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The Myth (Lie) of the "Functioning" Alcoholic

There are a lot of terms and concepts attached to alcoholism that I find particularly problematic. "Co-dependent" and "detach with love" would be two examples. But while I could concede some ground to those who might want to argue the validity of such, I will never, ever, ever admit, acknowledge or accept the idea of a "functioning" alcoholic.


What does this euphemism mean? And what is its purpose in the climate of addiction?


What it means - or is suppose to mean - is simple: the alcoholic who get ups and goes to work everyday. Comes home every night. Pays the bills. Stays out of jail. Doesn't show up at his kids' events drunk. You know, does all those things most of us do. We're suppose to do. It's just kinda a the bare minimum of life, isn't it? Stay out of jail. Be responsible for the things you are responsible for. But just because someone isn't going to jail and pays his bills does not constitute "functioning."


Do you know what my "functioning" alcoholic husband spent the week-end doing?


Playing video games in the basement. While I put away Halloween decorations, dragged out the Christmas totes, got this kid there and that kid there, raked up dog poop and other general life-with-a-family stuff, he was sitting in a big chair in the basement checked out of life.


I don't mean to sound like a martyr. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. (Those days are thankfully behind me.) But I refuse to entertain this idea that an alcoholic is "functioning" just because he pays the mortgage and shows up for work everyday. Every alcoholic is dys-functional - just in various ways. To call an alcoholic "functioning" is to not only limit his responsibility for his behavior and choices, it minimizes the effects of his drinking on his wife and family.


When we, as the wives of alcoholics, hear something like our husbands are "functioning" alcoholics, it invalidates the very real chaos, turmoil, heartache and destruction his drinking unleashes on our lives and souls.


My husband is "functioning."


I'll shout it from the rooftops.


But that in no way makes this journey easy. Would it be HARDER if he didn't pay the bills and was in and out of jail? Yes, yes. A million times yes. If you are married to That sort of drinker, you face daily challenges that I do not.


But! Since when is it acceptable to diminish one person's pain and struggles by juxtaposing it against how much worse that pain and those struggles could be? I don't think the wives and families of alcoholics get little more than "lip service" from the addiction community. A wink-wink as they are told to "go to Al-Anon." A second-hand compassion for the searing pain his drinking brings you. A nod to the generational legacy a father's drinking imparts upon his children. And so when a euphemism such as "functioning alcoholic" is attached to an alcoholic, the message to us wives is we're not being hurt As Bad as we could be. It's not As Bad as it could be.


But it is.


As bad as it could be.


And we are.


Being hurt.


As bad as we could be.

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