Detachment is key when it comes to dealing with a loved one’s drink problem
According to author and counsellor Anne Morshead, detachment is the only thing that stops an addict’s behaviour
‘Twelve years ago I got emotionally involved with someone who had a drinking problem,” writes Anne Morshead, in the introduction to her new book, Blind Drunk.
Morshead, who is a relationship counsellor by profession and lives in Wicklow, goes on to describe in honest and candid terms how her partner’s drinking impacted on her life and how she subsequently came to the slow realisation that she needed to look after her own health first, before considering her partner’s.
This approach, which she describes as “compassionate detachment”, was key to her being able to deal with the issues her partner’s drinking created in her life and also to bring her partner to the realisation that he could not live with her and with alcohol. He had to choose one over the other and, thankfully, he has been sober for eight years now and, it should be added, is fully supportive of her book.
Often, when we talk about addicts, the focus is on the person in active addiction and the impact their addiction has on their friends and family is dealt with in a fleeting or passing way.
There are support groups and counselling services available to those living with an active addict, but too often family and friends modify their own behaviour to accommodate the addict unwilling to arrest their addiction, rather than detach fully from that person.
It’s an understandable human response, but Morshead is arguing that without detachment, loved ones may continue to enable the behaviour of an addict.
“It took me a long time to come to this realisation,” she says. “In the process I lost myself and became a stranger to myself and alienated a lot of my friends. I started to get physically ill. I was obsessed with my partner’s drinking. I ended up doing what one can only do and that is to change my own behaviour and my own life. I firmly believe that because I decided to take the focus off my partner, it actually enabled him to recover and become sober.”
Era of social drinking
Morshead says she grew up in an era of social drinking in the 1960s and 1970s. Her father was a wine merchant, and 13 years ago she moved to Ireland from the UK and met her partner who is Irish.
“I thought he drank more than I did. It took me five years to cop on and realise that I couldn’t stop him and control his drinking,” she says. “However much alcohol I poured down the sink or tried to monitor what was going on, I was powerless over his addiction. It is an illusion I was under that I could make a difference by sheer willpower.
“The way I solved it was to detach, and to adopt a stance of tough love. What I hope and argue for in this book is for people to detach with compassion.”
In her own case, Morshead confronted her partner and took the decision to end their relationship until he did something about his addiction to alcohol. She says she was prepared for the fact that it could have meant the end of the road for their relationship, but she was determined to follow through on her threat if he didn’t stop drinking.