email from M: “Hi Belle, I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while and receiving your emails. I don’t have a booze Wolfie, but I have a food one. We’ve exchanged some emails in the past about that, and how the feelings around overeating are similar to the feelings around drinking.
Anyway, one of the reasons I have followed you all this time is because my boyfriend has a really big loud booze Wolfie, and things have been getting worse recently. I’m sort of left wondering what, if anything, I can do to help him, because if something doesn’t change he will end up dead.
Some background — he’s been a drinker for all of the 10 years that I’ve known him, except for a period of just over a year. At that point he got into some legal trouble … and he had to not drink. So he didn’t. He just quit drinking. He didn’t get any support of any kind, he just quit. After, he decided he could moderate — only drink when there was a special occasion or a party or something. And it started out like that, but then over time grew back into frequent drinking — several, if not most days of the week. He would go through periods of abstaining during the week, and just drinking on weekends.
Most recently he has taken to binge drinking on Friday nights and sometimes one or two other nights of the week as well. He will drink for 24+ hours and then sleep for 24 hours. And if I leave town for any reason, he will spend the entire time drinking. Last week, I was away for 5 days and he binge drank on 3 of those days. He is now having physical symptoms like gut issues, he has hallucinated and now his skin is itchy and rashy.
More background — he doesn’t have a job and hasn’t worked steadily since he was sober. He is depressed (even without alcohol), takes anti-depressants and I think he has social anxiety (although he would just say that he doesn’t like people).
So the current situation — on Friday evening he started drinking beer. I went to bed around 11 pm. On Saturday morning, at around 10:30, he was still up drinking … I asked him if he was trying to kill himself, because at this point, I seriously thought that maybe he was. He said that he didn’t want to die and he knew he had to quit drinking and his body was giving him all the signs. Of course he was drunk when he was saying all this. Anyway, he hasn’t had anything to drink since unless he’s keeping a secret stash because there’s no alcohol in the house and he hasn’t been out of the house in over a week. He also hasn’t spoken to me since Saturday morning. He gets up and eats and today he apparently did a few things around the house, but he hasn’t spoken to me.
I gave him a link to your website on Saturday morning — I thought maybe it would be a good fit for him because I know AA is not going to work — too much God and higher power and stuff. I know he’s at least visited your site (he sent me a screenshot, but he was still drunk).
So, in the end, I am left wondering what to do now. I know that I need to take care of myself, and I am doing that. But is there anything I can do to help him? I truly don’t believe that he will be able to stay sober without support. He’s a huge believer in willpower, which to me is the equivalent of trying harder and won’t work for the long term. It seems to be me that he has huge issues that he needs to deal with, booze or no booze. I personally wish he’d go into an inpatient treatment program. But I don’t know whether to try to talk to him about this, or just leave him alone for now, or what? I haven’t been through this, and I don’t want to act like I know the answers, because I really don’t. I just know that I don’t want to continue to live with him if he doesn’t get some kind of real help/support/tools. I can’t bring myself to ask him to leave right now because he has no job, no car, no money and no place to go.
So yeah, there’s my long rambling story. Do you have any words of wisdom?
Thanks for everything you do Belle. Hugs, M.”
me: first, thanks for this. I mean, thanks for reaching out. there are lots of partners who probably feel like you do, but not everybody is trying to make themselves useful or to understand more.
What I will write here is what I would say if your BF was in the room, so to speak.
those of us drinking, we have a loud voice in our head that basically screams until we feed it. we can periodically skip a day or two, but it’s often like waiting to drink. if you can imagine something along the lines of a mini-version of OCD. it’s not the hand-washing kind of OCD, but it’s the ‘that alcohol is saying DRINK ME’ kind. it’s hard to explain this ti other people who don’t have the same voice, but you probably understand entirely if you have a food wolfie. but just like it’s hard for a compulsive handwasher to explain why they continue to hand wash even when it gets in the way of their daily life, drinking is like that.
those of us drinking, and this included me, we know we want to quit, but can’t find a way to make the voice shut up. we quit for a day or two or a week or two but it’s hard.
without the right supports and tools, we go back to drinking again. We all do. this isn’t unique or unusual. Drinking again means we don’t have enough tools/supports. If we add more support and accountability with each reset, then we can get a better sense of what’s going to work, versus setting off and ‘trying harder’ which will yield similar results.
the hard part is that while we’re still drinking, we don’t really believe in a real, true way, that the only way to get the voice in our head to shut up is to dehydrate it (stop drinking entirely, not one drink here and there, but none). being sober is actually easier than trying to manage the voice.
but here’s the tricky and shitty part. the voice in our head that says DRINK NOW also says: “don’t ask for help, don’t accept help if it’s offered, don’t let anyone know, don’t tell, you’re a fuck up, you’re a disaster, this is too embarrassing for anyone to know, whatever THEY are suggesting will help won’t work I can tell without even trying.”
I guess what I’d say to you is that that voice in his head (in my head), it isn’t the real him. it’s the voice that wolfie presents (the desire to drink). our brains misfire and tell us all kinds of shit and lies, and the lies seem TRUE because they’re … well, they’re in our HEAD.
if you imagine someone with … I don’t know, maybe anorexia. you say to them: you’re too skinny and they say, I can plainly see that I’m fat. the person who’s anorexic can’t be easily convinced that their brain is lying to them. yet that’s what booze does to us. we say “I’ll never do THAT” (whatever, drink and drive, miss a school event, call in sick to work – whatever) and then when we do it, we say “well, it was only that one time.”
