Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: My husband needs help, but he won't seek it. I love my husband, and our three kids love their father. My husband suffered from mental and physical abuse (not sexual, that I know of) as a child due to his harsh upbringing. He shares bit by bit with me some of the horrific things he witnessed and experienced as a child. He was a ward of the state and was finally put into a children's home when he was probably about 13 years old or so. He tries to avoid thinking about his childhood and escapes through alcohol. His alcoholism is bringing a rift in our family. He has refused counseling thus far. I don't think our family will make it if he doesn't get help. He claims he would do anything for his family, but obviously not, because he won't get the help he needs. What can I do to make him get the help we all know he needs and confront the demons from his past?
— Nicole B., Montgomery, Alabama
Your husband is very fortunate to have such a sympathetic, open-minded wife. But your traits aren't his. By relying on your sympathy and tolerance, he has taken a shortcut that turns out to be a dead end. Abuse is corrosive and runs deep. Inside, he feels guilty and ashamed, incredibly angry, afraid of falling apart and fatalistic about anyone ever being able to help. Because of his abusive background, his deepest fears are grounded in reality. He was, in fact, abandoned and nobody came to help, and forgetting the past makes perfect sense.
This man's hard-core belief, ingrained since childhood, is that survival depends on toughing it out alone, and the only thing more horrifying than his past is the prospect of going soft and throwing himself at the mercy of other people.
As long as he interprets "help" as "danger," no healing can take place. He senses already that his solution of leaning on you and presenting an image of normal life is coming to an end. His coping mechanisms are limited, and now they are unraveling. You might show these words to him; it can't hurt. But be aware that the circumstances aren't rational as he views them, and he won't rationally devise a way out. If you want to preserve your marriage, you must become strong enough to watch while he hits rock bottom. Join Alcoholics Anonymous now, on your own, and seek the support and expertise it provides.
I am not endorsing AA with this advice—there are addiction issues on which I strongly differ from them. But AA has the advantage of existing everywhere; it's free; and you will be released from the suffocation and isolation of dealing with this problem alone. As much as your husband loves you, he wants to isolate you. That is an addict's chief mode of defense, and you mustn't fall for it.
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Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
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Published on April 21, 2010