My girlfriend is a recovering alcoholic. She was a big drinker and partier when we first met, but she went into a rehab program and has now been sober for seven months. I enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine from time to time—controlling my drinking has never been a problem for me. I know the first months after getting out of a program are hard, so I’ve not had anything to drink since the day she came home. My question is, at what point can I resume having the occasional drink? I want to be supportive, but when I asked her if it would bother her if I had a glass of wine, she told me I was being insensitive and that I shouldn’t drink at all. If we stay together, we’re going to have to deal with this at some point, so I’m trying to get some advice on what a reasonable amount of time to wait is before I drink again. What do you guys think?—TB, Evanston, Illinois
The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
My understanding is that the first year of being sober is quite challenging. It’s tough for folks to be around others who drink, and yes, this is something that you as a couple have to deal with.
At some point, she cannot have control over when, where, and what you drink, but now may not be that time. I also think it might be a good idea for you to go see a counselor together who has experience in this kind of issue so both of you can air your feelings and be heard. She may live the rest of her life sober, but does that mean you have to as well? Do all her party friends have to stay alcohol-free around her? Is she in the space where she can even spend time with her former partying friends? Some people make a complete break from their former friends and lifestyle when they stop drinking as they find that they don’t have as much in common anymore.
She has some choices to make and I hope she’s part of a group such as AA so she has continued support. There are also groups for friends and partners of alcoholics that may offer you the support you need right now. I’m glad you wrote to us, TB. Please check out support groups for yourself and for her. If you want this relationship to last, you need to work through this. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone.
The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
Dump the drunk.
I have a pet peeve when it comes to AA-ers’ illogical prohibition of drinking one drop of alcohol ever again lest they be swept out of control into a downward spiral. Really? You can’t have a beer at a backyard barbeque without putting a lampshade on your head, dancing on the table, and throwing up in your mother-in-law’s salad?
Her all or nothing behavior is troubling and childish to me. She sounds unstable and likely won’t understand your reasonable request to be allowed to have a drink or two around her seven months after her rehab stay. If you were insensitive, you wouldn’t be writing to us asking what to do. You need to put your foot down and lift your glass up. Life’s too short to be told what to do by a hypocrite. You said it best— you don’t have a problem controlling your drinking and shouldn’t be penalized for her lack of control.
I wouldn’t go near her with a ten-foot drinking glass, but you like this woman more than I do, so if you decide you want to be with her considering all this, then you’ll have to cut off the booze indefinitely. One last sobering thought: if she can’t control herself, why would you let her control you?
The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
This is a tough one. It seems like one of those situations that calls for compromise, compromise, and more compromise.
Seven months is a long time not to have a drink … big ups to your girlfriend on such an accomplishment. But seven months is also a long time not to have a drink if you’re a drinker who has his drinking under control. I think it’s a reasonable amount of time-gone-by to initiate a conversation with your girlfriend about whether she feels comfortable with you bringing a couple of drinks back into the mix every now and then without taking her off track. See where she is on the issue; if she balks, she might still be a little too raw and I think it would a very supportive gesture on your part to honor her request and wait a little longer.
I’m not one for assigning hard-and-fast time schedules to relationship milestones, but if she isn’t ready now, I’d suggest checking in with her again at the one-year mark. Proceed with caution and empathy from there. At some point, she’s going to have to accept that there’s a whole big world of drinkers and other drinking-related temptations out there that she’s going to have to eventually deal with. If she’s not ready, talk to a counselor, perhaps someone from her program who can guide the two of you as a couple. In the meantime, I’d recommend that you check out Al-Anon right now. You may gain some more practical wisdom there than you would from any of us 4-Wayers. Good luck, TB.
The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
I don’t think you’re insensitive at all. The mere fact that you’ve gone seven months without drinking anything shows how supportive you are. Could it be that she’s simply afraid that if you start drinking in front of her she might not be able to control herself? If so, I think this could be a next-phase test for her strength.
I’ve had friends who have gone through rehab. After coming out, we went out and I tried to respect them by not drinking in front of them. I thought it would be odd, but they repeatedly told me that I was free to drink in front of them as I chose. What I learned was this: they made a decision to stop drinking for themselves, not for both of us. I respected their choice and toned it down when I was with them. The result? Our friendships grew to a whole new level.
To answer your question, I think it’s fine to resume having an occasional drink. There’s no need to go on a bender to catch up, but if you want to have a beverage, you’re an adult and so is she. I caution you to have mutual respect and understanding of each other’s space on this issue, though. It’s not easy to give up drinking, and it can be excruciatingly difficult to be around others having wine or a cocktail when you’ve given it up. Just know where she’s coming from and respect boundaries, both yours and hers.