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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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Abandoning the abandoner...

Yesterday I commented on a comment to my “Run for the Hills” post. I was hasty. I should have waited for the commenters words to trickle down before I wrote what I did. I won’t take it back. It’ll stay as a comment to a comment. But, I think there is some ‘splain’ to do.

Let’s break this down:


In my opinion, I cannot abandon someone who doesn’t want me around. That’s not abandonment; instead it’s granting them what they want. How many times have I heard Riley say “Just leave me alone?” If I walk away when he says that, am I abandoning him? I don’t think so. Recently I have been giving him what he has so vehemently desired – to be left alone to drink himself to death in the manner of his own choosing.

The hard truth is that I abandoned Riley more than 15 years ago when I walked out the door after he abandoned me and his children many times over the years.  He would disappear for days or sometimes weeks, no phone calls, no note – just gone. It didn’t matter if our family was in crisis or some other life changing event was taking place with the children – I could never depend on him to be there. There always had to be a ‘Plan B’ in case he didn’t show up for an event that required his presence. As the kids got older, we stopped planning on having him around for Thanksgiving dinners or family vacations.  Our Plan B changed to one of if he DID show up rather than he didn’t. Riley has a history of being the abandoner rather than the abandonee. This is not just my opinion; it is a hard and true, honest to goodness fact.

In research I’ve done and through the OARS group, I have learned that abandonment is a huge issue for the caretakers of end-stage alcoholics. Throughout the years of drinking that leads up to end-stage, the alcoholic abandons the people who love them many times and in many ways. The alcoholic will become self-centered and being with loved ones drops off the priority list. Their personalities morph into someone we would not want inside our homes. By virtue of continuing to drink, the alcoholics abandon everyone around them in favor of a liquid mistress – alcohol. It may not be that way for ALL, but it is for MOST.

And what does constitute abandonment anyway? If I go away overnight to visit my grandbabies, is that abandonment? Do I abandon Riley every time I go to run errands and do grocery shopping which leaves him alone for about four hours during the day? Is it abandonment if I go to the mountains to recharge my batteries and renew my strength so that I can remain sane in the midst of this insanity? I don’t think so. When I take that time away from Riley, I am far more able to deal with his nonsense when I return. Doesn’t that benefit him?

Riley is at death’s door. Hospice will be here today to see how they can provide assistance over the next six months while we wait for nature to take its course.  The biggest downfall to being a caretaker is that the act of taking care of the dying person is extremely stressful resulting in stress related illnesses. That’s why it is important for caretakers to take that little break and run away from all the chaos for a short time. In fact, hospice often promotes these breaks and offers a means to make them happen. 

I do not feel guilty about planning a retreat or going to DC for the NIAA meeting in June. I do not feel guilty about going to visit my grandbabies. I do not feel guilty about wanting to have a life of my own even when Riley’s life is ending. Over the years, Riley has been told by everyone who ever knew him, that he will die a lonely old man with no one to hold his hand in his final moments if he did not change his ways. Riley didn’t change his ways. If he dies while I’m temporarily “running away” the prophecy will become fact.

I have compassion for the people who are in difficult situations in all walks of life. My two favorite charities are related to Duchene Muscular Dystrophy and Autism. But to ask me to have compassion for someone who only feels an emotional bond out of necessity is more than I have to give. I have shown far more compassion by providing Riley a soft, safe place to die than I would have shown if he had been left to die somewhere in a San Francisco Bay Area gutter. This Riley is not the man that I would lay down my life for as he was in a previous life. That loving generous man is gone and I’m left with a shell of a man devoid of emotion or empathy. I confess it’s damn hard for me to muster up any compassion for his situation.

We all come into the world by ourselves – unless we have a twin or triple or whatever – even then the trip down that birth canal only has room for one at a time. So we come in alone and we go out alone. No matter who is in the room, they are not going to accompany us into the afterlife. If we believe in God and Heaven, there will be ones who have gone before us waiting to ease us into the other side. It is not a place for us mere mortals. The only thing I can do in this life is watch him as his life ends. As Riley slips off, will I tell him I love him and will miss him when I know I won’t? You won’t hear those words coming from my lips. Riley lost that comfort when he stopped caring what anyone else feels.

Dr. White warned me that I might not be able to see it through when Riley is in the process of actually dying. He told me it is not a pretty sight. In fact, it could be quite disturbing. If Riley simply closes his eyes and drifts off, like my son did, his death will be a gentle passing. It is what I pray for every day. On the other hand, Riley could go into a seizure, bleed out and his passing will be extremely painful and the natural instinct in me will want to save him. It’s not a pleasant thing to watch and that’s another way that hospice can step in. If he goes via the route of horror, they can take over for me.  In either event, Riley will probably not even know if I’m in the room. If Riley passes while I’m on a retreat, to me it is God’s way of saving me from the pain of watching another human die. God will take him when God is ready. I see no value in the cessation of my life while I wait for Riley’s to end.

