Monday, October 24, 2011
There's always hope...
When Riley first started going to rehab centers and AA, I participated in his recovery right along with him. I attended Al-Anon as often as 4 times a week. The Al-Anon teachings became a way of life and I truly believed that things would get better. I believed that if I worked just as hard as Riley, he would get and stay sober. I heard the warnings about relapse, but I’m stubborn and I was convinced that I could prevent those horror stories from happening to my family. I had so much hope for our future.
But, each time Riley relapsed and each time he went into rehab, I had less hope that he would be able to achieve sobriety in the long term. Rehab just became a way for him to get some time off work. After the first rehab, he never once said he wanted sobriety. He just wanted to do whatever he had to do to keep his boss and me off his back. The only way a recovery program can work is if the alcoholic truly wants sobriety. Riley did not and made no excuses for it. Any hope I had for our future as a loving couple, disappeared with the realization that it was not what Riley wanted.
There’s a song by Dusty Springfield that was popular in the mid 1960’s, it’s Wishin’ and Hopin’. The essence of the lyrics is that simply wishing and hoping and thinking and praying, planning and dreaming won’t get you what you want. Of course, she’s talking about getting the man of your dreams to love you. I’m talking about getting the man of your dreams to remain sober. There’s a point in time when the sober one realizes that he/she can’t just do all that wishing stuff and add incredible amounts of hope and get the alcoholic to truly want sobriety. There is no hope strong enough that will create that desire. Eventually, with each failed rehab and every near-fatal detox, hope leaves the equation. That’s the reality of end-stage.
There is a turning point in relationships with alcoholics. It is the point when the alcoholic becomes end-stage and requires caretaking. It happens so subtly that it almost goes unnoticed by the person who becomes the caretaker. Often the caretaker is a spouse or parent. We non-alcoholics, go about our daily routine making adjustments along the way. We don’t even realize how many adjustments are being made until we have that “Ahh-Ha!” moment that all we ever do is make adjustments for the alcoholic.
The beginning of caretaking can often start the same way. The alcoholic gets sick and we take care of him/her. We don’t know if they have the flu or cancer – all we know is that this other part of our partnership is ill. It is perfectly normal to take care of our sick loved ones. It’s how we are wired as humans. Relationships are based on give and take of support, understanding, and "standing by" when things are not-so-good. If one develops cancer, the other does not walk out, but rather provides nursing and aid to promote recovery. Because we don’t know for an absolute certainty that the alcohol is the illness – it could be cancer -- we take care of them the best we can.
Eventually we have another “Ahh-Ha” moment and realize that the drinking is the culprit that has turned the person we loved into the mental state of a child that would require a baby-sitter if left alone. But, we missed that turning point because we were so busy trying to keep our heads above water that we didn’t see there was a plug in the drain. We are now in so deep, getting out seems impossible. Because we would not turn a cancer patient out into the street. We took a vow. We promised. We are morally bound to provide a safe haven in sickness and health.
Have you ever bought a bag of M&M’s and thought to yourself, I’ll just eat a couple now and save the rest for later. You pull out a couple of the candies and, with the open bag in your hand, you begin talking on the phone. When the phone call is over, you realize you’ve eaten the whole bag. You didn’t even realize you were doing it. The bag is empty. It’s much the same for the non-alcoholic caretaker. We just do a few things for the alcoholic and then the next thing we know, our lives are taken over by seeing to their needs.
Faced with the realization that we are now the caretaker, we still have a tendency to fight the idea that our alcoholic is in fact, end-stage. We take them to the doctor for some kind of diagnosis that would make everything more understandable. We want some kind of medical plan that will help us in our effort to “normalize” our situation. But the only plan any doctor can offer is detox and rehab and the alcoholic refuses. We are left with an impossible decision without any satisfying outcome. The next “Ahh-Ha” moment is when we know that our alcoholic is in fact terminal. The alcoholic is dying. We do the humane thing – we provide a soft place for them to die.
My uncle had lung cancer. He was dying with just a few days left on his calendar of life. He wanted a cigarette. He asked me over and over to get him one. But, I was adamant not to give it to him. When his doctor entered the room, my uncle told him he wanted a cigarette. The doctor told me to take him to the smoking courtyard and give him what he wanted. I was shocked. But, the doctor made perfect sense to me when he said, “Your uncle is dying. Nothing he does now will stop that. Make him happy and give him the damn cigarette.” I complied with my uncle’s request.
I was also shocked to hear Riley’s doctor tell me that I had to make sure he had plenty of alcohol. It was contrary to everything I had ever been told. But, the doctor explained that to take away his supply now would lead to a very certain and unpleasant death. He went on to say that Riley was dying. At this point nothing I, nor the doctor, can do will stop the process. Much like my uncle’s cigarette request, I complied with Riley’s need for alcohol to keep him from having that quicker, more painful death from the ensuing DT’s.
End-stage caretakers do what we feel is humane. We make a choice and although it may seem unpalatable to others – our decision is ours alone to make. Those who have an end-stage alcoholic in their home will understand the struggle we have endured just to make the choice. None of the options have desirable outcomes. It’s like choosing between “bad” and “really bad”. Most end-stage caretakers choose the “bad” choice while wishing and hoping for a quick end to the pain and suffering the alcoholic causes for himself and others in his life. The only HOPE we are left with is the hope that the end will be quick.
The next time you are talking to an end-stage caretaker, instead of passing judgment or being critical – try saying this: “I hope for a quick resolution of your situation. I may not have made the same decision as you, but I respect how difficult it was for you to choose a path.”
We all always have HOPE, but your HOPE may look different from my HOPE.
at 7:22 AM