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Old 02-04-2008, 04:31 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Problem drinker vs true alcoholic

Some recent threads started me thinking about the various ways people see the program of AA. Some people have the thought that going to meetings will keep them sober, some feel that being active in service work will keep them sober, some feel that working with a sponsor and going to meetings is what it takes, while others feel working the steps is the key.

Because of the differing ways that people stay sober while claiming to utilize the program of AA, I became curious as to why some require the complete application of the program to stay sober while others can do a half hearted program and even at times ridicule the program of AA and still stay sober.

My hypothesis on this is that today's rooms of AA are not just filled with true alcoholics but a large percentage of problem drinkers (those who have not crossed the line into the hopelessness of the inability to live with or without alcohol). Although I feel that problem drinkers do need help and do not feel they should not be welcomed into AA, I do feel that the message of AA can be distorted when one fails to recognize the difference between the alcoholic and the problem drinker. A problem drinker has not lost all ability to stop under their own power whereas the alcoholic has. When a problem drinker carries his message often times it can mean that the true alcoholic may be led to delay trying the spiritual solution that AA offers but rather they are tempted to try those things that may work for the problem drinker, such as just going to meetings, but not working the steps, only working the steps they feel comfortable with, or only working the steps once and then deciding they are done.

My hypothesis was formed through my own experience, observations (both in the rooms of AA and on this board) as well as studying the Big Book, as well as outside literature. Below are some passages from the Big Book that I feel back up my thoughts.


Big Book Page 44:2-3
Quote:
We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic. If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if, when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.
This is the basic premise of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. If we have reached the point where human aid is of no avail we have nowhere to turn but to a spiritual solution to our problem. AA is not a self help program. If we were able to help ourselves we would not need AA. From this passage it appears that for those who are truly alcoholic; unable to control their drinking, unable to quit entirely when they honestly want to; the solution has to be a spiritual one. If someone can quit drinking without a spiritual solution then they probably are not an alcoholic of this type. Although an alcoholic may have at one time been a problem drinker, the key difference remains that the alcoholic is unable to quit drinking by his/her own power and is beyond human aid. A problem drinker who has not crossed the line into alcoholism may be able to stop drinking by hanging out with other sober people, by avoiding alcohol, or by determination. The danger comes in when people blur the lines between the problem drinker and the alcoholic. A problem drinker that claims to be an alcoholic who comes into AA and states, "I don't work the steps yet, I am sober" can hinder the true alcoholic in their recovery as it can lead them to once again into the insanity of white knuckling it and then feeling the program failed them because they wind up drinking again.

Big Book Page 44:5-6
Quote:
To one who feels he is an athiest or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis----not always easy alternatives to face.
Tangible assistance from a Power greater than ourselves seems unavailable to those of us who are without hope. This help seems out of our reach and only available to monks, priests, and gurus. Faced with alcoholic destruction we become willing to attempt to access this Power that the authors declare has solved their problem. For the true alcoholic this is often a matter of life and death. The problem drinker may find it inconcievable or even ridiculous that they need to choose between destruction or a spiritual solution. For they have only glimpsed what true alcoholic destruction is. The true alcoholic has lived the destruction and knows the desperation that comes with it. For them the thought that there might be a solution is an answer to a prayer, even if it means considering a spiritual solution.

Big Book Page 44:9-10
Quote:
At first some of us tried to avoid the issue, hoping against hope we were not true alcoholics. But after a while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual basis of life----or else.
To be a true alcoholic means that to recover we have to abandon our old ways of thinking and methods of dealing with life. Many of us hold tightly to the idea that our lives based on self can be successful if only we try hard enough. We resist, sometimes for years, beginning to build our lives on a spiritual foundation. This is not necessarily true for the problem drinker

Many of us try for years to avoid the spiritual solution hoping that mere fellowship with sober people will help us recover. Sooner or later we realize that our lives run on selfwill are unsuccessful and we begin to seek a solution. Some of us unfortunately return to our old solution and begin once again to drink. Others of us discover a true solution in the spritually based way of life suggested in the Big Book.

Alcoholism destroyes all things worthwhile in our lives leaving only feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt. Association with sober people in AA can not bring about a personality change sufficient to overcome alcoholism. The power capable of restoring meaning and purpose to our lives can be found only by adopting a spiritual way of life. The problem drinker might be able to stay sober through these things but the true alcoholic can not.

