How do I handle the ups and downs of slips and relapses? How do I set proper boundaries?



I posted a couple weeks ago about my S/Os slip. He’s been really struggling since, but fighting at the same time. I’m struggling to understand where he is. Since the slip, he’s been teetering between sober days and attending meetings to other days skipping meetings and sneaking drinks and buying booze with whatever change he has. I want to set boundaries. I know in my heart what I want. I want peace, recovery, and zero chaos. I want a relationship with someone who is sober and their authentic self. Not a glazed over version of someone. Yet, I love him. I don’t want to turn my back on him. Also, sometimes he can be mean and abusive while drunk, so I’m struggling to follow through on my boundaries. Instead I find myself staying and trying to talk him off a ledge, while crying, yelling, and and trying to understand. How can I better handle situations where I walk into a situation where he’s drinking? Should I leave? stay and talk? Only when he’s mean?

Tonight I was going to stop by because the plan was to chill out and watch some tv. As soon as I pulled up, he came out and said, “I messed up” I’m not thrilled with my reaction because I started to give him a choice between dumping it out or me leaving. He wasn’t going to dump it out and it was the last bit. So I stayed. And we talked. He said he’s sorry for disappointing me. But I just kept trying to understand what it is that keeps him going back. He said he can’t pinpoint it. The only thing he could say is it feels like a release, like a warm feeling, like it helps sooth him. And he’s been stressed and this is his coping mechanism. The thing I don’t get is the things he’s stressed about are typical life’s stressors. I mean he’s working on getting his license, his jobs a bit whacky from the pandemic. But to me, these aren’t any reasons to destroy ones life over.

On one hand I give him credit for fighting. On the other hand I feel like he could be trying harder. The one thing we’ve talked about was to reach out before he drinks, but he’s not doing that. In fact, I feel like instead he’s thinking ahead to how he can figure out a way to get his hands on booze.

I guess tonight I’m struggling with setting boundaries. Knowing when to set a boundary. Knowing when to leave the situation. It gets kind of hazy With boundaries especially when he’s wanting me to stay and talk. It’s also tough when I really wanted to see him and hang out. I’m also struggling to understand why. Why does he say one thing and do another. Is he just saying what I want to hear in the moment? I do believe he wants this, but he did admit tonight that he feels like he’s back on the fence again.

I’m also disappointed in myself. I feel like him running outside to tell me he messed up was a step in the right direction. He was trying to be honest instead of sneaking or hiding the glass. Instead I got mad, gave him ultimatums, and cried and pleaded and yelled and nagged. I know I could have done better, but it’s just so emotional to me. The 4 months of sobriety were amazing. I was and am still so proud of that time we had together.

At the end of the night we ate some food, he started to sober up a bit, we laid there head to head on his L shaped couch like we always do, he held my hand and said “you’re not going to lose your best friend.” :sob:


Oof, this hit home for me this morning. For the beginning portion of your story, remember that our common life stressors to us are manageable, where as to an addict, they are the end of the world. Our coping mechanisms might be through prayer, crystals, meditation, going for a walk, where their coping strategies are through drugs or alcohol. As much as all of us have nagged and yelled at our loved one for drinking or using because we hate seeing them destroy themselves, none of that works. They have to keep wanting to get help. And that may mean fifty thousand more slip ups. We don’t want them to keep hurting themselves, we want to see their true selves shine through, but it is all their own battle. All that we can do is protect ourselves while still being there for them.
So, what that might mean for you, is if your boundary is you are not going to be around him when he drinks (because he has been abusive), you need to go. You need to follow through with what you say too, for yourself, and for him to not be confusing your boundaries either. If he wants you to stay, don’t offer ultimatums, just say you’ll come back in the morning, or the next day, but that you’re giving him space to cope and sober up. He is your best friend, as is mine. But if you aren’t respecting your own boundaries, which is making him also step over your boundaries too, then you have to re-evaluate what you want.
I give him kuddos for coming out and warning you that he wasn’t sober. That is clearly a first step! And also shows that he does respect you and your wishes. It will always be emotional. I wish it weren’t. Don’t be so hard on yourself during this time. Just keep working on your boundaries, maybe even narrowing them down to your top 3 very doable ones and then adding some more as time goes on. I think you are doing a wonderful job because this is tough. Wanting to be by your best friends side and also wanting to keep yourself sane is incredibly difficult.


@jlynnmarch I really needed to hear this…thank you. It’s funny because I can totally give advise to others about boundaries, but I struggle with them on my own. I know what I need to do, but struggle with the follow through.

I also have to remind myself that I’ve come along way. I used to do a lot of crazy things that I don’t do anymore such as go shopping with him while drunk, and bring my kids around him when he was drunk, and I even used to drink with him. I never do this stuff anymore due to boundary setting. I’ve also been improving with disengaging with him in text when I know he’s buzzed or drunk.

I think the hardest boundary for me now is not engaging with him while drunk in person and/or staying at his house like I did yesterday. It always gets fuzzy especially when he drinks the rest and says, “I’m done.” But he started to get a bit verbal yesterday even. I can’t tolerate even a little bit anymore. All it’s doing is Normalizing his behavior and letting him know it’s acceptable to me in some level, when it’s not. I just know when he drinks he feels very lonely. Usually when he drinks is when he’s calling out for help. So it seems backwards to turn my back. But I’ve got to remember to take care of myself.

Usually I don’t yell, but I’m just so frustrated. I did apologize from my end of it this morning on my way to driving him to work. He said he wants me to keep talking though. He wants to hear my thoughts. He acknowledged that he needs to get back on track, but his coping mechanisms need work still. He said he wants to take it easy for the next two days, and he has a tee time on Saturday with his AA buddies. I told him I think his efforts have been half-assed and its not fair to his AA friends. He completely agreed. He said there’s some saying about that exact thing in AA… half-measures avail us nothing.

Anyway thank you. I really needed to hear this today. I really appreciate your feedback. It’s honestly how I keep growing.


I would add, please practice the habit of detaching with love.
He has a disease. If you can seek out a sponsor at an Alanon meeting and ask how you can practice this, you will be amazed at your ability to stay cool amidst the chaos.


I know this is an older post but wanted to reach out and just say, “I hear you.” I consistently refer to this as the “rollercoaster” and it’s so scary and feels so unfair. I also struggle with setting and keeping boundaries. Have you had any luck since?


Yes! He’s been sober for almost 4 months! It’s been a tough year, but we’ve made great strides. Thank you for commenting. I reread this whole post. It was a great reminder as to where we were 10 months ago. It’s also a reminder to how quickly his disease can rear its ugly head. My thought today is, how will I handle it if he does relapse again? I’d like to say i’ve grown too, but it’s always so difficult every damn time. So i guess for today i’ll live in the now and try to be grateful for every moment we have together. He’s sober, in recovery, has a job, and has a license hearing next week. i’m going to Alanon, and working my own recovery and therapy too. It hasn’t been easy but i’m so very grateful for everything we have and are learning. :heart:


@Bjefferson yes! I’ve been attending Alanon regularly for the past four months. It’s been helping a lot.


@Jess I’m so happy you’re seeing some bright side right now and that you’re both working your recovery so well. A relapse is always incredibly hard but I think that any time you both get a long period of recovery that you can learn and grow so much in that time. Also, when I’ve seen that my husband CAN be sober for longer stretches, it helps me to have high standards for him and set clearer boundaries. Hopefully you don’t even have to think of it though!