Thursday, September 12, 2019

Caregiving on alcoholic father

GUEST POST by Alan Oakman

Alan is an online STEM tutor, teaching K-12 students. His love for learning new things as he traverses the world of caregiving has prompted him to start blogging. Apart from being a science geek, Alan loves jazz music and occasionally plays the guitar.   You can follow his blog and he is on twitter too. He is also the caregiver to his alcoholic father.

Being a Caregiver:
Reflecting on Supporting an Alcoholic Father in Old Age

A loving nuclear family in the beginning. Father drinks socially but loves his family and provides for them. Father drinks a little more and stays out late but still loves his family. Father stays out a lot and comes home drunk and, in that unreliable state, professes his love for the family, but never shows up in real needs. 

Many stories of alcoholic parentage have this template with customized variations. The tragedy is doubled when a child grows up in an alcoholic home where both parents are more dedicated to the bottle than him/her. What this childhood journey doesn’t mention is the father in old age needing support and emotional caregiving. 

Majority of the available literature on alcoholism focuses on the period when a child is dependent on the parent and the negative repercussions of psychologically, emotionally, and financially depending on an absentee father. More work is needed to understand the scenario when a once-dependent child becomes the caretaker of the now dependent parent.

The Highs: Feeling of Home

When my father was absent in my childhood, it was an unconscious thought pattern formation that there were other things that were definitely more important to him than me. I did not necessarily dwell on feelings of abandonment as much as navigating through life without his support and care. Therefore, when the possibility of taking care of him appeared in my adulthood, I was frankly thrilled. 

The notion of creating a home together was founded on the concept of making up for lost time and connection. Emotionally, the responsibilities did not take up too much time and had a breezy manner to it. I was also over enthused to fill the gaps in my memory with stories of when he was away. He told engaging stories about his job and his trips that kept him away. While his health was not what it used to be, he was functional and did not require focused palliative care. The experience was one of re-connection.

The Lows: Feeling the Need to Cut Off and Live My Life

The shadow side of this re-connection arose as we spent every Tuesday taking a leisurely walk across the park. In all this, two episodes of disconnectedness were starkly noticeable. Firstly, it was like befriending a new person and I am not too social. Further, it was like making friends with someone you have not confronted for their bad behavior. I attempted to bury these feelings as it was very evident that, emotionally, he was in a horrid place. He felt lonely and hopeless along with encountering the truth that time brings along- everyone ages and the body does not remain invincible. 

The second reason for episodes of disconnectedness was the fact that he did not believe he had done anything particularly wrong. He did think that he used to enjoy a drink but doesn’t see it as a cause for his absenteeism as a parent. It was difficult for me to even listen to the complete monologue, much less accept it without questioning. I had to cut short the walk on that day and process this new information. I felt cheated as I discovered that I had unconsciously assumed that my father had reconnected due to guilt. I had assumed that he was not apologizing overtly only because of the certain unyielding predisposition of his generation. To learn that this apology was not even covertly intended or formed was definitely a shock.   

