How to avoid getting drawn in?

Old 07-14-2013, 07:25 PM
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How to avoid getting drawn in?

My AW recently relapsed one month out of rehab. Since then she has been sober (or at least, professes so, I have no reason to doubt it). The past two weeks she has been out of town visiting her family.

I have discovered - while she was in rehab, and the past few weeks as she has been traveling - that my time alone has been like oxygen, I feel so much happier and more peaceful while she is gone. It is such a welcome relief from the swirl of stress and drama that she seems to gather around herself, and I really have a hard time not being affected by it.

She is returning here later this week, and I realize that I am dreading her return. She can turn even normal daily life into stressful melodrama, and while I am working at it, it is very difficult for me to detach from it and not get stressed myself, if nothing else just from watching her spin toward a relapse. I posted about her recent health scare leading to her post-rehab relapse, where she convinced herself she had cancer, turned out to be nothing serious. Meanwhile, she has accepted a new job after being out of work these past few months, and her mother is coming to stay with us for a few weeks in August.

Her mom is fine, I don't mind her visiting, but usually her visits are high-stress times for AW, as both of them can be somewhat passive-aggressive. So put that on top of her starting a new job around the same time. I really want to have an open mind, but it is hard for me to not see this as a recipe for a miserable few weeks, even if she manages not to relapse. I am thinking seriously about taking a vacation of my own during that time just so I am not in the middle of it.

I am really working on trying to detach. I think I am pretty good about not trying to fix her situation, not interfere in her recovery, not trying to control or manipulate her. But there is a fine line between empathy and making her stress my own that I have trouble avoiding. Somehow, she has learned to amplify and escalate her stresses into drama, and I find this very difficult to be around. It has taken me years to realize that when she is in this mode, she will not seek solutions or try to relieve the stress, which is hard for me to be around, I tend to get drawn in. The viral video "It's not about the Nail" really hit home for me, so I know this is pretty common) but it is hard for me to laugh very hard when I see where it leads for AW.

Anyway, the thing I have realized is even if she is not in relapse, I find it very difficult to maintain my detachment and serenity around her. She has admitted that much of the time, she is full of fear, and her low self-esteem and social anxiety make it very difficult for her to seek help even when she knows she needs to, and this has become part of her isolating/relapse pattern. I know I am powerless, and while I have been sympathetic, the thing I am discovering is that I am more aware of how it is affecting me. I see the potential relapse pattern, she denies it up until the moment she relapses. She can't seem to use the tools she has learned in AA and rehab to help herself.

We are in counseling, I am trying my best, but it is so hard for me to have much hope for improvement, it seems little different than when she first admitted to me that she was an alcoholic almost ten years ago. I fully embrace the concept of not doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome, I have told her that I feel that is what we are doing, and I am not sure whether I am past the point of no return. I need to change something, just don't have any bright ideas what to do. Maybe just being more aware of it will help me not get drawn in to the insanity?
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Old 07-14-2013, 09:50 PM
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I am just curious if you would ever consider leaving your AW..I'm not suggesting it as I really don't know enough about your situation to do so.
To be honest, you just really sound done to me. Maybe I'm wrong.
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Old 07-14-2013, 10:45 PM
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It sounds like your situation has gotten so bad (and you have tried to fix it) that it's no longer about how to deal or avoid getting drawn in.

Like your aw one of my xagf's triggers is her mom. I could never get her to see that she will never stop drinking until she gets in AA/therapist to help her deal with her triggers. If it's anything like your situation I was always dreading a trigger like her mom or something bad at work because then it spelled trouble for me.

You said something I think is very transparent and honest about your situation

I am trying my best, but it is so hard for me to have much hope for improvement, it seems little different than when she first admitted to me that she was an alcoholic almost ten years ago.
I consider myself lucky not having lived with my xagf, but having come from a family where my dad was extremely emotionally abusive I totally get the oxygen metaphor. Growing up it was like a thick cloud in my house that made it hard to breathe. Once my mom kicked my dad out for 2 weeks and WOW, I could breathe again! My mom took him back and unfortunately she never had the strong sense of self to get out and do what was right for her and me. She's actually a great woman who helps a ton of people with her service projects but at home she was never able to truly stand up for herself.

