One of the most difficult questions for those recovering from alcohol use disorders to answer (and if you’re an alcohol misuser, you will have to answer this) is, “Why did you choose drinking over me?” No matter how many times you tell the family of a person struggling with alcohol dependence their loved one has a chronic, oftentimes progressive brain disease, someone will stand up and say, “Yes, but they made a choice to pick up that drink in the first place.”.
Answering the $64,000 question, “Why did you choose alcohol over me? Our family? Our relationship?”
It’s not an easy question to answer. If you never pick up a drink, you will never have an alcohol problem. A daughter might ask, “Why now? You’ve always been a drinker, why did you become addicted now?” Or a spouse might say, “I’ve read all the literature, but there had to be a time when you could have stopped, before it escalated into this mess.” And a child might ask, “Do you love wine more than me?” A parent wonders aloud, “What did we do wrong?”
How do we answer the question?
All these musings and questions stem from the same emotional wellspring: anger, hurt, resentment, and the personification of alcohol. For those who are in treatment or long term recovery, questions like the above are often met with a dry mouth and an empty head. We’ve read the books and we know the facts and we have certainly done the required self-analysis, but we get tongue-tied when trying to explain ourselves. It seems we end up saying, “I’m so sorry.” Or a bit defensively, “Do you think I wanted this to happen?”
Three experts at Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers, answer the question for us. Their quotes help provide some perspective on the question of “choosing” alcohol over relationships and families.
3 Good Quotes to Answer the Question, “Why Did You Choose Alcohol Over Me?”
Founder, Rae Green, JD, LPC, CAADC
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” I did choose that first drink. And the second, but at some point beyond my control, a line was crossed and my rational thought was hijacked. I have a chronic disease of the brain that controls reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Now, I have chosen abstinence from alcohol as a means of controlling my disease and I could use your support.
Clinical Director, Lynnel Brewster, RN, LPC, LLMFT, CCTP
When a person learns to swim, they cannot unlearn to swim. My brain has been programmed. I chose to learn to swim, not the inability to not swim. Similarly when I become addicted to alcohol, I chose to take a drink, not the inability to quit drinking. I have been impacted for life. If I don’t want to swim, I can wade in the water. But being knee deep is like taking one drink – tempting and potentially triggering an emotional response to dive in fully. Better I should stay out of the water entirely. Think about that…
Clinical Director Emeritus, Christine Walkons, LPC, CAADC, CCS-M
My “relationship” with alcohol may look like a threat to our relationship. It may look like a love affair with a substance, but I assure you, it is not. I do not choose alcohol over you, especially knowing that my drinking hurts you. It is not a choice for me, it is an addiction, an illness for which I need help and support. I hope you can support me.
Be Prepared to Answer the Question…
Family members can be powerful allies in the recovery process. At Sanford, we begin the education process in our Family Program, while a loved one is in treatment. This is the perfect time to involve family members. During the course of their loved one’s care, family members may begin to recognize their own non-productive behaviors. These behaviors might have developed while trying to cope with addiction in the family. Often, family members have spent so much time putting the person with the substance use disorder first, they have forgotten how to prioritize themselves.
Memorize the above answers, print them, or choose the one that fits your personality and commit it to memory. Our loved ones deserve answers. We have been through a lot together. Properly articulating the reasons for our alcohol misuse helps everyone feel more resolved – and less hurt and angry. And it puts the responsibility where it belongs; it allows us to draw back the curtains and shine a joyful, unabashed light on sobriety.