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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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


A friend told me she went on a little week-end vacation to a place that's just a couple hours from her house. She left her alcoholic husband at home. He is NOT end-stage, but he is heading in that direction. At about 1 a.m. on the first night, he called because he had passed out in the driveway and was too drunk to get into the house. She called her son who lived down the street. He rushed out to help his father.

When she told me about it I said… What??? You woke up your son to take care of his father who was in a drunken state?? I don’t know about you… but it seems to me, the alcoholic was sober enough hit all the right tiny little buttons on the phone… surely he could manage putting his keys into the door locks. Oh… he was too drunk to walk?? Was he too drunk to crawl??

This, in my opinion, is a case of the non-alcoholics taking away an opportunity for the alcoholic to face the consequences of his own actions. If it had been me in that situation, I would have told him that he would have to figure it out for himself. I would have left him in the driveway. I know he would call every 5 minutes, but I would have turned my phone off. I know the neighbors would call the police when they saw him passed out in the driveway and I’m thankful for their concern. I would have nothing for which to be embarrassed because I was not the one passed out in the driveway.

Of course, the next day, the alcoholic remembered very little of what had transpired the night before. So what did he learn – nothing. If he had awakened in the driveway – he might have learned something. If he never has to face how bad his drinking is, how will he ever understand how bad it is? There are consequences, but his wife and son didn’t allow him to have any because they removed them. Therefore, the consequences went to the wife – who spent her first night away worrying about her husband – and the son – who got out of his nice warm bed to physically get his father into the house. For the husband there was no consequence and no bad memory. How can that be right?

The wife and son must learn detachment. This is the only way we non-alcoholics can continue to have a life of our own. Detachment frees us from the chaos created by the alcoholic’s unreasonable demands. It also frees us from the fear that anyone who knows us will lump us into a package deal of insanity. It’s hard to not care about what others think – it’s almost unnatural. But, non-alcoholics must develop a thick skin and the ability to separate personas. If a neighbor asks about the incident, a response such as “Well, yes, it’s unfortunate that he drinks so much. Thank you for your concern.” But, don’t take ownership of the drunk’s actions. You did nothing wrong – you have nothing to be ashamed of or to have to explain.

In another case, a woman’s very end-stage mother lives with her. The mother is classic in that she sleeps in the day and is awake most of the night. The mother wakes up the daughter throughout the night making it impossible for the daughter to sleep. The daughter gets up and makes the mother a drink hoping it will be enough to get the mother to go back to sleep. The daughter knows she must sleep, but can’t ignore her mother’s calls for her to join her.

I believe, somewhere in the alcoholic haziness, it may be how they can have control of something in their lives. They have no control over the alcohol, but they can control what the non-alcoholic does be using the fear that something may be wrong. So when the alcoholic calls out, we respond because the alcoholic might be physically hurt and in need of assistance. Maybe it’s not the complicated. Maybe it’s as simple as the alcoholic is miserable and misery loves company that is also miserable.

If I were the daughter, I would firmly tell the alcoholic that I am going to bed now and do not wake me up. I would put a note someplace where the alcoholic would see it – do not wake me up. Then, because the alcoholic will ignore the notes, when she calls to me, I would call back asking what she wants. If she is not in peril, I would tell her I was not coming to help her. After that, I would lock my door, turn on my sleep music and attempt to go back to sleep. She will call again because she has no short-term memory. But, I would not respond. I might not be able to go back to sleep, but I would stay in my room and let her do whatever she is going to do. Once the pattern is established that I will not come to her in the middle of the night – maybe she will stop calling out. It might take a few nights for the message to sink in.  If she doesn’t stop, maybe I will get used to it and be able to ignore it.

If that scenario doesn’t work and the alcoholic is still interrupting the non-alcoholic’s sleep, I think I would do my best to hire someone to come in and spend four to six hours a night with the alcoholic. In essence, get a baby-sitter. Even four hours of uninterrupted sleep is better than eight hours with intermittent ups and downs.

As non-alcoholic’s we sacrifice ourselves for the safety of the alcoholic. The wife sacrificed her vacation, the daughter sacrificed sleep. But, the sacrifice doesn’t serve us well. We gain nothing except frustration when we run to the rescue of those who refuse to rescue themselves. I know that the caretakers of end-stage alcoholics must do the task of “taking care.” But, if we don’t take care of ourselves there won’t be anyone left to do the caretaking of the alcoholic.


