Burning Bridges

Some people illuminate their lives with the bridges they burn  —Anonymous

♥ ♥ ♥

People are messy.  Relationships can be both amazing gifts and back-breaking work.  Most of the people in my life provide me with incredible mirrors, endless opportunity to practice my spiritual work and to watch my illness push me toward self-destructive behavior.  I’ve torched a lot of relationships in my life—I’m just beginning to understand how many—and struggle to bring compassion and generosity to the ones I have left.  I try to be careful now.

But I have a friend who makes that hard.  He’s an alcoholic.  A few days ago he called and said shockingly hurtful things to me while drinking.  I knew that he’d talked like this to other friends and members of his family—I’ve watched him demolish the relationships in his life over the last couple of years—but I didn’t think he would ever do that to me.

I’m stunned and confused.  I’ve told him I love him, but that I can’t let anyone treat me that way.  I can’t live with the stress of it.  I told him I needed to talk to my therapist about what happened.  I also want to talk to some folks who are clean and sober for advice.  I’ve never been close to an alcoholic before, and I don’t know what an appropriate response might be.

My initial reaction is to run—never have anything to do with him again.  But, for me, that’s old behavior, and I’m not sure that it’s the best answer.  I don’t want to burn this bridge out of fear and self-righteousness, then regret it later.  I don’t want my illness to control how this goes down.

I don’t have many friends left.  I really don’t want to lose another.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathryn McCullough
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 11:51:12

    Bless your heart. I don’t know what to advise you. I have had one alcoholic friend, but she was never verbally or emotionally abusive. I will be curious to hear what your therapist thinks, but do whatever you need to do to protect yourself, for now, Sandy. Take care of yourself. Do what you need to do for you, my friend. I’m so sorry this happened to you.


    • Sandy Sue
      Dec 04, 2011 @ 13:06:01

      Thank you, Kathy. Actually, writing the post helped me get my thoughts and feelings in order. And the support and caring comments from folks like you help me beat back the distorted thinking and stay true to me. I love you lots.


  2. Kana Tyler
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 12:49:35

    If I may offer some perspective as a Recovering alcoholic (and the wife of a Recovering alcoholic)–just a couple thoughts. One–just so you know–it’s a common misperception that what people say or do when they’re drinking are the things they REALLY think or believe, but just might not have SAID when sober. Just so you know: this is NOT TRUE. Both my husband and I have done things that we would NEVER NEVER NEVER have done sober, and said things our sober selves didn’t believe at all… My husband and I speak of our drinking-selves in the third person, as the evil alter-egos they are. The hurt and damage that my drinking-self has caused are absolutely, one-hundred-percent MY responsibility–because I unleashed her on the world when I added alcohol to my system–but if there’s one thing I’d wish for the people around me to understand, it’s the fact that the things SHE said and did weren’t coming from ME. Yes, her damage is my fault, and I’ll do whatever I can to make it right (and not allow her another rampage, God willing)–but my sober-self is NOT the same person who did those things. I don’t know if that makes sense, or if it sounds like a cop-out–but I wanted to try to share that as a way of saying that your FRIEND, the one who’s buried beneath the evil-alter-ego of his drinking self, may still be the person who’s your friend.

    I don’t know if there’s any way that you can tell your friend that you value the friendship of that version of him, but you’re not willing to deal with the drinking-alter-ego version of him–unless, perhaps, he gets to the point where he’s looking for help to evict the alter-ego, in which case a friend who believes in the Sober Guy Underneath could be an absolute life-saver. There’s nothing another person can do to make an alcoholic WANT to stop drinking, but the knowledge that there’s someone who still believes in his better self may be a lifeline if/when he does reach that point. Maybe you can leave that door open, but bow out of the current version of the friendship. Or the relationship-that-used-to-be-friendship. I know that in my own case, the people who cut ties with my drinking-self were doing so wisely. She was a force of limitless destruction.

    I don’t know if any of this ramble is a help to you–but here’s wishing you the best as you cope with a heartbreaking situation. I’ve been on both sides of it, and it’s truly miserable. Keep your chin up, my Friend.


    • Sandy Sue
      Dec 04, 2011 @ 13:03:58

      Oh, Kana, I really hoped you’d read this and reply! Thank you so much for your insight. It makes total sense and is exactly what I want to do for/say to my friend. You’ve helped me so much.


  3. Rev Marshall Wright
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 13:31:20

    There are no accidents . . . this revised 12-Step prayer came over my threshold yesterday . . .

    God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change,
    the courage to change the ONE I can and the wisdom to know…. it’s me

    HO TO THE FLOW . . .

    Love is . . .


    • Sandy Sue
      Dec 05, 2011 @ 00:06:21

      Acceptance is a fuzzy concept. I can accept that my friend is an alcoholic and not willing to change. I can accept that his behavior is different when he’s drinking. But I can’t tolerate his abuse. I can’t change him, I can only protect me. Is that still acceptance?


  4. Kitty
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 14:20:00

    Keep forgiving yourself for the relationships you think you torched and it will help you love unconditionally… your friend AND yourself, by honoring your own healthy boundaries.


  5. pegoleg
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 09:23:16

    This is pretty tough, Sandy. It sounds like your illness may have caused you to hurt friends and family in the past, and you appreciated their understanding and forgiveness. Can you do less for this friend?

    But you are right that you need to protect yourself. I have a friend who, in her zeal to do the generous and caring thing always, has been taken advantage of by some friends and family. I’ve tried to get her to see that she does NOT have to be a doormat to be kind – it is the right, reasonable and normal instinct for people to protect themselves.


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