Friday, February 8, 2008

Engage or Not Engage

It's very easy to engage and argue with someone who has been drinking. When the alcoholic is drinking, a whole set of emotions come out, that we have lurking under the surface. The "drink" is our trigger - or should I say - the "drinking."

The release of emotions when we argue with the alcoholic vary and are diverse in range. They emotions run the gamut from; hate, fear, anger, jealously, resentment, feeling like a victim, hurt, and so on.

When we argue with the alcoholic, we feel like we are making progress, we use our best arguments, and we are very good. If the alcoholic responds he or she can make very little sense, or may agree or may attack back.

Pick one of the three on how the alcoholic responds;
1. Not making sense. - we get frustrated, so we explain and get further frustrated
2. May agree - they agree to do some by a time/date. They don't do it. We get further frustrated.
3. May attack - they get personal. We respond by attacking them. We threaten. We don't follow through with the threat.

What we need to look at is how to become in control of what we can control. What can we control? Here is a list;
1. The decision to engage or disengage. This one is powerful. Just saying, "I am not going to engage with you right now." Puts the power of control back in your court. And you can address the issue when the alcoholic is sober.
2. Ask yourself "How important is this to argue about?" This is also powerful because it allows you to rationally decide if this is important or if it is a nit or can be dealt with later.
3. "Letting go." When we are angry, and have this anger sitting under the surface of our skin, it is called resentment. Resentment causes stress. Stress causes illness. The illnesses caused by stress may be sleep deprivation to gaining weight to a form of cancer. "Letting go" says I decide what I am going to release from my mind. This does not mean, I am letting the alcoholic off the hook when they agreed to do something, it's taking a different tact in that I will not be angry. But I will hold him or her accountable.
4. Worry. Worry is thinking about what may happen. It is about the future. It is out of our control. Unless of course you have some power over the future (which you don't).
5. Anger is about blame. Blame looks to the past and what cannot be undone. You have no power to change the past.
6. Present - is responsibility about what you can do now. Stand in the now. What can I do? What should I do? Can I do it? This you do have power to do. This is where you need to focus.
7. Back to Engage. This is about making your statement. Be clear on what you expect and what you need. It needs to be only a sentence. Put a period on your statement. This is powerful. You don't have to explain why you want something. Sometimes that weakens your request. If you feel it moving toward criticism of the individual, that is; toward you or you toward him, then you say silently or outloud, "Stop." Now you decide to say, "I am not engaging. I am not going to allow this conversation to go in that direction." If it continues, stop yourself from further discussion and move away from the argument by going to another room or shutting down by saying, "Let's discuss this later."

A telltale barometer of anger waiting to jump out is when my chest tightens and a coiled snake starts to rise from my stomach up through my chest. And it wants to release through my mouth. Once you recognize the tightening is your stomach or chest, by practicing stepping away, detachment or a control tool above, you find yourself over time creating a new response habit, where you don't get angry as often and are in control of your thinking.

Here are some other tools;
1. Forgiveness - a completely self-centered act that allows you to release and let go. You don't have to accept bad behavior, but it allows you to feel good by saying something about the person's problem to yourself. It helps you, by keeping resentment from building.
2. Setting boundaries - it puts in place clear expectation and consequences if the expectation is not met.
3. Doing something for yourself - this means taking time out for yourself. When you do something for yourself; going to a movie, having lunch with a friend, going running/walk, sitting at Starbucks with a book for 30 minutes, etc. makes you a better, calmer person who likes themselves.

If you follow some of these guideline, you become more empowered. When you are engaging with the alcoholic, you will find that you are being controlled. And the funny or strange thiing is you don't even know you are being controlled. Think about this for a second, and you past experiences. Aren't you playing into their hands when you get mad and engage?

I hope this helps.

PS - actually two PS's
1. I still need some help with this weekend's On-Line Al-Anon Meeting this weekend. I am thinking about the subject of Effective Tools we can use. And people can post what has worked for them. Or someone has a burning topic - we can do that. Please let me know.
2. You may have read the post called the Bride of Frankenstein that was up earlier. It was meant in jest. While I had no one calling for it to be taken down, I reread it and thought it was in poor taste. I mean to never criticize anyone, even when I am fuming, it was meant to add some light hearted ness to what some of us are facing. We are facing some terrible circumstances that affect us deeply. And I wish for all of us to know, that there is a God or HP, and that we shall prevail. And we shall prevail with dignity and our heads held high and we will never be taken down by anyone. Especially an abusive, self-centered personality, and that is where I put my period at the end of this sentence.


