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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, April 17, 2011

Tuesday's towel...

One of my very first needlecraft projects was to embroider a set of kitchen towels. My mother bought seven blank “flour sack” towels and ironed a transfer onto each one (do they even make those anymore?). The lines were to be stitched using bright colored embroidery thread in several different stitch styles. There were seven towels – one for each day of the week and each day had a specific task: Monday-Sweep; Tuesday-Dust; Wednesday-Laundry; Thursday-Ironing; Friday-Mend; Saturday-Shop; Sunday-Rest. It took me a while to get them completed, but I was sooooooo proud of them when they were all done and neatly hung on the handle of the oven. For months I changed them daily so they matched the appropriate day of the week.

My little girl mind would often drift into believing that maybe this is how life was supposed to be lived. Was there a day for each chore and was it always to be done consistently each and every week? I wondered if this was the way life was suppose to be lived and the fact that my family didn’t operate in that manner meant that we were somehow not living the “right” way.

After a few months, I forgot about putting the right towel out for the day and just grabbed one when needed for drying the dishes without concern for what day of the week it was. But, I did, however, carry over a bit of “neatish” behavior through my teen years. While other teens had rooms resembling the city dump, mine was neat and organized. My closet was divided by dresses, skirts, tops and pants and in each section the clothes were organized by color. For a teenager – I was definitely not normal.

As I have gotten older, I have digressed… Fast forward 40+ years… left to my own devices, I would have a house that was livably clean but not spotless. You might find yesterdays coffee cup still on my desk and the newspaper might be thrown about the sofa. In my room there is a stack of clothes that needs to be hung up or put away. If I lie down during the day, I do not re-make the bed. My toothbrush doesn’t always make it back into the holder. My bedroom slippers never make it into the closet.

I know I have a point here somewhere in the clutter of my mind… In Riley World there would be a kitchen towel for every day of the week and each would have a list of tasks. He would adhere to those tasks as though they were the holy grail itself. The towels would be changed at 12:01 A.M. every single day. They would be clearly hung on some special hanger in view for all to see. There would be no deviation.

Imagine the frustration he must feel when comforted with the fact that the pile of things… *#!% ...as he calls it… accumulates on my desk and my attitude is “I’ll get a round to it this week.”  It must cause extreme stress for him when he gives me a grocery list and I come home with only seven of the ten items. Riley lives in an absolute black and white world. I live with approximations and shades of gray with an occasional absolute thrown in.

Riley says he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – I’m not so sure. The absolute routine of Riley’s world has a purpose. He has told me that if he gets everything done that needs to be done, his time then becomes his own do to with as he pleases. And what he pleases is alcohol related. In his mind, it’s OK to be drunk to the point of peeing your pants, if the kitchen counter is spotless. It is OK to be oblivious to the end table having rings from his beer cans if he vacuumed the floor this morning. That doesn’t sound like OCD to me. It sounds more like alcoholic behavior.

There is a jagged sort of logic in his thinking. It’s not one I agree with – but it belongs to him and I have no right to try to take away his thought process. As he – again – progresses towards end-stage, he needs those daily reminder towels to keep him on task because he sometimes confuses Monday with Wednesday. He has difficult remembering his self-assigned tasks and when he is to do them or even if he has already done them.

I know that part of it is the memory loss from the stroke. But I am also acutely aware that most of it is that his frontal lobe is saturated with ammonia and therefore not truly able to agree to anything for a long period of time. I also know that he finds some kind of “pay back” in creating minor difficulties for me.  If he is not happy in the living arrangement, he will not let me be happy either. Or, if he makes me miserable enough, I’ll send him away.  Whatever…

I just want to give fair warning… if I see that Tuesday Towel around here, I will promptly burn it and then claim no knowledge.


Syd said...

I remember those flour sack pillow cases. My grandmother made them. I believe that they are still around. Your story brought back memories. I am sad though for the little girl who made those towels.

Jennifer said...

I haven't thought of it this way before, but I notice the same behavior in my husband. When he seemingly has a wild hair causing him to clean out the garage or the basement boxes, it precedes a bout of drinking as though he has earned it for a job done. Daily chores, of course, are my responsiblity in order to maintain consistency. Thus, these outbursts of re-organization or sudden need to contribute (such as dumping ingredients of his own distorted ideas into a recipe I am carefully measuring)is just as disruptive as other unsettling behavioral manifestations of his illness.

Gabriele Goldstone said...

Rings a true note for me, too. My mother had a day for every chore. I rebelled when I had my own family. Wash clothes when they're dirty and avoid ironing completely.
The drinker in my life is very rigid - and yes, I've also noticed how he cleans up before he settles down to drink. He did quite well - 2 wks. - almost. I left a little bit of cash in his acct. as a test - and for bank charges. Gone. Yesterday he vacuumed the basement like crazy and then disappeared. But he'll be surprised when the acct. stays empty.