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How Do I Cope and Help My Teens Cope With Watching My Ex-Husband Continue to Spiral Down Into Probable Death From Drinking?

(Coralville, IA)

I was married for 20 years to an alcoholic. We divorced a couple years ago. During our marriage, there were many incidents of extreme drinking and all the consequences that come from that behaviour. Because I believe he wanted to save the marriage, he did succeed in either hiding his drinking or limiting his terrible binges to every several months, or even a couple years once.

Since the divorce, the binges and constant drinking occur all the time. It is common for him to down a fifth or quart of vodka in a few hours. This last week-long binge ended with him calling for a ride to the hospital, which I gave him. This is his third hospital stay in the last two years. It is devastating to watch.

I know I cannot do anything to help him stop, but it hurts so much to see him this way. We have two teen girls, who I have shielded from him when he is like this as best I can, although I do report to them some info when he is hospitalized. It is becoming apparent that they are affected by this, (I am hearing from teachers).

Both are reluctant to attend any kind of group or visit a counselor ... money is a bit of an issue also. How can I help to make sense of what is completely irrational, when I continue to struggle with the insanity of his behaviour after twenty plus years of dealing with it? Any advice or guidance would be appreciated. Answer

Unfortunately alcoholism is a completely irrational illness, so don't even try and make sense of it. Why would someone knowingly kill themselves ... and put at risk everything they've ever held dear to them like their family?

So best not even try and go down that road, because there are a myriad of factors that could play a role. And unfortunately if your ex-husband doesn't want to help himself, there isn't a lot anyone can do for him.

The best way to handle it for both yourself and your children is not to try and deny, or hide what's going on. Be honest about what's happening and how you feel about it. Real problems manifest when we suppress our feelings and bury our emotions.

We as humans have an amazing capacity to heal and let go of painful emotions by acknowledging them and really feeling them. Easier said than done, but there are a lot of alternative/self-help type experts that go into this in more depth (e.g. Brandon Bays author of The Journey). So while therapy would be ideal, don't let money concerns etc. stand in your way from finding ways to deal with your emotional turmoil. Yoga, meditation, a self-improvement class ... are all examples of avenues to explore in order for you to regain your inner harmony again.

While trying to shield your daughter's from the real extent of their father's alcoholism is a good thing to a degree, be careful not to take it too far the other way, because they'll have a pretty good idea of what's going on - and if honesty and expressing their feelings isn't encouraged, they'll just suppress everything which is definitely not a good thing either.

This is an opportunity to really bring you and your girls closer together, by talking and really opening those channels of communication. Don't shut them out. Try spend quality time with them and get everything 'out there.' Their father's alcoholism shouldn't be the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

Remember the maxim that applies to someone you love struggling with an alcohol problem: 1) You didn't cause it. 2) You can't control it. 3) Nor can you cure it. So as painful as it is, you have to learn to let go and focus on your own well-being. As the saying goes, 'Let Go and Let God.' And the more you focus on your own happiness and well-being again, the easier this will all be to deal with. Take Care.

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