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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, January 12, 2012

He's the sick one -- not me...

I believe that anyone who is in an emotional arm’s distance from any alcoholic/addict needs to find recovery just as much as the one who has the focus of our attention. That’s just it right there – the one who has the focus of our attention. What about turning some of that attention on you -- the caretaker?

As we get drawn into this world of “keeping things going” we often lose sight of our own needs and happiness. We must put ourselves at a lower priority level because we have no idea what is going to happen next in our homes as a result of the alcoholic’s brain damaged stupidity. We are always on alert. We must pay attention to them – the alcoholic, kids, parents, siblings, neighbors, friends, co-workers – we must be aware of what they are doing, thinking, seeing. I’m tired just thinking about it all.

Detachment is the best way to survive life in an alcoholic home. It sounds like a dirty word, but all it really means is to take care of your own self. As long as you are constantly worrying about what the alcoholic is doing to everyone else and to himself, you might forget to so things that make you happy.

And – what DOES make you happy?? Do you even know what makes you happy? Have you forgotten what makes you smile? I preach all the time (to anyone who will listen) to find your passion. Find that one  thing that you love doing and then do it.

I know what you are thinking “I love to do “X”, but I just don’t have the time or the money.” If it is truly your passion you will find a way to be involved somehow. Love to read – volunteer at the local library. Love animals – volunteer at the animal shelter. Love to cook – volunteer at your local soup kitchen. There are lots of ways to do things you love that won’t cost you anything and just might help someone else in the process.

If you have the funds available and you like doing things like, horseback riding, spa days, etc, then set aside one day, or at least a half day, where you can do what you want without interruption from anyone who makes your life difficult. If you need someone to baby-sit, find one and pay them well to show how much you appreciate that person.

I recently interviewed Mary Gordon at the Betty Ford Center. She heads up the family program and they have a good one. This is a week long program which covers the medical aspects of alcoholism, learning how to deal with the stress of living with an alcoholic, finding yourself in the chaos, learning to accept and let go by grieving your loss and moving on, and, creating a plan. Basically, the center covers just about everything I would want to know if I were a participant.

Mary Gordon was articulate, informative, genuine, and patient, as I have a tendency to ramble and get off track. She said she would send me information and she did just that almost immediately. All of these things indicate to me that she represents an organization that is worthy of my time – and yours.

Betty Ford Center is in Southern California; however, there are locations that are affiliated with the center in locations through the United States. I’m not sure about other countries. The program of these other locations is the same, but the time frame may be different. For example, the program length in Southern California is 5 days – Monday through Friday – while in other locations it may be Thursday through Tuesday. No matter what the days, they will certainly be worthwhile.

You can watch a YouTube presentation with Mary Gordon at this web address:


To visit their website – go here -- www.bettyfordcenter.org

Someone once told me I was just as sick as Riley. This person didn’t mean to be derogatory, but rather they wanted to point out that my mental and physical health had deteriorated since I began taking care of him. That person was right. Since I started this journey I have had or now have, a heart attack, stroke, flu (twice), salmonella (twice), insomnia, weight gain, diabetes, and general feelings of malaise. Yes, I agree, I am not as healthy as I wish I were.

I should have gone to a place like Betty Ford when I first decided to take him back in. But I didn’t because I had been privileged enough to be a part of a military sponsored family program back in the 80’s. It was intense and extremely educational. Fortunately, I had retained much of what I had previously learned. But, still it took me a while to get on even footing.

What has saved me from insanity is writing this blog. Writing has always been a passion that I’ve had since childhood. Writing this blog has re-kindled my need to write because I just can’t NOT write. It is my passion. It has always been there, but work and the general business of living put in a box in my brain and ended up getting buried in the maze. Thanks to taking on this task with Riley, I’ve once again found the box and after opening it, the contents are flowing out like lava from a volcano.

