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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, March 22, 2012

Negativity breeds reflection...

I had a pretty productive day yesterday and was away from the house for six hours --  that’s SIX or 6 long hours! That’s the longest I’ve been away in the past couple of months. Although I had a lot of errands to run, the time out was pretty darn great. Never mind that I spent at least an hour being lost in a commuting nightmare maze causing me to drive in circles. Never mind that because I couldn’t decide where I wanted to eat, I didn’t eat at all. That didn’t faze me in even a little bit. I was happy that I was not anxiously watching the clock. I enjoyed my taste of freedom and will not hesitate to do it again.

When I got home, I read all the comments from yesterday’s post. Thank all of you for your continuing support. But, the e-mails were certainly another story. I guess it is easier to send an e-mail when there is something negative that you want to say. That’s OK. I welcome the e-mail and if they are negative, they force me to stand back and take an objective look. Negative e-mails are just as good as the positive, Maybe it’s easy for me to say that because I get a lot more positive than negative. Either way, I guess, just like Lucy, I have a little ‘splanin’ to do…
First I want to address the money issue. I’m definitely not in this for the money – in fact there is NO money. Riley is NOT a wealthy man and when he came to stay with me I actually had more income than he did. He benefited from that immensely. Caretaking an end-stage alcoholic is not the most rewarding way for a gold-digger to dig.
As the spouse of a retired military man, I WILL receive his retirement pay no matter what. Even if I had not taken him back in, I would still have receive 55% of his regular military retirement check right up to the day I die – even if I was to re-marry. That was never an issue or a reason for taking him back. Anything additional I would receive thru VA only amounts to a couple hundred dollars.
The Veterans Administration disability compensation is something he should have applied for way back 20 years ago. But, neither of us knew it was ever an option until a few months ago. I applied for it because it is money that is due him. The secondary reason was that I would be able to hire a personal aide for him which would help both him and me. It would mean he would not have to go to a care facility at all. He could live out the rest of his life in the manner he wants. It doesn’t amount to a lot of money at the most $3K at the least $1K. That is the difference between a full-time aide and a part-time aide. The other benefit of having the VA money is that I’d have enough upon his death to give him a proper memorial service in the place he loved the most -- CA. As it is presently, I will have enough to get him cremated and turned over to the Navy for burial at sea.
Even if Riley isn’t going to continue to live with me, the VA money gives me the means to be able to visit him in whatever facility he resides.  He will most likely be in West Virginia. That’s a long drive for me, so visits have to be multi-day events rather than once a week. I’d prefer for those visits to be at least once a month rather than once every three or four months. I won’t abandon him – I don’t want him to be alone. It is the right thing to do.
When I took Riley in, I had a simple task to perform. All I had to do was take care of him while he was dying. Believe me, he was extremely close. My plan was to give him a soft place to die. It was his choice to die – not mine. The problem with the plan is that as humans we have a tendency to preserve life. I think it is a natural instinct to try to save someone when you know that just a few moments of hesitation will end the breathing of another human being. So my plan to let him die failed and instead of having him with me for a few months, I have ended up with him for several years after the day he entered to my home. More than a few months was never in my plan. He was supposed to come to me and then die. But, he didn’t die. I didn’t prepare a Plan B because I really didn’t think I needed one.
One part of the plan was successful. My daughter no longer has the notion that she will take care of her father. Although, if push came to shove – I know she would step in. If something happened to me, she would take over. But, outwardly, she will not take him just because he is her father – she will only take him if there is no other choice. I’m extremely happy for that.
Now I want to address the issue to those of you who seem to think that I’ve spent all this time trying to get Riley to desire sobriety, detox, go to rehab and share a happy loving life with me. Out of all the e-mails, I think those were the ones that bothered me the most. Because if you think that’s what I want, you have not read all my posts. And even if you have read all the posts – and still believe I keep him with me as an attempt to reclaim my marriage – WELLthe 60s must have been so good to you that you have not fully recovered from those years yet.
I cannot say strongly enough that Riley’s sobriety is Riley’s responsibility. Whether he drinks or not is his choice. Life or death is his choice. He has made his choices clear and I’m not in this to try to foster sobriety for him. I have never had any delusions that I can get him to live a sober life. After all, how many times do we have to go thru detox and rehab before everyone understands that it’s just not the path that he wants to take? I’m not in this to try to save him from an alcoholic death. I just want him to have a peaceful transition into the afterlife.
Just for the record... if you wonder why I do the things I do, read my post "Why don't I just..."
I have no dream of a life from the past as Riley’s wife. Even if he were stone cold sober for more than 10 years – Riley and I have NO future together as a loving married couple. Riley is the father of my children and we have remained friends through the years. But, there are things from the past that are way beyond what I’ve written in this blog. My book, The Immortal Alcoholic’s Wife contains much of the information that might show why I can never be a REAL wife to him again.  You would also have to read the book to truly understand why taking on the role as caretaker has been the natural thing to do. I’m still trying to write the closing chapter, but I don’t know yet how it ends.
I must admit that I have gotten a bit off the path with Riley. Over the past few months, I’ve been where I am in a “Frog Soup” kinda thing. Since Riley was last in the hospital, I have lost my focus – which was to give him a soft place to die. Somehow, I was thinking that if I could keep him alive long enough to get the VA money, I could keep him here so he could die here in this soft place. If he died before the app was approved – well OK. I’ve still accomplished what I set out to do. If he continued in a downward spiral, I would have to put him in a long term care facility – a cold impersonal atmosphere without his rocking chair or dog or computer. For his own personal comfort home is best. Unfortunately, it is not what is best for me.
It’s not just a matter of letting him go and live on his own to set him up to hit bottom. The only bottom for Riley is death. As a member of the human species, no matter what Al-Anon says, there comes a time when letting go is only acceptable under certain circumstances. Where things change is when he can no longer take care of himself even in sobriety. When even in sobriety, his brain has become so permanently damaged that he makes choices that harm other people. In my humble opinion, since he lives with me, I have a responsibility to try to control the havoc he will wreak upon society. I will not just say –“ here’s your car keys – you’re on your own buddy.” Instead I’ll just keep working plan after plan until I finally discover how to make sure he’s safe and make sure my life doesn’t get destroyed in the process.  I have let go of any possibility that Riley will ever live on his own again. I have let go of any hope that he will ever want to be a responsible, caring, active member of society.
Something happened in my head when I heard the words – I truly believe he has less than three months. I wanted to provide him comfort and make his last few months as happy as possible. I cooked his favorite foods and when he said he would like to have something, anything, I went out of my way to make sure he got it. I spent some time watching his TV programs in the den with him – programs that I dislike after years of watching the same re-runs over and over again. I did everything for him. WHY?? Because I lost my way. I was so intent on providing for him, I forgot about providing for myself. Riley has been a dying man for many years now. I have come to my senses and realize that giving him a soft place to die doesn’t mean I should be left in a hard place.
But, Riley has proven to be immortal – time and time again, he has returned to be a problem for several more years. Sending him to a long term care facility means he will detox and be in the center for several years or possibly for the rest of his life. I don’t know if he will die there. But, what I do know is that I will have my life back. My depression is lifting and I feel the fight coming back from hibernation.
Ahhhh – this feels good.


