Dating an Alcoholic? Run Like Hell! ~ Trista Hendren

Via on Sep 12, 2012

I liken living with an alcoholic to living in a war-zone.

Like one who lives in deceit, I stone myself and call for help

Your wound grows and grows

It slits my throat from vein to vein.

I put sand in you wound,

I put in your wound a giant, and around myself I light the fire.

—Hoda Al-Namani, I remember I was a Point, I was a Circle

When I read this, I thought, this is me. This is my life. But, I’m not living in Beirut. What’s that about?

If you are an addict, I’m sorry. This story isn’t for you. There are hundreds of stories and resources for addicts. It often seems it’s the families of addicts who are forgotten and who largely suffer in silence.

There will always be another excuse, another mistake, another relapse, another addiction or anger about a parent’s addiction that they need their lifetime and yours to get over. With addicts there is just always something.

And if you’re reading this and you feel yourself getting angry perhaps you probably know that someone is finally telling the truth.

Of course, I have empathy for addicts too. So much in fact that I belittled myself by staying with one for seven years.

When my husband first relapsed after his mother died, my well-meaning Christian father told me to “just love him.” But that’s the problem with the addict; the more you love, the more they take of you and everything else, until there’s nothing left to give.

I remember the night I decided to stop walking on tip-toes.

I realized over the years I had become less of myself. I was worried about his anger, or that he would relapse, or be too stressed out or my actions would cause something bad to happen. Suddenly I realized how ridiculous this all was. It was his turn to learn to deal with the reality of our existence instead of us having to shrink because of the reality of his.

I remember before the first rehab, a very good friend looked me in the eyes and said, “Run.”

His mother had been an alcoholic and it had stunted his life. His comment affected our friendship for years. I didn’t want to run. I thought I could fix him. I thought my love would be enough.

Four years later, when I found out about my husband’s relapse, I thought about this friend and the courage it took him to say this and acknowledge my reality.

While most other people tried to be polite, or pray for me, their comments seemed to gently gloss over what was actually happening. When someone doesn’t fit into the perceived notion of what an addict is, it’s hard for people to know what to say.

“Run” was the best advice I received and it’s the advice I would give my daughter if she ever got involved with an addict.

Run. Run like hell.

The reason this advice hurt so much at the time was that it would have forced me to see my part in things. And when you are with an alcoholic, you are use to suffering in silence as the martyr, wondering why the alcoholic does what s/he does.

I wasted years of my life wondering why. I’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter.

Running would have taken courage. It would have said, “He cannot do this to me.” I am stronger than this. I can do better. Instead, I stayed, w—a—y too long.

The other part is that it would have forced me and others to acknowledge the truth.

Alcoholism remains hidden in the shadows. No one talks about it. We go to great lengths to avoid the subject altogether. Both the addict and the co-dependent will do anything to hide their sense of inadequacy. There is nobody that tries harder at being “normal” than an alcoholic and his/her family.

In running I would have to tell the truth. He drinks. All the time. It is not pleasant. He is verbally abusive. My life is out of control. And the hardest one, I need help.

When I finally left my husband, I was only able to do so after taking weeks to compose a list of facts. At my office, I began to put together a black and white list of the things in our relationship that I could not accept. This included that he did not go to my grandfather’s funeral, he did not come home all night long, and he brought cocaine into our home. After four and half pages of undeniable facts, I realized that there was no longer any question of whether or not I could stay with him. The list made that impossible, even laughable.

When you live with an addict, you are never quite certain about reality. Everything becomes blurred. By writing down the facts as they happened, he could not come back to me later with his own version of the truth.

In my case, there were months of lying about his sobriety when I just wasn’t sure whether he was drinking or not. Had I begun the list sooner, instead of listening to the words I so wanted to believe, I would have saved myself at least a year of heartbreak.

Photo: Mickaw2

Before I left my husband, a dear friend from school sent me a quote from Maya Angelou. It said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them—the first time!” We must remember to trust our instincts and not wait for the people in our lives to change.

The truth was I knew what I thought the first time I met my ex-husband, but I gave him chance after chance despite it.

While I have seen some wonderful transformations in Alcoholics Anonymous, the statistics are not promising and I would not place any bets for my future on another addict.

There are millions of kind, whole and addiction-free men in the world. This story has a happy ending.

I happen to now be married to one of them.



