On Addiction: So, You’ve Married an Alcoholic, Now What? It’s Two-Plus-One Interventions, Then Leave! (Part 1 of 3)

Up Close and Personal, with Stacy D. Phillips, LinkedIn
Stacy D. Phillips

Alcoholism sucks! There is no way to sugarcoat it.

It’s been 10 years since I was married to an alcoholic. It’s been 10 years, and though we are divorced, I am still traumatized by that experience. As a highly experienced divorce lawyer who’s seen and heard nearly everything imaginable, the fact that I’m still so shaken by that period of my life says everything.

But now, I feel it’s time to share some of my experience and lessons learned, not to help me process it – because years of therapy have genuinely helped – but with the fervent hope that I might be able to help someone else who may be deep in the throes of a relationship with an alcoholic or an addict.

It was my second marriage, and although I loved him very much, it was by far the worst experience of my life and at other times, a great experience. The time wasted navigating the abuse caused by an alcoholic deep in his addiction is only offset by my personal growth and resilience.

For all involved, I’ll spare you many of the horror stories from my experience, but to say I lived through hell and survived is not an overstatement.

I went through seven of his withdrawals. Him having a seizure. Him being hospitalized.  And his stint in rehab at Betty Ford, in which I actively participated. There was horrible stuff, dangerous for me and my two children, and more pain caused than ever imaginable until I finally drew a line in the sand.

He crossed that line, and I confronted him, but before I could get him out of my home, he blessedly left.

Unless you’re with someone who really wants the help – actively committing to dealing with their addiction – you’re going to be trapped on a never-ending roller coaster.

My best advice is to try and figure it out as quickly as possible. If it's your mate, I’d get out earlier than I did. Give an alcoholic one or two chances to prove themselves, and if the relapses continue, you probably should move on. Of course, if it's your child suffering from the addiction, that’s a very different situation and immediately seek rehab and counseling services together.

I, and many other people who have lived with an addict, develop a learned sense of hopefulness. It’s sort of like domestic violence where there’s always some sort of promise that the abuser will stop or the sickness will magically get better. You cling to that hope, but unless and until they’re in treatment and active recovery, it’s most likely not going to improve.

Let me be very clear: Unless the addict really wants to deal with their addiction, it will not miraculously go away.

I’m now a believer in the two-plus-one intervention method(™) – and this is a theory that I’ve developed. At first, you try to do an intervention of sorts with the person who has the addiction. Try to get them help. There is Alcoholics Anonymous, which absolutely works But AA might not be for everyone; there are other types of alcoholism support groups, as well as therapists, drug and alcohol counselors, rehab centers, and more. And they're not mutually exclusive.

But one critical thing you must keep in mind is that the addict must want to get the help he or she needs for it to really work; it’s not on you if it doesn’t stick at first.

Perhaps you do an intervention once or twice, but if that doesn’t work, someone should do the intervention on you, the spouse/partner. After two-plus-one interventions, get the hell out!

Because, if I had known what I know now, I would have left much sooner than I did.

And a note to friends and family, please speak up early and often! If I had heard bluntly what lots of other people knew and weren’t telling me, I would have acted sooner.

Just how does self-intervention work? Well, it needs to be a group of people who sit you down and are brutally honest with you. We can easily fend off one or two at a time and push back, but if a group of people is willing to tell you the bitter, stone-cold truth, it should leave you thinking about it more seriously and you should be ready to take action. (Note: Al-Anon is another potential resource for support.)

In my case, people didn’t say things to me. They may have thought the thoughts, but they didn’t communicate with me. I know it’s uncomfortable. It’s not easy to navigate, of course, but if a group of people had sat me down, I would have made very different choices. Mind you, I’m not blaming my friends and family for not taking this step. But I share this as a way of encouraging loved ones that there is an important role they can play in breaking the cycle.

When I meet a client experiencing drug abuse or alcoholism destroying their relationship, I am armed like never before.

The fact of the matter is – although the experience was devastating to me and my family – I became a better lawyer. I have the ability now to counsel clients from experience – whether they’re the addict or their mate is – as to what it really means and what options they may need to pursue.

Why is this unique? Because people outside of addiction simply can’t understand, and they often judge. “Why don’t you just leave?”

Well, it’s not as easy as that. It’s just not. Even when getting out is the best advice, it just doesn’t work that easily because one is often still in love, caring about a sick individual, thinking it will get better, and often faced with family and other pressures.

I choose to believe that part of why I went through my bad experience was to be able to be even more helpful to people and serve as an intervention of sorts for them.

As a family and divorce lawyer, being able to put words to the pain someone is experiencing, to be a support system, to understand it, to describe it clearly, can be priceless. I often find clients looking at me with big eyes and saying: “How do you understand me? How do you know this? And the answer is that I lived through it too.

My attitude in life is this: If you had bad experiences and you don’t learn from them, then they’re just bad experiences. But if you learn from it, it’s a positive experience. So I’m sharing the horrors I went through to benefit and help others. And I am exceedingly careful not to impose my own experience on others in life or in my law practice.

You have your life to live – don’t live it with a sick person who does not want to get well or get help. I’m not saying that it’s easy for them to get well. It’s not, it’s really hard. It’s a daily struggle, which is why AA says, “One day at a time.”

This article was published by Stacy D. Phillips on LinkedIn on October 19, 2022. Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of 3 of "On Addiction."