For Alcohol Awareness Week, Healthista spoke to Annie who was in a relationship with an alcoholic for six years. After seeking help from Al-anon, she finally found the courage to leave
Imagine living with someone who drank addictively – you may not need to imagine it. So many of us are all too familiar with the experience of loving an addict.
Indeed, according to Al-Anon Family Groups UK & Eire (Al-Anon), a 12-step fellowship dedicated to helping anyone who has been affected by their relationship with an alcoholic, people who seek support for alcoholism aren’t always seeking to help themselves but an alcoholic they know and love; a spouse, partner or sibling.
What often goes unnoticed they say, is that for every person with a drink problem, there are at least five other people who are affected.
Whether it’s a family member or friend, many live with a degree of emotional and physical abuse, uncertainty, deceit and financial insecurity which can often lead to mental health problems of their own.
Annie is an Al-Anon member who admits that, while her ex partner’s abusive behaviour was made worse by his problem drinking, she was unable to find the strength to leave him. Like so many of us in marriages or relationships with addicts, she kept going back.
She credits Al-Anon with helping her become stronger and to finally find the confidence to leave. This is her story.
That rock ‘n roll charm
Annie was 27 when she met her ex-partner Gavin, they were both living abroad and Annie was a singer in the band that they were both members of.
‘I met Gavin when I was singing in the band we had together. He made it very clear from the start that he really liked me. His obvious attraction for me was attractive to me. It was a buzz, and I loved being wanted that much.
‘He was exciting and had that rock and roll look about him. He was also a bit of a bad boy with a criminal past. It was illicit, it was an affair which did add to the excitement,’ revealed Annie.
Gavin and Annie got to know each other and Annie quickly found out that Gavin was in AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) at the time. She found it fascinating as she had never met someone who went to AA before.
Having had a religious upbringing, which added to her desire to do ‘the naughty fun stuff’, Annie’s previous relationships had been with both good and bad boys, but she’d also had many unhealthy friendships.
‘I had many unhealthy friendships with women as well, due to my being bisexual. These friends often suffered from mental health problems and addiction. I found myself in many co-dependent friendships as well as relationships,’ said Annie.
According to many psychotherapists and 12-step philosophy, those who have codependent relationships may be drawn to relationships with addicts. They have a desire to be needed and may find themselves enabling the behaviour of an addict while also being repeatedly drawn into abusive situations they cannot leave (Codependents Anonymous is a 12 step fellowship for those who have codependency issues).
Gavin got back in with the people he knew before, who were much worse than the people we knew whilst living abroad
‘Gavin was in AA when I met him and soon after we met, Gavin told me he felt that in order to pluck up the courage and ask me out, he felt he needed to have a drink’ explained Annie.
‘It was easy to cover up the drinking whilst we lived abroad, but alcoholism is a progressive illness and it got a lot worse. It was when we came back to London that it got ten times worse. The longer you’re with someone the more you get to see just how bad it can be,’ added Annie, who is now in her 40s.
‘Gavin was (when he was lovely) very interesting, I knew he had this exciting history, but he was also a sensitive person, it became an intoxicating and wild relationship quite quickly, it was all very exciting – think sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Addiction, abuse and threats
‘Life in London though, was difficult and more expensive, we didn’t have much money. Gavin got back in with the people he knew before, who were much worse than the people we knew whilst living abroad’.
Annie explained, ‘I had grown up in quite a chaotic dysfunctional home, with a lot of on and off love from my mother. I ended up finding it very hard to say no to people and found myself in codependent relationships, not knowing how to say no to anyone I was with and feeling stuck, never able to leave.
‘I remember one morning, I was volunteering part-time on a helpline and I was looking at the questions aimed at abused women and to my surprise, I was able to answer ‘yes’ to all of them.
‘He often threatened to hit me, I was scared of him but part of me was in denial. That day, I realised how bad my situation was.’.
Annie also said that although Gavin mostly threatened her he would also get a bit ‘hands on, pushy, physical’ and shake his fist in front of her face.
‘I had seen him beat people up and knock them out in one, so I knew he was strong and it scared me. He made me scared to leave him, he would threaten to kill not just the person I was having the ‘affair’ with, but also threatened to kill me or himself,’ said Annie.
Annie descirbed Gavin as a binge drinker who would drink for three or four days and then sleep for two. Gavin was a tradesman, and when he would finish a job, he would get the cash and go straight to the pub from around 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
‘He would often drink alone in the local pub on his own, because no one really likes to drink with heavy drinkers – they’re horrible,’ said Annie.
‘I drank with him a lot at first, but it was when I stopped drinking with him that it became difficult. It became clear that I was making a very obvious statement.’
Annie kept Gavin’s alcohol addiction from her family. ‘I hid Gavin’s addiction from my family, but some of them were very careful not to admit what they thought about him. Once it started to come out about how horrible he was, I think they were quite shocked.
‘Soon after he would ring my mum drunk and talk about me. It made me feel awkward, embarrassed and weird. He still did it even after we split up’.
As a result, Annie was terrified of what Gavin would say to her family. ‘I didn’t want him telling them the personal stuff about the wild life I had had myself, I didn’t want him blabbing about my past’.
I drank with him a lot at first, but it was when I stopped drinking with him that it became difficult. It became clear that I was making a very obvious statement
At parties and events Gavin’s drinking got really bad, so Annie started going to events and parties without him.