Anonymous said...

I thought the bride of Frankenstein was humorous and made all in fun. Wish you would have kept it up there.


kim said...


I have been thinking about enagement all day, so once again your comments are most appreciated. I recognize that I still have work to do in this area, and that some days I am better able to disengage effectively than I can on other days. On the days that I allow myself to be drawn into the ludricuous alcoholic rants, I always regret it and get angry with myself. I know that he isn't hearing me, and my comments, while usually right on, are always "rationalized" away by him.

I am working on the very things you pointed out, and I have a question for you. How do you help your daughter to disengage? I have three children (one my daughters is 10:)), and sometimes my husband will direct the lunacy toward one of the children. If it is during the day, we often just leave the house. More often, however, these episodes will occur at night, close to or even at bed time. It is then when I hate his behavior the most.

It occurred to me today, as I was reading the book "Follow The Drinking Gourd" with some children that my children and I are like "slaves" to alcoholism. In the story, runaway slaves are using a song to follow a secret map to freedom. I sometimes wish that I had the courage to take my children and run away from this disease. And, always I wish my husband had the courage to get well.

Thanks for being here. I learn a lot from all of you!


PS I was not offended by your Bride of Frankenstein comment. I admire your candor. We all have moments where we feel exactly like that, but not all of us (like me) have the courage to say it. Your willingness to share your experience is helping me with my daily life.

Marie said...

This is an interesting topic first of all Kim my husband has tried to get well and in my circumstance has kind of made things worse. When he was a drunk at least he was a drunk.( I know that sounds harsh) But now he goes to rehab every time he relapses been there 4 times and it seems he uses this as O'well I drank I went to rehab why arent you supporting me?? He doesnt understand that just when we take a sigh of relief and say OK things are going to be OK all hell breaks loose and its the same situation of broken promises and heart break. Constant ups and downs. I also like you feel bad when I get drawn into the alcoholic rant especially if my kids are around but sometimes a person can only take so much!! God Bless you and your children I hope everything works out for you!!!

JennyN said...

Thank you, I needed this post today. I've only been reading your blog for a short time, but this is my favorite post of yours so far.

I am really fighting getting angry with my husband right now, and trying to find forgiveness/patience. I feel that it is so urgent that he recover as soon as possible, it's hard for me to be rational. But these thoughts have helped me today. Thank you...

Joe said...

The easiest one first
You have to get rational. You would not engage with a lunatic would you? You are engaging with someone who is supposed to be your husband, but he is not in the ROLE of your husband when he is drinking. Your best defense is not to engage. LISTEN to me?! I say it really well, but I am human, and I do fail at this as well, because I do get pissed off (excuse the language). But I am much happier when I do not engage especially when I haven't over the course of a few days.

Now to the harder question. Kim's about engaging with children. I can tell you this is what I would do, well I can't say that here. OK. Next I would try this when he is sober in the morning. CLearly say; "Do not engage the children. If you do. I know you don't mean to do it, but we need to agree that the children are off limits. We need to allow the children to eat and do homework and go to sleep." Then you can ask him, if he does this what should YOU do? Ask him for a suggestion.

I know you just can't get three kids in a car and drive off until midnight although that's what some parents have to do.

YOu could call a neigbor or friend of yours or especially one of his friends. YOu may even suggest that to him.

If he engages, try to divert his attention away, by saying something out of left field, "Like did you see that Hillary is on TV and she was upside down?" I am not sure how he is engaging you or your children, but if he is physically attacking - and mentally attacking a 10 year old is bad too, I would call the police during the day and ask them for some help. No police officer worth their badge will stand for that.

And you may want to tell him, "if you do this, I will have to call the police." And then when you do, you need to get a friend there too to help. Again, I am not sure if you are saying is abusive or not. But a child is sweet and innocent and deserves the right to a peaceful and safe existence.

If your child is engaging him, tell your child "This is daddy's disease. When he drinks, this is what happens. It is NOT your fault. And your daddy loves you. But right now your daddy is not himself."

That is what I tell my daughter.

I have had to use a similar approach to my wife because drinks and drives and sees no problem in taking my daughter with her. It used to drive me crazy to the point to arguments and craziness.

I solicited her parents for support. The parents are a huge help for applying pressure over my wife's drinking.

So, you may want to get help from his parents explain to them what is going on. Also if he has brothers and sisters they will and should want to help, especially where there are children involved.

Last, if he is not working and he is dependent upon you, is it safer and better to leave? You are caught in a "Prisoner Syndrome".

