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To Love and Protect | Life with an Alcoholic Husband

It’s a funny thing being married to an alcoholic, and the instant need to protect an alcoholic and fix them. Some professionals blame it on codependency, and that often fits….but not for me. Believe me, I was scared of being a codependent and bought books on it, assuming I needed help. But as I worked through them, nothing made sense. I was none of the things in these books. Which, quite frankly, was confusing. How could I have stayed with an alcoholic, covered for him, and protected him for so long if I didn’t fit this label?

I’ve struggled with this, honestly, the why. WHY did I protect him for so long? Why would I stay for so long if there wasn’t something wrong with me, too?


To Love and Protect….an Alcoholic

It’s all very convoluted and strange, because when we met, everyone at his unit knew he was sober. He had been an active alcoholic while stationed there, and had also found sobriety there. He came clean with everyone there, and was very open and honest about his situation. He attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly, and once I moved in with him, I would occasionally go with him too. There were no secrets.

At some point, it did become a secret though…something he was ashamed and afraid of. By the time we moved to NYC, he was completely hiding his past. Especially after the breaking down the door episode, I had every right to seek help…but I was scared. I didn’t want to ruin his career over something that, to the best of my knowledge, had never interfered with his work (he saved all the drinking for us.) Plus, if they took away his command position, or worse, kicked him out completely, where would that leave us? No income, nowhere to live, and 2 small children…it was a terrifying thought. And he worked really hard for his career. He was a very decorated service member, hard-working, and had moved up the ranks faster than most. I still loved him, and it hurt me to think of him losing what he had worked so hard, and so passionately, to achieve.

It all left me in a very tough spot. He had made it clear to me that he would lose his positions in command if they found out. And since we lived on a base, it left me with literally no one to turn to. If I talked the chaplain, how would I know it would be kept in confidence? He was afraid to go to AA and be recognized. 

I actually did attend an Alanon meeting in person once. It was very weird to me, and the women just seemed so…needy. I couldn’t identify with them at all. They seemed to be accepting the alcoholism. Alanon is for codependents, and in my opinion, if you aren’t codependent, it’s not going to be a good fit for you.  I wanted more out of my life than just coexisting in an alcoholic and toxic relationship. I knew what our life was like when he was sober, and I wanted it back!


As the years went on, I rode the roller coaster of addiction.

I researched and presented everything I could to him to help him get sober again. He even obliged, and at least appeared to try several times to really get back to his best self…but every time, the alcohol won.

The pressure was suffocating. Being the one left to protect an alcoholic is an awful way to live. I didn’t know how to fix things without giving him up. I had nowhere to turn. I couldn’t even go to his family, because I had protected him from them, too. And I was afraid to tell my parents, because I was *still* protecting him from the shame of people knowing he was drinking again. I always tried to protect his image. I didn’t want what I thought would be a temporary problem to permanently tarnish his reputation with those around us.


Instead, I ruined myself.

I know what happened over the years. People saw me withdrawn and miserable, or short with him, or frustrated, or isolating myself, and made the ultimate assumption: *I* was the bitch. I was the one who was cold to him, but that was because I could tell when he was drunk. I could see the nuances others couldn’t. I became depressed. Not many knew what was really going on. All the stress, all the worry, all the fighting…it was sucking me dry.

I literally gave up everything to protect this man. Over the years, I had fewer friends. I stopped inviting people over to our home for get-togethers. I moved all over the country for his job, missing weddings, births, funerals, birthday parties, bat mitzvahs. I stopped wanting to go out with him, because I never knew what he would be like. His behavior embarrassed me. His drunkenness disgusted me. It was very isolating.

And, I was ashamed at myself for staying so long and putting up with it year after year…but yet I continued to do so. Even the strongest women have weaknesses, and usually it’s the love of a man who’s no good for them.


I know there are many of you out there reading this who can relate…just know you are NOT alone. Chances are, the people you are most worried about disappointing are the very ones who will be there for you. You are worth making a change.


Want to read more? My story begins here. 


protect alcoholic husband