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help - wife's drinking

(69 Posts)
reachingmylimit Mon 29-Aug-11 21:50:32

I have been reading others' stories for about six months and have posted a few times. But I have name changed for this.

I am feeling a bit desperate for some ideas about what to do - or reassurance that I should keep doing what I am doing - about my wife's drinking.

She has been drinking at least a bottle of wine most nights for about 10 years. At the moment it is as high as it has ever been - she stops just short of two bottles and manages one night off most but not all weeks.

It doesn't stop her leading a pretty normal life. We can afford it. She works part time; her hours are increasing soon which I think will be hard.

We row a lot - but very rarely about the drinking: I try very hard to bite my tongue and usually succeed. Of course it feels to me that the angry moods are the booze speaking but that's not to say I don't get things wrong at times and deserve it.

For 2-3 years I have been really working at being a supportive partner; not behaving in any way that could feel like criticism or punishment for her drinking. She wants to drink less and has tried a few things - AA which she didn't like and didn't stay with for long; a counsellor who she found very good and got down to drinking 4 days / week. I don't know why that stopped.

It hasn't worked - yet.

I feel it is doing damage to her health - many times she cannot remember conversations / things that happened the next morning and she forgets words for things more and more - so I am scared of Alzheimers. She has some family history of breast cancer and the statistics I have read say she is increasing her risk from about 12/1000 to 18/1000. Is that a big deal? I don't know.

It does not do much for her relationships with friends / family. Our son (young teen) keeps a distance and I cannot help but think this is why - although I know it is pretty normal for teenagers. But he won't bring friends home of an evening.

So help please - maybe I am just making a problem where there isn't one? It's not like she drinks during the day etc etc etc. Maybe it is my fault she drinks as I am such an awful husband.

And if it is a real problem - maybe I am doing the right thing and should just hang on in there?

What is the alternative? Be nasty to her for drinking? Make threats? Ask her friends to talk to her (I have never spoken to anyone about this ever - feels too disloyal)?

Am I being a wimp for not bringing up the subject because I am scared of her anger? Or am I doing the right thing?

answers on a postcard please...

OberonTheHopeful Mon 29-Aug-11 21:58:00

I've been through very similar and I'm sorry for what you're going through sad. Unfortunately you cannot make her stop drinking. You really do have to let go and let her sort out it out for herself.

She won't stop until she sees a need to, and I'm afraid to say she'll have to reach her own low point to realise this. Do remember that you didn't cause her drinking and you are not responsible for it. It is her responsibility.

I know it isn't for everyone, but you may wish to consider going to al-anon meetings for yourself. There may also be a local project that provides support for people with an alcoholic in the family (your GP will know of them). The support workers there will be able to provide both practical and emotional support.

greengirl87 Mon 29-Aug-11 22:07:35

this sounds like my mum! which in turn lead to me having issues with alcohol! she wont stop unless she wants to, and probably isnt aware of the impact she is having on other peoples lives. If you do bring it up, make sure its not when she is drinking/hungover and try not to make it sound like your attacking her (this could just make her want a drink even more). Try using the health angle and say that you are worried about how it is affecting her health.
I wish you luck, i know how much this can affect a family

BecauseImWorthIt Mon 29-Aug-11 22:08:49

I'm sorry that this is happening to you. But don't be fooled - her drinking is a real problem. A bottle of average wine is about 10 units, so if she's drinking a bottle a night that's 70 units per week. And you say she's drinking almost double that ...

But - and please don't take this as a criticism - I think you are enabling her with this drinking.

"I try very hard to bite my tongue"
"For 2-3 years I have been really working at being a supportive partner; not behaving in any way that could feel like criticism or punishment for her drinking"
"Am I being a wimp for not bringing up the subject because I am scared of her anger?"

You are not talking to her about how you feel about her drinking, or sharing with her your concerns. The fact that she has gone to AA/had counselling would suggest that she is aware that she has a problem - but if you're not talking to her about it, effectively she is being allowed to continue.

You need to talk. Talk. And talk some more. As has been said, she has to stop when she realises it's time to do so, and you can't make her stop. But you can make her realise how you feel about it, and ask her to do something.