Editor: Thaddeus Haas

Like elephant love on Facebook

About Trista Hendren

Trista Hendren is the author of The Girl God. The second book in this series, Mother Earth, will be published in December. You can read more about her project with Elisabeth Slettnes at


120 Responses to “Dating an Alcoholic? Run Like Hell! ~ Trista Hendren”

  1. will keep this brief
    i agree with the sentiments and theme of article.
    i agree that A.A has a very poor success rate, is cult like, and creates a bizarre hierarchy of addicts who run on guilt, fear and shame.
    The only part that prompted me to write this was that you had little hope for any other addict.
    Quite a ridiculous , un educated, unaware thing to say.

  2. Melissa says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with every word of this post. Run. It’s the best advice anyone can give regarding dating an addict.

  3. Diane says:

    Remember “there but for the grace of God go I.” I’ll rely on God’s word rather than your opinions!

  4. alliswell27 says:

    I completely agree with this. I was married to a dope addict/alcoholic/prescription drug addict with mental health issues to boot. I was gradually disappearing, I felt like I was nothing and was constantly trying to understand how someone could so easily ruin their life and the life of their wife and children. It took a couple of years and a few ‘aha’ moments before I finally left. It hasn’t been easy, they are hard to live with and equally as hard to divorce from. His angers still scares me, he is unpredictable and filled with venom towards me.

    But I know that things WILL get easier.

    Thanks for writing this. It gives me hope as well as reassures me that my decision was right.

  5. SarahFaker1234 says:

    I'm sorry, but this article is written from a biased and closed mind. I am an alcoholic. And guess what? I am healthier than most people I interact with on a daily basis. The reason for this is because I work on myself and my integrity as a human being every single day, all day long. I can honestly say I am more aware, educated and capable of have and flourish in many different types of relationships regardless of my past.

    I am a certified yoga instructor. I have a degree in Political Science. I have a wonderful job, which appreciates my dedication and hard work. I have a brilliant and loving eight year old son.

    To blatantly condemn all alcoholics is the most ridiculous article I have every come across, really. And everybody that is agreeing with this, check yourselves. You are commenting on this 'Elephant Journal' page like you are holier than Thou.

    I suggest everyone take a look at their inner struggles and try to relate with others that may be suffering instead of running.

    WOW, really….WOW.

    • Kssssss says:

      I can only hope you never have to actually deal with being in a relationship with an addict. Sure they might be high functioning, they might even admit they are an addict, it doesn’t change the lack of awareness, it completely destroys genuine connections and it is generally abusive because the addict is ALL about them self. This article stated at the beginning it was not intended for the the alcoholic/addicted person it’s for those of us who deal with the fall out when we have someone we love who is addicted. Perhaps you no longer drink and perhaps you do work in yourself everyday and if that’s the case I’m sure everyone here thinks that’s fantastic. However I’m sure if the people who love/d you when you’re/were drinking were totally blunt with you they’d all have some experiences that would be very very hard for you to hear about yourself and your behaviour. My (now ex) partner is also high functioning and holds down her job, but in just the past 12 months I can see the deterioration in her brain function, her reasoning and I can see a huge increase in her anger and her lack of emotional control. So that’s great that you see yourself as healthier than most people, but it doesn’t change the damage an alcoholic/addict causes to everyone around them and themselves when they are using.

  6. Carlos Von Siviour says:

    I am an alcoholic. I have never been abusive or violent towards my girlfriends and I know not to bring a child into my life. I made sure that all of my girlfriends understood that I didn’t want children before we had a proper relationship. All they had to deal with was someone that thought everything was hilarious after 7pm, told them that he loved them a lot and occasionally did humerous childish things. We still shared the chores evenly and I earned more money. You can’t say that all alcoholics are a bad choice. Only 99.999999%.

  7. Vicki says:

    My dad, mother, two brothers and to ex husbands were all alcoholics, my ex husband is in the throws of passing on do to throat cancer from all the years of alcohol being poured down his throat, and he is only 58, I am currently leaving my alcoholic boyfriend, because when we got together he told me he only had a couple of beer on a Saturday night, after moving in with him I realized he drinks closed to 400 beers per month, Carlos and Sarah maybe you should read an article or too on high functioning alcoholics, you were actually uninvited to this post at the beginning, this post was not meant for Alcoholics, especially ones in denial.