The In-Betweens: Learnings and Re-Learnings; Doings and Un-doings

Giving emotional care and support to a former-alcoholic parent is a mixed bag and more difficult than I was prepared for. However, these coexisting feelings of home-making & belonging and disconnectedness & dread made me reflect on my choices. 
  1. Emotional Well-Being : It is common knowledge that children of alcoholic parents have a troubled relationship with authority and assertiveness. These are only a few of the behavioral concerns that have been studied as a result of growing up around alcohol abuse. With this knowledge, I found it important to accept that drawing boundaries is very important, especially with the person who had caused much of this. I demanded an apology from my father and explained to him how shirking his responsibility regarding the past was unforgivable. It has led to a much healthier relationship between us currently.
  2. Consciousness: Alcohol, infamously, is one of the most available and abused substances in all age groups. The easy availability and legally permissible status makes it the most popular, therefore harmful, substance in college too (see the chapter on ‘Consciousness’ in Psych 5: An Introductory Psychology Book). It can become difficult to mindfully engage with alcohol in a measured manner due to its sheer availability. It is an important part of learning for me to understand sobriety and practise mindful Buddhism. These are practices that I adopt in the knowledge that I might be genetically predisposed to alcoholism.
  3. Parenting: One doesn’t have to be an alcoholic to be an absentee parent. I have notions of the manner in which I should behave to be a parent who is present in my children’s lives. It is also important to see that I am not necessarily dependent on them in my old age. It would be an aim to bring up my kids in a way that makes them come, meet their old man out of their own will. 
In conclusion, my unfortunate experience has helped me understand the mixed nature of being a caregiver to an absentee, alcoholic father. In addition to compassion, I have learnt to accept the conflicting emotions of anger and overwhelming love that associates itself to my new caregiving role. It also has been an educative journey that molds my future and my relationship with my loved ones.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The wind began to switch...

Every year I post my rendition of how living in a house with an alcoholic is similar to Dorothy's house in the Wizard of Oz. Last week was the anniversary of the premiere of that movie, so I believe it is time to repost. It's hurricane, tornadoes and cyclones... oh my... we're not in Kansas anymore!

This is a re-post so please keep that in mind as you read about Riley and I waiting out a tornado.

Tornado warning… (5/3/2011)

When the Emergency Broadcast came over the television announcing that we were under a Tornado Warning, I gathered my stuff – blankets, pillows, laptop, water, etc – and put it in a secure place in my bathroom. I was ready.

Riley was in his rocking chair watching his usual NCIS. I told him we needed to get his bathroom ready in case the worst came about. He just said – “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” And being the good little caretaker that I am – I stocked his bathroom. Both the bathrooms are small and there is really only room for one person in each.

As the night wore on, I settled in and listened. Wind, rain, hail, more rain, quiet, wind and more wind – but there was no rumble. I was waiting for the rumble sound of an oncoming train. It never happened – and I was thankful.

As I was waiting, I could feel the house swaying with the wind. We have a brick rancher – solid as possibly could be – but the wind was so strong it was moving the house. I thought of the three little pigs who built their last house of bricks. What a smart thing to do.

In spite of the three little pigs’ wise decision to use brick in the construction – some lyrics kept running through my head -- but they weren’t verses about the pigs’ quest for a secure dwelling. Instead, I was hearing in my head the lyrics to a song from The Wizard of Oz.

The wind began to switch – the house to pitch and suddenly the hinges started to unhitch.

Life with an alcoholic is much the same as a house in the middle of a tornado. This first verse could well define what it is like to watch the beginning of an alcoholic downfall. Things are unsettled, the family never feels secure and things start to fall apart.

Just then the Witch – to satisfy an itch went flying on her broomstick, thumbing for a hitch.

The alcoholic (the Witch) needs to satisfy the craving for alcohol and so he/she seeks it out. Sometimes they ask others to help them obtain the alcohol – as in hitching a ride to the liquor store.

And oh, what happened then was rich.

I think if we substitute the word “sad” for the word “rich,” this would be exactly correct. Because what happens after the alcoholic gets the booze is rich with sadness.

The house began to pitch. The kitchen took a slitch.

Things become increasingly upsetting in the alcoholic household as the drinking continues.

It landed on the Wicked Witch in the middle of a ditch, which was not a healthy situation for the Wicked Witch.

The consequences of the alcoholic’s actions cause him/her to land in unpleasant situations. Eventually the health of the alcoholic deteriorates and puts the alcoholic’s life in danger.

Who began to twitch and was reduced to just a stitch of what was once the Wicked Witch.

The person who was once a vital, productive, happy member of the community is reduced to becoming a mere servant of alcohol. At that point, the entire family is not in Kansas anymore, but rather in some uninhabitable place – like Antarctica. No matter how many times you click your heels, those ruby red slippers are not going to help you now.