Big Book Page 44:14
Quote:
If a mere code of morals, or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago.
I can not think of a truer statement than this one. I tried the self help route and for me all it did was provide me more proof that I am an true alcolic, I passed the problem drinker stage early in my drinking, and I have to have a spiritual solution for me to recover.

I am not posting this thread to start a religious discussion so please lets keep on track with this and stay away from the topic of "AA is it religious" as it has nothing to do with this thread.

I am interested in hearing other's thoughts on the thread topic. The topic of this thread is problem drinker vs true alcoholic and how it applies to the program of AA.
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Old 02-04-2008, 04:51 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I had an evalutaion that said, I was only a problem drinker.

Every time i drank at the last there was a problem

That being said, I'd rather sit in a meeting and think, I'm an alcoholic then, to go out and try and prove it.

Looking back, it was so sudden how, my drinking had escalated to where I was getting drunk most every night.

My best thinking put me in the seats of AA.

I grit my teeth at the thought of over analysis on alcoholism.

Best advice, I got coming into AA was to keep it simple.

I've been around people that knew the Big Book thru and thru. Did the steps several times and relapsed.

I don't drink no matter what today problem drinker or alcoholic, it doesn't matter.
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Old 02-04-2008, 05:04 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Excellent stuff here.

Quote:
Association with sober people in AA can not bring about a personality change sufficient to overcome alcoholism. The power capable of restoring meaning and purpose to our lives can be found only by adopting a spiritual way of life.
I would argue that "adopting a spiritual way of life" is not specific enough, and that for the true alcoholic to recover they must undergo a spiritual experience, one that is characterized by a complete transformation of their personality (from selfish drinking to a genuine interest in other's sobriety) and ALSO a meaningful connection with a higher power. "Spiritual way of life" has too much wiggle room in it for me....

Also, I think there is danger in how we define things. If someone says "I'm an alcoholic," and they manage to get sober without a twelve step program, many die-hard steppers will completely discount this person's alcoholism....stating that they could not possibly be an alcoholic because they did not need AA to get sober. This is ridiculous. We cannot use the AA program to define what an alcoholic is. Alcoholism predates AA by several thousand years. Sometimes the arrogance of those in meetings is overwhelming.

Nonetheless, I still believe AA has tremendous value, simply for the concentrated amount of support it offers and the singleness of purpose. Simply humans helping humans to not drink. Basic support. Fellowship. It all has value.
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Old 02-04-2008, 05:18 PM   #4 (permalink)
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skinnyninja.....Welcome to our Alcoholism 12 step Forum
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Old 02-04-2008, 05:28 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by skinnyninja View Post
Excellent stuff here.



I would argue that "adopting a spiritual way of life" is not specific enough, and that for the true alcoholic to recover they must undergo a spiritual experience, one that is characterized by a complete transformation of their personality (from selfish drinking to a genuine interest in other's sobriety) and ALSO a meaningful connection with a higher power. "Spiritual way of life" has too much wiggle room in it for me....

Also, I think there is danger in how we define things. If someone says "I'm an alcoholic," and they manage to get sober without a twelve step program, many die-hard steppers will completely discount this person's alcoholism....stating that they could not possibly be an alcoholic because they did not need AA to get sober. This is ridiculous. We cannot use the AA program to define what an alcoholic is. Alcoholism predates AA by several thousand years. Sometimes the arrogance of those in meetings is overwhelming.

Nonetheless, I still believe AA has tremendous value, simply for the concentrated amount of support it offers and the singleness of purpose. Simply humans helping humans to not drink. Basic support. Fellowship. It all has value.

Good stuff. A true transformation is necessary to recover. I agree as well that alcoholics have been recovering for as long as there has been alcoholism. Here and there it has been documented that an alcoholic at the end of his rope, in despair would recover through a religious conversion experience. Actually, it is more common than most AA's believe. I personally know of three cases where that has happened.

In AA our path to that experience is via the Twelve Steps. But there are many fine religious paths as well as several fine psycholigical paths. For us in AA to claim a monopoly is indeed arrogant.

As the distinction between the alcoholic and the problem drinker, it is simple. For the problem drinker, the problem is alcohol. Remove the alcohol, problem solved. For the alcoholic, once alcohol is out of the picture, the problem begins. The root is still there, in other words, the spiritual malady is still there. A sense of self-centered isolation, a feeling of seperatness which drives the peculiar mental twist, the strange insanity that causes an alcoholic to do the most insane thing he can do. And he does it stone cold sober, he picks up a drink. As long as the alcoholic remains seperate he remains insane where alcohol is involved.
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Old 02-04-2008, 05:39 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Thank you. I really liked your input.
Skinnynija
Quote:
I would argue that "adopting a spiritual way of life" is not specific enough, and that for the true alcoholic to recover they must undergo a spiritual experience, one that is characterized by a complete transformation of their personality (from selfish drinking to a genuine interest in other's sobriety) and ALSO a meaningful connection with a higher power. "Spiritual way of life" has too much wiggle room in it for me....
Great point.