This is no way to live and the little taste of freedom I hope leads you on your new path. I lived in that cloud for over 14 years, it's abuse, it sucks, it poisons you making you sick, they don't change (only temporarily, but then BAM). It was 14 years too much.

Another thing I would really ask yourself is. Do you really need to be around? Ok say you are fully detached and not enabling her...then what's the point if you are still around and not breathing the fresh air? If she can't stop drinking without you around then it will never happen. How about a separation? Time to stand up for yourself before it turns into 15 years, 20 years etc. Sounds like she isn't on her way to long term sobriety, your gut is talking to you.

Oh and if you are having trouble detaching because she's around then I would definitely say you have to leave to allow yourself an environment in which you can detach and take care of yourself.
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Old 07-14-2013, 10:57 PM
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jmartin, I was going to ask you the same question that ZenMe just asked. I can tell you for certain that there is nothing so peaceful as when the drama of alcoholism is removed from the environment.

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Old 07-15-2013, 05:01 AM
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I'm working on not letting myself be drawn in as well. Especially into arguments. I wish I could give you solid advice. Unfortunately, sadly, what is helping me is that... I just don't care so much anymore. I'm fed up.

Another thing that really helps is to remind myself that there is no reasoning with my AH... therefore, all I'm doing by getting sucked in, is making MY life, my day, harder and more miserable.

Wishing you strength.
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Old 07-16-2013, 05:22 AM
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Wow jmartin, your words are so real to me- this is EXACTLY what I am going through. I wish I had some wisdom to share, but can only wish you the peace and serenity you are seeking. Hopefully, the counseling will help...
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Old 07-16-2013, 05:33 AM
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It seems to me that joint counseling doesn't work so great as long as the alcoholic isn't solidly sober. It's like constantly tinkering with a car that has a completely blown engine (lol, trying to come up with a "guy" analogy). You can adjust all the other parts, but it still won't run until you replace the engine.

The basic problem isn't your relationship, it is her alcoholism, and your reaction to it. Those are things that need to go out for separate "servicing" before you can hope to have a vehicle that functions. Joint counseling just distracts you both from the work you could be doing separately.

And yeah, ten years is a long time to wait around for someone else to get their act together.
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Old 07-16-2013, 08:05 AM
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As a suggestion have you brought to her attention that she might be on the path to causing herself a lot of stress trying to handle the new job and her mother at the same time?
She appears to be one of those alcoholics that one of their biggest crimes so to speak is that they don't think through what they are actually able to handle, and over do it. She just doesn't get it--that stress of these types especially combined causes her to relapse.
So what can you do for yourself? If you see a train wreck on the way, get out of the way. A vacation somewhere for you? An old fishing buddy calls you up for a trip? I'm thinking solely on the short-term here.
Would her mother be insulted if you called her up directly and said that you don't know if your wife can handle the new job and company at the same time? I'd only suggest if your MIL and you were on very good footing and on the same team when it comes to your wife. I know...don't mess in her business, right?
Your wife though, from what you wrote, appears oblivious to just how much stress she can handle at any given moment. Some people don't see their own limitations as they bulldoze their way through life. They don't know how to go gentle on themselves.

I know I just wrote a codie response. A rational talk-through it and find a way to evade this response, and I know I will be told to stop expecting logic will work....but my brain doesn't yet work that way where I can discard finding logical solutions.
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Old 07-16-2013, 08:18 AM
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great responses to not engage--I believe there is a thread that started that...

