Boundaries And Addiction

From Suffering In Silence To Finding Courage

Susan King

Hello friends!  Susan here, stepping in to address one of the many questions that come to Leslie Vernick & Co. each week.  I have just had a 4 day weekend and was so thankful to have downtime with friends and family.  It felt so great to rest and wake up at my leisure for a few days. Monday morning came and I did not want to get up with my alarm! However, with some discomfort, I did get up.  For my day to be successful, I find creating boundaries for myself helps tremendously. I try to parent myself well. Now that I am an adult, I recognize I am the only one that will take care of me…even if it isn’t always enjoyable in the moment.

Question: I suffered in silence for many years with my husband's alcohol addiction. The more he drank, the worse our marriage was because his addiction consumed him and then I was consumed by it too. I got the courage to put up boundaries about 9 months ago and he just blows through them. Or says he abides by them for a while and then blows through them. He had been to rehab 3 times, always with great promises but he just can't stay sober. I forced a separation because my kids and I can't continue to live in the chaos and destruction and lies from his addictive behavior. He continues to guilt me about this – continues to lie about his own behaviors, cares only about his emotions, and downplays the trauma and pain he has caused us. But I feel guilty every time he calls and says “how could you do this after I've gone to rehab for you, you don't understand addiction, you are heartless, etc”. How can I ever find peace and healing for myself and my kids?

Susan’s Response: I can certainly relate to this question and I am sure there are many more women out there who are struggling due to a spouse’s addiction. The addicted mind does not think clearly and is blind to the effects of addiction. After many years, you could see that your situation was not going to change until you created change for yourself and your children.  I am so glad to hear that you are valuing your own health and safety.  

To answer your question, “How can I ever find peace and healing for myself and my kids?”, I believe you have begun the process already. It does take time; be patient with yourself. As you detach from the chaos and destruction, you can focus on creating peace and healing. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.”  Jesus reminds us as believers, we have the Spirit of Truth to help us discern danger and find the courage to grow to be healthy.

You stated you feel guilty every time he calls and says, “how could you do this after I've gone to rehab for you, you don't understand addiction, you are heartless, etc”. I must ask, is guilt what you are feeling? Or is that what he wants you to feel? Guilt is a helpful emotion that lets us know we have done something wrong and need to change. Have you done something wrong by keeping yourself safe and sane? Proverbs 22:3 states, “the prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” Seeking refuge from danger when you are able is wise. Perhaps what you are feeling is manipulated, manipulated to take responsibility for your husband’s lack of care for your relationship and his own health. What will you do to keep yourself from being manipulated?

You stepped out courageously to put up some boundaries and that is wonderful. Boundaries can be a difficult concept and upholding them takes practice. So let me simplify by saying, boundaries are defined by you, for your benefit, and carried out by you.  Perhaps you had made some requests regarding certain behaviors and that is a great place to start in healthy communication. Making requests is different than implementing boundaries. It sounds like your husband agreed to honor your requests at times and at other times he continued with a pattern of recklessness. You set a boundary for yourself when his chaos, destruction, and lying did not cease. You carried out your own boundary and left to preserve your safety and sanity. Well done! You have given yourself a good example of how to implement a boundary…even if it did not feel good to choose to leave. Taking care of ourselves does not always feel good in the moment.

If your husband has gone to rehab “for you”, that explains why his change is not lasting.  He is not doing it for himself; he is trying to appease you.  This means his motivation is dependent on you and he would like you to take responsibility for it. Is that possibly what you meant when you stated you became consumed by his addiction? Perhaps you were working harder than he was to manage or resolve his addictive behaviors. For your husband to be well, he must take responsibility for his own life. As an adult man, that is what is good for him; otherwise, he will become more and more deformed. Sadly, many chose not to care for themselves well.

I will guess that you have loved your husband for quite some time and probably still do.  I can imagine the outcome you are hoping for is for him to get sober and to live in peace and health with you. While that is a lovely thought, dear one, you cannot make it so. My heart aches for you as you are in this circumstance. Surround yourself with support, stay close to this community, and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you. Also, I will encourage you to continue to keep your focus on taking responsibility for your own peace and health as you parent your little ones well.