Jim
Quote:
As the distinction between the alcoholic and the problem drinker, it is simple. For the problem drinker, the problem is alcohol. Remove the alcohol, problem solved. For the alcoholic, once alcohol is out of the picture, the problem begins. The root is still there, in other words, the spiritual malady is still there. A sense of self-centered isolation, a feeling of seperatness which drives the peculiar mental twist, the strange insanity that causes an alcoholic to do the most insane thing he can do. And he does it stone cold sober, he picks up a drink. As long as the alcoholic remains seperate he remains insane where alcohol is involved.
At first that hit me as too simple but after reading it again it makes complete sense. Thanks.

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Quote:
Best advice, I got coming into AA was to keep it simple.
This goes hand in hand with what Jim's comment reminded me of. Thanks.
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:08 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Great post nandm,

What really jumped out at me was this....

The danger comes in when people blur the lines between the problem drinker and the alcoholic. A problem drinker that claims to be an alcoholic who comes into AA and states, "I don't work the steps yet, I am sober" can hinder the true alcoholic in their recovery as it can lead them to once again into the insanity of white knuckling it and then feeling the program failed them because they wind up drinking again.

Definition of an alcoholic.....
If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if, when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.

By your definition I am an alcoholic...in my heart there is not a shred of doubt.

Yet, correct me if I am wrong, because I don't utilize all the steps in my program I am responsible for hindering the recovery of a true alcoholic?

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.....this covers alot of people, even those who you judge to be not "true" alcoholics.
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:41 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Yet, correct me if I am wrong, because I don't utilize all the steps in my program I am responsible for hindering the recovery of a true alcoholic?

If you are sponsoring a real alcoholic or sharing your opinion on recovery in a meeting, in a word,yes.
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:56 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Then I ask you...why tell the newcomer otherwise? (not you personally Rob, because you don't stray from your beliefs) I mean those who tell the newcomers that aa has no rules, no musts, you can believe in anything....etc...etc....etc....

Membership requirements should be changed.
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Old 02-05-2008, 05:11 AM   #10 (permalink)
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good point

You make a valid point, as you know I follow the basic text, this is the only way I know, for that I am considered rigid.

I would never tell a newcomer, "just hang out, get comfortable, etc.." Soft selling AA, and what the real deal is has caused much harm, Bill often said, we will destroy ourselves from the inside out, I see this happening.

I try to give an accurate appraisal of AA. There is the fellowship, which has no rules. When I crawled into AA, a bunch of very kind well intentioned folks nearly killed me with love, instead of showing me precisely what they had done to recover.

Then there is the program of recovery that has very specific guidlines and musts. I share my experience and offer to take folks through the work in order to have a spiritual awakening, which for an alcoholic of my description is the only thing that will save me.
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Old 02-05-2008, 05:13 AM   #11 (permalink)
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AA has no rules. There are plenty of musts though. A person must be alcoholic-that is the membership requirement.
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Old 02-05-2008, 05:23 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Rob, I know you don't "soft sell" aa and I appreciate that you stand behind opinions even when it is uncomfortable, as do I.

Jim, I understood the only requirement for membership was a desire to stop drinking...and only an individual can decide if they are an alcoholic or not. There is no test one passes to join.
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Old 02-05-2008, 05:49 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Bugs,
Please read the long form of the Third Tradition and The pamphlet "Problems Other Than Alcohol." Both clarify what I'm attempting to convey. Maybe it will help to clear your misunderstanding.

You are right that only the individual can decide. Many are unsure. That is why personal experience is so important. My experience is not helpful to me, but it may be useful in helping another.

There are two tests to help with self-diagnosis, by the way. Both can be found in Chapter 3. The first is trying some controlled drinking. The second is to try to leave liquor alone for a year, using only the unaided will.

I would suggest you become more informed about these matters. After all it isn't all about you.
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Old 02-05-2008, 06:01 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Jim, I know its not all about me....that is exactly my point...