"you maybe right"

i know there is more...look for the thread or someone can add the link here....
I walked away alot and used those words above...i never engaged in a fight...waste of energy and time
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Old 07-16-2013, 08:29 AM
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I have discovered - while she was in rehab, and the past few weeks as she has been traveling - that my time alone has been like oxygen, I feel so much happier and more peaceful while she is gone. It is such a welcome relief from the swirl of stress and drama that she seems to gather around herself, and I really have a hard time not being affected by it.
Yes. This.
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Old 07-16-2013, 09:06 AM
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Thank you all for your insightful comments. Dreams, I have absolutely thought about leaving her. I have had this same conversation with several friends in the past few days - they have absolved me, saying I have done enough. It has given me some pause in trying to understand why I have hung on for so long, and continue to do so.

I do know the main reasons I have are that, on paper, she has been able to keep her problem somewhat in check. She doesn't drink and drive, she has until recently been professionally employed, holding up her end of the financial bargain. She acknowledges her problem, she tries to recover.

On my side, I am perhaps too willing to believe in her, I feel sympathy for her situation and desire to get sober. She professes love for me, and sorrow for the pain she has caused me. I have a soft heart, and perhaps out of weakness, want to believe her because it saves me the pain and financial hit of separating and divorcing. I have a mother who - along with a voice in my head - remind me constantly that "she is basically a good person" and "she loves me so much."

I have told myself the problem is not that bad, at least compared to many other alcoholics. She admits she is an alcoholic and has a problem. Every time she relapses, she agrees that it is unacceptable, and promises to quit drinking (again), work her program more diligently (again) and claims to accept responsibility for her actions. I do feel empathy for her, I no longer take it personally, I know she is not doing it to me, she is doing it to herself. She agreed to go to treatment, she worked hard at her recovery, she seems to want it.

However, it is clear - especially in these past few months where she has been out of the house - is that the drinking and alcoholic behaviors are just part of a larger set of problems, and perhaps more a symptom than the the root issue. Her relapses seem to follow the cycles of what appears to be a bipolar pattern, where during her upswings she is enthusiastic, works her program, etc., but in the downswings, she withdraws and gets complacent. Her difficulty in engaging with her sponsor and get help from AA is part of her overall pattern of being unable to ask for help - from anybody for anything - in all aspects of her life. Her self-esteem is low, she doesn't feel worthy, she feels like she should already know the answer. She feels she should be able to solve her problems by herself. This has caused her problems professionally as well as at home with me. She will not initiate communication on even simple things - she adopts a passive-aggressive approach that requires me to pry things out of her, which is exasperating. She admits it is her problem, but can't seem to change.

I have stayed with her as she has tried counseling, medications, AA, Rational Recovery, rehab, you name it. It just seems that when she swings low, she cannot break out of her isolation-and-relapse pattern. We have gone to couples counseling, communications workshops, you name it, but she still can't volunteer information, respond much beyond "I'm fine".

Meanwhile, I have of course been overcompensating, taking care of finances, household chores, and in general, I suppose enabling her - to drink, to live in a fantasy land where someone else takes care of the big picture, she gets to obsess over her little problems in her little world.

What I have come to realize is that "holding it all together" has become a burden I can no longer carry, the cracks are beginning to show. I fully accept that it is my responsibility, my defect of character that has prolonged this, and enabled her along the way. It feels like I am living with a teenager who won't grow up.

Meanwhile my needs for love, partnership, and kindness have gone mostly unmet for many years. We live like roommates. Even when she has been good, loving, and a real person breaks through on occasion, my bitterness, frustration, and sadness make it nearly impossible for me to accept it in the spirit in which it is offered.

She is returning home from her trip tonight. Her text messages say she has been sober, and she seems happy to be coming home. I feel completely unable to respond with any enthusiasm. Which fills me with a profound sadness.

