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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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Attitude of gratitude...

Once a year my mother took me clothes shopping. It was the last week of August – every year for 12 years. This is when I would get the basics, such as underwear and shoes. I also got school dresses and outfits --  we didn’t wear pants to school then. I so looked forward to that day of shopping. It was a special day that was not shared by my brothers or cousins.

Our family wasn’t poor, but there were never less than six kids to outfit each school year. Money was budgeted tightly. I now know that my mother was as an astute shopper. My parents bought me three pairs of shoes each school year – one in the fall and one in the spring and a pair of gym shoes. They also bought me two pairs of “tennis” shoes from the local grocery store. If I wanted any other shoes, I had to pay for them out of the money earned through baby-sitting.

All the girls in my class were wearing flats. I wanted to keep up with the style as all girls do, so I asked my mother for a pair of flats instead of white oxfords. Of course, this was not practical because after inspecting the soles and determining how long they would last, she would say, “It’s really not a wise choice, honey.” Until my first year in high school when she surprised me by saying that she understood that I wanted to dress like everyone else and we’d find a good quality pair of flats.

I was ecstatic! I tried on at least a dozen pairs of flats. There was just one problem – my feet were so small, the only flats they had that would fit were had the convertible strap. I hated that strap. It made me feel like a baby. My body and feet may have been small, but I wanted to look like the rest of the girls. They didn’t need that stupid strap and I didn’t want it.

I reluctantly decided to go with the standard white oxfords. My mother said that we would buy the oxfords, but she promised she would make sure I got a pair of flats as soon as we found some that would fit.

As we left the store, I could feel the tears starting to fall from my eyes. My mother knelt down in front of me and said “Don’t cry, honey. Someday you’ll see that being small will be to your advantage. Someday people will think you are ten years younger than you really are. And you will smile.” I know she meant well, but I just couldn’t see that silver lining.

I think what my mother was trying to say was that I needed to be grateful for what I had. I think she meant that I needed to develop an attitude of gratitude. Things may look just really, really awful, but I needed to turn that awfulness around and be happy.

Before Riley first came back to live with me, my life was totally different. I had a job that I loved and I was telecommuting. I had a man who cared about me although we didn’t see each other as often as I would have liked. I went to parties and festivals with my friends. I cooked. I wrote but never finished a book. I watched my favorite programs and I was happy. Even though I was sad from the loss of my son, I was happy with the way things were.

I expected a change when Riley came back. I knew I would have to compromise with him and tend to him. I was prepared. But, we had interests in common 20 years ago; surely we’d have things to share as roommates. And we did share. It was difficult but not so bad that I couldn’t handle it.

When I was 14, I spent a lot of time taking care of my grandmother who was terminally ill. I approached Riley with the same attitude. I saw a dying man in need of some caretaking. That was how I treated him. It was difficult at first because we were just about to make the move across country, but there was nothing I couldn’t manage. The adjustment was hard – no more parties and festivals – no more man to come for dinner – and my TV program line-up changed. So things changed, but I still didn’t feel UNhappy.

I’m looking back now and hearing those words that my mother said about those shoes. If she were here today, she would say “See… there’s always something for which to be grateful.” She would be so right.

If I had not taken Riley back, I would still be at the job that monopolized my day. I would still be doing things pretty much the way I was. I would be happy, but would I be satisfied?

Having Riley has opened my eyes to something that I had avoided after we separated. I did a lot of research on alcoholism. If it were not for Riley, I would never have started the blog. If not for the blog, I would never have started writing The Immortal Alcoholic’s Wife or started the FaceBook page. If it were not for caretaking an end-stage alcoholic, I would never know the warm feeling of accomplishment when I get the e-mail that says I’ve helped someone through a difficult time. I would never have discovered my passion for trying to make a difference. If it weren’t for all that, I would have hated about being forced into retirement. Maybe I would be spending my days dying my hair blue and going to the senior center for bingo. Actually, I love playing bingo – so let’s forget about that.

Today, I have an attitude of being grateful for having Riley in my life. I’m grateful that he gave me fodder for my book. I’m grateful that he feeds Jade and Jax everyday. I’m grateful that he unloads the dishwasher. I’m even grateful when he is talking nonsense because he gives me a reason to snicker. Yes, he is exasperating, irritating, frustrating and he keeps me on my toes. I hate it that I’m helpless in trying to get him to make the right choices. But, I’ve learned to respect the boundary.

