I cannot bear my wife’s alcoholism any longer. If I stay I’ll perish. But if I leave her I’ll be in the financial pits. And strangely, I still love her! I’ve been to an Al-Anon meeting but it’s not enough. Most of my friends tell me to leave her, and my family tells me to stick it out. What do I do?
Note: I first wrote this answer as a way to talk about methods to approach tough dilemmas, and since that time it has grown into the forum you see now.
I’m continually moved by the vivid descriptions of the carnage that addiction causes, and the impossible “you choose, you lose” dilemmas faced by exhausted, isolated partners. Often, finance, children and other circumstances prevent any simple solutions. But, I also notice that many describe their own addiction of sorts – to the partner. A love and attachment you cannot shake, despite the consequences. It’s something like finding yourself holding a hot panhandle and gripping all the more tightly the more it burns.
Please feel free to tell your own story. I also encourage you to respond to other postings with a few words of appreciation, support and ideas.
Updates are appreciated. There are many more readers of this dialogue than there are responders – you have an interested group here and we want to know what happens.
You have a mighty dilemma. My first suggestion would be to treat with skepticism any advice to take choice 1 over choice 2. In the end, only you can decide. And only you will know just how much sadness and anxiety is going to be inherent with either option.
Try viewing your dilemma as four-pronged: Choice 1 would be that you decide to leave your wife and that you do so in the most careful, strategic manner, doing the most that you can to ensure this unfolds as becoming the right choice. Choice 2 would be that you leave in a way that magnifies the potential for a negative outcome, say by being mean, impulsive or passive, neglecting the care of your self, your social network, financial interests and so on. Choices 3 and 4 would be the most attentive, well-equipped approach to staying with her, vs. the approach that would leave you the most hurt.
In other words, the way in which you select a choice and then follow through on it what is important, and it is where you can make nitty-gritty choices on a day-to-day basis. The working out of those specifics might be where your attention is going to be productive.
There is another general rule in making a wrenching decision. Make the mistake you can correct. That is, whichever course is more reversible might be considered first. In your case, it is much easier to recover from the mistake of waiting a bit more, than to recover after discovering that divorce was a mistake. Naturally, this is a general guideline only.
One more thing. Loneliness and anxiety, among other troubles, are almost universally difficult for partners of alcoholics. Reaching out is good. More reaching out is better. Al-Anon is not for everyone in your situation, but those who do find it helpful would probably say that it’s the repeated attendance that makes it work.