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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.

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 Washington DC. 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.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant blog, my whole life seems like a dirty wall sometimes.
Recently my 11 year old daughter has been asking a lot of questions about Dave, i decided to be completly honest with her and tell her that he will more than likely die than get better. I was worried how she would take this, she went quiet for a while then came up to me with a calculater, she had worked out how much Dave's drinking costs us every year and said "well we will have more money when he's gone, we can finally go on holiday" ! Thats when I felt ashamed and wished id never met him.

Syd said...

Linda, the meeting sounds good. It would be great if you could lead a workshop sometime at an Al-Anon convention about caregiving for end stage. Such a workshop would prove valuable.

Linda (The Immortal Alcoholic's Wife) said...

Syd -- I'm usually not well received by Al-Anon because of having to get the alcohol for the alcohol to prevent a non-medical detox. I had one presentation, which didn't get much reception. I think I was in the wrong place. I'm working on having a group meeting through my friend who is an addiction counselor. Really, I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. Most of time I feel like I'm just wandering around in the dark not really accomplishing much. However, I have been grateful for your continued support.

Bwendo said...

You have the resigned determination that is at once inspiring but also sigh worthy and almost a shrug of the shoulders why does she bother. I prefer the former.
Keep going, it doesn't matter whether you think you know what you are doing or not, more important that you are doing and refining your skillset.

Gerry said...

I have always been able to escape being the caretaker of the end stages alcoholic except for my dad who really was not doing a lot of drinking by then and died of emphysema. But I am in that position now and to my dismay nothing has worked on this one to slow him down very much, although he did have to give up drinking for four days over his Thanksgiving drinking because of bad stomach pains, but then I found myself with severe stomach pains due to some over eating I did. Ironic. I was sick all one day. He recovered enough to go get some beer. I knew it was useless to suggest he continue on his sober path. Violence by the alcoholic under the influence can force you to action, but now at our age, 80 and 74, he is not a mean alcoholic, probably never has been too mean, which is not to say that the alcoholic fuzziness of his brain does not frustrate and disappoint! This man would be such a delight sober, but I doubt that anyone has ever seen him sober long since he was an adult, that is I think he always topped his day off with drinking when he was working, and probably drank at lunch, too, since he was in sales. So he is really not very well acquainted with the clarity of his own mind. I feel very sorry for you since I can see from your blog how you slipped into this morass. It is quite easy, and I feel frustrated, too, when people don't understand the factors that keep me tied to this man, his sense of humor, his perception, his superior qualities which he seems to think will still be superior even when dumbed down with alcohol.
But I had a dirty wall before I even met him. I had aunts that could pass housekeeping tests as superior, but I resolved I would have to clean house a third less well just in order to be the writer my one aunt never had time to be! I did not want to grow old having cleaned a lot of walls and not written one novel or play. I don't think too many people care that your walls have not been cleaned and painted for a while. I am just hoping you find ways to enjoy life despite your heavy burdens. I had a lot of fun making my recent video when my sister visited. Doc was sitting to the side cheering us on, and now he has been burning discs for her all day. He is looking forward to more when my other sister visits and when my son and his dog take me to the park to video his singing. Hope you can somehow have a happy holidays.

Colleen said...

Good Post and so relevant to me.
I just recycled a whole bunch of beer bottles, and there are still about 4 cases piled up here. I abhor throwing them in the trash, to fill up some landfill, and I abhor being the one who has to be seen in public, recycling all those beer bottles.
You really do not realize how much you are taking on when living with an alcoholic. It creeps up on you like the frog in hot water analogy.
We all have to find our own path, but there is strength in numbers.
Belated Happy Birthday , Linda.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this blog. Your story today sums up my life perfectly. I don't know how I got to this point of caring for my 34 yr old alcoholic son, and I see no way out of this. He is unable to do the simpliest tasks due to wet brain syndrome but is still able to put down 2 pints of vodka a day. My other children are totally disgusted with me and won't even discuss the situation. I would love for them to read your blog from today but know they wouldn't do it. Thanks again for your blogs. They make me feel a little less crazy. Sally

ADDY said...

I hope you make your voice loud and clear. We need to stand out and make others aware what end-stage is like.Good post.

Beth said...

Thanks again Linda for a truly enlightening blog. This one sums up my life so perfectly it's a bit scary. I came from an alcoholic home, both my mother and father. I am an only child so the weight of the situation was mine alone. I am happy to say my mother, who in my mind was the worse alcoholic.....she was a stumble drunk who I would find passed out every day coming home from school, has now been sober since 1988! So for many years with my husband I was sure that it was possible for him to get and stay sober. I mean, if my stumble drunk mother could do it, certainly my functional, working husband could do it.....it was possible! Sadly, I no longer see that as an option. In our 25 years of marriage I believe he's been sober for less than 1 year in fits and starts. Every time he remained sober for several weeks I got my hopes up that maybe this time it would take....I mean my mother tried several times before it stuck, so why couldn't my husband. I believe now that the difference is that deep down my husband is a very damaged human being who doesn't have the capacity to face life on life's terms and never will. On those few occasions over the years that he would make an attempt at sobriety he refused any follow up and would get upset if I even tried to be supportive in telling him how proud I was of him, and how nice it was to have him present in our lives.....To him, it just made him think about drinking. He refused AA because it made him think about drinking. I now know, that there is no way to beat this if it can't be faced. His refusal to look his alcoholism in the face and deal with it will continue to sabotage any attempt he might try to make in getting sober, and now it's too late.

My walls got dirty slowly and over time. Sadly, until recently I believed that it was possible for him to get and stay sober, after all, my mother did. I have learned that some can, and some just can't. Unfortunately now I am stuck care taking a very sick man who refuses to face the fact that the alcohol has made him this sick because even though he knows he needs to stop, he can't face the consequences of what his drinking has cost him, and his family. So now I just do the best I can, and wait for his inevitable demise.

Elizabeth said...

This is such a brilliant post...wow. I think I'm one of those who didn't sign the contract but here I am...Thanks for the wakeup call!