I’m told by fellow country dwellers that this is unusual weather for this time of year. Funny, in Linda and Riley World – living in a tornado is a way of life.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Unlike any other workshop

Surviving the Chaos Workshop is an interactive workshop with the emphasis on the word “WORK”.  This is not one of those workshops where you go and listen without speaking and are supposed to learn something. NO! This workshop will make you actually think, learn and state your concerns. There will be opportunities to voice your opinion, ask for suggestions, and relate to other people who are walking in your footsteps. You will leave with a workbook created by Linda that you can fill with notes, observations and doodles.

TWO-days of information, speakers, and peers who will offer alternatives to the regular 12-step programs of recovery. While I embrace 12-Step programs, I have found there is so much more that can be utilized to help us loved ones regain a life of our own and learn that we can thrive.

I don’t have all the speakers confirmed so I cannot give you names as of yet. I can, however, tell you that there will be a speaker who will give insight into relaxation and the power of meditation. You can learn to laugh from a “laughter therapist” and possibly channel your life to new enlightenment. Hear what it’s like for a recovering alcoholic to recount the realization that he was destroying his family. Find out about interventions and when, or if, they are a means to recovery for the alcoholic in your life. Listen to a mother as she tells of dealing with her child – under the age of 16 – as an alcoholic.
There will be mini-group session break-out opportunities. Network with other attendees and go home armed with contact info of people who understand.

Several authors will be selling their books and available for questions or comments.

Did I mention the food? Southern soulful comfort all the way. Full breakfasts, breaks and lunches are provided each day. You can have dinner on your own or join us at a nearby restaurant where we can chat freely.

Where:                 Clarion Hotel, 3032 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA
                             For room information please contact Linda at
When:                  November 2-3, 2019 from 8 am (or earlier if you are a morning person) – 4 pm each day
Cost:                    Early birds - $210 before Oct. 5th, 2019
    Advance - $249 in three installments -- $79 due at registration; $85 after 30 days;         $85 after another 30 days
    At the door: $289
                            Volunteer opportunities available in exchange for free ticket – limited number available
SPECIAL:          Anyone registering prior to Sept 5th, 2019, will receive a free coaching session

To vendors or substance abuse recovery providers:
Vendor tables available for materials distribution, questions, etc. Contact Linda at for more information.

Make your reservations today! Go to my website:

Monday, August 12, 2019

Go ahead and scream

I’ve joined a couple of new FaceBook Groups… well… they are new to me. They are all people who are dealing with living with a practicing alcoholic. Practicing. Now there’s a word for you. Like they need any practice. Most of them have the role of alcoholic down pat and really need no practice. Moving on…

What the group members post is heartbreaking. When I read them, I want to cry for them. I’d like to reach through the internet and hug them so tight that their eyes bulge out. I know what they are going through. I’ve been where they are. What they write should not be shocking to me, but I have been blessed with a brief intermission from the memories of the days when Riley was “practicing.” Reading their posts brings back everything and leaves me with a feeling of gratitude.  I say it is a brief intermission because I can be drawn back to those days and re-live them as though Riley were still alive and putting our family through hell. I’ve been told that it’s a form of PTSD.

The things that I want to say to these post authors, who are pouring out their pain into cyberspace, is that old saying “this too shall pass.” It may seem that it will take forever to enter that tunnel of hell and emerge on the side with the brighter sunlight. But… it will happen… eventually. The sunlight won’t wash away all the residual hurt and anger that living with an alcoholic can infuse into a person’s brain, but the warmth of the new sun can take away the cold edge of despair.

