Life with a Dry Drunk

When I first came to Al Anon and for awhile afterward, the term “dry drunk” confused me. I’m now somewhat wryly familiar with the signs of impending dry drunk behavior and this last episode, I almost detached enough to go about my way and not start a fight. Almost.

The dry drunk, or more specifically, my dry drunk, is a slightly watered down version of the active alcoholic without his alcohol present: basically, the asshole. The difference is that the asshole has some background now with AA and the big blue book, and seems to not escalate as furiously as the truly active alcoholic did.

In Al Anon, we learn to practice detachment with love, which is a feat only accomplished with a good amount of serenity, and therefore mother f*****g difficult. But I dare say I’m getting better at it…slowly.

When my husband is a dry drunk, he stews with anger and resentment. I call it anger just beneath his skin–it is just waiting for any instance, any small excuse to bust through. When he vents about things not having to do with me, I’ve started simply listening and not offering any advice, nor reassurance. I’m just there for support, but I keep myself from becoming part of the story. I’m getting that part, and it helps both of us.

It’s when the disagreement is between us that it is really difficult to detach because it is still so personal to me. I have noticed that our fights are nothing like they used to be when he was actively drinking: those fights were hurtful yelling matches, void of any attempts to understand each other. Our fights now still stem from poor communication, but they rarely ratchet to yelling status. More often, we try to talk through frustration, but it is still exhausting, and level-headed talk comes only after he can emerge from the dry drunk behavior.

When my husband exhibits dry drunk behavior, I honestly wish I could pack up and go on vacation until he’s figured it out, because he is just a pure asshole, not unlike a child who cannot get his way. I have to remind myself that he is trying to deal with life without the main coping tool he’s used for years. Tradition 5 of Al-Anon encourages us to understand the alcoholic. Compassion. It’s really difficult to keep feeling compassion for someone who is often angry and uncomfortable and anxious. I am so tired of living with the negativity while trying to be positive myself. I remind myself, he’s trying. He’s trying. Recovery is all uphill. And the skill of detachment? Still working on it, always one day at a time.

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