Of course, it took me about a year to get to taking the cover off that box. If I had gone to the Betty Ford Center, maybe I would have opened the box long ago. I know that the health issues I have are easier to manage when I have an outlet for my frustration. There are things I can’t “un-do” like the heart attack and stroke, but I now do more to prevent them from reoccurring. When I feel the stress from Riley’s ridiculous-ness, I write it all down – I don’t always publish it – but I get it out and find some perspective.

You don’t have to be a writer – but do something that helps you relax and get back to being the person you know you really are. In the words of Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy.

9 comments:

Syd said...

I see so many that come into Al-Anon wanting to fix the alcoholic, not really knowing that they are filled with so much anger and resentment that their own health has deteriorated due to the stress of living with the disease. Eventually, they begin to change and to smile and laugh again. It is incredible to see the difference. I think that in many ways I was sicker because I did all the craziness sober. I'm glad to have found a way to recover my sanity and to follow my passions. And it didn't cost me a thing.

the Immortal Alcoholic's Wife said...

Syd -- I think the hard thing for people to learn about Al-Anon is that each group has a different personality. If you go and it doesn't feel right -- try another group. I think people give up before they give it a chance. Also, I think, for most people who go the first time -- they think they will learn how to get the alcoholic to stop drinking. Al-Anon is not about that. It's about learning how to take care of yourself. That's why they teach "letting go."

Thanks Syd, for always sharing your thoughts!

alice said...

Dear Linda

Thank you for your frank tone, your clear writing, and basically for sharing your talent for blogging with us.

When I first read your blog, I will admit, I was quite judgemental of the choice you had made to house Riley. But I chose to persist in reading and over the course of doing so I now understand perfectly and I respect you as a very strong woman doing something not many could.

I do hope that you are able to take care of yourself physically and emotionally as you deserve good health and the chance to spend many, many more years with Alea and the rest of your family.

You have helped me in my journey as an alcoholic in recovery. Reading about Riley has been eye-opening even for me, and I must say, fear-provoking, which can only be good. I am a chronic, relapsing alcoholic, but as time goes by I am getting better (2 relapses of 5 days in 2011). I love my parents dearly and they inspire my recovery when I feel low and don't want to do it for myself.

I have commented before but don't do so very often, partly because I am not the carer of an alcoholic. But I wanted to let you know I have you on my google reader and I really appreciate your posts.

Best Wishes,
Alice, 32, recovery alkie

The Immortal Alcoholic's Wife said...

Alice -- I have a sizable following by alcoholics, both active and recovering. You are welcome here and free to comment, e-mail, etc. I hope that you are able to get a firm grip on your sobriety and not end up in Riley's condition. There's a whole beautiful life out there without booze -- and YOU deserve to be a part of it. -- Linda

Gerry said...

I have two sons who have expressed that alcohol is a problem for them. One blogs (Cowboys and Bohemians) and I think has insights that other alcoholics might appreciate as well as caretakers. I appreciate Linda's on going account of her job looking after Riley. It is actually not a whole lot different from my sister's caretaking of her husband who as a heavy smoker has experienced increasingly worse effects. He has now lost one leg and must have a lung biopsy because he has a tumor. She just e-mailed me this morning he got half way out his chair and into bed and they both had meltdowns. She had to call her daughter to try to talk her dad into continuing to complete the process of getting into bed. He is experiencing terrible back pain and his pain management doctor just told him he thought this increasing pain might be from the cancer metastasized which he says is common with lung cancer. I sure dont envy her job of caretaker for a heavy smoker! Doc, my companion, is more independent. I only spend part of the day with him, but that is very important to him and I can't miss or cut it short or he is sulky and feels deprived even if he is contributing to his own isolation with his drinking.
In this complex many disabled obese reside and caretaker to one of those in the advanced stages of their medical problems would be daunting, so there are more heavy addictions than alcoholism that can cause big problems. I say our society has to strive a lot harder for good all the way around health habits because that is the best way to have a less misery filled old age. As a caretaker I have an addiction to food and so did my sister. We both have striven for more control than we had. I strive not to need a caretaker at 80. Doc has been helpful when I have been overcome with chronic fatigue, bouts of which I have had since childhood caused from an extremely stressful alcoholic father problem who went from crisis to crisis, including nearly bleeding out from a perforated ulcer. So I would say all caretakers need support, and writing is a good way to try to get that support as you are doing, Linda. While offering support to others.

