Alcoholics and Victims

VictimhoodBill (not his real name) came to me about a relationship problem, but went on to tell me he compulsively drinks because he is an alcoholic. He continued with “I get it honestly: my dad and all my uncles are alcoholics. I can’t help it. I’m a victim.”

The active alcoholic almost always sees himself as a victim. The most pervasive sign of this is his blaming other people and situations for his life. He blames his wife for making him drink. He blames his ex-wives and girlfriends for robbing him blind. He blames the economy for his underemployment. He blames his childhood for his chronic unhappiness. Nothing about his life is of his doing.

It is interesting that there are a lot of other people with none of the usual types of addiction — alcohol, drugs, prescription medications, gambling, sex — that portray themselves as victims just as the alcoholic does. They blame the external world for their chronic unhappiness: “How could I be happy while the world is in such bad shape?” “My girlfriend got pregnant at 19 and in the last 40 years she has never apologized for getting pregnant and that makes me unhappy.” “My husband is an alcoholic.”

Bizarre? Yes, but real. Victims do blame their condition on the economy, their families, their genetics, bad luck and a host of other external things. They seem to compulsively hold on to the notion that other people and things control their well-being. Sometimes it becomes almost comic.

[SIZEWARP]It’s a given that the addict believes he is a victim: he does not have control of his pursuit of his drug of choice.[/SIZEWARP] I invite you to the curious about whether the corollary is true: is the victim an addict, that is, is the victim addicted to not being in control? Walks like a duck, swims like a duck…

So how does anyone get out of being addicted to a lack of control? How does anyone get out of being so stuck?

The first step in getting out of any addiction is to become aware of it. This is often difficult because the addiction becomes interwoven with the victim’s identity. Next, the victim decides his life has become unacceptable as it is and will do whatever it takes to get out of that stuck place.

For the alcoholic, quitting drinking is only a beginning. If nothing else is allowed to change, relapse is almost inevitable. True full recovery for the alcoholic involves a shift in personal identity from being a victim to taking responsibility for his/her life. In the process, everything is on the table.

I propose that for the victim, the person addicted to a lack of control, the process is exactly the same. And the end result for the former victim is the freedom to be in charge of his/her sense of well-being and purpose.

None of this lets us escape from the vicissitudes of life. Objectively, companies downsize putting people out of work, and others die in car accidents or through diseases.

Canadian po;itical icon Jack Layton died of cancer . You could think of Jack as a victim of cancer, but from all indications, to the very last he saw himself, not as a victim, but as someone living with cancer. He was in charge of his happiness and purpose to his last public letter. What an example for the rest of us!

If you see yourself as a victim of any stripe , including alcohol , I invite you to decide to step out of that powerless place. Then just  do it.  You may need some help in reinventing yourself  after victimhood, but stepping out of it is  up to you.

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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide.

2 thoughts on “Alcoholics and Victims

  1. Hi,

    That article about being a victim was written for me! I am a recovering alcoholic (sober16 years), but after reading this article, I see how I have re-acted to a series of negative events. I have fully claimed the victim role. I can give you all kinds of justification for doing so, which just shows how strongly I identify as victim.

    Can you recommend any books, practices, or anything else I can do to help me get unstuck from this identification as victim? (Even as I write this, I want to tell you about these life circumstances and events that would justify why anyone in my shoes would identify as a victim, will always be a victim, so there’s not even any point in trying, there’s too many things against me).

    I am thinking back, and maybe when I sobered up (went to rehab and lots of AA), perhaps at that time I stepped away from identifying as victim. Now, staying sober and working toward goals and not much of it working out as I hoped it would, I have reclaimed my victim hood with a vengeance and don’t know how to get away from this type of thinking because the arguments to stay as a victim are so apparently logical and (I perceive) based as an actual result of what people have done to me and how they treated me.

    Thank you for any recommendations.

  2. I agree with your article to an extent. My husband stopped drinking 5 years ago because he had serious health problems. He didn’t do anything about his victim hood feelings though, and has now decided that it was me and the children who brought him down. He left us, he is only in contact with my youngest daughter because she is the only one that still adores him.

    So he took his life in his own hands and decided to change by destroying his own family and causing great upset with his 3 sons. That can’t be right…

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