This is part of an ongoing series on mental health and addiction. Some people appreciate this material, some don't. Individual psychology affects how each of us approach organizational and political issues, so it is of general interest.
I'm going to cruise right through a number of points here without a lot of sugarcoating. Some of this may be more helpful to people living or working with dry drunks. An actual dry drunk is just likely to be angry about it, because their main food groups are anger and pity.
I'm going to be talking about a codependent dry drunk rather than an alcoholic dry drunk. The alcoholic dry drunk is an alcoholic who has stopped drinking and expects others to respect their new sense of moral authority. The alcoholic dry drunk still has all the glaring character defects and personality traits of an addict, but now they feel entitled to lecture others. The codependent dry drunk has many of the traits of the alcoholic, and may even become a drunk, but the crises in their lives usually revolve around other people's addictions.
The best way to understand the dry drunk is to think of them as the micromanager. They feel empowered and good because they are bringing order to chaos. Generally, they grew up in a chaotic house with unreliable parents, then went through the teen "know it all" period in a home where they really did know better than their parents. Much of the time they really were the smartest person in the room. Often they were put in the role of the parent and raised their younger siblings, or their parents put them in the role of the parent's caretaker. Their feelings of inferiority created by their parents' criticism, rejection, and abuse is compensated for by a "superiority complex." And while they probably are superior to their parents, they may fall flat in the real world. The dark side of their self image and self esteem depends on maintaining a chaotic environment so that they can be "better" than those around them.
The dry dunk must always be "nicer" and "better" and "care more" and "do more" and be more self sacrificing and generous than anyone else. Playing King Of The Hill is hard work, because whenever someone gets close they have to be shoved back down the hill.
The style of aggression is "covert" or hidden. Covert aggression would include sabotaging, passive aggressiveness, social bullying, and aggressively wasting other people's time. Think of the sickeningly sweet boss who asks for something to be revised a dozen times, brings the whole team to work on Sunday to berate them, then throws their work away the following Tuesday. But they'll remember your birthday as if that made up for something. People who were bullied are at higher risk of becoming bullies without recognizing their own behavior as bullying.
It's easy for someone to avoid this knowledge if they are surrounded by friends who tell them they really are the moral, good person in a conflict. If they can get that that sort of support, the "covert" aggression is likely to become open "overt" aggression, and suddenly the reservoir of anger under the surface layer of gooey "niceness" is apparent.
In many ways, recovery for the codependent dry drunk is a tougher hill to climb than recovery for the alcoholic. The alcoholic becomes sober when they stop drinking (although they are still an alcoholic) but the codependent dry drunk can't make a bold decision and mark that day on the calendar as the day their life changed.
As an adult they have intense pride in comparing themselves to other people. This is toxic pride, alcoholic pride, "Seven Deadly Sins" pride. The dry drunk is very likely to have paired off with a real drunk, and these relationships usually have intense conflict. Both parties have toxic levels of pride, and their pride collides violently as they try to prove who's "better." They will try to manipulate each other relentlessly into playing the role of the bad guy so they can be virtuous. (See my previous diary on projection.)
A dry drunk can suffer terribly in a power struggle. All sorts of negative emotions emerge, like terrible rage and depression. But unlike a sociopath who does not feel guilt, a dry drunk already has lots and lots of guilt, shame, and anxiety. They desperately cling to their partner and blame them for their troubled state.
Denial of all their negative emotions (especially uncontrolled anger) creates chaotic reasoning and thoughts. Years after Bill W. founded Alcoholics Anonymous, his wife founded Al-Anon for the family members of drunks. She did this after throwing a shoe at Bill W. and being shocked and mystified at her own uncontrollable anger.
The codependent person is often attracted to addicts, because of they need flawed people around them to make them feel superior and to justify their anger. There is also the urge to recreate their family and, finally, as an adult, really run the show this time. These relationships also feature the strong attraction and conflict that occurs when two people are really are much alike, and, while they are both oblivious to this fact, they can recognize and hate their own flaws in the other person. Their relationship is like trying to put out a gasoline fire with more gasoline.
Socially, codependent people out in the world have their "support network" of similar people, the function of that group is validate each others' anger. They all agree someone is the "bad guy" and they all share their anger.
Some people eventually go into recovery programs like Al-Anon, and a big part of the recovery process is being with other people who have the same background so they can support each other. It allows people to discuss their life stories without a sense of shame.
Recovery groups get codependent people together in a setting where it is not simply a celebration of their anger problems. These program may or may not eventually bring a big change to someones life, but at least it is a way to build relationships that are not based on codependent support of each others anger.
