Monday, October 3, 2011

Reader Questions

"How do you set boundaries with an alcoholic? Do you continue to let them live in your home? I just found your blog through Syd's so I really don't know your living situation. Many people say throw the alcoholic out, let them suffer the consequences of their drinking. What is your take on this?"


Some members of Al-Anon are able to live with a partner, child or other family member who is still drinking, and in spite of that, create a satisfying life for themselves - I'm not one of them.  I lived with active alcoholism for the ten years my first marriage lasted, and it was utter chaos. When I married my second husband, he'd been sober for 8 years, so I considered him "cured." I'd been in Al-Anon for a while by then, but was still relatively ignorant about the disease of alcoholism, and didn't understand that sobriety and recovery were not synonymous. I had some heavy denial operating around this, and have written about that here and here.

I do know that in both my first marriage, and this one, it's a painful truth that as long as I would tolerate unacceptable behavior, that's just what I got. Without consequences, there was no change.

It wasn't until I set clear boundaries, and became willing to deal with the results of setting and maintaining them, that behavior improved slightly.  It wasn't until I began to consistenly challenge  insults and blaming, and to say, "Please don't speak to me in that tone of voice" that they'd back down, apologise, and be more polite. 

It's a truism that we teach people how to treat us. Some folks will not respect us, unless we demand respect, and ensure that there will be consequences when they trespass against our boundaries. This consequence may be a refusal to do favours, it may be a calm and polite challenge of their treatment of us - whatever works for us. Perhaps it's a detachment and removal of our emotional connections.

I'm a strong proponent of the "don't give advice" school - I can't know the best course of action for you - only you can.

I can listen, I can help you reason things out, I can sponsor and support you, but I don't give advice. Best of luck, and I'll keep you in my thoughts.


  1. Wow, a voice of reason! I hear so much "advice" on the blogs, it makes me cringe.

    I can tell my experience, and I can certainly offer hope, but telling people what to do is downright dangerous.

  2. Thanks for this. I needed it today. Some clarity.

  3. Very nice post, thank you for sharing. That question comes up a lot, stay or go. I agree with you completely that listening and supporting are the healthiest way to help those with that question. Living with an active alcoholic is a daily challenge, but can be a blessing in disguise to have daily opportunities to work the program and learn about who we are as a person. I believe as long as we are doing our part, our HP will help us find the answers to our questions.

  4. I made a choice to not live with active alcoholic drinking again. Thankfully, our relationship has become much better since I have been in Al-Anon and my wife has been in AA. We treat each other with respect. I love her very much. There are times when we both can be irritable but the tools of the program help me to see my part and to admit when I am wrong.