I'm especially concerned about the effect that this could be having on your son.

Maybe it's time for some tough love. That's not being nasty to her, but just making it plain to her that this amount of drinking is, in your eyes, unacceptable. Why not talk with her about strategies to help her give up, for example?

reachingmylimit Tue 30-Aug-11 09:51:46

Thanks for the responses. Things are bad today - I am in the doghouse for upsetting her at the weekend - not saying I did nothing wrong but the consequences seem extreme. Nothing to do with drink but I can't help feeling her mood swings and extreme lows are very much to do with the drinking.

I can't go to al-anon meetings. One of our issues is that I work quite a bit and so don't have enough time for her. But also I am very private and cannot help feeling even being on here is somehow disloyal.

It is hard not to blame myself (a) for her starting (after she met me) and (b) for not being able to stop her. I do feel she would be strong enough to not let me do it: she would threaten to throw me out.

greengirl: I am worried about my son - and how this will affect his attitude to drink and indeed drugs. I suppose I hope that he will look as his mum and choose not to follow suit but I fear this is simplistic. I feel really bad that by not talking to him I am effectively lying to him - pretending the elephant is not in the room - and what sort of an example is that? But how can I talk to him? What can I say? And if his mum knows I have spoken to him she will feel I am trying to put him against her.

I think I do have to keep trying to talk to her. But it is so hard to find a moment - not when she is drinking rules out evenings; not hung over rules out mornings; I can't do it when we are at odds about something as it will immediately be taken as me blaming her ... so I have to spoil those times we have together when all is well?

naturalbaby Tue 30-Aug-11 10:02:49

sorry i can't help with the drinking but i put my dh in the doghouse far too much for very minor issues, and sometimes nothing at all. i knew i was wrong and hurting him but he is also very private and often didn't say or do anything to show me what he was really feeling and thinking. he often didn't say or do anything as a response which made it easier for me to carry on treating him like dirt. there were a couple of points where i pushed him too far and that made me realise i was being totally out of order and needed to do something about it. he stormed off one night, not for long but was very close to leaving and said he wasn't going to come back if i was going to carry on treating him the way i had. another time i snapped back, he never gets cross so this was enough of a wake up call for me.

i agree she won't change unless she chooses to herself but if she has no idea how her behaviour is affecting you then it's almost allowing her to carry on. she's obviously totally unaware of the consequences of her actions and long term damage to her health is obviously not enough of a worry for her so she needs to see and hear immediate consequences.

BecauseImWorthIt Tue 30-Aug-11 10:19:57

How on earth is being here, asking for help using an anonymous posting name being disloyal?! You clearly want to help her, but you are already putting barriers in the way and, I'm sorry to say, you do sound like a bit of a doormat over this.

Apologies - it's not really intended as a criticism - but you have to do/say something, regardless of how she reacts. The critical thing is that you remain calm, rational and as objective as you can be about this.

Maybe it's time to do something as drastic as ask her to leave - albeit temporarily - until she has sorted things out a bit? Although, frankly, I think you need to have a long conversation/series of conversations with her before you reach this step.

Oh, and you will be in the doghouse this morning because she will be feeling shit. She will be hungover, so physically/physiologically feeling shit, and emotionally/psychologically she probably feels guilty/shit as well - one thing drinkers often talk about is the self-loathing. And this is being deflected on to you.

I would, seriously, look at ways that you can reduce the amount of time you're giving to work. Not only because your wife probably needs a bit more of you, but also because your son is very, very likely to need you around more. Why is it difficult for you?