It is about the newcomer and all the mixed messages they receive right from the very beginning.

btw telling someone who has issues with alcohol to any degree to try some "controlled drinking" is foolish. I don't know of one person in aa who hasn't tried controlling their drinking BEFORE going to aa. Alcoholism is progressive and fatal...that is just playing with a loaded gun.
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Old 02-05-2008, 06:12 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Lol, I was listening to a Bill W tape yesterday in which he talked about their initial notion that somehow they were going to work with something called a "pure alcoholic". As he says, at one time the rules they had, if they were all in force, wouldn't let ANYONE into the fellowship and the programme!

I have sympathy that some people are just "problem drinkers" and some are "alcoholics". But I have complete confidence that it is neither within my power, nor is it my responsibility, to sort out which is which. If I had a "compulsion" to start examining which people should be in and which shouldn't, I would hope I would be able to do a step 10 number on myself!
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Old 02-05-2008, 06:34 AM   #16 (permalink)
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btw telling someone who has issues with alcohol to any degree to try some "controlled drinking" is foolish. I don't know of one person in aa who hasn't tried controlling their drinking BEFORE going to aa. Alcoholism is progressive and fatal...that is just playing with a loaded gun.
Bugs what exactly do you tell someone who is not sure they are an alcoholic to do?

You are correct that it could be the equivelant to handing them a loaded gun, but it could be the very thing they need to hear. As you said, I doubt very seriously if you could find someone in AA who has not tried to control their drinking, suggesting they may want to try some will bring these very memories back to the forefront of thier thought process and allow them to see that their present thinking may be a little out of whack.

The idea behind that statement is not to get anyone to try controlled drinking again, but to realize that they have tried it and failed.
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Old 02-05-2008, 10:41 AM   #17 (permalink)
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This is the crux of my question.
Quote:
Big Book Page 44:9-10
Quote:
At first some of us tried to avoid the issue, hoping against hope we were not true alcoholics. But after a while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual basis of life----or else.

To be a true alcoholic means that to recover we have to abandon our old ways of thinking and methods of dealing with life. Many of us hold tightly to the idea that our lives based on self can be successful if only we try hard enough. We resist, sometimes for years, beginning to build our lives on a spiritual foundation. This is not necessarily true for the problem drinker

Many of us try for years to avoid the spiritual solution hoping that mere fellowship with sober people will help us recover. Sooner or later we realize that our lives run on selfwill are unsuccessful and we begin to seek a solution. Some of us unfortunately return to our old solution and begin once again to drink. Others of us discover a true solution in the spritually based way of life suggested in the Big Book.

Alcoholism destroyes all things worthwhile in our lives leaving only feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt. Association with sober people in AA can not bring about a personality change sufficient to overcome alcoholism. The power capable of restoring meaning and purpose to our lives can be found only by adopting a spiritual way of life. The problem drinker might be able to stay sober through these things but the true alcoholic can not.

Big Book Page 44:14
Quote:
If a mere code of morals, or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago.

I can not think of a truer statement than this one. I tried the self help route and for me all it did was provide me more proof that I am an true alcolic, I passed the problem drinker stage early in my drinking, and I have to have a spiritual solution for me to recover.
For a true alcoholic recovery through half measures of the AA program only will lead them back to drinking. AA offers a spiritual solution to the problem of alcoholism. I am not saying that there is no room in AA for the problem drinker. What I am saying is that IMHO those that recover from their problem in AA without utilizing the steps to find the spiritual solution are most likely problem drinkers rather than true alcoholics. In that respect when a true alcoholic enters the program seeking a solution and hears people speaking of recovering through half measures of the program of AA it can just drag out the inevitable for them and ultimately create the belief that AA does not work for them. Although when the truth is told they did not work the program of AA.
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Old 02-05-2008, 11:25 AM   #18 (permalink)
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I tend to err on the side of caution when talking about AA with someone 'new'. We must be able to accomodate the full-blown alcoholic. We must be there for the 'Bill Wilson's' who we come in contact with.

The book clearly states that a good case of the jitters (from attempting controlled drinking) would be well worth it if one is to get full knowledge of their condition (i.e. - loss of choice in regard to alcohol). -Deflation in the physical sense.

Leave liqour alone for a year (when one fails at this - deflation at the mental level)

Take liqour away, with no spiritual basis of living - the feeling of being 'separate' remains - Deflation in the spirtual sense.


But also - alcoholism being a progressive disease, I think some poeple make it to AA before they have completely lost choice in the matter..

