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Things may seem better, but everything is not OK

This is a story about a guy who has gotten himself into a mess and can’t even see how big of a mess he’s in.

He’s in his mid- to late 40s, slightly overweight but not too bad. He’s been married for 20 years and is reasonably successful. He has been drinking too much for years, and he knows it. His lifestyle is built around it, and most of his friends drink as much as him, he thinks.

It’s gotten to the point that his personality changes when he drinks. Normally an outspoken, even aggressive guy, when drinking these days he becomes downright belligerent. Only his wife and kids see this, but there have been occasions where the outbursts happened in public.

His wife has been on him to cut down and has unknowingly designed her lifestyle around his partying, entertaining, relaxing – whatever euphemism he uses for drinking. She chooses to be gone when she knows he’ll be drinking. They don’t talk intimately anymore because she’s too angry and he’s unable. They seem to be in their own separate worlds, and they both wonder why they’re married other than convenience and the kids.

Her complaining becomes increasingly bitter, to the point where he is convinced something has to be done.

Dramatically, he promises to stop drinking – and does – for awhile. She’s happy and imagines that everything will be OK. But in her heart of hearts, she’s scared that there’s something seriously wrong.

She’s right. Her husband is in the middle stages of alcoholism, and even he will acknowledge that he’s “probably an alcoholic.”

He knows he often loses control of how much he drinks. He drinks nearly daily and gets agitated when the drink isn’t available at the regular time. Things at work look OK, but he’s got some serious political problems and is “faking it most of the time.”

He knows, but he still thinks he’ll be OK if he can just have one or two. Besides, lots of guys drink more than he does, and it wouldn’t do any good to quit just because the wife gets mad.

Having quit for several months, our friend is faced with a real crossroads decision: He can try to remain abstinent (although he doesn’t really want to), drink in front of his wife and face the unpleasantness or start to sneak his drinking.

So what is the most likely outcome for our friend? It is most likely that things will get worse until he decides that he doesn’t want to fight anymore and is willing to go to any lengths. He may not be ready yet, but if the people around him refuse to continue to build their lives around his illness, he’ll be ready a lot sooner.

• Richard Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He can reached by email by visiting

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