There is avoidance and lying and misery in this, but it’s the booze, it’s not the person. it’s the ocd-like brain. it’s not who we really are. (I was a gigantic bitch and fought with my husband all the time when drinking. this is my personal example. now that I don’t drink, we just don’t fight. or maybe it’s once a year instead of (literally) once a week.)
all that said. I think what I’d say to you if he was here, is something similar to what I’d say to him: you have to take care of yourself. He may find a way to get some support and help and tools (and yes, I hope so, yes yes yes). But he may not. Some people do not find their way out of this. And it’s shitty and scary. The voice in my head was loud enough to convince me that if something bad was going to happen to me, that on some level I deserved it (all not true, but very convincing when that radio station is broadcasting from the inside of your own head).
in a kind way, on a morning when he’s sober (not while drinking), you might suggest some of the ‘less’ embarrassing kinds of support options. He could do my jumpstart class (the version with the 2 calls), and then continue on with weekly calls with me like lots of other people do (including a psychiatrist is one of my regular callers). He could speak with his doctor in an honest way and ask for some kinds of medication: something to help with anxiety, something to help with drinking (antabuse). If he can’t speak to his doctor honestly, he can go to a walk-in clinic where they don’t know him. This embarrassment though, it’s impossible for me to convey to you how large this embarrassment is. and how much it prevents us from doing what might seem logical to you.
As well, there are probably outpatient treatment groups through the local hospital that can be attended on evenings and weekends.
but you being the booze police won’t really help, as twisted as that sounds. the voice in an over-drinker’s head has a VERY DEFINITE fuck-you attitude, to anyone, about anything that makes us feel less-than, judged, or further embarrassed than we are already are. we will interpret everything as anger. and we’re nothing if not independent. and prickly. well, that’s me 🙂 I’ll just assume it’s him too.
is any of this helpful? I would suggest Al-Anon for you if only to have someone else in real life help you figure out what’s YOURS and what’s HIS. If you’re asking for direct practical advice – and given that I am not a professional – I’d say: remove the alcohol from the house, and encourage him. Offer cranberry and tonic every night at 6 pm even if he hates it. buy easy take-out dinners. remind him that you know that he wants to be sober, and that you’re willing to do what it takes for him to get his sober car on the road so long as he doesn’t drive that car over you in the meantime.
and if you want to, you can guide him to the jumpstart class and calls with me. If he declines, I can refund your purchase. but it might be worth a shot. part of what we struggle with the most is feeling that no one knows what it’s like, how hard it is to be us with this radio station in our head. when in fact, someone else who has quit drinking knows exactly what it’s like.
the shitty thing I said above is true, though. some people do not get out of this. some people have a loud voice and they can’t find a way to listen to anything else. that does happen. but trying to convince them that it’s happening is like trying to push a car uphill.
I hope this is 5% helpful — and you can discard the rest – as you should with most advice in life 🙂
hugs from me to both of you, belle xo
M: “Thank you Belle this is 100% useful 🙂
I think I get the embarrassment thing and the automatic refusal of help — I imagine it’s somewhat like being fat. I often feel like people are judging me all the time and that I did this to myself and if only I weren’t so weak I wouldn’t be in this position, etc., etc. (whether this is actually true or not is irrelevant). I feel simultaneously like I should be able to fix this problem myself, and like I want help, but all the support I’ve ever reached out for and tried has been useless and not come from anyone who really understands. So I get that the embarrassment prevents him (you) from doing what seems logical, because I’ve done and sometimes still do the same.
And I’ve heard him say that he’s useless, and that he deserves to have his body shut down on him. He says that he doesn’t deserve gifts or for me to nice to him.
I think my food wolfie is not probably not as loud or persistent as his booze wolfie (anymore anyway), but I get that compulsion. I’ll be at a party where there’s a huge display of food and I can’t understand how other people are not just eating it constantly and I’ll be wondering if anyone will notice how much I’m eating, and worried about whether there will be enough. So I guess it’s like that.
I’m scared that he’ll be one of those people who doesn’t find a way out, because what a waste. He’s a beautiful, intelligent, caring man underneath everything …
Practically, the booze has been removed from the house, and I went to Costco the other day to buy huge amounts food and I will plan some kind of nice non-alcoholic drinks and a meal for Friday night which is when wolfie really starts screaming at him.
I was able to talk to him a bit last night and brought up the idea of using some supports and he didn’t say no, which is what I expected, so that’s encouraging. I think he’s really scared right now that he’s done irreparable damage to his body. He has a good relationship with his doctor and has been open with him already about the drinking, but has not taken him up on any of the options he’s given for quitting — until now, he didn’t want to quit. But the problem with the doctor is that it involves making a phone call to get an appointment and then leaving the house, and given where he’s at right now, I don’t think that will happen… I think the sober jumpstart class is a great place for him to start because he spends most of his time these days on his computer anyway, so it’s just an extension of what he’s already doing. He doesn’t even have to leave his chair, he just has to click. It’s extremely low barrier to entry. And once he gains a bit of sober momentum maybe he will be more inclined to try other supports, or maybe he will find other things that work for him. So yes, I will do that — I see there’s a waiting list right now, but I have added my email address to the waiting list and when a spot opens up in the next week then you can change it to his email address. He will complain about me spending money on it (he doesn’t deserve it), but the cost is about the same as a month’s worth of booze for him, so I guess I can offer him that logic.
Thank you so much — everything you said has been extremely helpful.”
this is me. fiercely selling hope since 2012. now it comes in a tangible, art form. that fits into a standard Michael’s 10×10 frame.
original art here