BCBG Tue 30-Aug-11 10:36:04

Hi, my dear sis was an alcoholic for many years. She is now in recovery, having been diagnosed with depression and given Prozac to deal with the anxiety and panic. I know first hand how little help there is out there for alcoholics who struggle on because cutting down doesn't work and stopping is too awful to contemplate. Everyone who has been in the same position as you will tell you a) you are the start of a long road and b) she will need to recognise she is at the bottom before she will accept help willingly. We were warned that one has no idea just how low that bottom point can be, and to be honest, as a 'nice, middle class family' we were horrified by how low my sis went.
Your priority is to your son, and, I am afraid, to yourself. Your wife is somewhere else in her head. I would urge you to do several things. Talk to your son outside the home somewhere. He will have views, opinions, fears and anxieties at living in this atmosphere and he needs to feel you are there for him. Secondly, you say she will throw you out? Contemplate leaving. Why stay any longer? If the roles were reversed we would all be advising the wife to separate until the partner got help.
From the point where you are to where my sis was finally helped was another four years. By that time your son will be fully grown. Don't waste any more time trying to maintain a fiction. Encourage your wife to go back to her GP. Don't keep it a secret from other family members. Above all, DEAL WITH IT now you have started. You cannot help her by being supportive of her and her drinking. Alcoholics (even ones who are drinking to cover mental health symptoms) are entirely and totally focused on themselves, and the guilt they feel when they look around makes them self-focus even more. That means that you need to focus on yourself and your son. Good luck.

Snorbs Tue 30-Aug-11 10:47:00

Your story mirrors mine so closely that it's almost like deja vu.

In particular it seems very clear from what you write that you are feeling that if only you didn't say or do the "wrong" thing then she'd not get so angry with you.

I used to feel like that. I remember so many nights when she and I were sat on the stools in our kitchen, her with a big glass of wine in her hand and berating me and my numerous flaws while I sat there absorbing the vitriol and spite. I used to rack my brains to try to think of what I could say or do next time to try to head off the argument before it got that bad. Eventually I ran out of things to say - I couldn't think of anything new to try to placate her that I hadn't tried a hundred times before. And then she'd criticise me for being silent.

There was a light-bulb moment for me when I realised that, actually, it wasn't anything to do with me. She could go from drunk and reasonably happy to drunk and snarlingly aggressive in a split second for no reason other than the fact that she was pissed out of her mind. She could've been drunk and sat opposite a shop window mannequin and she'd still have picked an argument with it because the problem was with her, not me.

I'd put a lot of money on your wife's forgetfulness being due to alcohol-induced blackouts. You can be having a conversation with someone and you can tell they're drunk but they seem to be following what's going on but then you suddenly realise they have no memory whatsoever about what's happened over the last half an hour or so. Another alternative is that she's lying. People with significant drug/alcohol problems lie a lot to cover it up. They also create drama (eg, pick arguments) to divert attention away from a conversation about their drinking.

As to your question about what to do; the simple and sad fact is that you cannot stop her drinking. You're not an alcohol abuse specialist. You can't talk her into sobriety. You can, and should, protect yourself and your son from the abuse she metes out when she's drunk. You don't have to sit there and listen to the abuse.
An important question - what do you think she would do if during one of these drunken arguments you said "I am not going to have this conversation with you right now"?

The feeling of disloyalty about talking to someone else is very common. Alcohol problems thrive on secrecy. But it's not your secret to keep. It's very hard to talk to people about it at first but it will lighten your load. I found Al-Anon helpful as it showed me that I wasn't the only one trying to manage such a situation. But I found one-to-one counselling worked even better for me. There is also an excellent book called "Codependent No More" by Melody Beattie that I strongly recommend you read. You don't have to buy into the whole codependency thing to get a lot out of it.

By the way, you seem very sure she's not drinking during the day. Why do you think that?

jesuswhatnext Tue 30-Aug-11 11:58:23

its not your fault she drinks - she is an alcoholic.

the best thing my dh ever did for me was to say 'enough is enough' - if he hadnt i would be headed for an early grave!

dont make excuses for her, tell her what you think and how you feel, only she can stop herslef drinking though, AA and counsellers and support groups are all very well, but she has to find some backbone her self!

good luck!

greengirl87 Tue 30-Aug-11 17:36:54

i would def have a talk with your son and find out how it is affecting him and try to prevent him from following in her footsteps.

BCBG Tue 30-Aug-11 18:51:46

Snorbs, that is such a great post sad

Fairenuff Tue 30-Aug-11 23:07:10

I don't think you should keep doing what you've been doing. That's not going to change anything. You should talk to your wife (book a day off work if necessary) and tell her that you do not want to live like that anymore. I am assuming here of course that you don't.