‘I was happy to go by myself, because I wouldn’t then have to worry about him embarrassing himself or me.
‘He used to embarrass himself more in front of his own family, some of them had drink problems too, I was very careful about having him around my family.
‘My family are religious and we didn’t have drinking events, so the parties I would go to with him and his family I knew it would be alright if he got really drunk’.
Annie also described the atmosphere of coming home to Gavin drunk as horrible, she added that she rather he was out.
‘I would have come home reasonably early, and he would already be drunk, it was such a horrible feeling of ‘it all starts now, the fun has stopped’.
Annie never did ask Gavin to stop drinking as she believed it would be a complete waste of time.
At one point, she pleaded with Gavin to stay with her rather than going out to drink.
‘Our little dog had got run over as a puppy because Gavin left the front door open, he survived, but that weekend that the puppy came back from the vet I pleaded with Gavin not to leave me with this sick animal but because he was supposed to be seeing a friend for a drink there was no way he would stay with me’.
At times when Gavin would drive home drunk, Annie would refuse to get in the car with him because of his dangerous drunk driving.
‘He would be absolutely obliterated, nearly unconscious and he would still get into the car to drive’.
So, what did Annie think was the cause of Gavin’s drinking?
‘Gavin’s Dad was a drinker and he was half Irish half Scottish. There has got to be some genetics that could have caused his drinking addiction. The drink would also help with Gavin’s anxiety problems, so that was a clear factor too.’
Gavin blamed Annie for everything, including the dog being run over. ‘He blamed me simply because I wasn’t there. He would blame me for everything.
‘I sometimes ended up blaming myself for the things he was accusing me of. He would make me feel so guilty, I would take it all on.
‘Looking back it infuriates me that I could allow those feelings. We were a horribly perfect match because I did feel so guilty very easily, and he would make me feel guilty so often’.
‘I used to be a bit of a liberal hippie, I was a bit wild when it came to sex,’ explained Annie. ‘Gavin was very insecure and jealous of this time and he used to call me every name under the sun, slut, whore, disgusting, a lot of insults towards my sexuality – I started to have very low self-esteem.
Binge eating to cope
‘I used to binge eat when he would binge the booze. I used to be binge on chocolate and biscuits. As the years went on, I had lost all concept of who I was, and I lost my self-esteem.
‘As well as still loving Gavin, the dog was another one of the reasons I felt I couldn’t leave,’ says Annie. ‘Financially also, because we were on benefits, he would make big cash money doing trade jobs so he did support me and I felt trapped by that.
‘If I ever did threaten to leave he would use the dog against me. I remember running out and the dog ran after me and he kept saying you cant leave ‘us’ rather than me just leaving him’.
The final straw
‘One night, he slept with a woman I worked with, in my own bed. I confronted him, and he became aggressive, calling me every nasty and hurtful name he could think of. I was so scared and hurt, I remember running out of our house to a friend for safety.
‘I actually can’t remember how I found Al-Anon, but I did, and out of desperation I looked for a local meeting and turned up. I cried so much at my first meeting. I remember this woman talking about how her alcoholic son had committed suicide and I sobbed and sobbed even more.
‘I wasn’t in Al-anon for very long before I realised I had the strength to leave him. As soon as I joined I knew it was exactly what I wanted and needed, I put into place very quickly what I needed to do.
‘The suggestions that other members were making made sense to me so I tried them, I was so ready for something to work’.
Annie continued, ‘I completely stopped drinking with him and stopped giving him money. When I started to say no to him he got very aggressive and dangerous, so I had absolutely no choice in the end but to leave, for my own safety. It was hard but I did it, and I left him very quickly.’
Annie explained that she has learnt so much about herself, addiction and life. ‘I can now say no to people far better than I used to. I have a much better relationship with money, I have some actual real confidence, not just bravado’.
Although Annie still gets scared when she sees people who look like Gavin she belives that, ‘now I can see that if other people love me I am lovable, having that sense of being loved and being loving has been a wonderful source of self-confidence. People can have problems and addictions but it doesn’t mean they can do what they like and I don’t have to put up with it’.
‘Eventually I decided to move away for my own safety and he now doesn’t know where I live. I haven’t heard from him since,’ says Annie.
Finding real love
For the past five years, Annie has been in a relationship with a genuine and loving man. Coincidentally, his late father was in AA so he has an understanding of what she went through, it has also made it easier for her to open up to him.
‘You can’t rely on an alcoholic, but I can rely and trust my new partner and that has been a huge thing for me.
‘Being able to talk about the worst stuff you’ve been though and people just getting it because they’ve been there and experienced trauma themselves, just them saying ‘I know how you feel’ was enough’.
Annie would advise anyone who feels trapped in a relationship with an alcoholic to give Al-anon a try, she also stressed that you are not alone, there are many people out there who know what it’s like, do not isolate yourself. It isn’t selfish to put yourself first.
Al-Anon Family Groups UK & Eire is launching a new campaign “The Untold Story” during Alcohol Awareness Week (19-25 November 2018) to give a voice to some of the people living with problem drinkers and to encourage more people affected to seek support and find their local Al-Anon meeting. The “Untold Story” campaign uses illustration and real stories to show how alcohol dependency can affect individuals and families, and how attending Al-Anon meetings can offer solace and hope.
All details of local meetings can be found on the Al-Anon website or by calling 0800 0086 811 (10am-10pm)