Image result for free clip art, woman screaming in the woodsThere are things that can be done in the present while waiting for that sunshine. One woman said she wanted to scream because she was so frustrated with the situation. I see nothing wrong with screaming as loud and for as long as it takes to release all that negative energy. Of course, you don’t want to do it on the balcony of your high-rise apartment building or where your neighbors will feel obliged to call 911. So take yourself out to some secluded place with lots of trees and nature and then let loose. SCREAM. Yell out all the things you want to say to everyone who has stepped on your last nerve. Cry. Stomp your feet. Kick a rock. When you’re done sit in the quiet and resume your composure. Gather together your tolerant, loving self and head back to that tunnel of hell. The break will renew your ability to carry on.

Recently I enjoyed listening to a hypno-therapist talk about affirmations. I never really thought much about such methods of survival, but now I’m a firm believer in the power of positive thinking. Oh… I’ve always been able to see my glass as half-full even when it was near empty. But this is different. I was so impressed with her method, that I invited her to speak at my November workshop in Williamsburg, VA. She has not yet confirmed, but has told me that she would help me find someone suitable if she should not be able to make it. I’m very excited to offer this to my attendees. It’s a bit outside the box and I’m all for anything that helps me and my followers get through the bad times.

In my opinion, if you allow yourself to give in to your urges to let out your anger and follow it up with positive affirmations, that the combination can create a more peaceful existence even if there is chaos going on all around you.

Another way of dealing with the alcoholic’s ridiculous antics is to find the humor on what is going on. Let’s face it, most alcoholics have a lopsided view of life. Even though they may be in the midst of slinging insults and criticism, the reality is that they have no idea of what really is and isn’t. So whenever possible, and it isn’t ALWAYS possible, remember that all those things are a script from a comedy show. It’s not real. It’s not factual. Oh my goodness… wouldn’t it be great if they could get paid for that material for use in some kind of entertainment venture? You wouldn’t have to buy a ticket to the program because you’ve already heard the content. So on the positive side, you’re lucky because you have the choice to enjoy the show (or not) whether you buy a ticket or not. Maybe after an evening of venom tossing, you could write a review of the alcoholic’s performance as though you were an uninvolved third party. Now that might be interesting.
Image result for free clip art, lights, camera, action

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

When the fat lady sings

When I first took Riley back in after being told he was very sick, I took him to the medical doctor’s and was told he had about two weeks to live if he did not stop drinking. Of course, he did NOT stop and in about two weeks he had an esophageal varices while detoxing in the hospital. He survived. He survived the detox, the varices, the trauma of withdrawing from the booze. He survived it all. He went from the hospital to a six week stay in a nursing home. Then he came home.

Two weeks was what I had been told. Two weeks is all the time I planned on giving to this alcoholic who had monopolized so much of my life. Two weeks and my life would get back to focusing on me and what I wanted to accomplish. I could do two weeks of almost anything. Piece of cake.

Nine YEARS later, my alcoholic husband died. NINE years of taking care of his entire existence and putting myself into a box on a shelf in a dark closet.

Well… finally he was gone. Finally, I could get on with my life. Finally, I could focus on my own happiness and needs. I could leave the house whenever I wanted and desired. I could take a long weekend or maybe even a month. There was NOTHING to hold me back now.

But first I needed to tie up loose ends. Then I had to “get organized”. Then I had to get rid of my husband’s things. Then I had to… and this… and that…

I floundered around doing whatever I thought it was that I needed to do for that day. I jumped from task to task and never really finished anything I started.

When Riley was alive, it was easy to know what I had to do each day. I had a schedule to adhere to. Someone was depending on me to do certain things at certain times of the day. I always knew what was required of me.

All I could say for sure is that I wanted to move to Florida. But I had things that needed to be done first.

It took me more than a year to actually start taking care of myself. I came to the realization that my own health was failing and if I wanted to enjoy my life, I had to make sure I would have a life to live. I had left so many health issues unattended to that it took a few months just to decide where to start. Despite my excellently rationalized planning, it turned out that what I wanted to do first was what I would have to do last.