The best case scenario for recovery is for the codependent people are able to have some degree of reconciliation with their parents and siblings. That involves a lot of luck, because the rest of the family needs to have been working on their own issues. Sometimes the best that can happen is a codependent person gains perspective on why people were cruel to them. The other part of recovery is their moral inventory where they examine how they hurt others. Often they have to work really hard to earn the forgiveness of people who they let down. Sometimes that forgiveness isn't attainable, and the only consolation is that their failings were not intentional - they really did try the best they could with the tools that they were given by their parents.
But most dry drunks just continue to be obsessed with power, control, being "better" and "nicer," endlessly searching for support and sympathy, and generally sabotaging the people and organizations they work for. On the other hand, these behaviors can work very very well in terms of gaining control over others in a manipulative and negative sense. The course of a person's life is determined by how they balance their desire for power and the penalties that accrue in the pursuit of power. In the case of codependency, the penalty is depression. Depression is what drives people to recovery programs (sometimes in a hospital setting). But some people stubbornly cling to the power and control that they feel codependency gives them, even if the cost is chronic depression. And some people cling to the codependent behaviors in hopes of finally getting the love of the parents that molded them then rejected them.
Often the dry drunk adult will feel compelled to seek out a relationship that is a copy of their parents'. Often they pair off with someone that is a carbon copy of their parent - right down to their hobbies, occupation, and even specific mental illness. For example, a male friend of mine who was largely abandoned by his schizoid hospital executive father married a hospital executive who started having schizoid delusions after they were married a couple years (cue the Twilight Zone theme song). Sometimes the parents will embrace the creepy fiance while still largely rejecting their own child. Eventually a friend may ask "Why do you only date guys that are just like your abusive father?" leaving the dry drunk absolutely gobstruck because they had never noticed. I have made this point many times, and nobody pushed back on that, instead they say "Oh yeah, that's my sister!"
The relationship of the drunk and dry drunk is a long word game of he-said-she-said and broken promises punctuated by fights and brief moments of intimacy. The dynamic is described as "over responsible / under responsible" where the dry drunk takes the role of the over-responsible caretaker of an addicted under-responsible partner. Google "over-responsible" and "codependent" for much more material on this subject. The interesting part is that the partners switch up their roles of over-responsible and under-responsible, such as when the dry drunk drops the ball about doing something important (maybe in a passive aggressive way) and their alcoholic spouse gets to climb on their high horse and scold them. And sometimes the dry drunk just becomes a drunk (under-responsible) while the drunk can become sober and become the self-righteous (over-responsible) alcoholic dry drunk.
The codependent dry drunk has unrealistic ideas of controlling their partner (and often everyone else they know) if they can just find the right combination of words. The addict partner encourages this belief by occasionally cooperating and promising to reform. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that the dry drunk believes they have a Harry Potter like ability to change reality if they can just find the right combination of words. This imaginary ability to control others has a grandiose quality, and it often extends to include the whole family as well as other people such associates through church or business.
The dry drunk also believes they know what others are thinking, via nonstop projection. as a result, they may spend huge amounts of energy attempting to micromanage what other people think, even though these bad thoughts are merely a product of the dry drunk's own fantasies, and the dry drunk's behavior is increasingly out of synch with reality.
For the adult dry drunk, a key question is can they tolerate the company of a calm competent person? Or While being blind to flaws in people that are obviously disturbed, the dry drunk may have little tolerance for people that are functioning at a relatively good level. Often the dry drunk will reject relationships with stable partners in favor of pursuing relationships with abusive addicted partners, over and over. Potentially stable relationships are rejected by relentless scrutiny of the other person. The style might be described as "analyze and accuse." Sinister motives are used to explain everyday occurrences. "Hypervigilance" has been used to describe this rather paranoid style of interaction.
Given that codependents uses projection endlessly and they
often accuse people of planning to betray them....well let's do the math:
Accusation of betrayal - Projection = XSee? You can be the "nice" person and put the knife in them first! This strategy actually seems to work pretty well for people personally, but there is considerable irony in how the "nice" people so often come with a body count of ruined lives and shattered dreams.
So what's X?
Accusation of betrayal - Projection = The urge to betray
The urge to betray + Projection = Accusation of betrayal
The two main emotions of the dry drunk are anger and depression, and they want to deny both of them. Depression is the "Great Imitator," (Google depression great imitator) and it can show up as variety of other conditions, so it frequently goes untreated. It's even harder to diagnose depression in someone that actively denies being depressed. For many people, depression directly translates into anger, and an event that would cause normal depression (death of a parent) becomes violent rage. This rage then ignites a power struggle as the normal depression that results is denied and transformed into anger that is projected onto someone else.
