February 17, 2012

What Alcoholism Taught Me.

#1: It’s not about the drink.

Elephant Journal Founder and Editor-in-Chief Waylon Lewis recently took to Twitter and Facebook, asking advice for a woman who was dating an alcoholic. Most of the responses said either to run as fast as she could the other way, or to quick get herself into AlAnon, a support group for the family members of alcoholics.

Both are good advice. But having a bit of experience with this myself, I’d add a different twist; Take a look at yourself, why are you drawn to this relationship? What is the lesson you are supposed to learn about yourself here?

This year my husband and I will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. My husband is not a bad man. But he has, at times, been a sick man.  The cycle of addiction has been passed down in his family for generations, and despite his desire not to allow it to continue, my husband has had his battles with alcoholism.

Millions of people have found help in AlAnon. I’m not one of them. I left the very few meetings I attended feeling like I’d just spent the past hour in the midst of people wallowing in their pain and unwilling to move on. Each meeting was spent with people telling me that his drinking wasn’t my fault. Well, hell, I know it’s not my fault! I know it’s not my job to clean up his mess.  What I’m trying to figure out is how to not be so angry that there is even a mess to clean up to begin with.

I spent a lot of years angry and hurt by the situation. If he loved me he wouldn’t drink. Shouldn’t it be that simple? Choose me over a drink. There were times I’d wish he’d just get a girlfriend and have an affair. Go for it, have multiple affairs. At least then I could say well he found someone skinnier and prettier.  How do I even begin to compete with a bottle of beer?

My life, though, is not defined by his actions. It is defined by my reaction to his actions.

His drinking isn’t about me. Then again, it’s all about me. His story is his to tell. My story is mine to tell.

Who will I become when faced with hurt and disappointment? Will I choose to stay calm and rational in the storm of emotional pain?  No, at the time I didn’t have enough self awareness to see the situation wasn’t about me. Instead, I chose to point blame and retaliate in ways to cause him to feel pain as well. I’ll show him.  If he wants to act like he doesn’t love me then I’ll give him a reason not to love me.

All that was left after my retaliatory strike was two people hurting even more.

Every soul has their own journey to take. I can’t exorcise his demons for him any more than he can rid me of mine.  I don’t have the power to stop his drinking. I do, however, have the power to stop my own self-destructive actions.

I know now that everyone I meet is working their own struggles. Just because my struggles weren’t as obvious as his, or didn’t manifest in such a public way, doesn’t mean I was any healthier or more evolved than him.

AlAnon can be a great resource for those who need support and I still recommend it for anyone in need of help.  I needed something different. I healed myself in a way that felt most comfortable and honest with me. While my yoga practice began as nothing more than another form of exercise, I quickly realized it had been what I was searching for. Through meditation and svadhyaya (self study) I was able to drown out the chaos around me and take an honest look at myself and my motives. Lovingkindness meditation gave me permission to forgive myself, and in turn forgive him.

Now I see that through some sort of twisted karmic fate, his journey allowed me to take my own journey to greater strength and personal liberation. I found deep within me a power I’m not sure I would have otherwise known existed. I don’t know if I’d be the woman I am today if I hadn’t been here to hold his hand while he took his journey. Today I am strong and confident, yet able to take on the world in a more loving and compassionate way.

I’m much less judgemental of others now. There but for the grace of God go I. Once I began to understand the universal connectedness of humanity, I could no longer allow myself to feel superior or self righteous.

Best of all, I’m no longer angry at the world. I’m able to see that although there has been great pain over the last 23 years, there has also been great joy.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. 

— Buddha 


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