Saturday, August 20, 2011
Before I understood alcoholism, back many, many years ago, I enabled Riley to continue drinking. I made excuses for his behavior and cleaned up messes left in his drunken wake. I didn’t realize I was being an enabler, I thought I was just being a good wife. There is a fine line.
In a “normal” marriage the husband and wife are co-dependent in their effort to make the marriage work. There may be a division of chores or responsibilities. In my parent’s marriage, my father went off to work and my mother took care of the household and children. So my father depended on my mother for a hot cooked meal and clean sheets. My mother depended on my father to bring home the bacon. It worked. Most marriages today have similar aspects. One cooks and the other cleans up. One does laundry and one mows the lawn. This is where co-dependency works.
But there is a dark side to co-dependency. It’s the version where one party enables the addiction by feeding into the dependency on the substance. It’s a way of staying in control. I don’t think anyone does it purposefully. It just seems to grow into happening as the addiction progresses. Sometimes it happens so slowly that it is hard to recognize.
Have you ever bailed someone out of jail when they were thrown in the drunk tank? Do you avoid confronting the alcoholic about the drinking? Have you lied to anyone about why you couldn’t do something because to tell the truth would be too embarrassing? These are all actions of a co-dependent trying to stay in control of the situation. But the only thing that is really happening is that the non-alcoholic is enabling the alcoholic to drink by removing the consequences of the drinking. The alcoholic is dependent on the non-alcoholic to do these things – it is a co-dependent relationship.
For caretakers of end-stage alcoholics, things get a little more complicated. They absolutely must control the alcoholic’s actions in order to protect the people outside the alcoholic’s circle. An end-stage alcoholic is beyond reason and very much like a child in need of supervision. If left alone, an alcoholic will expand his circle and include innocent people with whom he would otherwise never come into contact.
From the outside it looks like we are all just a bunch of co-dependent, enabling lunatics. Don’t like outside appearances fool you. We’ve paid our dues by trying to allow the alcoholic reap the unpleasant side-effects of drunkenness. We’ve spent years refusing to by booze, taking away the car keys, telling people exactly how things are and not lying the boss. But now… well… things are different.
The first thing I must go against is providing alcohol for the alcoholic. Al-Anon says we should never provide alcohol because it’s enabling the continuation of the addiction. In end-stage, there is no hope that the alcoholic will stop. The only thing we can do is make sure the fewest amount of people possible are affected by the destruction.
In order to keep the alcoholic from driving drunk, I get the alcohol. I do it because I want to prevent Riley from causing an accident that may injure an innocent bystander. He refuses to go to the hospital for detox – he’s been there many times. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find a hospital or detox center that would admit him to treatment. I have no choice but to continue to supply the alcohol. Detoxing after many attempts and many years of continual drinking is extremely dangerous and should never be attempted without medical assistance. Riley’s at end-stage. I understand that any attempts to obtain sobriety are futile.
End-stage caretakers provide the basic needs to the alcoholic. At this stage, he is not mentally or physically able to care for his own basic needs. For me, it’s the humane thing to do. Providing shelter and food, and preventing him from driving, keeps him out of harms way – except for the harm he is doing to himself. I feel that I’m not so much caretaking Riley as I am protecting the rest of the world from his insanity.
In my case, I knew Riley would be completely dependent on me when I agreed to take him in. But, for many caretakers, it happens while they are not looking. Everything will be going along in the same normally chaotic manner and then something will happen and they will discover that the alcoholic is end-stage. Sometimes end-stage sneaks up on the non-alcoholic and they find themselves having to make a decision about what to do.
I made my decision. For me it was clear-cut. I feel no satisfaction in having power over Riley’s actions. In reality, I only have power over how I let his alcoholism affect ME. I don’t believe I’m co-dependent because I gain nothing by him staying drunk. It would be wonderful if he would manage to get sober and stay sober, thereby moving out of my house.
I am his caretaker. I provide a soft place for him to die because that is his choice. Alcohol is a terminal illness with only one prescription for survival – sobriety. Riley doesn’t want the fill that prescription.
Am I an enabler? Absolutely. I enable him to maintain his choice of not filling his prescription for survival. If he ever changes his mind – I’ll enable him by supporting his quest to find a way out of this craziness.
at 7:41 AM