I am caught in the same syndrome. If I leave, does my alcoholic wife get to keep the child because she is a "mother" just because a judge may not understand alcoholism and what it does to the family.

I would like to offer Kim some help here from others.

Joe said...

Now that I reread my comments there are some things I want to clear up

When I said the JennyN "you have to get rational" I mean for your own sake. When you engage, or I engage, we are by the nature of engaging with an alcoholic, irrational. Nothing you can do or say can fix them. Nothing. NADA. Zip. You cannot fix them. You can keep them drinking by helping them (pay their bills, court cases, DUIs, etc). They say you have to let them hit bottom for them to realize they are screwed up. Sometimes you can bring the bottom up to meet them. Call the police, leave them, don't bail them out of jail, etc. Then and only then, do they have to face the reality of alcoholism is not working for them.

Hope that helps

Laurie said...

Wow Joe, it amazes me how your posts are on target with my feelings! I needed to hear about these tools today! And I need to vent again. Here's the situation. Tomorrow is our 17 year wedding anniversary. I had hoped it could be a sober day/weekend and there could be some "together" time. Last weekend, when he wasn't drinking, I made the plans and he agreed to them. My folks are coming for dinner tonight, tomorrow I'm enjoying a spa day then he and I are going out for a nice dinner. I'm afraid my plans are going to be ruined. He started drinking on Monday and still is. He just informed me he cancelled his dentist appointment today but assures me he'll be fine for dinner tonight. Really? We'll see. I'm so angry. I was tempted to cancel dinner and my spa day because how can I enjoy those things when I don't know what kind of shape he'll be in. But, I can't control the shape he'll be in. I wish I could...really I wish (and I know this is stupid) he loved me enough to be sober for our anniversary. I guess it's really not about how much he does or doesn't love me even though it feels like it! The irony is my spa day (which I've never done before) was my birthday gift from him and he said it was something he couldn't ruin since my birthday present last year was concert tickets but he was drunk and we didn't go. So, this year, he will not ruin my gift. I need this for me. I still hope he straightens up for our anniversary dinners...but it's out of my control. I will not argue about it. I will let it go. I will do this for me.

Thanks again Joe! Peace and blessings to all!

kim said...


I appreciate your thoughts. When my husband is sober, he recognizes that he is a big fat jerk. Sadly, he has badgered the children on several occasions, with words, and usually it is about something off the wall like some politician's latest comment, and he just repeats the same thoughts, questions, rhetorical questions, etc. over and over and over and will not give them peace. Thanks goodness it is not physical. Then, I would draw the line.

Sadly, his family is not close by, but I may call them anyway. That is a good suggestion. I have been not wanting to involve them, but maybe it is time.

Fortunately, he does work, though with a somewhat flexible schedule. That actually helps, because he doesn't drink while he works. However, he can become mean as a snake relatively quickly and drinks wine at rate that I couldn't even drink water.

The most insidious part of this is the wasted time that he could be enjoying the kids. My dad is a recovering alcoholic, and he did not stop drinking until I was in college. I hoped better for my kids. My husband did not drink much before the children came along, so I did not realize this was coming.

Thanks for your help!


rebecca said...

Kim-this is the time to start your 10 year old in alateen. I believe she would benefit greatly.

In order to protect your sanity and the sanity of you children you need a plan in place for when these things happen. Ask your 10 year old for suggestions. Ask her how she feels when her dad is out of control. Ask her what the two of you could do to be safe and sane when the rants begin.

There is no need to involve the alcoholic in this discussion but don't act secretive. But do be honest. The most important thing to remember is that if you or any of your children are in physical danger: LEAVE. Call the police, get help but don't stay in the situation.

I think you will be surprised at how your daughter answers these questions. With the two of you working as a team I bet you can come up with a safe plan that is loving and compassionate for everyone involved.

I have to disagree with not getting angry. It is not the angry that gets us into trouble. It is our reaction to the angry. It's okay to be angry and feel it but we, as adults need to find the way to use our anger in a way that helps us.

Catherine said...

Thank you, Joe! Great topic. I feel the weekend is the perfect time to think about Non-Engagement cos in my house, there'll inevitably be chances to practice!

@ jennyn: for me, non-engagement is a skill i have to learn. it does NOT come natural to me. Often I engage when I don't even realize I'm doing it. (The results are always bitter) Other times I can foresee a "scene." And in those instances I actually say to myself, 'girl, don't go there,' and I try. Admittedly, I'm pitted against someone who's been drinking for 25 years. He's a pro! So I feel that even the tiniest instance of non-engaging is a victory for me.