Admit the truth!
It’s Okay to Love an Alcoholic
10,000 hours, right? I had, what theorists say, the 10,000-hour rule on the subject of loving an alcoholic. The principle says that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become an expert in any field (that’s about 90 minutes per day for 20 years!). If greatness requires enormous time, I certainly ought to have been great at loving an alcoholic.
In 1999, after being in a relationship for three years, I finally felt brave enough to attend an Al-Anon meeting for friends and family of alcoholics. I attended at the suggestion of a therapist who was listening to my woes and recounts of my boyfriend’s drinking habits, and my concerns with it. I read a lot of the conference approved literature, probably all of it, looking for answers for him.
I went to meetings for ten years only getting a little bit of relief for my anxiety and still confused as to why I was there. At one Al-Anon meeting, on about the tenth year of attending, a pamphlet with the question “So you love an alcoholic?” printed on it, stopped me in my tracks. I took a deep breath and swallowed hard. I was loving an active alcoholic. (Yes, it took that long for me to see what was right in front of me.)
Silently, I struggled with this fact for a full ten years in the program, before I could ever speak up. I found this truth lodged in my heart. I sat in meetings with other women in a similar situation, yet I said nothing about my predicament. For ten years I just listened. I kept my own secrets, even secrets from myself. The word alcoholic was taboo to me. The word alcoholic had a stigma that I didn’t want to associate myself with. My silence said that I believed it was not okay to love an alcoholic. I was silent because of my shame. The shame held me back from getting help. I had to admit what I was doing with my life if I could ever confront the issues. I discovered that I could only heal when I told the truth. Lying to myself didn’t heal me. I was warned about lying as a kid but it was only explained to me that lying to others is what mattered. I didn’t know I could lie to myself.
As an adult, when I was seriously sick one year, a wise medically-intuitive woman warned me that liars don’t heal. Ultimately, telling my truth set me free. It set me free to begin my healing process. I discovered that telling the truth to oneself is the start of the healing process. Admitting the truth set me free – to love who I loved and heal what needed healing.
My Lesson #1: Admitting the truth set me free
On one hand, loving an alcoholic, felt like I was a child that was doing something wrong. For the first time in my life, love itself felt not okay. Wasn’t the main theme of a fulfilling life supposed to be love? A part of me, the stuffed-in and shoved-down inner-self, was telling me that it was not okay to love this man. I had conflict. I felt like a tormented soul. I was scared loving an alcoholic. I was scared to tell the truth. I didn’t want to admit this to anyone, myself included. How was I ever going to be able to stop loving him?
After my many unsuccessful, yearly attempts to push this fact away, I came to realize acceptance was the answer to my pain. I had to accept that I loved an alcoholic. I had to tell myself it was okay – it happened. It was okay to love an alcoholic (it felt true and I did). I began telling myself it was okay to love an alcoholic because I needed to hear some reassurance from my own heart and soul before I could move past this shock. I had to know that it was okay to love who I loved because I had been loving him for a long time.
When I admitted who I loved and that he was an alcoholic, shame welled up from within me each and every time because I was embarrassed by my choice of partner. My perfectionistic pride took a beating by being in the relationship. I know others saw the disrespect. Feeling like this love was a complete mistake triggered my fear of failure. What became irritating to my soul was watching myself continue to keep loving him over and over, and then loving myself less and less. I would stay in the relationship only to suffer more loss to alcoholism, hoping for gains. My soul recognized this and was silently suffering because I loved who I loved and didn’t know how to change that. I felt humiliated by my life and my love.
I loved an alcoholic. After declaring this truth to myself, accepting this, understanding how it all happened, and choosing recovery, I came to believe that it was okay to love an alcoholic. After accepting myself and my choice of love partner, I ended my inner torment and stopped berating myself every time I confessed he was an active alcoholic. I needed to reassure myself that loving an alcoholic didn’t make me bad, wrong, or stupid. However, loving him did have me feeling broken-hearted. This also pointed out that I had some problems with love. I began to not just study alcoholism, but also codependency.