Separating the Addiction from the Person

I recently read a vivid description of what alcoholism feels like in another WordPress blog, Living Life Flat: “It’s the thing I turn into as the Sun descends toward the western horizon. It’s the monster with fangs and claws eager to be soaked in alcohol, along with my brain and liver.” I think these lines capture the raw nature of a disease that the author sees as both separate *and* inextricable from himself.

When my husband was actively drinking, he was no one I wanted to be around. Eventually, he did not even need a drink in his hand to be moodily preoccupied with what, he could never put into words. He was angry, impatient, irritable, brooding, short tempered, entirely defensive and almost always combative, especially when the topic was his drinking. Conversations that started off benign would turn into cruel arguments in a matter of minutes, sometimes less. The disease worsened over the years, flying under the radar as it gradually destroyed family time, happy moments, and trust.

A few days ago on the Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page, this post caught my attention. The featured person is an adult child of an alcoholic who was able to forgive her mother by being “able to separate the addiction from the person.” I think this is such an important part of letting go of the past and being able to make healthy progress. Even after my first meetings of Al-Anon, I was seething at what I felt my husband had put us through. The anger was almost delicious: a self-righteous poison. I could finally point a finger and fume, “YOU did this. It is YOUR fault our marriage is shitty.” Even in remembering these things, I can feel that anger just below my skin, but I also know now it is unreasonable and unhealthy, and I choose to leave it dormant. If I really want to move forward emotionally, and work on the 12 steps, I can’t have my fists up and in the way.

Another thing this woman said about her alcoholic mother resonated with me: “Even with how bad it got, and with everything she put us through, there was never a moment that I doubted she loved us.” This is how I felt through the murky years. I didn’t doubt my husband loved me and our family, but why he was increasingly resolute on being such an asshole I couldn’t understand. Now, when I look back at our fights, those times when I told him, “I don’t know who you are!” I was speaking to the disease. That unrecognizable part of him was the disease as it strengthened and spoke for him. It made excuses, accused, lied. It was not the husband who I knew still loved me, and I am able now to view it as separate from him, though inextricable.

I loathe the disease and what it turns people in to–not just what it does to alcoholics, but how it also destroys loved ones as well. It is relentless unless the alcoholic is still able to recognize and pursue the dire need to be sober. Had my husband kept drinking, I’d likely be paying a divorce attorney about now, changing the locks on the house, having grueling discussions with the kids. I could not take much more: our lives had become so unhealthy and filled with anger. It’s no way to live, not when there can be happiness and peace instead. Trying to beat the disease back in an active alcoholic is like taking on a huge wildfire with a garden hose.

My husband has this disease and will always have it, even when he maintains sobriety. It lays just beneath his skin the way my anger sits just below mine. We are, on any given day, vulnerable to succumbing to our weaknesses. Today, we choose to love and lay low. He went to a meeting. I’m blogging. It’s not exciting: it’s our life as we choose to live it, and it’s a LOT more peaceful than what it used to be. I’ll take it. One day at a time.

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