This sounds like a capsule description of a relationship with a narcissist; but he was not a narcissist.
He took massive quantities of a benzodiazepine, but he did not have an anxiety disorder.
He had mood swings that surpassed anything I had ever seen before, but he was not bipolar.
He created more double binds, indulged in more 'gaslighting' crazymaking, evaded more responsibility, and cast more shame and blame than anyone I had ever known, but he did not have a personality disorder.
He was an absolute genius in his ability to elicit information from me that told him exactly how to hurt me, terribly, and he was absolutely heartless not only in his willingness to use that information to hurt me, but in his obvious pleasure in my pain. But he was not a sociopath.
He was an actively drinking alcoholic, in full denial of his alcoholism.
The closer I came to seeing this, the more I refused to enable it, the fiercer his enmity towards me became.
Alcoholism is everywhere. It can accompany narcissism, depression, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder... and when it does, it adds its own baffling twists to the mix, and often intensifies the core problem significantly.
Alcoholism is everywhere. It doesn't just nod off behind the trash cans on Skid Row... it flies fighter jets and commercial airliners. It fights fires, sells real estate, performs open heart surgery, sets up phony shell corporations to gouge consumers, fiddles with the books and does phony audits, takes golden parachutes and bankrupts Fortune 500 companies. It preaches and teaches. It batters wives, husbands, and children. It cheats on spouses and cheats again on mistresses and paramours. It wraps cars around trees, kills grandmothers and high school students in head-on collisions, and walks away whistling without a scratch.
Some of my early companions in the 'adult world' of work were self-confessed, actively drinking alcoholics. The organizations that employed us seemed to prefer a certain... spinelessness... in middle management. The corporate culture seemed to be filled with blaming, shaming, scapegoating, evasion of responsibility, dishonesty, and denial of obvious problems; high-functioning active alcoholics would have been perfect perpetuators of such a system. In fact, people who behaved maturely, admitted and sought to fix mistakes, took responsibility and expected others to do likewise - in other words, sober, non-codependent adults - were manifestly unwelcome in these organizations, and were generally driven out or exploited until they left in disgust. But at first, these people were wooed, charmed, and conned. Entranced, then baffled, then abused, then finally driven away.
Much as I was wooed, charmed, conned, and harmed by the alcoholic I so loved, until I finally fled.
There is a pattern here; one I had not clearly seen before. And the pattern continues: for I find myself now contemplating people I have known in other times and places, who first entranced me, then baffled me utterly, then abused me savagely, and then - finally - much, much too late - drove me away.
One clear and obvious characteristic of my former beloved, and my former co-workers, and of other souls I've been wondering about recently, is that they seem to me to be 'stalled'. Life experiences produce no growth or change. Occasionally something that looks like progress occurs, but soon the temptation to stir the pot, abuse someone in pain, or muddy the waters on someone who is trying to figure something out presents itself, and they're right back in business at the same old stand.
That man who once meant so much to me was stalled in exactly this way. And he had several friends who were also unaccountably stalled. And he, and all his friends, turned out to be active alcoholics, drinking while in therapy, drinking while on their medications [if they ever actually took the medications], and laughing behind their hands at their employers, therapists, and 'loved ones'; because they thought they were fooling everyone, and that anyone they could fool so easily.... deserved anything that was done to them.
Thinking about that man, about his friends, I suddenly realized how often other people who baffle me - have made references to alcohol, after a particularly egregious bit of acting out. How often a few drinks too many was held up as an excuse.
I have been wondering how often I fail to see the forest for the trees, and how often other children of narcissists and parents with PDs may do the same.
People who are, and want to be, psychologically literate - want to understand our own inner workings and those of other people.
Yet some situations and people may mystify us for years. How often have we encountered someone
always has a 'story' and changes it every five minutes,
avoids responsibility as though it were anthrax,
disappears when confronted directly,
alternates between solid commonsense and empathy on one hand,
and wild defiant hostility on the other,
with no apparent 'trigger' - or 'triggers' that make no sense at all upon examination?
How often have we wondered if such a person suffers from a personality disorder??
... and how often has it been nothing more or less than active alcoholism at work, playing off our own enabling and denial?
Here is a refreshingly concise summary of what an alcoholic in genuine recovery looks like - from the U.S. Naval Flight Surgeon's Manual, via the website of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force.
"Most successfully recovering alcoholics consider themselves in no way different from other people except that they no longer drink alcohol. Some of the qualities which are indicative of the patient with a good working program of recovery are the following:I would venture to propose that the single most obvious giveaway that someone who baffles us may be an active, nonrecovering alcoholic is buried right there in item 5. The sense of humor, and the sense of responsibility. All of the nonrecovering alcoholics I've known were great jokers... but the jokes were nearly always mean, made at someone else's expense, or very childish in other respects - bathroom humor, sex-is-dirty-tee-hee, or racial/ethnic slurs. Actual wit? Genuine irony? Nonexistent. Those things require perspective and detachment.
1. He no longer drinks alcohol or takes mind-altering drugs of any kind unless they are prescribed for an emergency or an elective surgical procedure.
2. He comfortably accepts the fact that he has alcoholism. He no longer wonders whether the cause is biochemical, genetic, or unknown, and he no longer hopes that someone will invent a magic pill so that he can drink again socially.
3. He is no longer concerned with his personal anonymity, as a matter of fact, he makes sure that his commanding officer is fully aware that he is an alcoholic.
4. He is actively involved in helping other alcoholics find sobriety, and he regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. If he is in family therapy or group psychotherapy, this is an adjunct to Alcoholics Anonymous.
5. His sense of humor has returned, and he can now accept criticism when he is wrong."
As for responsibility... with an active alcoholic? Fugeddaboutit. Not gonna happen. Not without a serious price tag. You may get an active, unrecovering alcoholic to make and keep a promise to you, but if they do, you'll pay for it. Help you move? Sure, and they'll break one of your prized possessions, too. House sit for you while you holiday? Absolutely. Sorry your pet got out and was run over... Take you to the doctor's office for your colonoscopy? Yes of course, and we'll fabricate some excuse to use your car, and we'll make sure we manage to dent it somehow.
It's a lot like narcissism, isn't it? But unlike narcissism, alcoholism can be overcome, and when an alcoholic is in serious recovery, they're totally different people. Often truly wonderful people. Often the most honest, committed, reliable, giving, generous people you will ever know. Not to mention fun to be with... because the humor is based in gratitude and awareness, and they haven't forgotten what they used to do, but they know where it came from and have made their amends... and they don't ever want to cause anyone pain like that again. Including themselves... because deep down, under the mean jokes and the mockery, under the abusiveness and the cruelty, there always was a human being in pain.
Once you realize this may be what you're dealing with -
then you realize that enabling doesn't work, and denial doesn't work, and controlling doesn't work, and in fact that anything you do in reaction is only fodder for games, until the person who is playing them can see and face their pain, and decides to stop.
Once you have gotten past the maladaptive parentally and societally instilled injunctions not to see these things, not to recognize them, not to call them what they are, not to react constructively and self-preservingly when you identify them -
then you can release the person and the interaction, free youself from the emotional entanglement and the need to 'make them see' or to 'win' - and be able to believe that there is hope for them.
You can believe that they, and you, may each find peace.