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How to Practice Tough Love

Tough Love is Still Love

I loved the alcoholic, but I had to learn to love myself more.” 

– Grace W. Wroldson, author of  So You Love an… Alcoholic?

I loved him. I loved the alcoholic. I loved him as much as I possibly could. However, my love couldn’t cure the active disease of alcoholism that was destroying him. I thought my love was helping him…for a time. After a while, my love stopped helping and started hurting us both.

Looking at Myself

I was codependent, and so, my version of love consisted of rescuing, enabling, hand-holding, fixing, and pitying the alcoholic. My version of love was no longer about loving another free soul and being loved in return — it was about chaining his soul to mine so he would never leave me. I had abandonment issues and an intense fear of failure which was coupled with an incredible fear of humiliation. I trapped myself in an endless cycle of fear and I justified it by saying, “But I love him so much!”

Love

Twenty years ago, my original love for him stemmed from two things:

  1. Respect

When I met him, I respected him. He had good qualities. However, if one definition of love is based on respect then over time I had lost love (and respect) for the alcoholic. I also lost love (and respect) for myself because I refused to let go of him even when his bad behavior was unacceptable.

I hung onto the alcoholic in the most unloving ways. My codependency and addiction to loving him became the ways I “loved” the alcoholic from a place of fear and pain. I knew that my love was destroying me and hurting him, but my fears wouldn’t let me let go. My behavior was not respectable. My behavior was not loving towards myself.

  1. Pity

I felt sorry for him. Back when I met him in high school, he seemed so misunderstood. He seemed to be a suffering soul and I wanted to be the ONE person who could understand him. To complete him. Did I ever once think to try to understand myself first? No. I was so fixated on others (part of my codependency). Did I feel incomplete? Was I feeling sorry for myself in some way?

Wait… was I a suffering soul too? What about me in all of this talk about love?

Tough Love for the Alcoholic

After failed attempts at practicing tough love with the alcoholic – trying to get him sober- (like others had suggested to me), I had to stop. Trying to practice tough love with him wasn’t working and wearing me down. It didn’t get him to quit drinking. It didn’t get him into AA and sober. It tired me out.

Tough Love with Myself

So, instead, I had to practice tough love with myself. This was difficult because I wanted to love him forever. That’s what my heart wanted. However, it wasn’t healthy for either of us to try for “forever” with the disease of alcoholism progressing in our alcoholic-codependent relationship. I had to shift my focus away from the alcoholic and away from the relationship. I had to focus on myself. I needed healing.

How Did I Practice Tough Love?

  1. I had to break my own heart and break it off with the alcoholic. I did this to love and respect myself.
  2. I also had to break up with myself! I broke it off with the old, tired, codependent version of me. I refused to be that person anymore. Then I set some major boundaries with myself around relationships. I became financially independent. Boy, was that some tough love to take! It wasn’t easy.

Tough Love is Still Love

I needed to remember that tough love is still a form of love. I worked my recovery program and learned to be in a loving relationship with myself. Some of it was tough but self-love helped me “tough it out” and survive the heartbreak. I learned to be tough yet gentle with myself to get through it gracefully.

Can you imagine loving yourself with tough love, yet still being gentle with yourself in the process?

By practicing tough love, I learned to love myself in ways that worked. Today, my life is filled with love because I took a tough love approach! Tough love is still love.

If any of this resonates with you, read my 25 + powerful lessons from my book, So You Love an… Alcoholic? : Lessons for a Codependent

 

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