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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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

If I knew...

I have been remiss at posting. I apologize. For the past four days I was in Asheville, NC at the North Carolina Writer’s Network Fall Conference. It was amazing. I learned so much that my brain hurts! But, I am back and I hope you find this post of value.

If I knew...

Riley likes telling people that he fought in Viet Nam. Well… that’s a bit of a stretch since he had broken service and the war was just approaching its full swing when he left the Navy. By the time he re-enlisted, the war was winding down. He never stepped foot on Viet Nam soil, nor did any of his submarines venture into those nearby waters.

Brain damage can manifest in many ways. For Riley, this is one way. He often shapes reality to be whatever he thinks it should have been based on whatever his criteria is for that moment. One caring person once said to me “Well, maybe he’s an alcoholic because of the stress of what he witnessed in Viet Nam.” Unless she’s talking about the pictures in Life Magazine – I don’t think that explanation fits for Riley.

There are men and women who witnessed first had the devastating effects of fighting the Viet Nam War or any other war for that matter. They were left with scars so deep no amount of cocoa butter or vitamin E oil could ever diminish. Many of these servicemen (and women) left the military and began using street drugs and alcohol to try to erase the experience from their memories. But their solution only intensified the problem.

It would take years for the term “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” to come into our vocabulary. For the people suffering the dread of daily life accentuated by fear and anger, it was a welcome relief to know that they were not just “crazy” or “wacked out” or “shell shocked”. Their difficulties had a name which meant it could be cured. Or does it?

PTSD has far more reaching victims as we have learned more about the disorder over the years. The disorder now includes any type of extreme stress that has a negative effect on a person’s life, such as being the victim of a crime, the loss of a job or person, bullying, etc. I often wonder if I have PTSD as a result of being Riley’s caretaker. Maybe it’s why sleep is so fleeting…
I met a woman at the conference who is doing research on the subject and as we were talking she came to realize that her husband was probably an alcoholic before the PTSD event occurred. So the question became, did the event occur because of the alcoholism, or did the alcoholism become the result of the PTSD, or was there no correlation between the two. She decided she needed to do some more investigation into which came first – the chicken or the egg.

In the disease of alcoholism there can be many underlying disorders such as, depression, anxiety, paranoia, bi-polar. The question becomes, is the drinking a result of the underlying disorder or is it the other way around? I knew a man who had an anxiety disorder and as long as he took his meds, he didn’t drink. If he stopped taking the meds, he went right to the bottle. In a sense, the alcohol became his meds.

End-stage alcoholism is so frustrating in that, at this point, it doesn’t really matter which came first. We wish we had known back then that the alcoholic may have had something treatable and manageable. In essence it is the age-old, “If I knew then what I know now…” issue. Our medical and psychological researchers come up with new information everyday. Unfortunately it is too late for the end-stage caretaker to use much of it.

Why? You ask? I could be wrong (I am occasionally), but in order to use the meds or to determine if there is an underlying condition, the alcoholic would have to be sober for the period of time necessary for a diagnosis which means a potentially dangerous detox. It may be difficult to find a facility who will accept the risk and admit the end-stage.

The alcoholic would have to undergo therapy and that’s difficult when falsehoods have become a way of communication. No therapy or counseling in the world will work, if a person is unable to be honest and open.  The circle continues in that, if the alcoholic has been able to honest and open in other relationships or in AA or whatever, they may have been able to get a grasp on the addiction long ago and would not now be at end-stage. At least it would be so in a perfect world.

We end-stage caretakers could drive ourselves crazy thinking about all the possibilities. In my opinion, we are where we are and it’s best to accept the reality. We don’t have a time machine that will let us have a “do over.” Accept the choices our alcoholics have made and learn to thrive within those parameters. Be grateful that those who become entwined in alcoholism, and are not end-stage, after us may have more options, solutions, explanations. There is hope for their sobriety. That is a good thing.

For me, as I returned home to find an uncomfortable but not devastating status in the condition of my home, I think to myself – I wish I could hide in the recesses of the brain damaged insanity of Riley’s mind. But, I live in reality. There’s only room for one inside his head. It’s his space and I won’t intrude.  I wish I knew what happened in his past, childhood, school days, career, that may have lead to where he is now.

I wish I knew then what I know now.

To find out more about PTSD, visit this website offering information about PTSD at http://www.heal-post-traumatic-stress.com/. I think you may this very helpful and interesting.


Syd said...

A therapist said that I had PTSD from living with alcoholism. I do get anxious when I am around very drunk people. But now I choose to leave and not stick around for the fallout. Glad that you enjoyed the conference. Asheville must have been wonderful.

ADDY said...

If only I'd known too............:(

Anonymous said...

Dave my alcoholic said himself just this weekend i wish i could turn back time! Its about the most positive thing i have heard him say. I didnt meet Dave until he was 28 and only know snippits about his past but i strongly believe the depression and anxiety came first in his case, and are such things hereditory because there is a strong history within many members of his family, cousins, aunts, grandparents many family members have issues a few have attempted suicide even. Dave buries his head in a bottle of cider for every problem that comes up, big problems and he will self harm also.

The alcohol unit, medics and counsellors treating him now all say "Dont worry Dave we will sort you out" This to me is just a false promise, if Dave could never sort his mixed up head out when he was stronger/healthier then i dont see how he can do it now he is on deaths door! Just like you say Linda theres no point sending myself anymore crazy trying to analize his mind.

Anonymous said...

Once again, you hit the nail on the head. I've come to believe that the majority of addicts become that to manage their pain caused by negative feelings or traumatic events. That's why our "one size fits all" treatment fails miserably in most cases. We focus on the symptom and not the root of the problem.

If I knew then what I know now, my ex-husband might have gotten proper help - I suspect severe depression at the minimum - and things might have turned out better for both of us. It is certainly a "which came first" problem and I believe the addiction is secondary. Just my opinion.

Think outside the box the medical community and insurance companies have handed us. Ever know an addict who came from a perfectly happy home? Me neither. All of us have had bad things happen and suffered loss but not everyone's response is substance abuse. We're all wired differently and I'm thankful that I have coping skills that keep me from turning to drugs and alcohol. I'm just sad that someone elses addiction had such an awful impact on my life, my children's lives, and my friends and family.

Felt good to say all of that....

From TX

Anonymous said...

Wow, just wow. I feel this way all the time. My 42 year old husband is dying and I had to abandon him because we have two beautiful small children and it basically came down to, should I focus on them or him? I couldn't work full time and do both. And besides, he was starting to do a lot of scary things around the house and I needed to get the kids away. I spoke to too many kids who grew up with alcoholics and I didn't want that for my kids.

Thing was, he was a really NICE guy and for about ten years we had an enviable relationship. Yes, there were signs but they were few and far between and in late 2009 it's like he snapped! I still don't get it.

Here is the thing, I know now he has always suffered from severe depression and anxiety. I think it's genetic, he really does have the nicest parents (he's said so himself) and had a good childhood. But, his mom takes meds to function too. If I only realized now what a serious genetic problem this was and he'd gotten good treatment ten years ago, I feel we wouldn't be here today. It's tragic, but I guess all I can do now is try to recognize the signs if they ever appear in my kids and get them help in any way I can.