Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Don't: Argue With A Drunk Alcoholic. Just Don't.

Or a drinking but not yet drunk alcoholic.

It's almost the 4th of July, and those of us in the states know that means lots of alcohol-filled barbecues and fireworks displays.  After all it's the celebration of the birth of our great nation!  Let's all get wasted in the name of patriotism!  So as the day approaches, this post feels timely, and I hope it will help some of you out there avoid any heated (and potentially dangerous) incidents.

Like I said in my previous post, there's absolutely no utility in arguing with a drunk alcoholic.  There's a saying in AA & Al Anon that alcoholics have "a thinking problem, not a drinking problem."  My urge to convince my husband of my perspective (read: I'm right) and the fallacy of his logic (read: he's way wrong) is still my first instinct, and each time it wells up to my lips I still struggle to pause before I protest.

I know.  It's so easy to say "Just don't argue with them."  Oh.  That's all?  Okay.  I'll just turn my Rational Switch (along with my ears) off and turn my Insane Patience Unknown To Humankind on.  I KNOW the pure skin-crawling frustration of feeling that you have to accept what the alcoholic is saying as if it's fact, or giving up, exhausted, after trying to make them understand.  So many times I've thought, "If I can just get him to understand what I'm saying..."  Two hours later, no dice.

Then one day I finally got it - I heard the Blue Refrigerator story.

So you're on the phone with someone, and they start talking about your blue refrigerator.  "My fridge is white", you say.

"No, it's blue."
"No - it's white."
"It's blue!"
"I think I know what color my fridge is."
"Hmm, apparently not.  Because it's blue - it's blue!"

There you are trying to convince the person on the other end of the line that your refrigerator is white.  I mean, you know that it's white - they're not even there.  They don't know what color it is because they can't see it.  And you don't have the sense to realize "Wait a minute - they can't even see my fridge, so how would they know what color it is?  It doesn't matter what they say because I know the truth."

In the same way, the disease clouds the thinking of alcoholics; it can prevent them from being able to see things as they are, to see things as we see them or to appreciate our thoughts, feelings or perspective.

If you were talking to someone with dementia or Alzheimer's, and they thought it was 1950 and your name was Pearl, chances are you wouldn't sit there arguing with them that nope, Gladys, it's really 2013 and no one's named "Pearl" anymore.  And if they had schizophrenia and wore tin-foil hats because the CIA was spying on them from Mars, you probably wouldn't even attempt to go there.

So the next time your son or daughter or wife or husband tries to accuse you of something, calls you names, insults you, tries to manipulate you or can't see why what they did/said upset you - just remember that they just can't see it, they are not able to get it.

And if you feel like you're going to lose it, do what I do and say this under your breath:

"My refrigerator isn't blue, my refrigerator isn't blue."

In recovery it's said that "alcoholics act and we react." In general and in specific situations, over time a dynamic takes shape, and slowly our own power, proactive choices and assertive behaviors slip away; we start surrendering our own thought creation and soon responses are knee-jerk and off-base.

So remember:

Don't JADE


Prior to Al Anon, this was my completely instinctive method of communication.  Example:

Him:  "Oh we're out of lettuce, I guess that's too much to ask"
Me JADEing: "Uh no it's not to much to ask - do you know how hard it is to keep up with all of our grocery needs?  I'm at the store almost every day!  I'm doing the best I can here, geez."  (Progress not perfection - this exact exchange was actually 20 minutes ago).
Me Not JADEing:  "Well let's have (x) instead."

This is a pretty mild example.  But traditionally when confronted with an accusation, snarky comment or an invitation to an argument (and remember: we don't have to attend every argument we're invited to) we end up justifying our position, arguing back, going on the defense or explaining ourselves.  All very passive, reactive ways of communicating.

Why do we do this?  I imagine a lot of us (myself included) grew up in homes in which we felt our feelings weren't validated, we did not feel heard.  And this probably made us terrified to state our needs, wants or feelings.  Because what if that upsets them?  What if they don't accept our needs, wants or desires?  At some level, we just don't feel entitled to them.

After living with an alcoholic for so many years, so afraid of upsetting him, any question or statement of his that pings off that fear in me causes me to react, almost as if I am trying to calm him down before things go sour.  JADE is a defensive, knee-jerk reaction that we develop from feeling that at any moment we may be under attack.  It's the hyper-vigilance of the Al Anon world.