  8. Robert says:

    Coming from Italy I met a girl, we dated 8 years and married 5 months. I never met alcoholic girls in Italy, I was totally new to this. I did not notice she was an alcoholic until I discover after 3 years that she could not spend more than 5 days without drinking 2-4 glasses of wine. I think brain cells die really fast after 10 years of drinking, my ex started to get less smart about many things, and depression took over. Is a sad decease as I could not understand how is it that a 36 year old person, is not sure what to do with her life. She made my life miserably, and was always looking for an activity that would full fill her life, she would eventually start traveling to a few countries and getting very lost in her own world of depression. I dont think an alcoholic person is capable of loving themselves enougth to quit, less love her husband or boyfriend. I think this article is right on. RUN AWAY!!

    • Mimi says:

      You are so right, I've watched my husband become less smart as his drinking has progressed over the last 14 years. I don't mean it as an insult, it makes me sad and angry to see. I think I just very recently understood that without knowing or loving himself there is no way he could truly love me. I think that's why it's so easy for him them to disregard our pain, they don't understand what really loving someone is.

  9. Angela Livestrong says:

    Coming from a recovering Alcoholic I find this really sad. We all have bad traits and unfortunately, some of us do some fair damage before we realize that we must change in order to not hurt those around us and hurt ourselves. because of this realization we are constantly working on how we can be better people to ourselves, as well as others. I find your “service of advice” sad and actually quite damaging. You are hurting the healthy ones in recovery and that is no different than someone who has hurt you in the past with their word in a drunken splendor. I relly hope you can heal from your unfortunate experience because the anger which you carry is more of a burden to you than anyone else.

    • Mimi says:

      Hi Angela,
      I'm happy that you are in recovery and working on yourself, it takes courage to fight for your well being and life. Not every alcoholic is though, and those are the ones to run from. I don't think the alcoholic , even in recovery, can ever fully understand the pain they cause, the emotional scars they leave. My brother in law has been sober for years, his wife stuck around through it all. Even though they're in a good place she sti has scars. It changed her in ways she can't come back from, took pieces of her hopes, trust, and heart that she can't get back. I think it does that to a lot of us that dealt with the alcoholic. To him those actions were in the past, someone he used to be, so he can't understand why she still can't get all the way past it. Being drunk leaves a lot forgotten, makes things hazy. The alcoholic might know they did or said something hurtful but the alcohol blurs it. Your comment about "hurt you with their word in a drunken splendor" almost proves it. To the alcoholic it was just the beer or booze talking or doing the hurtful action, but to the sober person on the receiving end its like being stabbed in the heart repeatedly by the person who's supposed to love and care for you the most. Saying run like hell to stop someone from going through the same hell we have isnt about punishing the alcoholic, it's trying to spare the sober person. Best of luck to you in your recovery.

  10. Mimi says:

    Been with my alcoholic 14 years total(10 years married ). I loved him with my whole heart and never imagined being where we are now. He always drank and aver the years it progressed. We both are confident in saying he has not spent one sober day in 10 years, not one. Over the lAst two years it's been every night during the week and 24/7 on the weekends, he hides out in the backroom alone. He is a good person and works hard, he's what they call high functioning I guess. But he is a terrible husband because he is an alcoholic. I started out supportive, empathetic, compassionate. After being ignored, disregarded, attacked by his belligerence for asking a question, controlled, embarrassed, humiliated, left in sadness and pain, and have had to contort our lives to his drinking , Ive become someone I don't recognize. I was angry, I argued back with him, I kept score, I got mean, it got UN-healthier.

    I stopped caring within the last year, I don't argue and actually mouth his nasty comments to myself when he goes off because I've heard them so much. We haven't slept in bed together for years, I was sad, I did cry. Now I sleep in the middle of the bed and can't imagine sharing it again. A few months ago after a particularly nasty encounter-the last nasty encounter I'll deal with- I started taking steps to end things, did my research , presented him with the realities of divorce , took us to a mediator for consult, had realities come out, looked at apartments , I was ready. Guess what?

    He started counseling, has been to few AAeetings and apparently is working on a detox plan with his therapis. Awesome. So now I feel confused, should I give this a chance? My gut is screaming "no", but I don't trust it. I google every piece of advice a d they all say basically " stay and support the alcoholic but distance yourself. Story after story of us hanging on for years, decades, in unhealthy roller coasters, supporting people who might never support us back. This is a life? This is love? Even if he is serious about getting sober, what does that mean?

