Dear Thelma,

I have been in an on and off relationship for at least 10 years. My girlfriend and I have tried to live together three times in the past.

Each time things have blown up due to her jealous nature, which I believe is caused from falling back into alcoholism.

She has consistently moved back in with her ex – who is an alcoholic – because of a house they purchased together. At the same time she has repeatedly told me that she wants to get away from him.

Back in 2013 I helped her get a restraining order on him.

Then after we broke up, she cancelled the restraining order.

I now realise that we can’t go any further until she becomes independent and she is also aware of this.

She says she has started attending AA groups as well as groups that help those with anxiety and depression.

I’m now wondering if she is doing it to be with me, or for herself?

The only time she seems to start working to get out is when we are rebuilding our relationship.

Am I truly helping or hurting her and myself along the way?

I want to be with her but I don’t know how much more of this I can handle. – Worn Out Boyfriend


Dear Worn out boyfriend,

This is quite the predicament you are in. It is very difficult to love someone who has a substance abuse problem.

What you will first need to accept is that your girlfriend has a problem. Her ex-boyfriend may be the alcoholic. But, his alcoholism cannot be blamed for your girlfriend’s issues with alcohol dependence.

Substance abuse and dependence is not easy to deal with. The person must want to get better. Not for anyone else but for themselves. They must want to quit and recover because they see the value of it for themselves and their lives. Doing it for someone else is not going to help them.

So, the question is does she want to be helped? Is she really ready to give up alcohol?

The ex-boyfriend and the house they have purchased together is immaterial in this matter. At this point, these two things are her “enablers”. She is using these two reasons to continue her dependence.

The restraining order she said she obtained in the past – that wasn’t for her. She did not do this because she wanted to. She did this to please you.

Hence, it was easy to retract it later. She didn’t want it in the first place. This is not because she loves you any less. It is because she is in a very complicated relationship with her ex-boyfriend and alcohol.

You are right that she needs to be independent in order to overcome her alcohol dependence problem. But, the independence she needs is probably not the independence you think she needs.

If you really want to help her, you should take her to see a psychiatrist at a hospital. A psychiatrist will be able to help her with her dependence problem in a safe and supportive way. They will also be able to refer her to supportive services to help deal with the complex issues that come with overcoming dependence.

Have no doubt that substance abuse and dependence are medical problems. These are not problems that one simply overcomes. It is very hard and requires medical and psychological support.

Withdrawal is a serious issue that needs professional guidance and help to deal with. Please do not encourage her to go “cold turkey” on her own.

As for the question of your relationship, there is no simple answer to this. She needs to get better before she can make a decision about what she wants. She cannot make that decision now. And, she cannot make that decision for you. She has to make that decision for herself. If you want to help her, help her for that sake. Do not expect anything from what you do for her.

See that she gets the help she needs – as long as she wants it. Tell her you love her. Tell her you want to build a life with her. And then, walk away.

When she is well, she will be able to see what is good for her. And, that will include whether or not you are good for her. She will be in a better position to make decisions about her life, and yours together if that is what she decides she wants.

This will take time, however. Substance abuse and treatment programmes are long and arduous. Oftentimes, people take two steps forward and then three steps back. They go through a lot of pain and frustration themselves.

If you want to wait for her, it will take a long time. It will be painful and frustrating for you, and it may place undue pressure on her.

You have done all that you can for her. You have to think about yourself now. How much more can you take? How much longer can you wait?

Enough of putting others in front of yourself. Put yourself first. That is the best way you can make the right decision at this moment. – Thelma


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