What I Learned From Dating Two Alcoholics In A Row

I’m the adult daughter of a recovering alcoholic so you’d think I would know better, right? Wrong. I made it into my mid-20s before I dated a guy with a drinking problem — then I decided to date two in a row. I’m not sure what I was thinking — or if I was thinking at all — but at least I learned some pretty valuable lessons from the experience.

Don’t date any more alcoholics!

Sorry, I had to say it. Seems obvious, right? The biggest lesson I learned from dating drunks was that it’s the WORST THING EVER. As someone who grew up watching people struggle with substance abuse, I had no fun whatsoever dealing with it in romantic relationships. These guys may seem like the life of the party, but in reality they’re just big fat headaches. Let them drown on their own.

Some guys are completely different people when they’re drunk.

It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both of them were super sweet, fun and respectful men when they weren’t drinking. Problem is, that was the minority of their waking hours! If someone is an awful drunk and he’s drunk most of the time, you have a huge issue. If he treats you like crap when he’s drinking, it doesn’t matter one little bit how sorry he is when he sobers up. It’ll keep happening.

And yet, they have no real awareness of how markedly different they become. 

Ignorance is bliss, at least on his end. With no concept of the way he behaves, he listens to your grievances with a skeptical ear. That’s not how it seemed from his side. Well, of course it’s not — he was a bottle deep in whiskey. Gee, I wonder why his perception is skewed? Even if he takes you at your word and believes everything you tell him, it doesn’t matter. His drunken tendencies won’t magically change.

They feel no responsibility for their drunken behavior.

It’s like he thinks it didn’t really happen because he doesn’t remember it. Sorry, wrong answer. He gets drunk, he screws up, he hears you out the next day, he says he’s sorry. Apologies will only get him so far. Trust me, you will get tired of this endless cycle very quickly. If you have any spine whatsoever, get out of there.

You can’t take their mistakes personally…

It’s not about you. This is simultaneously relieving and depressing. The guy isn’t hurting you on purpose — he can’t help himself. He has a disease, whether you like it or not. Alcoholism is not something that’s just going to go away. It’s a lifelong struggle to keep it at bay.

… But you need to walk away.

If he’s not doing anything to help himself, there’s nothing you can do for him. Take care of yourself, and remove yourself from the situation. It’ll bring you nothing but grief. If he takes steps to work on the problem for himself, then and only then is the relationship potentially salvageable.

You can’t fix them.

He has to save himself, OK. I know you hear me, but you don’t reeeeeeally believe me. That’s because you have a classic savior complex. Caretakers are naturally attracted to those who they feel need help, and thus the co-dependent relationship is born. He needs you to be there for him no matter how badly he screws up, and you need to feel needed. Cut it out. It’s unhealthy and dysfunctional.

The alcohol is more important than anything else.

I already knew this because of my family history, but it’s a whole different ballgame when it’s your boyfriend. There’s a specific pain in knowing that you’ll never beat out his demons, and that he’ll drive the relationship into the ground before he gives up the booze. No one likes to be second best to anything in love.

They won’t change, at least not for you.

This is often the toughest truth to accept. There’s not a damn thing you can do about his sickness – you can either accept it for what it is, or go find someone else. If he’s going to heal, he has to do it for his own reasons. It can’t have anything to do with you. If you are his only motivation, he’s doomed to fail. He’ll feel guilty, you’ll be disappointed and hurt, and no one wins.

It doesn’t matter how much you love each other.

You can have all the affection, chemistry and compatibility in the world. It still won’t work, unless you’re willing to settle for a dysfunctional relationship. You wouldn’t be the first, but you’re better than that. It hurts like hell, but admit it — you’re already hurting. You aren’t happy in this world of drama and disaster. Strap on your big girl shoes, wish him well on his journey, and walk away with your head held high. That’s all you can do.

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