    14 years of our lives consumed by drinking, how many now to be consumed by troy g not to drink? Couldn't go anywhere that didn't serve alcohol, now what, we can't go anywhere that does? Alcoholics are selfish, but to truly recover and get healthy also requires a lot of self focus. His ways of not drinking all day on the weekends are working for him, but they don't include me. When he comes home, he drinks. Weeknights he still drinks, waiting until he has a solid detox plan to stop. I tried alanon, read all the advice and it all seems crazy to me(just me, no judgments on what works for someone else!) Compromise is a huge part of marriage, but compromising sanity, dignity, joy, faith, trust, shouldn't be. This post was the best piece of advice I read, run like hell! I'm trying to, it's not easy and it breaks my heart but living like this is breAking my soul!

    • Mimi says:

      Just to clarify my initial post, I'm not saying that I wouldn't hav stuck by him in recovery. Five years ago it would even have been a question, I was all in. 2 years ago even! But now the thought of having alcohol front and center in my life, even recovery, exhausts me. I might feel different if I trusted he was serious, committed to getting sober, but I don't. He hasn't given me a reason to and I'm tired of scrounging for scraps of reasons to hang on.

  11. Mimi says:

    Been with my alcoholic 14 years total(10 years married ). I loved him with my whole heart and never imagined being where we are now. He always drank and aver the years it progressed. We both are confident in saying he has not spent one sober day in 10 years, not one. Over the lAst two years it's been every night during the week and 24/7 on the weekends, he hides out in the backroom alone. He is a good person and works hard, he's what they call high functioning I guess. But he is a terrible husband because he is an alcoholic. I started out supportive, empathetic, compassionate. After being ignored, disregarded, attacked by his belligerence for asking a question, controlled, embarrassed, humiliated, left in sadness and pain, and have had to contort our lives to his drinking , Ive become someone I don't recognize. I was angry, I argued back with him, I kept score, I got mean, it got UN-healthier.

  12. Maria says:

    Thank you for writing this. I needed to hear this. Thank you so much.

  13. Kkkkkkkkkay says:

    Revisiting this post 10 months after it provided me the courage to walk away from a long-term relationship with my alcoholic partner. It was the tough love and hard truth that I needed to hear and I cannot thank the author enough for giving me the extra push I needed to be happy again.
    Thank you so much and I hope that someday I will be in a position to share this same advice.

  14. I could have written this myself. Wow. I wrote down a list myself before the decision of leaving my alcoholic boyfriend because things do become blurred and there is always an excuse. It took all my strength to do it and run like hell. I commend your bravery in finally leaving and sharing your story. Got bless.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your article. I broke up with my boyfriend a few weeks ago, because I discovered bottles of hard alcohol that he was hiding and drinking when I'm not around. He treated me well, but I knew it will drag me down in the long run, so I called off the relationship as soon as I discovered it. It took him about a week to admit it. He asked me if I wil take him back if he works on it, but I said no, because I know it might be a reoccurring issue. He said if he was in my shoes he would have stayed with that person and helped that person, because that is what true love is. Even though it was a really,really tough decision and part of me wanted to help him, I chose to run. I believe God has someone in mind for me that will love me enough not to put me through that. So thank you for your article, it makes me just realized more that I made the right decision for my future no matter hard it was.

    • Kssssssssss says:

      Hey, yep that’s what the addict says, “if it was the other way around I’d stay and help you thru it”. Help them thru what? They won’t even admit there’s an issue let alone look at dealing with it. I left my relationship 2 months ago, she is the love of my life, but… The secret drinking, the lies, the drinking and driving, the 7am vodka start to the day, the abuse, but mostly, the absolute stealing of the connection between us, that’s the biggest heartbreak. There had been zero change in behaviour even after confronting her, even after going to see a councillor together, she made absolutely no change and said to me “you tell me you love me, but you don’t love all of me, I’m an alcoholic and you should love that about me, it’s part of me and I shouldn’t have to change to be in a happy relationship” whoa!
      I believe addiction is a symptom not the root problem, but the issues that create the coping mechanism of addiction are so deeply buried and so often associated with (unfounded) shame from childhood issues, but mostly these issues seem to stem from people feeling abandoned, by parents, by family, by society…

Leave a Reply