In a power struggle a dry drunk can nearly self destruct, and the damage from a power struggle is what will bring them to counseling, maybe after they get arrested or fired, or attempting suicide. Often creating some catastrophe for themselves is the only end point to the power struggle.
Codependents are frightened of their anger, and it becomes harder to deny their anger in a power struggle. But there are plenty of forms of denial, and the codependent's favorite form is projection, specifically projective identification, which I covered in a previous diary. The dry drunk accuses their partner of being angry, over and over and over, until the other person really does become angry. Then it is the partner who is the angry one, and the aggressive codependent is the "victim." Likewise the dry drunk may accuse someone with being depressed until the other person actually become depressed. By doing this they are able to "prove" that it is the other person that is angry and depressed. I had a supervisor who suffered major depression, and , naturally they were obsessed with the idea that I was depressed (actually I was busy secretly taking night classes, and I was avoiding the supervisors sabotage). Eventually the supervisor was hospitalized with (you guessed it) major depression, but not before this person destroyed the business unit.
The dry drunk is extremely uncomfortable with other people expressing any emotion, since that was often a prelude to something awful when they were growing up. Likewise, direct communication is a threat, and nearly anything is likely to be interpreted as an attack or threat. The codependents everyday language is likely to be so circuitous and passive aggressive as to be almost cryptic. There is also a sort of code, where some words have a specific meaning, especially the word "respect." If someone is in a situation with a dry drunk, they are likely to feel like they are the understudy for "Glenn Gary, Glenn Ross." Suddenly they are on stage with someone who is saying angry things that are clearly in some sort of script or personal code and looking at them with an expression that says "Why don't you know your lines?" Dry drunk styles of communication will probably be a future diary.
Communication between other people is also intensely threatening, so the dry drunk will always try to put themselves in the middle. Often, the dry drunk is convinced that people are talking about them because everything is about them. Also the dry drunk's power is their role as the family's gatekeeper of communication and the arbiter of alliances. In the work place, they may be the person that becomes a tremendous bottleneck.
Being alone (abandoned ) is a huge fear of codependent people, because usually they were abandoned by a parent that either left the family, died, rejected them personally, or were emotionally unavailable due to mental health issues that often included addiction. Also, in a very real sense they were abandoned by the other parent who failed to protect them.
As adults, they see the addicts as being weaker and more dependent than they are, so they believe they can bind the addict to them so they won't be abandoned. Of course the addict knows that finding a new codependent partner would be about as hard as buying a six pack, so the dry drunk is setting themselves for abandonment.
Abandonment is also real when their behavior causes independent people to dump them. As we know, their lives often become a meticulous recreation of the childhood, with all its unhappiness. But those childhood habits often collide with reality, because that family history was not the reality everyone knows. The scripted behaviors and phrases come up short when someone who is not a family member says "FUCK OFF! STAY AWAY FROM ME!" and there isn't a reconciliation, they don't want to make up, they are just gone.
In a general way, the behavior of the codependent dry drunk is self sabotaging in their choice of partners, and there is a belief that their suffering somehow merits a reward (in grad school, maybe, but not on the real world). This is the "insanity" that AA describes as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." While it's not the traditional Freudean form of sexual "masochsim," it has been unofficially described as Self Defeating Personality Disorder (SDPD)—suffering within relationships is preferable to being alone. And although it's not sexual masochism, it is very very attractive to sadists. The sadist may target a different family member, and the codependent partner may cooperate in this abuse, and this scenario can be seen the child abuse reports in your local paper.
One of the strangest thing about people that were abandoned is that a large number of them end up with what Alfred Adler called a "Leadership Complex," where almost inexplicably they believe they are "born leaders." Refer to the biographies of famous politicians for examples of people who went from being abandoned to positions of power, and pay close attention to their efforts to overcome the urge to self sabotage. Barack Obama was abandoned by his father, wrote whole books about the road he traveled, and avoided self sabotage. Bill Clinton - well he was not entirely free from self sabotage, was he?
Besides being self sabotaging in their personal and professional lives. they still have the need to be "better" than others. The most obvious way to maintain the superiority is to take the short step from sabotaging themselves to sabotaging others. We see this often in families where the black sheep child (such as the only one that eventually graduates from college) has to take a bus to the library so they can study free from interference. Sabotaging others has the added benefit of being able to accuse the other person of being the angry one, and of course they are angry at being undermined by the dry drunk.
The same thing applies to the codependent circle of "friends" who validate each others' outrage - it lets them feel that is their friend who is the really angry one. And isn't a form of sabotage to encourage someone's outrage and acting out? Isn't that sadism disguised as friendship? Heck, pop culture even has a term for it - a "frenemy."
