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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.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Surviving Valentine's Day...

I have survived another Valentine’s Day. I am definitely a hopeless romantic but I haven’t been successful at romantic relationships. That adds up to me having a love-hate relationship with the one day of the year that’s intended to generate love all around. Oh… I have love stories and they are all worth writing about. Some might even surprise you and some might generate a tear, smile or even a laugh. Love is such a complicated thing and can take so many different forms. When the object of that love is an addicted person – the complications increase hundred fold.

In a recent conversation, I mentioned that I seldom feel as though Alanon is a good fit for me. My experience has been that the newcomers to Alanon haven’t yet reached the point of realization that there is NOTHING they can do to stop the alcoholic from drinking. Most of them are still holding on to that dewy-eyed belief that if they love strong enough... complete enough... long enough... that their beloved will return to them as the lovingly whole person the alcoholic once was.

They also miss the concept of change for themselves. They hear that if they change they can have a better life. But they aren’t understanding that the better life is for them personally and not the alcoholic. In order to understand they must also understand that each of us is a separate entity from our alcoholic.

How can that be?? In love and in marriage we are united as one. As a couple we are bound together and our lives are one. We see it on TV, read it in books, swear to it on our wedding day in front of God, family and friends. As little girls (and even little boys) we grow up with the idea in our brains. Even when we go off on our own as adults – we are always on the look out for the one special person who can “complete” us. As we age into our senior years and find ourselves single once again – we still have in the back of our minds – hiding there deep in the space that holds romantic thoughts – there can still be another one and only. When we meet that special person he/she becomes “one” with you.

As a parent watching your child’s life disintegrate, you know your job is to protect. It is your responsibility to keep your child from danger. There is the parenthood gene that kicks in at birth, or before, that tells you – this is the most important person in my life. You will and do love this child as though he/she is “one” with you.

That kind of “love as one” cannot exist in the relationship between non-alcoholic and alcoholic. There is love, but the complexion of that love is different. In these relationships, I believe that our beloved dies in alcoholism long before the physical body is gone. The alcoholic becomes this other person whose actions we don’t like so much. It is unfortunate, sad, heart-breaking, unfair… and just downright crappy. We see this person in the flesh who represents all the things we hold dear in our life – and yet he/she is not really there.

In my opinion, this is one of the true and hard lessons of Alanon. Once the non-alcoholic can separate the beloved from the alcoholic, only then can they begin to understand the Alanon concepts. These are good concepts that I live each and every day even before Riley returned to my life.  But, when I first started out in Alanon, the true meaning escaped me. I kept going to meetings and listening and sharing, but Riley just kept hurting me over and over again and drinking more and more. I didn’t understand how that could be. It had worked for others – why not me??

Sometimes I think the first steps in Alanon should resemble a grieving process for the wonderful promise of a life-long loving partner or the promise of a bright future for our child. It is painful. Nothing on this earth hurts more than the loss of a loved one. And it takes a long time to recover if that is ever truly possible.

The next step should be in finding out who you are as an individual without being half of a whole. Get to know your interests, likes, dislikes and set your boundaries. This will help you see clearly what you can and cannot accept into your life. How far will you go to do what is morally right for you and only you?

Now you can get to know the person living in the body of the person you’ve lost. You may be surprised to find that, even in the insanity of alcohol, there is a person there that has a place in your life. Just as any other friend, there will be things that you don’t like so much. But there may be things still worthy of your attention.

Riley and I will never again be that loving couple with the dream of living out our golden years basking in the memories of loving days gone by. Do I love him? Yes – as the father of my children and a person with whom I share my home. Am I “in love” with him? No – and that’s what helps me survive. I am within the purview my moral boundaries and living up to my responsibilities. I have detached from the drunken, insolent, creature that resides in the body of my beloved – because that creature is not him.

Detachment in my world equals survival. And because of detachment I can return to being the hopeless romantic who still holds out hope for finding the “one” or at least adding to my repertoire of love stories.


poet said...

That had to be the most beautifully written post I've read in a while anywhere. It is an honour to be privy to your journey. Be well. *gentle hugs* poet

Alcoholic Daze (ADDY) said...

This is so true. I lost the real Greg, the Greg I fell in love with and married, years ago and so could not grieve any more when he actually died. The last few Valentine days and wedding anniversaries for me were meaningless. Like you said, AL-Anon has seemingly not worked for me, but maybe I have not been approaching it the right way. A good, thought-provoking post.

Ann said...

This is without a doubt the most powerful post yet! It took much heartache, and heart break to realize that separation of person/alcoholic. Then to realize that neither one were the person I thought they were. I read in the Forum recently, that detachment isn't not caring, it's self preservation.

Syd said...

I think that it really takes a while for the concept of being powerless, letting go and having compassion to be understood. It took me years to get so messed up so it takes a while for me to start to know myself and to ultimately like myself. Al-Anon has taught me a lot about that. It has helped me to learn how to detach and to have my own life without feeling I need another to complete me.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. It is comforting to know another person is living the same pain and thoughts I have felt I suffered secretly, ashamed and thinking no one could understand. Your words are akin to my thoughts and your experiences like mine. My husband is deteriorating quickly before each day -- he has never been able to sober up. He's been drunk for over 20 years. When my son was 14, he said he didn't know what his father would be like sober since he was drunk every day/night of his life. Now, he's almost 20 and he can still make the same statement. So can I. We've been together 22 years, and I've never known him not drunk. Now, he is insane. Impossible, paranoid, and completely irrational. Conversations are mere memories.