Everything on my list of things I wanted to accomplish now that I’m not anyone’s caregiver got pushed aside so that I could focus on things like my aching shoulder, knees and hips. (Funny I never noticed how much they hurt when I was taking care of Riley.) I stopped posting so much on this blog. I stopped concentrating on writing a brand-new book. I scheduled doctor appointments and surgeon appointments. I cleaned the pantry and bought the food on my doctor’s new food list.

Gradually, I began adding other things to my list of things I wanted/needed to do. I took the class that was required to earn my “certified” standing as a Peer Recovery Support Specialist. I attended events of groups that focused on recovery from addiction. I networked. My progress was intentionally slow. I wanted to allow myself the time to “let things sink in.”

Well… I guess I let things sink in enough because now I have a full plate of things that I want to accomplish. I have a major surgery coming up. I published a new book, “Postings.” And I have my very first ever real-live two-day interactive workshop set up for early November.

I’m excited about all the new things on my agenda. I’m especially excited about the workshop because it will be unlike any other workshop that most people have attended. It will be full of unexpected guests and unusual topics. It will be INTERACTIVE and the key to it all is the word “WORK” in workshop. Besides the food is incredibly delicious.

I still want to move to Florida, but that will not happen until I’m recovered from this first surgery. I finally feel that I’m no longer floundering around trying to “get my stuff” together.

The fat lady sang a final song and I’m enjoying the silence outside the chaos.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Linda Doyne, CPRSS/E

Over the past few months I’ve been preparing for the national certification exam for Peer Recovery Support Specialist. I’ve been doing coaching for loved ones of alcoholics for seven years. I didn’t start out to be a recovery coach, I was just answering questions and providing a listening ear. I didn’t charge anyone anything. I did it because someone needed me and I wanted to help.

After Riley’s death, I needed to supplement my income, so I began charging for the coaching services. I turned coaching into a business. Still, I did not charge the rates that other coaches charge, which can sometimes be as much as $150/hour. I wanted to be accessible and reasonable so I started my rates at $30/hour. I also never turned anyone away who could not afford my services.

Over the years, I tried to become certified, but the requirement was that the prospective recovery specialist had to be a recovering substance abuse person. I didn’t fit the criteria and so was not able to become certified. However, I was told by my attorney I could still practice coaching but I had to issue a disclaimer before any coaching sessions. That wasn’t a problem and that’s exactly what I did.

The laws have changed and now you don’t have to be a recovering substance abuser to become a certified peer recovery support specialist. There has been a big push in the mental health industry to make the ones who have suffered collateral damage into support specialists. We, the spouses, parents, siblings, and friends of addicted persons can become certified and reach out to those who are struggling with the very same issues that we have encountered. We can get jobs with mental health agencies and professionals and actually earn a living helping others to survive.

There’s a lot that goes into becoming certified. The candidates must complete 500 hours of supervised coaching with a licensed professional. Then they must complete a 40-hour classroom training program. An exam is given and upon successful completion they receive the title of “Certified Peer Support Specialist.”

I have completed my 500 hours of supervised coaching and my 40 hour classroom training. I’m waiting for the next exam date for my official title. For me, there will be a total of three exams – state, national and international. While I’m waiting for the exam dates, I am officially a “Certified Peer Support Specialist / Eligible”. Once I have passed the exam, the word “Eligible” will be dropped from my title.

The examination will be in late July or early August. Until that time, I will be continuing to charge my usual $30/hour rate. As of September 1st, the rates will increase to $50/hour. Anyone who books an appointment, even if the appointment occurs in September, will be charged the $30/hour. But the appointment must be booked prior to September 1st. I still will be offering a sliding scale for those who are unable to meet the full rate.

E-mail me at with the word "coaching" in the subject line. Or go to to book your appointment and pay the fee.

If you are interested in becoming a Peer Recovery Support Specialist, contact your local mental health agency or state’s Department of Substance Abuse.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A regular person

One of my coaching clients asked me, “How do I transition from being a caregiver to a regular person?” I had to stop myself from replying because I couldn’t wrap my mind around the phrase “a regular person”. I wrote her back and asked, “What’s a regular person?” She didn’t answer me, so I hope she is maintaining her awesome sense of humor.

