Thursday, June 2, 2011
With very few exceptions, as parents we want our children to grow into loving, caring, responsible, productive adults. We teach them right from wrong. We encourage education. We convey our spiritual beliefs. We teach them to help those who are less fortunate. We instill a sense of compassion and understanding. And, in my family, we took care of those who were ill and unable to take care of themselves.
Our development is furthered from outside sources – mainly the entertainment industry. We see moral values defeat evil doings. We watch lovers overcome such malady such as cancer or life-altering accidents. Romance is everywhere and implies that it is something that MUST be attained in order to have a full productive life. We’re left with the idea that marriage/partnership is the primary goal. And, once found, that it should last forever and ever until death we do part. Well – that’s the plan anyway.
For the most part, it is possible. But, when one of the partners has an addictive personality, things get complicated. Our first instinctive action comes from all our moral value teachings – we must help the person who is the Ying to our Yang. It’s reasonable. It’s expected. It’s perfectly normal. Sometimes it even helps.
As time goes on, the addiction becomes the third party in the relationship. The alcohol becomes the mistress with a locked-on hold over the couple. The alcoholic begins to change in personality and values. There comes a point in time when the alcoholic is no longer recognizable to the non-alcoholic spouse. Now there are four people in the group – the two spouses, the alcohol mistress, and the alter ego of the alcoholic. That’s too much and no one is having any fun.
You’ve tried everything and don’t know what else to do. There is really only one thing to do. Most people consider that the title alone could be classified as obscene. Detachment. Just the word alone implies that you should stop having any compassion or concern for the alcoholic. Many people think that it means not caring. This is far from the truth.
When you think about detachment, try thinking about the detachment only being for the alcoholic’s alter ego. You still love and care for your spouse. That’s undeniable. But that other person – the insulting one who embarrasses you and complicates your life – that is the person from which you must detach. If you can do that, you will be much more at ease and able to cope with whatever is taking place around you.
If you are at the stage in the alcoholism where the spouse is so consumed in the disease of alcoholism that they become totally unrecognizable – it is time for drastic measures. The spouse you loved, the one you promised your heart to forever and vowed to support until death – is now dead. Even though he/she may be walking around and breathing the air in your space – that person is lost to you forever. It’s time to grieve. Allow yourself this. Go to a grief support group (I wish there were ones specifically for loved ones of alcoholics – but there is not) and tell it like it is. Cry. Get angry. Eat gallons of Ben & Jerry’s. Cry and then cry some more. And then you may find that you can accept the fact that your beloved no longer lives in your house even though the alter ego is still present.
Now what?? You’ve cried, etc., etc. and what’s next? Do everything you would do if there were an actual death. This is the practical stuff – let an attorney advise you as to how to handle the finances, etc. Hire a housekeeper (if you can afford it). Do whatever it is you would do if you suddenly found yourself as a single person. I don’t encourage dating – that just further complicates things because the spouse you love is really still there – but just gone on some sort of mental hiatus. When/if that person returns you want to be emotionally available.
The alcoholic alter-ego is now a roommate and not a spouse. You may not like this roommate, but you provide everything necessary for a safe haven. That’s how you fulfill that idea of taking care of those who are sick or unable to care for themselves. It doesn’t mean you lie to his/her boss – that job is not your business – just as any roommates job would not be your business. It is not your responsibility to see to it that the alcoholic stays sober. It is none of your business if the alcoholic seeks treatment or not. While you can be supportive – let things happen as the play out. Don’t answer questions for the roommate or make commitments – it’s not your place. Put those responsibilities squarely back onto the alcoholic’s plate.
Of course, you must consider children – if there are any in the household. That’s a whole other post. See my page Leave or Stay?
Re-discover your own life. Did you like to play golf before you were afraid to leave the alcoholic at home alone? If so – go play some golf. Develop new friendships -- if they are also spouses of alcoholics, that’s even better. You are in there somewhere – you’ve just gotten lost and now it’s time to be found. Stop spending all your time thinking, hoping, and doing for the alcoholic. Focus on your needs and what you want.
So are you thinking… it’s dangerous to leave the alcoholic home alone… what if something happens while I’m gone? If it makes you feel better, find a cooperative friend that can stay with the alcoholic while you are out. But, don’t let that stop you. If you have no support system, try attending some Al-Anon meetings. You may not like everything they say – but there are people there who understand what you are going through.
You’ve grieved over your loss. You’ve found yourself again. It’s time to find some humor in your situation. Let’s face it – as sad as it is there are aspects of alcoholic actions that are funny. Looking for the milk in the oven – putting a jacket on upside down – illogical conversations – all good for a laugh. When you find yourself getting angry with the alcoholic – stop and ask yourself… if this were on a sitcom… would it be funny? If this were not happening in your house – would you laugh or at least chuckle?
I used to get frustrated at Riley when he would insist that a program from season one of NCIS had never been seen on television before. Especially when I knew he had just watched it a few weeks before. I used to try to tell him it was not new… it was a re-run—again. Now I just smile and say… Oh that’s nice. That smile leads me to thinking how fortunate I am to have that program be his big issue of the day.
Instead of thinking of detachment as distasteful… think of it as a life saver – your lifesaver for your life. Not the alcoholic’s because the alcoholic must find his/her own lifesaver.
I’m not saying this whole thing is easy because it most certainly is NOT. I consider that I’m fairly well detached from Riley – but there are days when I have to just get through each minute. I still get angry. I still yell. But I also laugh and always remember – this Riley is not MY Riley.
By the way… I had a friend who was the spouse of an alcoholic. She gave a specific name to her alcoholic’s alter-ego. It helped her keep her perspective about who was with her at any given time – her husband, Henry or the alter ego, Hank.
at 7:43 AM