Confessions of a boozer: 'I loved my wife. But I loved alcohol more.'

By Dr John McMahon and Lou Lewis for

I loved my wife. But I loved alcohol more.

It would make things so much easier if we could just have an on/off scale, love/don’t love.

Unfortunately life is rarely as neat or as simple as that.I’ll try to explain the love issue from the point of view of the alcoholic.

People sometimes say to me, “If you love someone you’d never hurt them, is that not right? Therefore, if you’re hurting them by your drinking then you don’t love them, right?”

Well actually, WRONG. Did I love my wife? Yes. Did I love her well? Sometimes, but rarely when I was drinking. Did I love alcohol more than my wife? To an observer it’s easy to see how it could seem that way.

"Did I love alcohol more than my wife? To an observer it's easy to see how it could seem that way."

After all my wife was pleading with me to not drink, not drink too much or to not go out, I'd go out, drink too much and get drunk. Clearly then, I chose the alcohol rather than my wife - so by logical deduction, I must love alcohol more than my wife, point proven, case closed.

My relationship with alcohol was a complicated one. In my early days of drinking it felt like I had found the answer to life, the universe and everything. For someone like me who had a social phobia, suffered from low self-esteem and was terrified of women rejecting me, alcohol was a wonder drug.

So did I love it? I loved the way it made me feel. I loved that I could talk to people without feeling clumsy and stupid. I loved the fact that it made me attractive to women (that was a lie but I was more than happy to believe it).

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As time progressed and I started to drink increasing amounts to achieve the same effects, and I started to do things I was ashamed of, the love affair with alcohol dimmed slightly. Oh I still loved the effect, no doubt about that. But now I was less eager to pay the price.

I did still want to rid myself of the social fear, most certainly, but I did not want to become the arrogant boor. I didn't want to get into arguments, be insulting, self-righteous and patronising. I didn't want to get into fights, get thrown out of parties, clubs, pubs, anywhere.

But oh, I did still love the feeling of not being afraid of life - and people.

If that'd been the only choice, it would have been easier to give up the booze and be a better husband than I was. But it was more complicated still. The alcohol still took away my fear, it still made me feel popular, attractive, sexy and smart.

However when those feelings wore off, I didn't return to being the scared, socially clumsy man that I was when I started drinking. When I was sober any confidence I had was gone, and the fear was heightened.


Drinking again took the fear away, brought the confidence back - but each binge it felt like I started drinking from deeper fear. It took more and more alcohol just to get rid of the fear, never mind feel the confidence.

"The only thing that I knew that could make me feel better was another drink." Image via iStock.

As a binge progressed, my ability to resist drinking was eroded until it felt like I would die or go insane if I did not get a drink. Did I love alcohol at that time? No, I hated it, I hated what it made me do, say, and the way I behaved.

I hated alcohol, but I had to have a drink. It felt like I had no choice. Members of AA talk about the compulsion to drink and being powerless to stop. In my worst days, I would hallucinate and even have convulsions and my mind was filled with terror.

At those times, when I was withdrawing from a binge, when mentally and physically I felt so bad, the only thing that I could think about was to feel better. And the only thing that I knew that could make me feel better was another drink.

I knew that I would probably not be able to keep the alcohol down, that I would be sick, that I would sweat and shake and feel deeply ashamed. I knew that no sane person would put themselves through this yet here I was doing it - again!

I swore, again, that if I just got out of this I would never drink again, well not as much anyway.

Some of you reading this will probably have no sympathy for my plight and say that it was all self-inflicted. I'm not looking for sympathy, not for me anyway. And, yes, I do have to agree that no one made me do it.


Some of you may think that I am just making excuses for my inexcusable behavior, I’m not. I'm just trying to explain in part, not condone, what I did.

I'm deeply sorry for what I did. I wish it could have been different.

Did I love my wife? Yes but not as well as I could have and certainly not nearly as well as she deserved. I never wanted to hurt her, or anyone, I just did not want to hurt.

Image: iStock.

Let me step back out of the alcoholic role and back into the academic for a moment.

What does this insight into addiction tell us about the nature of love and the alcoholic? One of the main lessons I try to tell people is to try not to take the apparent rejection personally. Whoa, that’s a tall order I know, how can you possibly not take it personally? Well, the fact is that the choice is not between you and alcohol, even though he/she may continue to drink when you have pleaded for them to not do so. That seems very personal indeed and it is difficult to be objective about that.

However the real choice is between two pains. Unfortunately the alcoholic will often choose the lesser pain.

When I was withdrawing I was filled with pain and fear and I was terrified what might happen if I did not get a drink. That did not mean I did not feel huge guilty about the hurt I was causing my wife - that was just a lesser hurt for me.

Unfortunately that tends to be the choices that alcoholics and addicts will often make, as their addiction is based on receiving instant gratification rather than long-term growth.

This post originally appeared on and was republished here with full permission.

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