Gerry said...

I have two sons who have expressed that alcohol is a problem for them. One blogs (Cowboys and Bohemians) and I think has insights that other alcoholics might appreciate as well as caretakers. I appreciate Linda's on going account of her job looking after Riley. It is actually not a whole lot different from my sister's caretaking of her husband who as a heavy smoker has experienced increasingly worse effects. He has now lost one leg and must have a lung biopsy because he has a tumor. She just e-mailed me this morning he got half way out his chair and into bed and they both had meltdowns. She had to call her daughter to try to talk her dad into continuing to complete the process of getting into bed. He is experiencing terrible back pain and his pain management doctor just told him he thought this increasing pain might be from the cancer metastasized which he says is common with lung cancer. I sure dont envy her job of caretaker for a heavy smoker! Doc, my companion, is more independent. I only spend part of the day with him, but that is very important to him and I can't miss or cut it short or he is sulky and feels deprived even if he is contributing to his own isolation with his drinking.
In this complex many disabled obese reside and caretaker to one of those in the advanced stages of their medical problems would be daunting, so there are more heavy addictions than alcoholism that can cause big problems. I say our society has to strive a lot harder for good all the way around health habits because that is the best way to have a less misery filled old age. As a caretaker I have an addiction to food and so did my sister. We both have striven for more control than we had. I strive not to need a caretaker at 80. Doc has been helpful when I have been overcome with chronic fatigue, bouts of which I have had since childhood caused from an extremely stressful alcoholic father problem who went from crisis to crisis, including nearly bleeding out from a perforated ulcer. So I would say all caretakers need support, and writing is a good way to try to get that support as you are doing, Linda. While offering support to others.

jo said...

this was a good blog, linda. a great reminder,,which i seem to need every few days. i just lose my coping skills...its so endless and repetitive...and did i say endless?

it may be a ongoing process...detach...cope...im not sure we can ever really finish it and do it 100%.

i had a bad experience with al anon, so i dont have it as a resource. mine was full of the "just leave him" types and that i was sicker than he was. nice...i obviously had never thought of this, right.

so anyways. thanks for the reminders. caretaking a end stage addict is so diff than caretaking someone with cancer...i have done both and its not the same at all. the physical might be but the mental is not at all.

Wanda said...

Nice post. I feel so in sync with you Linda. We are same age and husbands seem to have lots of similarities as well as our physical ailments and I do think they are worse for the lack of putting self in high priority. Husband just went through detox for 6th time in last two years.
Was in hospital 23 days and 16 days in nursing home rehab. This summer was same thing, three weeks in hospital and 3 in nursing home rehab and then 30days inpatient alcohol rehab. Was sober 6 weeks in between. Went to 2 AA meetings when he came home but he doesn't think "those people" are like him--they have finanacial and family problems (DENIAL DENIAL DENIAL) Like a dumbass I go every day to hospital bringing him what he wants and needs. ENABLER! My kids say I do all the work and he plays country club and reaps the rewards for his poor choices. He is home since Dec. 23 and Home Health coming twice a week for PT for poor balance. He has had hundreds of falls and I dread relapse and the sleepless nights. He is a complete loner (I am social) and doesn't have interest in anything anymore. Used to be smart, talented and educated but retired at 50 and now has Wernicki and some cirrohsis. thanks for all your blogging. Keeping me from insanity.

jo said...

alice , may i post this to you?

a word of congrats for your recovery. it takes guts, and strength and you chose life! im so proud of you for that. all Gods blessings to you and on your path.