Another reason I know I hang on is Alanon's The Dilemma of the Alcoholic Marriage says it can take a year of sobriety before the wounds can really begin to heal, intimacy returns, and both parties feel good about it again. So being the "rational", stubborn, fearful, and confused guy that I am, I feel this crushing obligation to try to see it through. Of course, the trouble is, she didn't even make two months sober, and I am skeptical that we can ever come back from this. I feel like the only club left in my bag is to disengage, and the relief I feel while living alone is so great, that option looks more and more attractive.

Thanks all for listening and for your thoughts - if it were not for SR and Alanon, I don't know what I would do.
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Old 07-16-2013, 11:23 AM
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Originally Posted by fourmaggie View Post
great responses to not engage--I believe there is a thread that started that...

"you maybe right"

i know there is more...look for the thread or someone can add the link here....
I walked away alot and used those words above...i never engaged in a fight...waste of energy and time
You know, I get this, but the reality is, we don't fight, it's not confrontation that I get drawn into. It's her self-generated stress and fear. She frets and fusses over simple things, she turns the everyday curve balls of life into existential crises, whether it is the job-hunting process, her mom visiting, who said what to whom, her health "scares".

And with all of these, rather than recognizing there is a problem, examining her options, and taking any action, if that is indicated, she frets about it, stews about it, manufactures drama and stress disproportionate to the problem. This then becomes the reason she has been unable to live up to her responsibilities, can't fulfill some obligation or other, or worse, why she relapsed.

If I try to downplay or defuse the drama or detach, I "don't understand." If I acknowledge, I have a hard time avoiding the "poor me" self-pity party. If I suggest she work her program, she has a lot of excuses (I left voice mail, no one has called me back, etc.). Bottom line, I just don't want to engage in what to me is a useless conversation, but I have not yet figured out how to deflect this without it escalating. My conclusion is, all I have left are my feet, gets me outta here before this madness gets ME.
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Old 07-16-2013, 11:43 AM
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Posts: 152 is amazing how similiar our lives our. Instead of treatment my wife leaves for a week a month to pursue her art career. Durning that time I also feel like new life has breathed into me. She is gone right now and it has been calm, peaceful, no drama, no stress, no walking around on eggshells....almost normal. When she is sober we get along great. But it is like a nightly switch that gets flipped and out comes someone I dont even recognise any longer, which makes it maddening becuase I love being with her when she is sober. She too stresses out over things that most wouldnt give a second thought. She battles with her mother, who has some of the same behavorial characteristics, but not the alcohol. I just wanted to lift you up and have you realize that you are not alone brother. I am coming to the end. Been married 29 years. I have been very quietly planning some sort of exit strategy. I have realized recently that it is not "if" anymore but now when.

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Old 07-16-2013, 12:33 PM
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she turns the everyday curve balls of life into existential crises, whether it is the job-hunting process, her mom visiting, who said what to whom, her health "scares".
You just described my X to a t. It's crazy how similar alcoholics behave.

I'm going to a go a little psych on you. It's the up and down, the it's really good, then really bad part of relationships with alcoholics that makes it even harder for us to break away, at a subconscious level. We engage in "intermittent reinforcement" which according to Operant Conditioning makes it even harder for us to break free and change our conditioned behaviors.

Oversimplifying of course...

Say your in Vegas:
A) You spend a few minutes playing a slot machine that never pays out, you quickly stop playing that slot machine after 5 minutes.

B) You find a new slot machine that in the first 3 minutes has paid out every game you play! you continue to play but it then consistently no longer pays out, you quickly stop playing this slot machine (can't lose all that hard earned cash). Looks like it's done paying. At this slot machine you played 5 minutes.

C) you find a slot machine that within a short time frame, say 3 minutes, pays and doesn't pay. It's not consistent, it's random and you haven't cracked the code, it seems to pay every 2 minutes, you win 2 in a row, then you don't win for 3, then win again, etc. It's conditioning you that there's a win in the future, and maybe the jackpot. This is the slot machine people play the most and are going to have the hardest time walking away from. You stopped playing because you are losing more than you are winning overall. At this slot machine you played 30 minutes.
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