How many years did I act like an idiot because I was having unreasonable expectations of the addict in my life? When the alcoholic was not respecting our relationship as I would expect them to I would find myself overly frustrated.
Was I looking for affection, understanding, love, commitment, reliability, or common courtesy from someone who was just not capable of operating in these things normally? Well, prior to learning about an alcoholic’s personality attributes, I was filled with anger, rage, disappointment, depression and to say the least, plenty of resentments.
Every time the alcoholic would fail at meeting my standards for living, I would cop yet another thing to complain about. As the relationship progressed through the years, I had an entire suitcase full of resentments that had accumulated.
I had also become the master at reaching in my bag full of old hurts and throwing them in the alcoholic’s face. I know this can tend to be normal in relationships with alcoholics or even healthier relationships. My point is that I was carrying around a lot of negative baggage that had become harmful to my emotional well-being. I guess you could say the bag was totally black.
It wasn’t until I realized I had been expecting the alcoholic to be something they were not capable of being that my attitude started to change.
I love what one of the Al-anon books says on this subject:
“Turning to an alcoholic for affection and support can be like going to a hardware store for bread.” (Courage To Change pg. 2-Al-anon Literature)
When I started realizing that the alcoholic had been putting our relationship second to the one she had with alcohol for many years, I began to see where my frustrations could be overcome. When I learned that alcoholics lie, break engagements, are selfish by nature, love to argue, care about the party life more than the damaging effects on the family and like to keep everyone anxious, I realized I needed to change.
I had been expecting my alcoholic wife to change for years and she never did. Finally, I realized through attending alcoholism support group meetings that I needed to change my attitude because she was not changing. I had been living in the definition of insanity: “doing the same things over and over, expecting different results.”
What a relief that was to STOP banging my head against the same old wall of expectations leading me into resentments. The key to victory over my illness was in letting go and accepting things that I could not change. What freedom I found when the reality of what I had been living with was realized.
Now I am certainly not saying that we should just lay down and let an alcoholic walk all over us. That’s what setting healthy boundaries with an alcoholic are for. What I am saying is that there are certain things we can expect from an alcoholic that we ought to learn how to NOT wrestle with, time-and-time again.
I like this excerpt from a daily reader:
“It is unrealistic to expect everyone to like me. With such an expectation, I set myself up to fail and give myself an excuse to blame that failure on others. I can’t change other people, but I can change my own attitudes. I can let go of my rules about how other people should feel about me. When I am disappointed in another’s response, I can make an extra effort to be kind, warm and loving to myself. I am lovable just the way I am.” (Courage To Change pg. 39 – Al-anon Literature)
One of the most freeing things I learned was that someone else was not responsible for making me happy. I have the power within to choose to be happy or not. To desire that another person fulfill my need to be happy is an unrealistic expectation. No one can make me happy, it is an inside job.
The same holds true when expecting an alcoholic to show me love. My value must be found in God loving me first, me loving myself and then how someone expresses love toward me. When I know that God loves me, just as I am, I can deal with any form of abandonment or rejection from others, especially being rejected by an alcoholic. The key is not depending on looking to the alcoholic to fulfill my need for love or happiness. In many cases they do not have the capacity to provide these things.
Another unrealistic attitude to have is that everyone should live life according to my standards. When I impose these standards on others and they cannot follow through, I will find myself irritated, frustrated and filled with yet another resentment.
Learning how to hold the reigns loosely has helped me tremendously. One way that I do this is by having a back up plan. If I have planned to do something with my alcoholic spouse and she fails to make the appointment, I do something else that I really love to do. Rather than finding myself stewing in anger, resentments and frustrations because she stood me up, I can find contentment and happiness in doing something else I love to do. This allows me to love her without conditions and to enjoy life without her being pressured to align with my standards of how our relationship should be.
Prior to learning how to do this sort of thing, I was constantly blaming the alcoholic for all of my sadness. When my needs were not met, the problem seemed to always be with the other person. As I learned how to take responsibility for my own actions or reactions, I discovered my self-worth was not dependant upon what another person did. I no longer felt that my life was worthless because of the way an alcoholic was disrespecting my standards.
Living a life free from having certain expectations from an alcoholic has certainly helped me to have more peace and serenity. Finding the delicate balance between knowing what to accept and where to set healthy boundaries is something that takes time to develop. I can say this, getting involved with other people who know how to live with alcoholism was the key to me learning how to have a much happier life.