Ask Amy: Time for enabler to part from alcoholic mate

Tribune Media ServicesSeptember 28, 2013 

DEAR AMY: I have been engaged to a highly functioning alcoholic for several years. He drinks to cope with his stress, including past wounds that he can't let go of.

I have done everything to try to help. He is extremely creative and functions very well at work. He goes out to dinner most nights and drinks to excess without a hangover in the morning.

I am now refusing to go out with him because he turns mean after three drinks or more and then takes all his problems out on me and passes out.

I am beside myself because he blames me for everything, including his reasons for drinking, as well as his problems with family, employers and other trauma experiences in his life.

I have sought counseling with him, and nothing has worked. I'm frustrated and feel there's nothing else I can do. I don't want to leave him, but I know that he will only get worse.

Should I just give up, try to heal and move on? — Distressed Over Alcoholic Fiance

DEAR DISTRESSED: Your guy does not drink because he is stressed. He drinks because he is an alcoholic. You say he is highly functioning, and yet your description is of someone who is caught in the hell of addiction, who is hurting, punishing and mowing down everyone in his path. Is this functioning? I don't think so.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. As his behavior deteriorates, you are now overfunctioning on your fiance's behalf: enabling, decoding and explaining his motivations, mopping up after him and, in general, tolerating pretty intolerable and abusive behavior.

You cannot reason with an addict. You can love him and appreciate his finer qualities when he's sober, but you cannot reason with him. You also should not live with him or give him access to you when he's drunk (which sounds like a daily event).

Pursue counseling for yourself as a way to understand your own motivations and develop some bottom-line non-negotiables, which you will have to work hard to establish and maintain. You should attend Al-Anon meetings. And yes, you can love him from a distance, but you should definitely move on.

DEAR AMY: I have a 25-year-old daughter who lives at home with my husband and me. She works part time and goes to the local community college. She seems to have problems making the right decision and being realistic about her situation. She transferred to a four-year college but failed a class and was dismissed. She returned to the community college.

In addition, she recently got a DUI, and we feel we will probably have to help her with the expenses for this bad decision. She is becoming a financial drain, but we want her to have a college degree and minimize the damage a DUI can be on her future.

We struggle with our responsibilities. Are we too enabling, and should we just let her face the consequences alone? — Confused Parents

DEAR CONFUSED: You should help your daughter to set realistic goals that she can then attain: an associate degree, steady employment and managing her money well.

Has your daughter asked you to minimize the consequences of her DUI? Has she begged you to intervene, hire a lawyer, pay a fine, etc.? If so, then you have some leverage where you can discuss what you will — or won't — do. However, the very essence of enabling is jumping in to fix problems that are not yours to fix. When she starts to feel real consequences, she will start to become her own problem solver, and that should be your ultimate goal for her.

DEAR AMY: Your advice to "In a Quandary" was excellent. As a pastor I have presided over a number of funerals for the less lovable among us.

Thank you for letting Quandary know that funerals are not for the deceased but for the living.

As you advised, Quandary's presence would likely mean the world to her sister, who has suffered through the relationship with this man and is likely fearful that her connection with her sister has been irreparably harmed by his behavior. — Corstian Devos


(You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: You can also follow her on Twitter askingamy or "like" her on Facebook. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.) 


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