If you would like to be empowered to change through our 6-month group coaching experience, please go to www.leslievernick.com/change for more information.

Beloved reader, in what ways have you found that taking responsibility for yourself creates peace and healing in your life?

15 Comments

  1. Pamela Reinhardt on December 8, 2022 at 8:18 am

    I can relate 100%. I started going to Alanon, a support group for families of alcoholics. I would encourage anyone that lives with a spouse who suffers with alcohol addiction to attend at least 6 meetings to see if it is for you. It changed my life.

    • Sarah on December 8, 2022 at 12:16 pm

      Yes Pamela, likewise I highly recommend Al-Anon. I’ve been in the program now for 6 months, have a sponsor and working through the steps. I’m SO GLAD I kept on going when he decided to ‘not drink for a while’ because he’s back to drinking.

    • Susan King on December 8, 2022 at 10:05 pm

      Thank you for your suggestion, Pamela. Alanon can be very helpful. Blessings to you!

  2. Anne on December 8, 2022 at 8:33 am

    ‘ Married to Addiction’ is a great faith-based resource for wives of alcoholics! It’s helped me a lot.

  3. Caroline Abbott on December 8, 2022 at 9:38 am

    This man sounds abusive, he has a great sense of entitlement. We cannot make another person change. https://carolineabbott.com/2022/01/when-abusers-say-they-want-to-change/

    • Kathryn Chamberlin on December 8, 2022 at 5:10 pm

      I wonder if she thinks about not receiving or continuing phone calls from one who is emotionally and verbally abusive?

  4. Jeri-Jo Catalano on December 8, 2022 at 9:50 am

    I can relate to this. My husband has been in recovery for 6 years. He has made great strides in his recovery with God guiding him. However, he still carries the traits of an active addict. Manipulation, it’s everyone else but him, hiding, defending, turning things around on me (“But, you…”). Boundaries and self care are the key to my healing. We are currently in marraige counseling (when he feels like going so our counselor can tell me what I’ve done wrong). Funny thing about that is….our marriage counselor has “his number” and she validated me, so I don’t feel like I’m going crazy anymore….that gave me the hope and drive to set those boundaries, continue to seek God and follow how The Spirit had already been leading me. Wake up every day and speak to yourself even one blessing….if you can speak more, wonderful. Keep at it!!! ❤️

  5. Gina Richroath on December 8, 2022 at 10:04 am

    When I started going to Alanon years ago he said, “that’s good, you need to learn more about me and how I think”. He didn’t believe me when I told him we didn’t spend much time talking about the addict but more talking about ourselves and how we could change our lives for the better in spite of the addict. He was shocked that they were teaching me how to make everything about him. That was the beginning of the end for our marriage. Life was not meant to be loved in chaos and constant disruption.

  6. Anne M Parsell MA, LPC on December 8, 2022 at 1:40 pm

    As a clinical counselor, I can’t agree with Susan more. She clarifies the dynamics and graciously communicates that we can’t control others’ grievous choices , but we can make healthy, though difficult, choices that allow us to live in truth and freedom by the Holy Spirit’s empowering.

  7. nancy mcelroy on December 8, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    You are not alone. I also left a husband addicted to alcohol and find al anon helpful. I had to leave a my home and 31 year marriage because the lies and dysfunction were destroying me. It have been incredibly painful but Susan is right that he has to want sobriety himself. My husband does not want it so i had no choice but to leave. I believe God doesn’t want me to be in a destructive marriage and am grateful for Leslie and her team of coaches. This is a very painful time for me and I am trying to trust God with all the things that sadden and scare me ❤️‍🩹🙏🏻

  8. Julie on December 8, 2022 at 3:01 pm

    This was me. I suffered in silence for way too long. I stood alongside my husband through multiple hospital stays, medical detoxes, psychiatric hospital and rehab stays. I prayed for God to help him overcome his addiction for so long. I was suffering, but I loved my husband and wanted to believe he could overcome his alcohol addiction. After enduring so much, one day I told God that I was going stay unless he showed me in a big way that I needed to leave. And, in the end, He did just that. I had to leave to protect my children because I could no longer protect them by staying. It’s been a long road, but I am now divorced and life is SO MUCH BETTER! My ex-husband is now 6 months sober because he has to be in order to see our children. He is getting his life together, and he and I get along well. He is actually a much better ex husband than he ever was as a husband, and a much better father to our children now that he is sober and is only a part-time dad. I know now that I was enabling him just by staying in the marriage. If I wouldn’t have left and filed for divorce, i would still be suffering in the darkness of his addiction and so would my children. But, because I chose to leave, my children and I now get to live a life full of light and happiness!