When Riley is gone, my life will be easier. I might even find a sweet guy that will come to dinner. I will expand my social circle. I will write the next in my series of IA books. And I will continue to be happy in this world that Riley forced me to discover.

Tomorrow I may want to wring his neck, but for today I know my mother is watching me smile.


Anonymous said...

I'm grateful for this blog. My father has been an alcoholic for a long, long time. He's a double amputee (in part from hiding a diabetes diagnosis because he didn't want to stop drinking) and had a stroke this year. I don't know if I'll ever be as strong or kind you are -- my mom and dad are finally separating, and I don't care where he goes, but he's not coming with me.

Anonymous said...

This is one of your best posts yet. It really is insightful...and helpful to me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Very touching post and I would like to add my thanks for your blog. I'm a daughter of a lifetime alcoholic who is now end-stage. Your blog has helped me understand what her caretakers in my family are going through, and your ability to keep hope and make the best of your situation is inspiring. Thank you!!

Karen E. said...

Good timing for me too. I have had a bad attitude foe a week or so. I am dreading the holidays. For the second year in a row (would have been more but I chose to stay away from her, for several years!) we will not camp with friends for Thanksgiving. We will not have our huge fun open house Christmas Eve bash. We cant even go away together over night because of her.

After your post I am going to write a list of things I am grateful for:
1. A husband that stands by me thru this chaos
2. IA blog that helps me stay informed and semi not crazy!
the list will continue..


also @ Jo..sorry I suspended my facebook account..drama..my email is karen@fabricmasters.com would love to chat! we have alot in common.

Gerry said...

I think we who find ourselves being the main care giver for an alcoholic have to find satisfaction in the fact that we are helping a dying man (or woman) who has become afflicted with a disease that affects so many in this world, I don't think we can give up the struggle to understand and try to keep on reaching those who have become addicted. They may be beyond stopping, but until they are gone, they are going to need help and someone to care but most of all I think to study them and try to figure out why this is happening. I will never stop wondering why in so many instances of alcoholism in people I have loved and cared about.

Syd said...

A warm and loving post. I think that your mother would be smiling too. There is much to be grateful for every day. I often forget when life's drama comes into play. Thanks for the reminder of having that attitude of gratitude.

Anonymous said...

Im so glad you wrote this post today, ive been very down lately wondering if the things spinning around in my head are right or wrong. I hold the purse strings you see i could make him cut down and gradully hopefully/maybe help him be ready to detox or i could just give him more alcohol (thats what he wants) and end the misery sooner maybe. His confusion, dementia and irritable ways are dragging so much, he can be soooooo cruel! or he just sits crying!

Anyway Linda thanks for your blog today it makes me realise whatever the outcome, this whole end stage non alcoholic carer business, well its very educational if nothing else.

(Its not the load you carry,its the way you carry the load)

Wendy (UK)

jo said...

karen! thanks so much. i was going crazy not being able to find you.

i will stay private in my chats.

i wish this blog huge success. and linda.


the old dog said...

Hi, this is my first visit to your blog,Linda and I've only read the two most recent posts but I'm hooked. I'm reading them from the angle that I'M the potential alcoholic in my life, being well on the slippery slope towards full addiction, having been alcohol dependent for a long time now. I somehow managed to keep things under control for a while, held down a steady job and not one of my friends of family would have described me as alcoholic ever. However, the decline begins. I no longer work and my own personal acceptable drinking time is becoming earlier and earlier during the day. I've just started my own blog but am trying to keep things light to try and discover how I reached this stage in my life. I've promised myself that I'll be excrutiatingly honest and I will take inspiration from your own honesty if I may? At the moment, I don't ever want any of my family having to be my carer if I ever reach the end-stage so I suppose that proves that I haven't sunk to the completely selfish phase of of disease just yet! I witnessed a friend looking after her husband until he died and there was not one bit of it that was pretty at all. But she loved him to the end. Hated him too .. or rather what he'd become .. but never once thought about abandoning him to his fate. I don't want my family having to feel like that about me. Thank you for your perspective on the sober person's side - it is truly wonderful reading.