Thursday, December 1, 2011
A dirty wall...
Thank you for all your birthday wishes! I appreciated them very much. Many have asked about the lawn card photo. It went MIA along with most of my kids’ school-art-generated cards about the time that Riley and I separated.
A dirty wall...
A few days ago I noticed that the light switch on the kitchen wall was soiled and pretty disgusting. I had just changed the garbage can liner and was tidying up around that area. The light switch is just above the can. I instinctively took my trusty bottle of cleaner and sprayed the plastic rectangle. Of course, some of the cleaner ended up on the wall – it is a spray after all. I wiped the cleaner off and when I was happy with the whiteness of the switch, I moved on to other things.
The sunlight was pouring in and everything was bright from the kitchen through the den. It was lunchtime and I wanted to get a frozen meal from the pantry freezer. As I walked through the door, next to the garbage can, I looked up and was truly dismayed that I could clearly see where I cleaned the wall around the light switch and behind the can. The paint was a pretty, soft yellow and not dingy beige like the rest of the kitchen. The difference in color was stark and outlined in rounds that clearly marked where I had used circular motion in my cleaning task. I had no idea the walls were so dirty. It had happened so gradually, I had not noticed the changing wall color it all.
I think the perception of how bad things are depends on how deeply we are involved in the situation and how often we must face it each day. We often don’t see problems that are in front of us or we don’t see them to be as obvious. It’s like not noticing how soiled the walls are until you wipe them down to remove the dirt around the light switch. Then you are forced to either wash the wall or repaint the entire room.
I think that it can be just like that dirty wall when it hits us that we have become the caretaker of our alcoholic. Most people don’t choose it like it did. Most people grow into the job and they don’t even know they’ve signed the contract until it’s too late.
It’s pretty clear to us when we have an alcoholic in the house. There is no denying the money spent or mess to be cleaned. At first it may just be a few missing dollars or an empty bottle that never made it to the trash. After getting used to the few dollars, a few more may become missing and gradually it adds up to a lot more dollars. The empty bottle turns into bottles hidden in toilet tanks and in the tool box. It doesn’t happen over night. It can take years for those few dollars to turn into hundreds and the one bottle to turn into twelve. It’s a “just one more" sequence of events.
Some people chose to eliminate the alcoholic from their life. Cut them loose. Turn them out. Shut them out of their lives. The alcoholic then must make a choice between alcohol and the people they love. Unfortunately, the choice will most likely be alcohol. But if the opposite happens… if the alcoholic choices sobriety… there is still a chance they can reclaim their place in the family as a healthy, loving, productive member.
On the other hand, sometimes the non-alcoholic doesn’t realize how much they are doing until something causes them to become more objective to what’s going on around them. The alcoholic may go into detox for a few days and the house is blissfully free from insanity. Or maybe they wake up one day and suddenly realize that the balance is off by a long ways. It doesn’t really matter how or when they come to the realization. Discovering that you have become the caretaker in an impossible situation is heart-wrenching.
Once the compass is set and you’ve arrived in the caretaking position, getting out is very difficult. It requires doing things and making decisions that NO one in their right mind would do. They feel ashamed because they feel they have allowed the situation to get to that point. They feel alone because no one seems to understand the depth of frustration. They seek help from anywhere and everywhere, but help isn’t that easy to find.
There is no reason to feel ashamed. The alcoholic is the ONLY one who has created the problem and the only one who can change the direction of the addiction. The caretaker is not responsible for the condition of the alcoholic. Choices were made. They were not your choices to make – they belong squarely on the shoulders of the alcoholic. Your choice may have been based on your situation at the time when he was still “curable”. I think it’s pretty normal for caretakers to hope that things will get better. Unfortunately, the end of the options can come quickly and without notice. It’s not the fault of the caretaker.
When I first started this blog, I thought that I must be the only idiot who would have taken on this caretaking stuff. Whoa! How stupid was I?? It didn’t take long to figure out that there were lots of other people out there who were doing the exact same thing that I was doing. They were caretaking an end-stage alcoholic. Suddenly I didn’t feel so stupid anymore. I was relieved that people were e-mailing me and posting comments. It reinforced my knowledge that I was not alone.
There is strength in numbers. There is knowledge to be shared. Together we lend support. Together we laugh, cry, and grieve. Together we are strong. Together we create a louder voice.
On February 9, 2012, I’ll be attending the National Council on Alcohol and Alcoholism near
. I have no idea what to expect. I may not learn anything at all. I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to speak. But, at least I’ll learn what happens at one of these meeting. If I am lucky, I might be able to wipe down the wall of ignorance on the life the end-stage caretaker. Washington DC
at 8:54 AM