Help! I'm the booze police!

I don't want to be watching every drink my husband takes ... but he's got a problem

Published December 2, 2010 1:20AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

My wonderful, funny, talented husband drinks too much and I have turned into the booze police and I hate that role.

He says he doesn't want to drink but he has to. It feels physically painful for him to stop. He says he feels out of balance and "too hydrated" when he hasn't had any beer.

He will not, absolutely not, go to AA. He said he didn't understand how a bunch of people sitting around talking about what they didn't do was going to help him stay sober. He said the few meetings he went to (more than 20 years ago) were boring and pointless.

How do people stay married to alcoholics? Can I have a drink once a week without hurting his progress? Should I quit? It seems unfair to me that I can't have one glass of wine because I need to be sober for him to stay sober. And I really am talking about one glass of wine pretty infrequently.

I haven't had a drink in about six or seven months because I want to make sure he knows I'm there for him (even though he's drinking right now), but I am starting to resent it a little. The question I think I need answered is: Do you think someone can quit drinking -- for real -- without AA or therapy?

I can't imagine it, because it seems we need to get to the root of our problems.

My husband says that when he's drunk he doesn't feel afraid or incompetent anymore, although when he's drunk he is incompetent -- fearless, but incompetent.

Have you heard of anyone having success quitting alcohol by simply stopping and saying I'm not going to do that anymore?

This will be about the eighth time in 12 years that he has done it. I wonder how possible it is this time that it will work. He says he wants to do it so that I don't leave. I am frustrated and know that our lives would be so much richer if he were able to participate more. He's not usually available at night because he's drunk or on his days off he's sleeping off the effects of the alcohol.

He no longer drinks when I am around, but of course I can tell if he has been drinking. Whenever I work late, whenever I go to the gym, any time he thinks there is going to be some extended period of time that I won't be at home, I will return to a sloppy, cheerful drunk. He will stop drinking for weeks if I ask him to, and once he quit for six months after a particularly low point.

I feel like I should leave him so that our son will respect me. He is 18 and of course he knows what's going on.

I don't want to leave him because, honestly, he is my best friend and I love him so much. The thought of living without him makes me immeasurably sad. We have great fun together. We have a lot in common. He is smart, well-read, sensitive and a talented musician and woodworker. He has no problem functioning at work; home seems to be the only thing that suffers when he drinks.

I feel like I would lose so much in leaving. I love his family and their kids. The only reason to leave would really be because the drinking disgusts me. The smell, the snoring after passing out, the fact that we could be doing stuff together, and the fact that I feel like I can't have a drink because I need to be supportive, when he has his bouts of sobriety.

I also sort of enjoy when he is drinking because it means I can have a beer once in a while without feeling weird about it.

This is too long-winded, I know, I just wonder what your thoughts are.

I hate this cycle we are in together, a great sober time for a few days or weeks or even a couple of months, and then one day I work late or we go to a wedding and are offered champagne, which he thinks doesn't count because you can't be rude and not toast a wedding, and the drinking will start and I won't say anything because, like I said in the first part of this, I hate being the booze police, I want him to stop for him, not for me and not because he is afraid of what I will say or do.

We have so much to do and so much we could do in life, so much to learn, and so many people who need real help. I need my husband back so we can get back to our community.

OK, now I'm too sad. Closing with tears in my eyes, I hope you will have a little advice for me. Thanks for listening.

Mrs. M

Dear Mrs. M,

What I would like to get across to you today is one simple fact: You are married to a drinking alcoholic.

A drinking alcoholic is a walking emergency. Drinking alcoholics cause death on the highways. They have accidents with machinery. They disrupt the lives of those they live with. A drinking alcoholic is a walking emergency.

In emergencies we take action. We summon help.

When you finished this letter you had tears in your eyes. The full weight of it became real to you. That is a good sign. You know how serious it is. It's tempting to minimize it but that's like minimizing cancer. Alcoholism is a deadly disease and if left untreated it will kill him.

I'm not trying to be alarmist. I'm trying to just state the facts. I sense that you know these facts, too, and that is why you were crying.

So take action. The usual advice in such a situation is to contact Al-Anon, which I do advise you to do.  But I have another suggestion as well.

You know, you might just visit an AA meeting on your own to see what it is like. You've heard what your husband said. But see for yourself. Go and talk with people who are in recovery. See what goes on at AA meetings. If you see some alcoholics who have recovered, it may give you a feeling of hope. You may see men who resemble your husband, happy, laughing men of your husband's age and character who have been through just what he is going through.

So get in touch with AA,  and/or get in touch with Al-Anon.

This doesn't have to end in tragedy. It doesn't have to be some dark, suffocating secret. There is nothing to be ashamed of here. Alcoholism is a disease. It's not a character flaw or a moral failing.

"He says he doesn't want to drink but he has to. It feels physically painful for him to stop." That is textbook alcoholism.

You ask me if I have ever heard of people stopping on their own. Yes, I have heard of such things.

I have also heard of people winning the lottery.

Let's be clear. Alcoholism is a deadly disease. But it doesn't have to kill your husband and it doesn't have to ruin your life. There are many methods to combat it. The bottom line is that this is an emergency and you need to act.

Help is available. Find it.

That Special Time of Year

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By Cary Tennis

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