Drinking Is Not the Problem: It’s the Emotional Exit that Wrecks Relationships

Drinking Is Not the Problem: It’s the Emotional Exit that Wrecks Relationships

[I’m not writing this about anyone specifically.]

I’ve had many relationships where alcohol became the 3rd lover in a sick menage a trois. Where the bottle began to compete for my attention. And it’s not that alcohol is my trigger, it’s that alcohol abuse is a warning sign that spells more trouble than you can imagine. If you drink, do so with respect and moderation. If you drink a lot, make a note of how this behavior might be affecting the loved ones around you. If you are in a primary relationship with a non-drinker and you drink to excess, know that there is a major disconnect between you at that moment that you are feeling so buzzed. A drunk person cannot relate to a sober person. And a sober person can often feel like a threat to the drinker and the drinker’s friends.

My dad was a heavy drinker, as was my dad’s mom. My dad’s dad was a teetotaler. As my dad began to drink more in his adult life, he began spending more time with his mom, drinking, and less time with his young family. It was a problem. It became the problem that cost my dad everything. It cost me my dad. And ultimately, it was the drinking that killed my father. I’m not a fan.

But I’m not against alcohol consumption. I have several bottles of wine in a rack in my house and several more bottles of beer in my fridge. I can’t tell you anything about the beer in the fridge, as it was left behind by my “game night” friends last month. Eventually, I will get around to drinking the beer. And someday, the six bottles of wine will also be consumed. I’m not sure when. I don’t really drink much.

I have been in relationships where drinking was more a part of our fabric. I was more of a drinker in college, and I recall many a buzzed afternoon on my roof deck enjoying some summer rum punch. Today, that sounds awful, but it’s not because I don’t like a buzz every now and then. It’s because I really have a lot I want to accomplish in the next 50-or-so years of my life, and alcohol slows me down, numbs me up, and makes me lazy. I could envision a tasty rum punch on my back porch with my girlfriend, but it’s not going to happen until the temperatures get lower than the surface of Mars.

So, I’ve written a lot about The Third Glass. And this post is meant to be an adjunct to that theme. But here, I’d like to focus on what the non-drinker goes through in response to someone, a loved one, starting to check out of reality by consuming alcohol. (Yes, for this entire series you can substitute any addiction for alcohol, meth, tobacco, pot, running, skydiving.) It is my experience that I’m most interested in. At one point, I thought I could be in a relationship with a drinker by maintaining my own boundaries and my own program of recovery. But, I was wrong about several aspects of the equation.

  • A drunk person is not having a relationship with anyone (they are escaping a relationship, even with themselves)
  • A sober person, as much as they love the drunk person, cannot make sense of why their loved one would choose alcohol over a highly-aware evening with them
  • A lopsided relationship with alcohol will cause problems, no matter how evolved or committed either partner is
  • Only the drinking partner knows what’s going on in their lives
  • Only the drinking partner can make a change in their lifestyle, just as only they can decide to have or not have that next glass of wine

I was going to Al-Anon as part of my healthy living strategy. Al-Anon’s do not have a substance addiction problem, we have an emotional addiction problem. As a drinker is addicted to drinking. An Al-anon is addicted to feeling the feelings. And sometimes, those feelings are unhealthy, unproductive, and can be, outright destructive. But we’re somehow led to believe that “feeling the feelings” is the height of mental health. That idea is old. That idea is wrong. And I’m going to show you that your feelings are not always real, and they are not always worth paying attention to.

[end of part 1: the story continues here: How It Feels To Be Nothing On: The Sober Person’s Perspective]

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

The rest of the “Third Glass” series:

more from The Whole Parent

image: nice martini, creative commons usage

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