"Though there is no way of proving it, we believe that early in our drinking careers most of us could have stopped drinking. But the difficulty is that few alcoholics have enough desire to stop while there is yet time. We have heard of a few instances where people, who showed definite signs of alcoholism, were able to stop for a long period because of an overpowering desire to do so."

I think some of these people end up in AA (statistically it is likely), and can stay sober just by building a fellowship with other sober people.

Lastly - "Whether such a person can quit upon a nonspiritual basis depends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not"

So it seems to me the notion of 'choice' fades with the progression of the illness. I don't know if that is my case or not, I feel I ran out of choice long ago.


(All references to Alcoholics Anonymous have been qouted from the second edition)
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Old 02-05-2008, 12:06 PM   #19 (permalink)
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But also - alcoholism being a progressive disease, I think some poeple make it to AA before they have completely lost choice in the matter..

"Though there is no way of proving it, we believe that early in our drinking careers most of us could have stopped drinking. But the difficulty is that few alcoholics have enough desire to stop while there is yet time. We have heard of a few instances where people, who showed definite signs of alcoholism, were able to stop for a long period because of an overpowering desire to do so."

I think some of these people end up in AA (statistically it is likely), and can stay sober just by building a fellowship with other sober people.

Lastly - "Whether such a person can quit upon a nonspiritual basis depends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not"

So it seems to me the notion of 'choice' fades with the progression of the illness. I don't know if that is my case or not, I feel I ran out of choice long ago.


(All references to Alcoholics Anonymous have been qouted from the second edition)
Thank you for your input. I think you put into words what I was trying to say only you did a much better job of it. IMHO, what I highlighted of your post is the key to whether or not one can get by with "half measures" in the program or needs to "go to any lengths." Personally I needed to "go to any lengths" as I had lost my power to choose whether to drink or not.
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Old 02-05-2008, 12:58 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Hi,

I found this site because I am desperately looking for some help for me and a better understanding. I read this string because I was trying to figure out if the person I just left is an alcoholic or just a problem drinker. He claims to be the later. I would love to hear from anyone that can help me or give advice.

I was with him for 3.5 years. I found out from a friend that he was engagement ring shopping because he asked her for advice. So, when he was acting strange one night, I thought he was going to propose. Instead, he sat me down and told me that for the past 3 years, our entire relationship, he had been drinking a pint of whiskey a night. I didn't live with him, so I had no idea this was happening. He was cranky when I was there much of the time, but I thought it was stress. Now I think it was because he couldn't drink around me.

I am the adult child of an alcoholic, so I recognize that he is sick and needs help. I stayed with him to let him decide for himself how to get help. He told me he was going to meetings, but since I have some recovery experience, he seemed not to be speaking like someone who was in program. He called me drunk one night. I confronted him. He said he was drunk. He went to AA the next day. He then started fighting with me for social drinking a couple of months later. I told him I would leave if that was what he decided. He became very verbally abusive to me, so I left him on Thanksgiving weekend.

We were seeing a couples therapist for this and other issues. The day I left him, he went to several AA meetings that day, then called his brother and told him. Up until now I was the only one who knew. Then he realized I was cutting him off from email contact because I blocked him. He went to more meetings the next day, then called his parents. The entire family pleaded with me to talk to him and told me they would support his recovery. I spoke to him and told him I couldn't just go back until I knew he was in program. He told me that he was serious this time and the break-up really shook him to the core. I found out a month after, the first week in January, that he was drinking here and there. Oddly, he was drinking with his family. I cut him off from phone contact and we both went to therapy sessions with out couple counselor. She told me, while not specific, that she felt he was working on figuring out what he had to do. We have kept email contact.

I got a letter from him yesterday. He told me how much he has learned and that he feels like he is a new person. He told me I'm the love of his live and he could not bear the thought of being without me but he had learned something. He learned in AA that he has choices. Just because everything points to the fact that he is an alcoholic doesn't mean he is. So, he says he's an alcoholic BUT he can drink. His new rules are 2 drinks if he's out with friends, no drinking alone, and no alcohol in the house. His family and friends support him. I asked him if his bottom line was social drinks or me and he said yes. He would learn to live without me if I couldn't accept that. I told him goodbye and went to al-anon, then to therapy to begin the process of getting over the relationship.

I'm in so much pain over this and don't know what to think. Is it possible to go from a pint of whiskey a night to social drinking? I feel like I know the answer, but want to know that I'm not crazy. He has said this wasn't some ultimatum, but I feel like I did something wrong here.

I would appreciate anything anyone has to say on the subject.

Thank you for being here!
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