Tell her that you think she drinks too much. You think she might agree that she drinks too much. You think she would like to cut down. You think she may need some help to cut down. If that's the case you will help her. There is a lot of help available for people who really want to quit.

Tell her that you think you should both keep talking about it. Tell her that you want to talk to your son about it. In fact tell her that you WILL talk to him because it will be affecting him too.

Ultimately if she is not ready, you will have to decide if you want to separate.

By the way, if she is on anti-depressants the alcohol will affect them.

You are not being disloyal using this thread. You have a right to seek support for yourself and your son too and I would suggest that if you find it helpful, keep coming back.

carantala Tue 30-Aug-11 23:40:45

RML - some people start drinking to excess because they cannot cope with things going on in their lives. Is your wife unhappy? What sort of husband are you? It seems that you are frequently absent from the family home and yet you are very willing to say that your wife is a drunk. How is your relationship otherwise?

joanne77 Tue 30-Aug-11 23:53:26

Your wife is clearly drinking too much and am sure that many of the things she does/ forgets/ doesn't do are due to drinking. Not sure what you can do apart from encourage her to stop.

However, although not wanting to discourage you from the above, I just want to warn you that you need to be clear in your own mind and for the sake of your own mental health that drink is usually just a way of escaping from unpleasant thoughts/ feelings. If she really decides to stop then you need to think through the consequences for yourself and your son.

carantala Wed 31-Aug-11 00:01:22

We don't know why his wife is drinking! Was there an awful trauma which made her start?

Snorbs Wed 31-Aug-11 01:10:22

Carantala did you read the bit about the amount this woman is drinking plus the past history with aa and alcohol abuse counselling? If so, why are you questioning the op's feeling that his wife has an alcohol problem? Unless the op is telling us a complete pack of lies it seems fairly clear that his wife has serious and long-term alcohol problems.

As for whether or not there is a deeper cause for her original heavy drinking, quite frankly right now that is irrelevant. Whatever deeper issues she may or may not have she does not have a hope in hell of identifying and dealing with them until she has a good deal of sobriety under her belt. Problem number one here is the huge amount of booze she is pouring down her neck. She can't deal with anything else until she deals with that. And if she chooses not to deal with that then there is nothing reachingmylimit can do to stop her drinking.

carantala Wed 31-Aug-11 02:46:24

I was simply wondering if there was anything specific which led to his wife's drinking; maybe she was unable to cope with a major problem in her life!

Unreasonablyfedup Wed 31-Aug-11 03:49:20

reachingmylimit - There is some excellent advice here, especially from Snorbs, so I am not going to repeat it. I just wanted to express my sympathy as I know it can be very, very hard to deal with alcoholics - especially when you are still emotionally very close to them. You are, in reality, living with two people - a sober wife and a drunk wife - and they can have very different personalities.

Please do try and get support for yourself, and as other have said, be aware of your enabling behaviour. It will be bloody hard to change your relationship with your wife (you cannot of course stop her drinking) but if you don't the situation will simply continue and possibly deteriorate.

reachingmylimit Wed 31-Aug-11 08:43:32

thanks again all. Nice to know I'm not alone.

just some brief responses.

- The drinking started when she gave up smoking.

- Although I work quite a lot of hours I am around a lot. I have my own business. I am never away overnight.

- The big stress in our relationship has always been my older son who is not hers and his mother. I am not perfect and nor is our relationship but we do alright. I like to think that without the drink we would do really well. But I am also fearful that she doesn't really love me and the drink is her way of surviving a relationship she doesn't want to be in. Even if true it would be better if she stopped and got out though. For us all.

- snorbs - many chords struck there. I daren't ask what happened next for you. I know when she has been drinking - hiding things isn't in her nature, one of her many strengths, and anyway it is pretty evident

- fairenuff - I tried telling her stuff years ago. I think it just made her feel worse and need a drink. I feel I need to talk to her more but I have to find a way of doing it which isn't critical.

I think of those houses of mirrors you get at fairs. She is still the same person but distorted. After the first few she can be very funny and affectionate. Further along comes the ugly ones. But the hard thing is that it is still her, not a different person, just an exaggerated version - so any criticism still feels to her as though it is her that I am criticising.

