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How I Survived 40 Years in a

Codependent-Alcoholic Relationship

by Doug Kelley, CH, CSL Founder of Empowered Recovery


My name is Doug Kelley. I am an alcoholic survivor�the effects of alcoholism nearly destroyed my life. Alcoholism is one of the most serious disorders that can befall a human being, and accounts for far too many destroyed families, relationships, and individuals.

I Am a Textbook Example of the Effects of Someone's Drinking

For at least four generations, alcoholism has cast it gloomy and dispiriting shadow on both sides of my family. One grandfather and three uncles all abused alcohol. Two other uncles died from the effects of alcoholism. My mother has struggled with alcoholism most of my life, which caused untold problems at home growing up. Additionally, both of my parents along with both of my grandmothers, several aunts and other uncles, and several cousins are/were codependent. It is clear that alcoholism�and its paramour, codependence�runs strong in my family.

Now enter me. With alcoholism and codependence in my family, I was programmed from infancy to be attracted to an unhealthy, codependent relationship. Guess what happened? You're right; I got into an unhealthy relationship with a woman who later became an alcoholic. And the most frightening part about it was that I was not even AWARE that I was codependent�I thought it was "normal;" I was simply attracted to what I was comfortable with.


For Years, I Couldn't Figure Out What Was Wrong

I knew as a teenager growing up that my mom had a serious problem with alcohol. And after I was married a few years, I knew that my wife also had a serious problem with alcohol. But I couldn't�or more truthfully, WOULDN'T�admit it, not even to myself. "What? My mom and my wife? Alcoholics? No way!" Think of the shame; think of the embarrassment from my friends, my workmates, and others in social circles! I was DROWNING in the black hole of denial! To even request literature from Alcoholics Anonymous to confirm my secret suspicions was a huge and shameful step for me! My codependence and denial were telling me, "Don't go there, Doug! It can't be true!"

But at the same time, my personal life and my family life were a wreck, and horribly unhealthy. There was constant fighting, which completely robbed my home, my family, and my life of any semblance of peace. Looking back, I can see that I myself played a big role in that dysfunction due to my codependence.

Aside from the day-to-day pain of an alcoholic relationship, there was another pain that I had lived with far longer�the pain within. I just couldn't figure out why I felt so numb all the time; why my life was just so bad�and so sad�and the feeling never went away. I felt like I always needed to be in control of everything all the time�even if it was passive and unspoken control. I was a perfectionist, and felt like everything had to be done in a certain way. I felt that if anything was going to get done right, I had to do it. And even with this controlling mindset, I STILL FELT OUT OF CONTROL OVER MY LIFE!

I felt emotionally drained and weak. I had no drive to do anything�not even my job. And as a result, everything about me suffered�my family, my marriage, my job, my life, and me! I didn't know then what I know now�these were all classic symptoms of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, intensified by a current codependent-alcoholic relationship.


I Was Trapped in a Swirling Vortex of Codependence and Denial

For the better part of an 18 year marriage, I suffered from the toxic effects of another's drinking in ways that only someone who has been through it can understand�perhaps like you. I came to understand that there are two primary weapons of the alcoholic: 1) to arouse anxiety; and, 2) to provoke to anger. Furthermore, I fought valiantly �and futilely�against these weapons for years. And all those years were spent in denial and confusion; constantly going from one alcoholic crisis to another; cleaning up and fixing one mess after another; dealing with all the demands of life virtually alone; and all along convinced that I could control whether she drank or not. The truth was, I couldn't.

Forty years�all my life�of dealing with the adverse effects of alcoholism began to take its toll. All that I was inside, had died. My spirit, my enthusiasm, and joy for life were gone. I was alive in body, but dead in spirit. The light in my eyes had grown dim.


How I Survived 40 Years of Codependence and Alcoholic Relationships

It all changed one February day in 1998. A mutual acquaintance of my wife and I�who herself had dealt with an alcoholic relationship�was concerned about us. She privately asked me if she could ask a personal question. I will never forget that question: "Doug, does [your wife] have a drinking problem?" That question hit me like a ton of bricks! the "family secret" that I thought was safe�wasn't!

My friend's concern and the resulting conversation started me on a path of PROFOUND REALIZATIONS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE, and in ways that I honestly never imagined! For example,

  I came face-to-face, toe-to-toe, and eye-to-eye with my own codependence. For the first time, I learned what codependence was, and realized how it had adversely affected me throughout my whole life!

  I also came face-to-face with the realization that both my wife and my mother were, in fact, alcoholics; and also that alcoholism and codependence had sucked the life right out of me for 40 years!

  At that moment, I could see quite clearly that I was now a power player in the generational cycle of alcoholism and codependence, and worse yet, I was perpetuating this cycle with my own son.

  I realized that responsibility for changing my life and halting the generational cycle LAY squarely on my shoulders. I found strength in the wise maxims, "If you always do what you've always done, then you'll always get what you've always got," and, "If nothing changes, nothing changes." I now knew in my heart that "If it is to be, it is up to me." I recognized the need to make drastic changes in my situation, STARTING WITH MYSELF FIRST.

  After so many years of futilely trying to control another person and her drinking, I had an intense epiphany: I could take care of the situation now, or suffer longer and STILL take care of it later�or die from the pain. The choice was mine. I chose to TAKE CARE OF IT NOW!