Personally I used to (and sometimes still do) repeat myself 1,000 different ways to try to get through to my husband.  And like I said earlier - totally never worked ever.  "Worked" meaning creating any kind of lasting change.  He may sit there and appear to be listening, and in the end placate me and say "okay."  But sure enough when the dust settled everything would be as it was before.  And as the disease has progressed, this kind of JADEing usually ends up pulling me into an argument that may not have been there had I just not engaged.

Something to also remember regarding JADE and not arguing with a drunk alcoholic - "No" is a complete sentence.

So everyone have fun, be safe, and enjoy the fireworks.


  1. I should have taken your advice to not argue with a drunk...what a waste of energy. My AH is always against me. He thinks I'm out to get him. Is that the disease making him like that? How does everyone deal with the mental abuse?

  2. jade is the best advice i have heard. better not to engage the person. i have resented the thought of doing al anon since why should i do that work when i am not the one causing the problem. but since i am in this situation, i should have some tools.

  3. Everything becomes an argument and/or gets turned around to become my fault. I realize that my AH is not so different than the others. Thankful that I finally had the courage to stick up for myself and my three hound kids....I filed for divorce and couldn't be more at peace with my decision to do so.

    1. I argued with my husband who came home drunk and very late last night. Granted, he's only been out this late once before, but he didn't even let me know when to expect him so I was fuming! I knew I should have locked the bedroom door and waited until morning to confront, but instead I confronted him when he got home because I was so upset and emotional. He turned it all on me and started screaming at me telling me I'm crazy and I need to relax. I swear the whole neighborhood could hear him. I told him I wanted him out of the house and when I came home from work today he was gone. He packed a bag and left. Why can't he be a man and realize that he screwed up and I'm allowed to be upset about it?!?! Why does he have to turn it around on me when he's drunk and accuse ME of being irrational?! Why does he run away (just because I told him to) instead of sticking around and dealing with it? Why can't he just come home and say "I'm sorry I was out late, I know it pisses you off. I'm drunk, can we talk about it tomorrow." I don't know what to do....

  4. The answers to your questions of "Why" is..."Because he's an alcoholic."

    Alcoholism is a selfish disease. They will do whatever they can to keep drinking, and anything that threatens their drinking is threatening "their way of live" and how they "survive." Also, he was drunk when you confronted him.

    He may feel guilt but the disease means that most will never let us see it.

  5. I have a ah is dry right now but not sober, he is still doing all the behaviors you have mentioned...yet he thinks because he hasn't had a drink in 13 days he is better. If I mention the lack of actual behavioral change am I setting myself up to argue with an.alcoholic?

  6. I'm a the point where I don't even like my husband. We've tried meetings. He lies and manipulates every situation possible. I'm not happy. I'm not happy about the thoughts that I'm having. This is not how a marriage is supposed to be. Yeah, I'm pretty much done.

    1. That's exactly what is going on with me. He's verbally abusive. Has an excuse to drink every day then goes to church on Sunday like everything is fine. THEN stops after service and runs to get his alcohol. So tired of this life.

  7. omg lifes tooo short, cut your losses and RUN

  8. I agree that I cannot argue with my husband when he has been drinking heavily. I came home from work yesterday after working 12 hours and within 15 minutes, he came home from a bowling banquet. The first thing he said was "I am SO drunk." I suggested he go to bed and I'd bring him something to drink (non-alcoholic). He wouldn't. Then he asked me why I was working so late. I told him that I had already told him that I was preparing for a trial and would be working late every night this week. He accused me of having an affair with a very young attorney that I work for. He accused me of being in love with my ex-husband. He told me that I was sick mentally, otherwise I wouldn't see a therapist twice a month. He told me my I was suffocating my only child, a son in California, by talking to him every week and that my son told him so. I stayed calm and kept reading my book. This only made him angrier. He came after me physically and though he is much bigger than me, I knocked him over, then went back to reading my book. The rest is awful and this morning, of course, it was all my fault. On Friday, he tried to force himself on my physically. When he is sober, he is a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. I am desperate for someone to talk to. I welcome all comments.