The dog house seems to have been lifted by the way but the air remains fragile.

Got to go...

naturalbaby Wed 31-Aug-11 09:46:54

talking to her without being critical - you talk about how it makes you feel. you don't accuse or blame her, or even refer to anything specific that she can twist saying you're blaming her for things, but tell her how it is affecting you.

something has to change - do you want to be living like this, feeling like this in 6months/12months/3yrs/10yrs....? obviously not.
decide for yourself (and your child) how long you want to give it and decide what you want to do - if things are still the same or worse in __months then you will _ .

Fairenuff Wed 31-Aug-11 10:41:34

She will be her own worst critic. Nothing you say will make her feel as bad as she already does in her own head.

it just made her feel worse and need a drink

of course she turned to drink. She is an alcoholic, it's her way of coping with every emotion. I expect she also has a drink to celebrate things, to help her relax, etc.

She will not stop unless she feels she has to. Life has to be as bad as it can get for her before she will change, not for you or your son. If she can carry on the way she is, refusing to talk about it, then she will.

But it is so hard to find a moment - not when she is drinking rules out evenings; not hung over rules out mornings

Hungover mornings are the time when she is most likely to be contrite. It's a good time to talk. Not to shout and argue, but to talk. Just tell her how you feel and what you want.

It is hard not to blame myself ... for not being able to stop her. I do feel she would be strong enough to not let me do it: she would threaten to throw me out.

Yes, she might. And is that so bad really? Are you going to continue to live with her like that for years and years?

Or it might be the wake up call for her.

ImeldaM Wed 31-Aug-11 10:53:09

Sorry for what you, and your wife, are going through. Could you try to persuade her to see her GP/ counsellor again? Her drinking is most likely masked depression/anxiety/stress, so needs outside help (IMO)

Maybe when talking about it, if you can, try to focus on the worries about her health, so she doesn't see it as so critical of 'her' IYKWIM.

In trying to think of advice, I've tried to look at what I would do if it were my sister/mother. Hope you can manage to get through to her.

Snorbs Wed 31-Aug-11 11:32:15

OK, so it sounds like she swapped her addiction to cigarettes for an addiction to alcohol.

The problem with finding a way to talk to her about her drinking that doesn't sound critical is that people with serious drug/alcohol problems are exquisitely sensitive to talking about those problems. Pretty much anything you say to them about alcohol will be taken as a criticism that will need to be denied/deflected/turned back onto the "accuser".

One approach that was recommended to me was to not talk about the booze at all. Treat the alcohol and the behaviour that occurs when she's drunk as two completely separate issues. Her alcohol consumption is her problem to deal with - she's the only one who can fix that with outside help if she so wishes. Leave her to it, let her clear up her drunken messes, don't get involved. The book I recommended can help you to tear your attention away from her alcohol consumption.

The aggression and angry moods, however, are something that are directly affecting you and your relationship with her. So talk about those behaviours without talking about the (blatantly obvious) link between the abusiveness and her blood-alcohol level. Talking in terms of "When you do/say x, I feel y" is about as non-confrontational as you can realistically get. Don't be diverted into a conversation about your flaws - if they get raised then tell her that you take that on board and you will happily discuss that with her later, but for now you want to talk about her behaviour towards you.

You seem to be saying that even though you no longer feel in the dog house for some real or imagined error, you are still walking on eggshells for fear of breaking the fragile truce. That's common behaviour in one particular kind of relationship.

You're not a wimp for not wanting to bring these subjects up for fear of her anger. I am sure that you've had more than enough aggression aimed at you for you have good reason to feel like that.

What it does, possibly, make you is a victim of an emotionally abusive relationship. Try reading through this. See how many of the behaviours your wife is exhibiting towards you are on that list. Do remember that abusive people are never abusive all the time. There is a cycle to it; abuse followed by reconcilliation followed by "walking on eggshells" for fear of breaking the spell followed by rising tensions followed by more abuse.

If I'm wrong then I'm wrong and I apologise for raising it as a possibility.

cornflowers Wed 31-Aug-11 11:37:17

What are the issues with your older son?

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