Protect yourself, but don’t lose compassion

Youth in Focus: Lama, I need help. I’m a mother of two kids of 8 and 9 years old. My husband has always been a heavy drinker, but in general he has been a good husband and father. However, things started to change about eight or nine months ago and since then he has been coming home drunk almost every night. He shouts and screams at me and my children are traumatised. I’m also afraid that he will lose his job as he is often late and even misses days. What should I do?

-SW, Paro

Well, I don’t know the full story and there may be many underlying issues here that need to be addressed. However, based on the information that you have provided me, I suggest that you adopt a short and a long term plan.

In the short term you need to focus on the immediate safety of yourself and your children. You didn’t mention that your husband is physically abusive to you, and so I assume that he isn’t. Still, mental abuse is extremely traumatic and absolutely unacceptable. Furthermore, it could escalate.

Here’s a plan: When your husband is sober tell him frankly that his behavior is hurting you and the children, and that if he wants the family to stay together he needs to follow some basic house rules: He has to be at home at a reasonable hour. He should not be drunk when he enters the house and definitely he should not be abusive to you. If he follows these rules, then the situation will improve. However, I’m guessing that he is an alcoholic and so unlikely to be able to do so. In this case, you have to insist that he goes to rehab. If he refuses, then you should either expel him from the house or leave yourself.

Now this part is important. When you separate do not do so in anger, but with care and kindness. He needs to understand that you will not tolerate his behavior but, at the same time, you will support him to go to rehab and will stay with him if he quits drinking. Now, it is important to understand that alcohol, especially when mixed with tablets such as N10, can turn the mildest and gentlest person into a violent monster. Therefore, for your own protection you should have people around you when you leave or ask him to leave. Otherwise, move out when he is not at home and then communicate with him through a trusted third party.  Don’t confront him alone and be prepared to call the police if he threatens you or tries to break into your house.

He will probably tell you that he will change, but if he is an alcoholic (and I’m basing this advise on the fact that he is) he will be unable to so for long periods. In this respect, going to rehab must be a prerequisite to him rejoining the family. There should be no excuses – no ifs and buts. He has to go to rehab.

I don’t know your financial situation, but as your children are of school age you can work in the day. In this respect, never think that a job is too demeaning, but be willing to do any decent work that keeps food on the table and pays the rent. Dignity and self-respect come from how you treat your family, friends and colleagues, not from the nature of your work or the size of your car. Also, family members should offer support when your husband is in rehab – not financial, but moral and practical, such as looking after your children for short periods. Your children will be very inspired by the mother who took care of them during a family crisis. You will be their life-long role model and inspiration. Finally, don’t turn your children against their dad. Instead, explain that he loves them but that his disease (addiction) had caused him to act in the way he does. Let them know that he will be fine after he returns from rehab. Family support is essential to your husband’s recovery, and so it is important that you and your children fully accept their dad after his treatment.

To repeat: As a priority, protect yourself and your children. At the same time, don’t abandon your husband – instead, through a trusted third party, offer him support to go to rehab and to quit his addiction. In this regard, it is important for all of us to understand that an alcoholic or drug addict is suffering in hell. They are in desperate need of help and support, and we should not let them down.

If you require advise or support, contact RENEW:

(02) 332159 / 334751

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.


Email to thinleyzangmo24@gmail.com for any queries

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