    • Leslie Vernick on December 12, 2022 at 12:49 pm

      Great story Julie and it tells us that staying is not always the best, not just for you, but also for him. Had you stayed, he would have had not incentive to get sober and that would have harmed everyone. Leslie

  9. Jessica Mendies on December 9, 2022 at 1:36 am

    When I learned to manage myself and take responsibility for my behaviors and actions, I took away the true guilt of acting in a dishonoring way and it made it more clear for me what was mine and what was his responsibility. Then I could be more gentle and firm in my boundaries because I was more clear on what was ok and what wasn’t in my life. I could say with sadness and love, “this is no longer ok to have in my life.”

  10. Janette Bradley on December 9, 2022 at 10:22 am

    I feel this to my very core. I was married to an alcoholic for 25 years. So, so many years of trying my best to hide it from everyone I knew, including my kids (until they were old enough to sadly witness it all). The reason he drank was always my or someone else’s fault…I wasn’t supportive enough, I wasn’t affectionate enough, things were difficult at work, there were difficulties in the family, he had been through some tragic losses…on and on. Some of these things were true, so I kept holding on, hoping things would finally get good enough that he would realize he was throwing his family away. He became a compulsive liar, lying about drinking and almost any and everything. Finally, I had to set a boundary: he had to stop drinking, seek help (and be honest, because he had been to several counselors and doctors but was never truthful about his addiction), and if he lied to me one more time about drinking, I was done. He moved into the basement apartment, and we tried for 7 months, meeting at scheduled times to talk, and he began going to AA meetings. There were a few instances where I felt he was lying to me but couldn’t prove it. Finally, I prayed one day for God to please reveal to me if there was something I needed to know. Not long after that, a friend who knew what I was going through called me out of the blue and told me they had seen him drinking somewhere. I confronted him with it, and he admitted it was true. My kids and I left him after that, and we never looked back. They even begged me not to go back, even if he seemed to change. His journey with addiction continued after the divorce to the point that he almost died several times, finally went to in-treatment rehab, cleaned up, but has now started slipping back into his addictive behaviors. All I can do is pray for him and pray that my now-grown kids will place their own boundaries and be able to keep them so their lives will not be full of chaos again. As far as I am concerned, nothing felt better than the first night my kids and I laid our heads down in a new place of peace where nothing would happen that we didn’t control. I joined a DivorceCare group, which helped me find peace and healing. I hate that this happened in my, my kids, and my husband’s lives, but I’m here to say that God will get you through. He doesn’t intend for you to live in chaos with no end in sight. I thank Leslie, too, as I found her website during that terrible time, and her words have given me more support and encouragement than I could ever express. Praying for this dear woman and her children to find peace and healing.

  11. Liz S on December 9, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    I also went to Al-Anon, and found it changed my life for the better to really embrace the program. I took every step to grow healthier and free inside. After a while, my husband was so happy for the changes in me. But later he was no longer able to blame me for his problems and I was no longer bailing him out. He grew angry and resentful, and after 27 years of marriage and only 8 months of me being in Al-Anon, he decided to leave me very suddenly. It’s been 10 years and my life is so much better. I believe God delivered me, as my ex is on his 3rd marriage, and I’m happily single, have had a great career since he left, and am so much better off. My heart goes out to you, friend, but you cannot change someone else. But you can change yourself. Your spouse may not like the new you, but whether you stay together or not, you can be happier inside by joining a support group like Al-Anon and working on your own spiritual and emotional health. You can change with God’s help and the help of friends who have been through this situation.

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