes a person become.

If you noticed in the movies, Congenial Dr. Jekyl has to drink a potion to become evil Hyde. It is the same way with the alcoholic. In most cases the alcoholic only gets bad after he begins to drink. In some cases though, I have had wives tell me it is the opposite with their husbands. They become nice when they drink. But this is not normally how alcohol addiction works. There are several reasons for this, but too long and deep to get into in this marriage column.

We know what it’s like to live with an alcoholic first hand. There is a lot of frustration, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, unknown, and sometimes a depressive state that comes with living with and loving an alcoholic. These negative emotions you feel are literally keeping YOU trapped inside the addiction with the alcoholic. The best piece of advice we can give anyone who is dealing with an alcoholic is to detach emotionally from the alcoholic. This is why we wrote How to Detach from an Alcoholic Spouse. What does it mean to detach from the alcoholic?

What Detachment From the Alcoholic Means

Detaching does not mean to stop loving the alcoholic, on the contrary it means to emotionally not let their behavior consume you so you can continue “to love” the alcoholic. When we allow alcoholic behaviors to control the way we behave by threatening the alcoholic, or screaming and yelling at, accusing them, or babying them, or doling out ultimatums or whatever it is that we do, it means we are obsessed with the alcoholic and the addiction. We aren’t detached from the addiction but are very much a part of it.

Why are you doing these things? How can you stop being consumed by your spouse’s addiction? Understand this: You have no power or control over the addictions of another person. No matter what you do or say to the alcoholic they are going to keep going back to the alcohol because it is how they live. That’s addiction for you. It’s compulsive, even they don’t understand it.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and courage to change the things I can and God’s wisdom to know the difference!

When a loved one consumes their lives over the alcoholic it means they are addicted too. It means they are trapped in the addiction with the alcoholic. Loved ones, especially wives of alcoholics and parents who have alcoholic children will become emotionally sick with the alcoholic because of their attachment to the addiction. The problem is this indirect enabling deters the alcoholic from ever getting sober. It is because this indirect enabling makes you responsible for the alcoholic. And if you continue to take responsibility for the alcoholic they will never get sober. (video)

These things are only going to keep the alcoholic drinking. Handing out threats and ultimatums to the alcoholic is attaching ourselves to the addiction as if it is our problem. But you know what, it is not your problem or responsibility unless you make it your problem and responsibility. (video)

Yes, you love your spouse but that doesn’t mean you have to love what they do and or say when they drink? Let it go…Yes, you want to be supportive when the alcoholic is NOT drinking because that is when they are being agreeable and nice, so give them special extra attention during these times when the alcoholic is NOT drinking.

Many wives and husbands make themselves victims of abuse by not emotionally detaching. But, did you know that when you detach from the alcoholic that is when they stop being bullies? At first they are fearful, frustrated, and angered at your detachment, they want to know why you are not paying so much negative attention to them anymore and then when they see you are really taking care of your spiritual and emotional wellbieng, they stop abusing you when they drink. It’s like disciplining a wayward child—it takes tough love but consistent love. Pretty soon the child stops acting out. Alcoholism is acting out, as are most addictions.

Love the Alcoholic, But Hate the Addiction

Love the person but hate the addiction (video)

Love the alcoholic but hate the disease

Love the sinner but hate the sin

Love your wife/husband but do not love the behaviors that stem from alcoholism

Love the drinker but hate the drink

Let me tell you a story about detaching. (Video). When my husband, Frank could not take my abusive behavior any longer, he would simply go for a walk. He would put earplugs in his ears, he would leave the house for the evening, he would take the kids to a movie, out for ice-cream, whatever he needed to do to emotionally detach from the abuse. He learned to not let my alcoholic tirades affect him. He did not stop loving me, he stopped loving the addiction. Do you see the difference?

You asked, “What about love”? We make ourselves stop loving our alcoholic spouses because we allow ourselves to. We make ourselves divorce our alcoholic spouses because we know we can. If we knew in our heart that God hates divorce and that remarriage is a sin, we would FIND ways to continue loving our spouse—its called commitment, even through the bad times.

Let me tell you something that still to this day, warms my heart. No matter how abusive I got when drinking, always the next day, without fail when I was sober, Frank would always tell me “I love you, Angie, but I don’t love the disease”.

Do you know what that did? Well, coupled with his detachment from my abusive behavior it showed me that I was worth loving. Alcoholics do not have very good self-esteems. By telling me that he still loved me it allowed me to separate my person, my spirit, my soul, whatever you want to call it from the wretchedness of addiction. Alcoholic is not how God created us, we create alcoholism within ourselves!

Frank’s detachment and love is, I believe, what helped me to get sober. Because he detached with love (tough love) he indirectly helped me to quit drinking. This is what all loved ones need to do! Never stop loving the person, but let them know you hate what the alcohol does to them when they drink.

Drinking is only a symptom of alcoholism. Alcoholics need to find their wound(s) and get the healing they need through God. We NEED God because He is our Healer! Stop obsessing over and rescuing the alcoholic from the problems they make BECAUSE of their drinking. Give the addiction back to the alcoholic so they can truly get the help they need emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.
Proverbs 3, 5-6