Syd said...

I would have to leave or ask them to leave. I could not live with active drinking and the chaos it brings. Knocking on the door at night?? No way. I have compassion but there is a limit to what I am willing to do. I don't wish to clean up alcoholic messes anymore or live in that kind of chaos.

Alcoholic Daze (ADDY) said...

So true. I enabled Greg to be an alcoholic, as I ran around him buying supplies and making excuses for him. I did not like it, but I did not have the strength to detach.

Karen E. said...

Read the first half of blog and said to myself..oh..I wouldnt have made that call..let him wake up in the yard..the second half I said to myself..ohhh your right... I have to get stronger..say no and take care of myself first! YOU are so right..THANKS again for a 'wake up" call!..love this site..I am NOT alone in this struggle..I am NOT crazy for taking on this end stage care giving task..I just need to take care of ME! and listen to YOU. on a side note is it "normal" for end stage to vomit most every morning..then okay the rest of the day..seems so strange..guessing it has seomthing to do with the liver function or less function.still wish there was a what to expect when your caregiveing for an end stage alcoholic book!

Linda said...

Addy -- Detachment is an extremely difficult thing to do. It's so against our basic beliefs. It wasn't that you were weak.

Karen -- You are so definitely NOT alone and I'm so glad you HEARD what I was saying.

The book will be done before the holidays. Just have to find an agent and/or publisher.


Ann said...

Oh Linda, once again, you hit the nail right smack on the head. Detach, detach, detach.....It's not about not caring, it's about self preservation!

3cats said...

Boy, did I need to read this post. I thought he was calling me in the middle of the night because I am special. Ha, special that I was the only one the would answer the phone!

Googled him yesterday to make sure there wasn't an obituary yet. Kind of creepy but made me feel better.

Gabriele Goldstone said...

Detaching. Yes, it's a constant battle. Sometimes I think it's turned me into a cold, hard bitch. But it's all about survival.

Just love your 'voice'! Good luck finding an agent. As a published author, I know it's hard, but you have a great topic.

Did you hear that Amy Winehouse died of alcohol withdrawal? Alcohol kills all ways. Sad.

Linda said...

Gabriele -- Yes -- so sad about Amy Winehouse. She was attempting to self detox. Alcoholics should not attempt to detox without consulting with a medical professional first. It's not just as simple as just not drinking anymore.

And -- I've been considering self-publishing thru OutSkirts. Any advice you may have is greatly appreciated. -- Linda

Gabriele Goldstone said...

Because you already have a 'platform' - through this blog - the book would sell itself. You don't need the publicity (quite limited usually, anyway for a first-time author) of a traditional publisher. I don't know the particulars of 'outskirts' but I know others who have been very happy with their self-published route. Good luck with the project. (keep the price low by going paperback and/or ebook).

You're an excellent writer!

R Lori Johnstone-Pohlman said...

You hit so many nails on the head I could have a whole new house! Thanks, once again. I've learned too: You must let them crawl. You must simply smile and thank your neighbors. You must sleep. You must go out.
You will be healthier and kinder and strong enough to face another week, or month, or year of caregiving if you can detach.

Karen E. said...

I made the mistake of going on medical healing well forum site.. to see if I can get more info on what to expect with end stage alcoholism. This was a forum about liver disease due to hepatitis and alcoholism...got lampooned about supplying an alcoholic alcohol..whoa that was a mistake..they just dont get it.

Loobyloo said...

I'm having trouble coping with my end-stage alcoholic bloke...ex-partner who for some reason I still care about. After spending a few days away looking after my demanding mother ( !! ) I come back to find him needing a bath, shave, food etc. He then falls asleep.... I go home despite his pleas...trying to attain this elusive detachment.
This morning in the post I receive a letter from his dad ( I kid you not! ) telling me that he'd only fallen asleep because he was so relieved to see me...hadn't slept while I was away...and now we've 'fallen out' he's looking even more gaunt etc. etc.


Anonymous said...

Again, this is a disease. You seem like a bitter old lady.

tieropasvmii said...

I didn't get that feeling at all. I think until you've gone through the caretaking of an end stage alcoholic, you have no idea how terrifying and frustrating it can be.