Not Tonight Honey: 3 Tips on How to Stay Sober with an Occasional Drinker

3 solutions on what to do when your spouse is an occasional drinker while you’re sober.

My husband and I have been through war and back. Literaly. We met on active duty while we were in the Army and married at 20 young years young. We honeymooned in Iraq for a year. We spent our first date drinking at a party, and spent years binge drinking when we could. We were young, and I’d always been a binge drinker, so it was nothing new to me. I’m pretty sure he knew I was a hot mess when I was drinking early in our relationship, but he accepted me anyway. Apparently he was up for the challenge.

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It wasn’t until years later that my blackouts became violent. He ended up being the babysitter when I drank. Perhaps it was the effects of war, or the unhealthy patterns in our relationship, or the father wounds I struggled with, whatever it was; my drinking days had to stop. When I bottomed out I realized one doesn’t become an alcoholic, they are born that way, and I was ready to accept that about myself. The problem was that even though I was sober, I didn’t set my boundaries in place correctly in my marriage and house, so I relapsed after a year and a half. I was still a control freak, and a demanding one.

After this relapse I was determined to stay sober, so with the help of recovery program material and counseling, we were able to find a healthy balance in our marriage with me being sober, and him (not being an alcoholic) having the occasional drink.

Here are some helpful tips on setting rules for drinking when you’re sober and your spouse is an occasional drinker. 

1.  Don’t judge.

Don’t assume because you have a drinking problem they do…most often they don’t. There were a couple occasions he drank too much with his friends after I was sober. This didn’t make him an alcoholic just because it hurt my feelings. I made the mistake of judging my husband’s drinking after being sober. Mostly I was jealous of the fact that he could still drink and control himself while I could not. There is however, a certain accountability they should maintain with you. What that accountability is, you have to determine amongst yourselves with boundary rules.

2.  Set the home environment to be safe, but do so with tact and sensitivity.

You’ve made the commitment to live sober, meaning no alcohol…not one drink….great for you but hard on the family. How are you going to communicate to your loved one who is not an alcoholic that they can’t come home and have a beer on the couch…ever? That they can’t have a beer while grilling in the yard? What about when friends and family visit? How do you tell them no alcohol?

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Sounds harsh, but it’s the life I live. I don’t want alcohol in my home…..I can’t have it in my home. Its very presence in my home creates a conflict in me so deep I get upset just thinking about it. Besides, allowing it in my home before led to relapse. I had to explain that my home is my safe place in sobriety. While the rest of the world goes on with alcohol everywhere I look, I have to have one place I can go to where I know the pressure isn’t there, a place where I know I can go and not think about alcohol. We had to compromise. My husband will occasionally have a beer with the guys after work, not in the home. Anyone who comes to my place to celebrate holidays knows not to bring wine. No biggie.

3. Be proactive (not reactive) with your triggers.

Know whether or not that beer they have at the restaurant or at that social gathering with you will piss you off. Talk about it in advance. You would think this would be easy, don’t drink in front of me, enough said. The problem is, I made a commitment to spend the rest of my life with this man. The rest of your life is a long time to commit to being sober in front of your wife when you don’t have a drinking problem. Social situations are sometimes unavoidable and sometimes awkward – but sobriety is worth it. I have to admit that in the wrong environment, in the wrong mood, being around the wrong crowd, with the wrong music playing, at the wrong time of night, these are triggers that can make me pissed when he has a drink. Other times, I can be totally cool with it. My responsibility is to know where I am at in my sobriety each day. If I’m struggling I have to say so, respectfully. If I don’t feel up to the social gathering, I have to say so. It’s much better in a marriage to be proactive instead of reactive.

I don’t have an answer for every situation or every relationship, all I know is what I’ve experienced to be true to my sobriety success. Everyone’s boundaries are going to be different. While some can never set foot in a restaurant that serves alcohol, some can, with the right boundaries in place. While some spouses have to live alcohol free for the support of the alcoholic in their life, some can still have a social drink with the right communication in place. I made the mistake the first time in recovery thinking you could put sobriety in a box, and thought that I was allowed to dictate rules with no regards to others.

Realize too, that it took 14 years of marriage (the good times and the really bad) to get us to where we are. We spent more years in counseling than not in counseling, I’ve spent more years working on myself than working on us. Realize too, that it takes two people willing to work hard at it, two people willing to compromise and sacrifice. Once I became healthy enough, I realized that love is not simply abstaining from something that poisons your relationship, it’s investing the time and energy to coming up with a solution that works for everyone involved.

While this recovery is a long and treacherous road, it’s truly a remarkable one once you learn to love yourself, and even miraculous when you learn to love others well.

Stay sober my friends.

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