The best way I can answer her question is to tell her to take baby steps. It’s a slow, learning, process. If you’ve been a caregiver for many years, the role has most likely defined who you are as a person. Once having been a caregiver, expect to naturally gravitate to taking care of others because it is what you know. It feels like a sense of accomplishment each day that you manage to keep your caregiving subject alive.

I remember several times when I would get up in the morning and sneak to the edge of Riley’s door and peak in to see if he was still breathing. I tried not to let him know I was near so I could go have my coffee before commencing my day with him. Each time I would see that he was in fact breathing or that he was awake, I would think to myself “Well… that’s good… I didn’t screw up so bad that my caregiving killed him overnight.” Then I would almost immediately feel this sense of accomplishment because I got him through another day. I was a success for the previous day. The day ahead was always one of uncertainty, so I reveled in temporary success.

Caregiving also gives us the illusion of being in control. While knowing we can’t control the alcoholic, we can control what we do. When the time comes when the alcoholic is bedridden or can’t physically take care of his/her own body, we step in and control what the alcoholic can’t managed. It’s not being co-dependent, but rather a humanitarian gesture. Gradually that control becomes a way of living our life. Caregiver are defined by the caregiving and gives purpose. When it goes on for very long periods of time, the caregiver will often lose their own identity and the whole purpose in life will be to take care of the alcoholic.

Even if the alcoholic continues to require the services of a caregiver, the caregiver step out of the role and have a life of their own. At first it won’t feel comfortable. There will be feelings of guilt and uneasiness about not focusing on the alcoholic. But with each step, the next step will be easier.

I suggest starting with lunch with a friend, a movie, or shopping for something personal. Take a few hours to yourself doing something that’s only for you. After doing that a few times, move on to a whole day out of the house and away from the alcoholic. Before you know it, you may be going to work or taking a weekend trip. If money is an issue, there are many things that don’t require a lot of cash – the library, a walk at a local park, join a little theater group, or take a class.

There is a website,, that lists different activities, groups, and other opportunities to meet new people and do new and interesting things. There is something for everyone of all ages. If you’re in doubt about what you want to do, try checking out this site and explore stepping out of the caregiver box.

Now that Riley is gone, I find that I'm often trying to solve other peoples issues in their lives. When a friend tells me of a problem, I have a tendency to try to help them resolve the issue. Sometimes I am successful and other times, well... not so much. It's a hangover from caregiving providing me with a purpose. If I help someone -- anyone -- I have a purpose. I fail to see that I have a purpose without other people. I am my own purpose. My happiness is my purpose. It's hard to shift gears when it's been a way of life.

And so, it has been difficult for me to stop being a caregiver and start being an individual. It’s been nearly two years since Riley’s death and I’m just now starting to think of myself as an individual and not as Riley’s wife and soul support. I just got a part-time job where I’m interacting with people for four hours a day.

This fall I’ll be moving to Florida where I’ll be meeting up with old friends and making new ones. I’m going to ride a motorcycle for the first time in more than 20 years. I’ll learn to shoot a gun. I’m going to a costume festival parade during Halloween. There will be dinner parties. I’ll wear a big floppy hat while I lay on the beach. My cousin will join me for excursions to art galleries and museums. I’m going to zip line over an alligator pond. I’ll sing very off-key karaoke songs. I’m going to laugh. I won’t worry about what time I get home, if I get home at all, after a night out. I’m going to live my life.

A very special person said to me, “Your husband is dead. You’ve been responsible your entire life. It’s time to be irresponsible. Drink the drink, take the trip. It’s your time.”

I’ve been taking baby steps and now I want to leap forward into a new me which is really a version of the “me” from before Riley.

Take a chance. Take a step. Eat the cake and live your life.