Individually, a dry drunk might feel shame and secrecy at their anger. After all, they often go to great lengths to deny it. But in a group, they can get validation as everyone agrees "We all need to be angry at this person together." Rage is proof that they are pure, rage is proof they are a force for good, rage is a drug that blots out all the other emotions. In a personal power struggle, if someone is able to be proud of their rage individually, they are spiraling downward.
These behaviors make coexistence dicey at best. Therein lies one of the central conflicts of the unhappy person - they can't stand to be alone and they can't stand to be with other people. Being with another codependent person or an addict is a compromise, because the level of intimacy can be modulated by long running conflicts.
The dry drunk has to diagnose problems in their partner to establish control and superiority. If the partner fails to drink enough, a dry drunk may become an enabler that encourages binge drinking, or they may obsess about drinking in someone who doesn't have a drinking problem. At one point (when her parents died), my girlfriend was backsliding on dry drunk behaviors and skipping Al-Anon. She questioned me about my drinking during a long Labor Day weekend at a friend's cabin. (No doubt many of you are remembering epic drinking at a Labor Day cabin party) She remarked that I seemed to be drinking a lot. As I stood there with a beer in my hand, I said "You see me only drinking Guinness, right? I brought one six pack to the cabin, and there is one left. I think I can drink one six pack over a long holiday weekend without a problem. And I just want to say, I'm really enjoying this beer." As near as I can recollect, that was the end of those discussions. Of course, the trigger there was depression over the sudden death of both her parents. Other accusations continued to increase and we subsequently went to grief counseling together, which helped quite a bit, and I went to some Al-Anon meetings with her to show my support.
Another outcome of abandonment is a very primitive quality in someone's relationships when they grow up. Other people are regarded as "all good" or "all bad." The "all good" people are those that provide sympathy and support. "All bad" people are the evil people who ask questions or who fail to jump at the cues of the codependent relationship. Bad people are targets for group bullying. Bad people include people that stand out or work too hard, and many of us have seen someone go from being the outstanding employee to Judas Goat in the space of a single year once they are targeted by a dry drunk.
A good person is someone that share their sense of guilt and shame, the good person is someone that will internalize the dry drunk's criticism and be depressed all weekend.
The "bad person" fails to respond appropriately to a generic dry drunk accusation. If they expose the false and manipulative nature of the ad hominem attack, the dry drunk's mask slips and the hatred pours out.
This how a bad person responds:
Dry Drunk - You think you're always right!And it's worth point out how deeply fucked up an ad hominem like "You think you're always right!" really is. It would have been fine to say "You know, I disagree on that point." But if we break down "You think you're always right!" it's something like this:
Bad Person - Well everyone thinks their right, so it's not clear what that even means.
"You (here comes some projection)
think (mind reading)
you're always (absolutism)
right (this is meaningless but my friends will agree because they are GOOD)"
A really "bad" person would handle it this way:
Dry Drunk - You think you're always right!Meaningless ad hominems and projective identification are the key dry drunk weapons. The silliness of the accusation isn't important, all that matters is getting other people to repeat them. None of us would last long if everyone if the office started whispering loudly about how their target "eats boogers." There was a recent diary about a kid who withdrew from school because the teachers were teasing him about being born in Canada.
Bad Person - Another ad hominem.
Dry Drunk - Waaaaaah!
When the "analyze and accuse" behavior ramps up further, the dry drunk frequently has a distracted look, as some part of their brain keeps up a running analysis of the conversation and tries to determine "what you really mean." This can be depression manifesting itself as mania, and hearing them repeat back what they heard is like putting a phrase through the Google translator from English to Portuguese to Chinese and back to English. When a dry drunk explains the motive of something done by an innocent person, the incident is likely to be described in terms of being the climax of an intricate and malicious series of events. These accusations don't rise to the level of a formal conspiracy theory, instead they change second by second. The dry drunk can easily convince any casual observer that the object of the dry drunks anger is a monstrous person. Much of the dry drunks energy is spent of the search for "proof." If mania is present, the dry drunk may systematically ransack the house looking for "proof." In the workplace, professional sabotage is the norm and physical sabotage is not unusual.
At an even more intense level of dry drunk behavior, they may not be a "dry" drunk any more, they may transition over to being an actual mean drunk. This can happen when their partners sobers up, and the dry drunk is so determined to have a drunk in the house that they take on the role of the drinker. With or without alcohol, watch for the glazed expression of the mean drunk. They may be chattering about "spirituality" or something that sounds harmless, but watch for the fixed predatory leer. If you want to practice that expression, look in the mirror, do the Michelle Bachmann crazy eyes, give a big smile, now bite your lower lip hard - no flinching, maintain the crazy eyes. If you see this, back slowly to the door, drive to a different state, change your name, and start a new life.