Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Partners: Push/Pull

Some of the calls to the LifeRing 800 line are from people who are on the edge of their sanity. I try to make it clear at the outset, gently but firmly, that this is not a crisis hotline and that I'm not a counselor or a doctor, and have no qualifications to offer advice.

This gentleman was talking through tears and sobs. What was the problem? He has a friend, a very good friend, a wonderful person (when he's sober) who broke up with his wife, got drunk and high on pot, and came over to the caller's house and did more drinking and pot smoking there, and invited the caller to go for a drive with him. The caller had made it very clear to the friend that he did not allow drinking and pot smoking in his house, and that he was absolutely not going to get in the car with the friend driving under the influence. But the friend had completely disrespected the caller's wishes, and now the friend was angry at the caller for his 'negative attitude.' Hence the tears.

After repeating that I had no qualifications to offer advice, I told the caller that I was not surprised at his friend's behavior, that I had done similar things when I was in my addiction, and that (now that I was sober) I also kept my house free of alcohol or drugs and I also would never get into a car driven by somebody under the influence. The caller had done exactly what I would have done under the circumstances.

Still, the caller was not consoled. He loved this friend and was terribly upset at the thought of losing this friendship. This was really a wonderful person when sober. What should he do?

After repeating a third time that I had no qualifications to give advice, I suggested that the caller might adopt a push-pull attitude toward his friend. When the friend is sober, pull. Engage him, involve him, enjoy him. But when the friend is drinking/using, push. Firmly maintain the wall between yourself and him, disengage, disinvolve, stay cold, stay away. Don't attack him, don't give him advice (except in the most passing, casual, matter-of-fact way), don't try to change him or convert him. Eventually, when you have been consistent, your policy may work some changes in him. You may reinforce, with your "pull," the sober part within him, the wonderful person that he is when sober. You may disempower, with your "push," the other him, the part of him that is in love with alcohol and other drugs.

Or, you may lose him as a friend. That happens. Prepare yourself for that possibility by looking around, even now, at the other people in your life that you could be friends with.

Somehow, that made sense to the caller. It offered a way forward. He stopped crying, his voice returned to normal. I concluded by reminding him that my advice was worth exactly what he paid for it. He gave a little laugh, and we ended the conversation.


Jim R. said...

This approach to dealing with a drunk/using partner makes sense to me, much more than the unqualified disconnect that many (including Al-Anon) push. At the LifeRing Expo and in your book Empowering Your Sober Self, you speak of the inner conflicts between the Sober Person and the Addict and how LifeRing seeks to reinforce the Sober Person. This seems a reasonable extension of that: reach out to the Sober Person inside the person who is still drinking or using when that Sober Person is out and about. This also provides a place and time for those "small interventions" - those small interactions that lead the addicted person to reframe his overall thinking about drinking or using and thus tip balance between the S and the A. Small interventions are a well-recognized path out of addiction, at least in some research circles. I have passed this on to one other person I know who has a partner problem.

Martin Nicolaus said...

Interesting! Thank you and good luck with that.