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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.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sobriety does not equal sanity...

It all seems so simple. The drunk reaches sobriety and the sun shines all over the world. Happy days will surely follow and life will return to logicality. But wait… I just looked it up in my New Merriam-Webster and the synonym for sobriety is NOT sanity. That is so disappointing. Just when you thought…

Being sober simply means that the alcoholic is not drunk. It means the absence of alcohol. It also means serious or grave in mood, having a quiet tone or color. Synonyms include solemn, staid, and sedate. Well I don’t know about all of that. What I do know is that for Riley being sober simply means that he is not drunk.

It is a fact. Alcohol causes the brain to shrink. The frontal lobe is the most vulnerable. It contains the control center for things such as emotions, motor functions, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgment, impulse control, social and sexual behavior.  Unfortunately, that’s where alcoholic liquid likes to go.

It takes approximately four years for an alcoholic who has attained sobriety to recover most, some, or any, of the frontal lobe function. And there is no guarantee. Each alcoholic is different just as each human is different. The longer the period of drinking, the longer it will take to recover. Four years is a long time to wait for sanity when it seems it should be right there within grasp.

The most visible example of that is in the highly vocal rantings of Charlie Sheen. He seems to have lost the ability to use good judgment and has very little impulse control. If you review the paragraph about what the frontal lobe controls you can see how most of those functions appear to be out of control for Charlie. He claims sobriety, but I don’t see much sanity.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Charlie Sheen. I love the whole fam damily – Martin, Emilio and Charlie. What’s not to love about such a group of talented beings? When I heard Charlie say he had achieved sobriety without the aid of AA or any other support system – I was delighted. I thought – yeah – there are other options. I wish he had just shut up after that announcement because it quickly turned into the exposure of a man who was not in touch with reality. And how could he be? It takes four years…

In Riley’s case, the ability to make rational judgments and follow in a train of conversation is sometimes… well… difficult. He doesn’t remember many things from day to day. Most of the time I can keep up with remembering what he has a tendency to forget. Other times… not so much.

I think what bothers me the most is the irrational logic when he is trying to make a point in a conversation. For example, his comments about Charlie are centered in the fact that Charlie can have two girl friends live with him in the same house. That elevates Charlie’s status for him. And that seems to be the only real thing that Riley is grasping. When I tried to make the point that Charlie was portraying himself as irrational -- he just relates something about some “young blonde bimbo with big tits who can claim to be sober for 3 days”. Riley also claims that Charlie is somehow profiting financially from all this bad publicity. I don’t get it and I certainly wouldn’t want to be part of it – whatever IT is. I try not to ask Riley his opinion any more. What’s the point? I almost never understand it.

We had to make a decision this week about taking a trip to New England for the decommissioning of one of the submarines on which Riley served. I loved New England when we lived there. Alea and I were ready to jump at the chance to spend a few days in our old stomping grounds and enjoy some fantastic lobster dishes. The decommissioning ceremony just created an excuse for the trip. After I took a look at the budget and saw how many vacation days I would have to take – I became a little less enthusiastic. That didn’t mean that Riley couldn’t go.

I presented the option to him – take the train to New London and cabs for transportation. He (We) wouldn’t have to worry about how drunk he was because he wouldn’t be driving. He could leave on Thursday and come home on Saturday. It was far less expensive for just one person without a car rental. I needed to return the RSVP card and pressed him for an answer. He couldn’t give me one. He kept asking me if I was “comfortable” with that. That’s when I realized that he was the one who was not comfortable. I believe he was a bit afraid to be on his own so far from home without a safety net. He wasn’t able to make the decision.

The three of us, Riley, Alea and I, will leave on a Thursday and travel to New London via Amtrak. The decision and plans have been made. He no longer has to think about it.

It’s all a part of the brain damage – the inability to make a decision, the fear that he may not remember how to travel on the train. This was once a man who could tell you the routes and timing of every train on Amtrak’s line. He loved to travel and especially enjoyed travelling alone because it allowed him the possibility of a chance meeting with a female stranger for a meaningless encounter. There goes the sexual impulse control – it’s just not there!

There is no immediate sanity in sobriety. What sobriety does provide is a better likelihood of a chance for rational thought. The situation is better when the alcoholic quits drinking. But we non-alcoholics must remember that there is brain damage. The four years following the alcohol consumption can often have us going --- Huh???


Anonymous said...

I've never heard this four years theory before. As someone who drinks too much but is possibly not at that stage yet, I find it interesting and frightening.

I really want to thank you for writing this blog because you give an insight into the world of people affected by alcoholic behaviour. I think that anyone who drinks to excess considers other people, family members and the like, way too late. It seems such a personal problem.

I don't know about brain shrinkage and I don't care about Charlie Sheen.I do know that I will drink less from now on. Thank you.

AJ said...

It helps me find compassion for the alcoholic who still tries to haunt my life when I hear about the real physical brain damage he has caused himself. I guess it's not too far off when I think to myself he's a retard!

Syd said...

I do believe that alcohol "pickles" the brain. I see strange thinking from a friend who has been sober for 20 years. I believe that his brain was damaged by alcohol and has not yet recovered, if it ever will.

BrightestPersonality said...

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Linda -- Immortal Alcoholic's Wife said...

Brightest Personality -- I'd be very happy to have you reblog some of my entries. Please e-mail me at LindaWrites@live.com. Thanks -- Linda