In Recovery

My alcoholic addict has stopped drinking and drugging and is in recovery. Why am I still unhappy?

As hard as it was for me to accept that I was married to an alcoholic addict, it was even harder to admit that our relationship was worse once she quit drinking and drugging and was in recovery.

When my alcoholic addict stopped drinking I was ecstatic. I believed that all of our relationship problems would now be fixed. If she wasn’t in bars drinking she would be at home acting like a proper spouse, right?


First off, recovery is hard work, and takes a lot of time. What’s time consuming about not drinking or drugging you might wonder? Well for one thing, if you belong to a recovery group like AA or NA, you are going to meetings almost every day, at least for the first few months.

If you’ve never been addicted, you don’t realize just how important these kinds of meetings are. The alcoholic addict is struggling and needs help, help that you don’t know how to give.

It’s not that they don’t love you or trust you, though that could also be true. It is just you don’t understand their problem. And they can feel a lot of guilt about their past behavior towards their family.

Living In Recovery With Your Recovering Alcoholic Addict

The people your alcoholic addict meets at their AA or NA meetings do understand the alcoholic addict’s problem. They are also in recovery. They’ve been there, and have come out the other side. They have struggled with the withdrawal, with the cravings, with the pain, with the sadness, with the fear, with the confusion. They have been there and are offering a friendly ear to listen and helpful advice for coping. More importantly, they will challenge the alcoholic addict in recovery when they are not facing up to their problems.

In some ways things haven’t changed that much. Your alcoholic addict is still bringing home drunks and addicts. Only now they are clean, sober and in recovery themselves and spend most of their time talking about a whole range of topics you likely know little about: 12 steps, AA, NA, denial, dry drunk, sponsorship, making amends, etc.

In some ways they were more fun and more interesting when they were using and abusing their substances of choice. At some level these were things you were familiar with. Their new friends and new pastimes are different than what you were used to. Now that they are in recovery you may have even less in common with your alcoholic addict than you did before.

You might find yourself feeling lonely and abandoned. When they were abusing, your alcoholic addict was at least predictable to some degree. You had a relationship that worked, sort of. At an unconscious level you understood each other’s roles and could rely on each other to act out those roles.

The person that was your alcoholic addict is now gone, almost overnight. If you are like many others in such relationships, you would have few if any friends that were not drinking, drugging buddies of your alcoholic addict. They also are now gone. Healthy people tend to avoid people in alcoholic addict relationships. You may find that not only did you lose your alcoholic addict, as unhealthy as that relationship was, but now that your alcoholic addict is in recovery you have lost everyone else you used to talk to.

So now what do I do? My alcoholic addict is now clean and sober; busy getting on with their life. Any the friends I used to have are gone. How rude! What about me?

There is an adage that warns you to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. Well, you wanted your alcoholic addict to stop. And they have. They are in recovery and working their program. Congratulations! Your wish has been fulfilled.

Starting Again

Now it is time to get on with living your life… and dealing with your own personal development issues.

Your clean and sober alcoholic addict is a very different person than who you knew before. If you are married to them, you are in for a number of surprises. You may find that you are now married to a stranger that you don’t recognize.

Now that they are clean and sober, many things about your alcoholic addict and about your relationship with them may change. Here are some examples that I and/or others have experienced:

  • Sense of humor changes
  • Favorite foods change
  • Sleeping patterns change
  • Hobbies and pastimes change
  • Libido increases or decreases
  • Religious or spiritual beliefs change
  • Topics of conversation change
  • General likes and dislikes change
  • Taste in clothes or entertainment change

One of the biggest changes may be that the two of you now have little in common. If you are married to each other, especially if you have children, this can be particularly difficult.

You essentially have two choices; end the relationship or start the relationship over from scratch.

If you decide to start over, you might want to start by going out on a date, just like when you first met. Begin with something simple. Invite your alcoholic addict to go to a movie, or something else that does not have associations with drinking or drugging.

No bars, no dinners with wine, no private drinking parties. Arrange for a babysitter. Organize things yourself. Set a time when you will both head out. Keep the evening simple.

If they are late, argumentative or morose, just cancel the date. Don’t fight about it; don’t make it an issue. Just suggest that it might be better to try again another time. Then, go out on your own and have fun.

Don’t let their bad behavior control what you do. When they find that being an irritating pain in the neck can no longer control your behavior, or ruin your day, you will likely begin to see less of it.

What if they quit drinking and want to come home?

Sometimes changes in your behavior can act as a trigger for the alcoholic or addict to make changes for the better. Great! However, be cautious. If you have parted from your husband and they want to come home because they’ve quit abusing, be very cautious.

Alcoholics and addicts are very good at making grand gestures that have little substance behind them. Just because they started going to AA last week and claim to be in recovery is no reason to believe they will still be sober next week. If you have set up a stable household that excludes your alcoholic or addict, I recommend keeping it that way for an extended period.

If you have hopes of reconciling with your alcoholic or addict, tell them that you are willing to start dating them again after they have been sober for at least three months, preferably six months. If they can’t stay straight and sober that long, you really don’t want them back. If they can stay sober, then maybe they really are in recovery and the two of you can rekindle the relationship you had before alcohol or drugs took over.

I also recommend not letting them move back home unless they meet the following criteria:

  • They get and keep a steady job. Check with their boss to make sure they are actually doing as well as they say they are. If they aren't working, do you want them living off your children's money?
  • They continue to go to AA and / or NA meetings at least once a week. Go with them to some of the open meetings to learn what they are dealing with.
  • They continue treat you and the children respectfully. Temper tantrums, whining, wheedling, crying, begging or threats are unacceptable.
  • You have been dating for at least three months and you want them to move home, for you. Not for the good of the children, not for the good of the alcoholic, but for the good that having the alcoholic back in your life will do for you. And if you don’t know what that good is, then you don’t need them back.

While you are dating, delay reestablishing an intimate relationship. Sex tends to blind us to the realities of the other person. There are too many disastrous marriages where great sex is the only thing the two people have in common.

So now what?

What do you want? Ultimately, your life is your life. You need to begin living it, regardless of your alcoholic addict’s choices or behavior.

You may have wanted an intimate relationship where you shared friends, interests and activities. Well, that’s not what you ended up with. The relationship you have is the one you have.

So now that you can no longer blame their drinking and drugging behavior for your problems, it is time to start addressing them head on.

I’m sorry I can’t be more comforting, at least in the short term. However, you may find that doing the work of dealing with your personal development challenges is extremely rewarding.

I often tell people that one of the things that contributed most to my current happiness and joy in life was my nine-year marriage to an alcoholic addict. Without that marriage I could have avoided learning many of the life lessons that were important to my current happiness.

It was very painful at the time, but the end result was worth it.

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