How To Practice Tough-Love With the Alcoholic You Love
“I loved the alcoholic, but I had to learn to love myself more!”
–Grace W. Wroldson, author of So, You Love an Alcoholic?: Lessons for a Codependent
I loved him. I loved the alcoholic. I loved him as much as I possibly could. I loved him 100 ways that didn’t work. To my dismay, my love couldn’t cure the active disease of alcoholism that was destroying him. For short periods of time, I convinced myself that my love was helping him. But after a while, my love stopped helping and started hurting us both.
Looking at Myself: Codependency with an Alcoholic
I was codependent, and so my version of love consisted of rescuing, enabling, hand-holding, fixing, and pitying the alcoholic. I poured gallons of compassion on the alcoholic and never gave myself a single drop. My version of love was no longer about loving another free soul and being loved in return – it was about chaining his soul to mine so he would never leave me. I had abandonment issues and an intense fear of failure which was coupled with an incredible fear of humiliation. I trapped myself in an endless cycle of fear, and I justified it by saying things like; “But I love him so much!”
How did I get here? I had to think back a bit . . .
Twenty years ago, my original love for him stemmed from two things:
When I met him, I respected him. He had good qualities. However, if one definition of love is based on respect, then over time I had lost love (and respect) for the alcoholic. I also lost love (and respect) for myself because I refused to let go of him even when his bad behavior was unacceptable and harmful to me.
I hung onto the alcoholic in the most unloving ways. My codependency and addiction to loving him became the ways I “loved” the alcoholic from a place of fear and pain. I knew that my love was destroying me and hurting him, but my fears wouldn’t let me let go. From this unhealthy attachment, my behavior was not respectable and my behavior was not loving towards myself.
I felt sorry for him. Back when I met him in high school, he seemed misunderstood. He seemed to be a suffering soul and I wanted to be the one person who could comfort, understand him, and complete him. Did I ever once think to try to understand myself first? No. I was so fixated on others (part of my codependency) that I lost sight of myself. Did I feel incomplete? Yes. Was I feeling sorry for myself in some way? Yes. Wait… was I a suffering soul too?
Hmm. . . What about meeeeeee in all of this talk about my love for him?
Tough-Love for the Alcoholic: The Failed Approach
After failed attempts at practicing tough-love with the alcoholic – trying to get him sober (like others had ignorantly told me to do), I had to stop. Trying to practice tough-love with him wasn’t working, and it was wearing me down. It didn’t get him to quit drinking. It didn’t get him into AA, and it didn’t get him sober. It just tired me out. I felt like an odd disciplinarian that I didn’t want to be. It didn’t feel right and it wasn’t a good experience and in a romantic partnership. I was trying to be intimate, equal partners with someone to who I was trying to teach a lesson to. I needed to make an important shift and stop being so stuck. What else could I do?
Tough-Love with Myself: Needing Independence
So, instead, I had to practice tough-love with myself. This was difficult because I wanted to love him and stay with him forever. That’s what my heart wanted. My head wanted something else. However, it wasn’t healthy for either of us to try for “forever” with the disease of alcoholism progressing in our alcoholic-codependent relationship. I had to shift my focus away from the alcoholic and away from the toxic, unhealthy relationship. I had to focus on myself because I needed healing. I also needed some distance from him to think clearly, self-reflect, and learn the lessons. (Read: I Love an Alcoholic! Now, What Do I Do?
How Did I Practice Tough-Love?
- I had to break my own heart and break it off with the alcoholic. (I did this to love and respect myself.)
- I had to break up with myself! (I broke it off with the old, tired, codependent version of me. I refused to be that person anymore. Then, I set some major boundaries with myself around relationships. Most importantly, I worked hard and became financially independent. Boy, was that some tough-love to take! It wasn’t easy.)
Tough-Love is Still Love: The Importance of Self-Love
I needed to remember that tough-love is still a form of love. I worked my recovery program (in Al-Anon) and learned to be in a loving relationship with myself –first and foremost. Some of this was challenging, but self-love helped me “tough it out” and survive the heartbreak. I learned to be tough yet gentle with myself to get through it. It required a healthy mindset and lots of self-discipline.
Can you imagine loving yourself with tough-love, yet still being gentle with yourself in the process?
By practicing tough-love with myself, I learned to love myself in ways that worked. Today, my life is filled with love because I took a tough-love approach! REMEMBER: Tough-love is still love.
Are you ready to love in ways that work?
—Grace W. Wroldson, mother, author, survivor, and thriver of 5 self-help books available on Amazon
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