jo said...

linda, please read this link. you may want to do a blog post on it. it is hugely helpful and helped me see a lot.


COMPASSION FATIGUE. a type of ptsd. i have it, you have it, we prob all do.

its extremely hard to not get caught in it. this article is about a dear 99 yr old man who tended to his 102 wife till she died.

other than that, you will always get those who attack us. i have plenty on a list. lol. they dont get it, hell, we dont get it! but who cares, its not their life or their business. i wish mine had a few million in insurance. ! he doesnt have enough to bury him. the VA gets that one.

please check out the link about this.

Gerry said...

I think just being a companion to an alcoholic is hazardous even if you live in your own apartment and try to confine your visits to before noon because afterwards the alcohol tends to take over. I am glad to hear that you are going to think more about yourself as that is healthier it seems to me. Your life is just as important as his life and you should not have to sacrifice that much for his. So I am glad you are rethinking this because of how depressed and down you got to feeling. You need to survive him the worst way! So we can chalk up one more victory to sobriety and sanity. I always thought it was important, too, not to let the alcoholics in my life triumph. I had to find a way to bring home to them this was not a good life style to inflict on the people you say you care about! But I like to see people struggling to try to subdue the beast of alcoholism any way they can. It makes me feel better about life and people! You are an inspiration, Linda, so keep on struggling for sure to keep this man from outliving you!

Syd said...

Glad that you are taking care of yourself and had that outing. That must have felt so good. I know that people get lost in care taking. My cousin's wife has done that--he has glioblastoma multiforme, was supposed to die, but is still living after 5 years. It is a miracle that he is alive, but sadly his wife has given up her life to care for him.
I may not understand all that you are going through but I will write my thoughts in the comments, not in some anonymous email. It is your life and you have to live it as best you can.

Anonymous said...

Dear Linda,
Your posts have been a window into what it is like to care for an end-stage alcoholic.

Just a window, not a webcam.

Glad to hear you have chosen to re-frame the negative feedback. We are inspired by your insights, and remain hopeful that you carve a positive, healthy life for yourself while managing Riley's care. God Bless.

Ann said...

I wish this blog had a "LIKE" icon! Welcome back......

tieropasvmii said...

I hear you saying 'I've tried EVERYTHING but it all amounts to nothing, won't someone please, please help me? ' you are such a good woman for doing what you did. I know the feeling of trying everything and they never come back, even a little bit. So you hold on to the fractured remains and just try to make it okay. Oh Linda, I understand. I'm sorry.