You learned that you were married to an alcoholic and chose divorce as a way to protect yourself and your children. That was enough of a reality check to convince your ex-spouse that they needed to quit drinking alcohol entirely if they wanted to preserve their parent-child relationship.
You waited hopefully for positive changes to emerge in your co-parent. But even though they no longer drank alcohol, they still seemed always to be irritable and ready to snap at both you and the kids over the smallest matters.
What’s really going on here?
If the above scenario sounds uncomfortably familiar, it’s likely your ex is a dry drunk trying to “white knuckle” themselves through sobriety. If that is an unfamiliar concept, consider that people can refrain from consuming alcohol without ever addressing the feelings and shortcomings that led them to tip the bottle far too much in the first place.
White knuckle sobriety is a false sobriety, some experts claim. This is because true sobriety requires an unvarnished assessment of the drinker’s flaws and failings in order to resolve the issues they still face even after giving up alcohol.
Lack of coping skills apparent
Your co-parent likely succumbed to alcohol addiction because it added a layer between themselves and the world. For a long time, that layer served to protect them from the harsh realities of life — until it didn’t.
Dry drunks never replaced the role of alcohol in their lives with a positive, life-affirming activity or pursuit. So, they may long for their drinking days and angrily resent any interference from the kids. It doesn’t take much to provoke an angry outburst from them. Alternatively, they might sink into a brooding depression because they are losing their willpower to resist alcohol.
What you may need to do
Dry drunks suffering from white knuckle sobriety can be emotionally and psychologically abusive to their children without ever intending to be. That is of little comfort to their kids being damaged by the abuse, however.
In fact, you might need to step in and seek a custody modification to protect your children until your co-parent comes to grips with the reality of their incomplete sobriety.