  As the scales of denial about codependence and alcoholism finally fell from my eyes, I realized and accepted that the FAMILY SECRET WAS OUT! And I can't tell you what a relief that was! No more hiding it; no more emotional drain. Now the whole world knew�and that was okay! I had come to terms with it and was relieved of carrying a 40-year burden of denial.

 After coming to these profound realizations and making necessary changes in myself, I looked back and discovered�

 Ten Things You Should Never Do in an Alcoholic Relationship

  1. Do not deny or minimize that alcohol abuse is causing problems in your relationship and family.

  2. Do not deny or minimize the deep emotional impact that alcoholism IS HAVING on your children or yourself.

  3. Do not think that others are unaware of your difficult situation.

  4. Do not think that things will change all by themselves.

  5. Do not make excuses for, nor protect the alcoholic from the consequences of his or her own actions.

  6. Do not try to control his or her drinking, nor believe that you can.

  7. Say what you mean; mean what you say: Never deliver an ultimatum that you have no intention of following through on.

  8. Do not let the alcoholic make you feel responsible for his or her drinking, or the problems caused by his or her drinking.

  9. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated, controlled, or provoked by the words and actions of the alcoholic. be �proactive,� not �reactive.� In other words, �respond, don�t react.�

  10. Do not believe the promises of the alcoholic to change, unless he or she proves those promises over a sufficient length of time (many years).

I will be the first one to tell you that implementing the above no-no's is not easy, and it doesn't happen overnight. But if you begin to make these changes, the quality of your life will dramatically improve�like mine.


On the Road to a Better Place!

As I mentioned, these profound realizations paved the way to a much better life. As events unfolded, my marriage�fraught with alcoholism and codependence�was not salvageable, even though I tried in vain to save it. In February 1999, I took my 12-year-old son and separated from my wife. I divorced her in August 1999, but that did not end the alcoholic fallout. From 1999 until 2005, my ex-wife took me to court several times demanding money. I always won the court cases.

But what she really wanted was for me to go to jail. She had told me numerous times since our separation that she wanted to �ruin me.� And she certainly tried, but she did not prevail. On January 16, 2005, she died from liver failure at the age of 42. She literally drank herself to death.

I am now remarried, and this time to a stable, beautiful, and loving woman named Tracy, who herself survived an alcoholic marriage. Our relationship is so healthy, it's almost obscene! There is now sweet peace in my home�something my son and I had never known. My son (now 18 years old) has had six years to recover and enjoy a healthy home environment. I too am now wonderfully alive in both body and spirit, and well on the path of exciting and new life-possibilities.

I am now at a point where I have a healthy desire to help others benefit from the expensive lessons I've learned and successfully deal with and overcome an alcoholic relationship. I do this through speaking, writing, personal coaching, and other ways. For example, I have deliberately and meticulously explored the progression of my own growth and survival through an alcoholic relationship; then combined this hard-learned experience with research; then added in the experiences of others; and developed the Empowered Recovery Program.

Here is a brief timeline of my work since 1999:

� In June 2000, I published my first book, "The Game Rules for Life," detailing the many lessons I've learned throughout my adversity, including overcoming self-limiting mindsets and behaviors, and dealing with the effects of another's drinking. I am happy to say that I have received some remarkable feedback on it.

� In early 2001, I began writing and formulating what would later become �Empowered Recovery,� a program like no other that is designed to actually resolve an alcoholic relationship. This includes my breakthrough with the Recovery Paragon model, the concept of which I also use in my leadership seminars.

� In October 2001, I started a personal Internet homepage that evolved into what is now www.EmpoweredRecovery.com.

� In December 2001, I started an online support group that has helped many to get a better understanding of their dilemma, and find resolution.

� In 2002, I compiled all of my writings to date into an eBook, The Survivor�s Guide to an Alcoholic Relationship. These same writings would make up the basis for a book that I would later finish.

� In 2002, I compiled many of my writings into a free, online Crash Course (no longer available).

� In January 2005, I formulated the �Two Most Important Relationship Questions,� which is actually one question aimed in two different directions. The questions are, �What do I bring to this relationship?� and �What does the alcoholic bring to this relationship?�  

� In July 2006, Tracy and I recorded Candid Conversations with Doug & Tracy Kelley, a 3�-hour audio program designed to supplement the Alcoholic Relationship Survival Guide.

� On July 26, 2006, at 12:13 pm EDT, after five years in the writing, the Alcoholic Relationship Survival Guide was finally finished!

It has been a long, hard road, to be sure. But I have learned and grown more as a human being in the past six years more than any other time in my life. My wife, Tracy, has been my partner and collaborator in everything I�ve written. She continues to be an inspiration to me, and to everyone that knows her�she is truly a remarkable human being.

It is my sincere hope that my personal experiences and writings contained in Empowered Recovery will be of life-changing value to you!

Doug Kelley, CH, CSL, July 13, 2005

Doug Kelley is Professional Speaker, Trainer, Author, Consultant, and Coach who helps business professionals excel in Assertive Communication Skills, Assertive Leadership Skills, Assertive Team Skills, and Assertive Customer Service. Doug is also the Founder of Empowered Recovery, a unique self-help program for the friends and family of alcoholics.

Please visit his websites:
http://www.EmpoweredRecovery.com http://www.metaphysicsinstitute.org http://www.mchschurch.org

� Copyright 2002 - 2005 Doug Kelley. All Rights Reserved. This story is for personal use only. Public distribution is not allowed without permission. For questions, feedback, or further information, email Doug.

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