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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Taking the dys out of dysfunctional...

To be dysfunctional would mean that something does not function as it was intended.  When the term is used in relation to an alcoholic and his family it describes a family which centers in conflict or abuse by certain family members upon other family members. The family members grow to accept the conflict and abuse as being “normal” family dynamics.
I’m fortunate that I don’t have a drunk with violent tendencies. Drunk or sober, Riley never raises a fist to anyone – even if it is justifiable. In sobriety, he doesn’t like to argue and will avoid conflict by any means possible.
However, in the alcohol haze, when his brain reaches a certain alcohol saturation point, he cannot be reasoned with. He will argue with me over even the littlest minor things. It’s frustrating and irritating, but not life-threatening.  He will form some idea and will insist that the idea is infallible. As the drinking takes over more and more of his brain, the more difficult it is to keep him at a verbally peaceful level.
There are three levels to our functionality. There is my level, Riley’s sober level and Riley’s drunk level. In the mist of all of this we find a way to live our life in a manner that functions for both of us. I’m not saying things don’t get jumbled up when he is drunk – they do. But the level of jumble is a level that I can manage because I never expected that this would be easy road.
I handle all the finances, organization of the household, and even choosing medical care. I decide what’s for dinner and when we eat. I control both my life and Riley’s life. And… I still work a full time job from my home office.
While he is sober, Riley enjoys cleaning. He feeds the animals and puts away the leftovers from dinner.  He sets up the coffee pot at night and keeps my coffee warm in the mornings.
When he is drunk, he does almost nothing but look at computer porn, sleep and drink. There is nothing else in his life that interests him. When he is awake and in my presence he complains. That’s his function. He is true to this function and it must serve him well because it never changes.
We don’t argue over his drinking because I’ve accepted the fact that he is a drunk and drunks drink. It is who he is. I can’t stop him. I can create detours from the drinking but it’s never a permanent route. It doesn’t consume my life or actions. I still love to read, cook, shop, play with the grandkids… and I do them whenever I can. I don’t let Riley’s alcohol level prevent me from living and enjoying my life.
Yes, I do some things differently because I have a brain damaged resident in my house. But they are little things that, in the grand scheme of things, really aren’t that important. For the most part, my household and my life would run very much the same with or without Riley – drunk or sober.
It also helps that I don’t feel the same emotions for Riley as I did when we were first together. Everything was more difficult when I was “in love” with him and attempting to have a solid marriage. When he was working and drinking and we were raising two children, my focus was more on trying to keep everything running smoothly. The only reason we functioned then was because he spent so much time away from home. When he was no longer working and the kids were grown and his drinking had consumed his life,  I left him because as a unit we did not function well. We were not able to work together towards a better life. Riley had the life he wanted and I didn’t fit because I didn’t drink and didn’t want to put up with his abhorrent behavior.
I guess the key here is… I’ve detached myself from Riley’s actions and won’t allow him to stop me from enjoying my life. He creates problems and makes me question my morality. But, he can’t stop me from enjoying my life.
Al-Anon says – detach with love. I’m detached from Riley because of the love I have for my daughter and her family. I will take care of him and keep him safe within the confines of this house. I will prevent him from causing harm to others. I do this not because I’m hoping he will change. I do it because it is my moral responsibility.
Taking all that into consideration, our unit is not dysfunctional. We may have the strangest relationship on the planet, but we are not dysfunctional. Do we function as we intended when we met 40 years ago? Oh Hell No! Definitely not! Our roles are different now and because we have accommodated for the difference – we function.
On the other hand… there is always the knowledge that this is a delicate balance that can be tipped by the dysfunctional insanity that lives in my peripheral vision.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All that I needed to change was the mo/day/year to be current and it is my story w/minor changes. Retirement for my "Riley" is only months away ....what then? I don't know if I will be able to live under the same roof. God help us!
Reading your story is somewhat of a comfort but also an eye opener.....it doesn't get better ....never better. My stomach wants to turn as I think about it.