The question has come up -- Are my posts real? Is my blog real? I am just a human trying to make sense of insanity. Everything I write in the blog is absolutely real in my life. I write about how I see things and my opinions. I write about my experiences in my entire life. I do not use my real name out of respect for other family members who have asked me to remain anonymous. If it were not for them – I would even use my real identity. If it seems that  I vacillate from one idea to another, it is because as humans’ our opinions, ideas, and situations change. That’s the way life is. That’s the way I am.

However, there is more to my life than just what I put into the blog. There are parts of my life that you will never see here and maybe those parts would explain a lot for my readers. But they are in my book, The Immortal Alcoholic’s Wife. The book is completely written, except for the ending chapter. I’m struggling with that because I don’t know if it should end with Riley’s death or while waiting for his death. But, the book will show how I was groomed from childhood to be a caretaker. It details the romance between Riley and I which began my journey in Riley World. It explains how I learned what I have learned about alcoholism and shows the progress of Riley’s decline. It’s all there. I’m ready to bare my life to the world. I just have to get an ending.

A friend told me I was procrastinating. She says that the end doesn’t have to be with Riley’s death. She says that if I finish the book and publish it that I might feel there was no longer a need for the blog. She thinks that deep down, I don’t want to stop the blog and so I hesitate on publishing the book. I don’t know if she is right – but right now I have a need to keep reaching out and helping others. It’s what helps me make sense of the insanity. The blog will continue.


ADDY said...

You don't need to apologise or explain. You are doing the best you can to survive. I used to take frequent (essential) breaks from Greg, sometimes away a week at a time, to visit my mum who also needs my help. I figured that if anything happend to him, while I was away, it was his choosing. The end will not be pleasant. I can vouch for that. At that point, you are best to deliver him to the hospice and let the professionals take over. I too have a book still in draft, as even though the end came, I could not bring myself to publish it. One day I shall,but am not ready even yet, two years after his death. I wish you strength to carry on.

Kitty said...

I too was groomed to be a caretaker somehow. Now that my husband no longer needs me taking care of him as much as i used to, I've substituted a 20 year old man as a "son" to take care of.
Funny how we play out our life roles as if we had no choice.

Syd said...

Needing time for yourself is essential. It is in any relationship whether it is with an alcoholic or a normal person. I think that is healthy. I think that gauging when Riley will die is a bit macabre. I don't think any of us knows that and as I've commented before, my FIL is still alive with liver failure at 91.

Kibble said...

Abandon is a loaded word. The notion that you would be abandoning Riley by taking a break so that you could return and better care for him is absurd. But justifying leaving him by holding up the fact that he has told you to go away doesn’t make sense, either. He’s no better equipped to make decisions for himself than a toddler. Now it can be argued that he drank himself into that position, but it doesn’t matter, that’s where he is. Which is not to say that you’re obligated to remain by his side whispering words of love and reassurance until he dies. You have provided that soft spot to land to the very best of your ability, and in order for him to get more, he would have need to have given more.

What I’ve seen happen here is that you decided to stop prolonging the suffering, his and yours. You used objectivity and decided that he no longer has quality of life living in an excrement smeared, delusional world, and in any case you will suffer irreparable harm in maintaining him there in the manner you have in the past. Yet, you took no action to end his life, you merely are prepared to allow the decision that he made again and again when he WAS still rational (and continues to make today) to have natural consequences. Perhaps you saw his fluorescent yellow eyes and realized that train had left the station after gathering steam for such a very long time, and you effected your next level of disengagement

You will always run into those who feel you did too much or didn’t do enough. The law in these cases, fortunately, is based in large part on what a reasonable person would do, and if God forbid anyone ever alleged wrong doing on your part, the blog is a sterling record of your painstaking efforts to do the right thing. I believe you have been law abiding, and I think you have made the right decision, but that doesn’t matter, only you can decide what’s right here.

To me, you have already written the ending to your book. You have been waiting on him while waiting for him to die. Recently, you stopped waiting ON him while you waited FOR him. Your response to his death, the predictable result of his choices, while a huge event, feels like a different book to me. But your blog will continue to be very important as you deal, after his death, with the ramifications of your own choices. I hope you continue to blog after you publish the book because your words are a beacon for so many in the same spot.

Anonymous said...

I am not eloquent with my words like so many others, but just know that there are many of us out there that know just how you feel. This situation is not something that anyone would wish on their worst enemy. No one should cast judgement until they have walked a mile in the ugly, ugly shoes that you are wearing. They will, but they shouldn't. If I have come away from my husbands alcoholism with nothing else, I have learned not to be so judgemental of others. Thanks for being REAL and putting the horrible details out there that most are too embarrassed or scared to share. It helps people like me who have at times also worn some pretty damn ugly shoes to feel less alone in the journey.

muddleglum said...

Just passing through...

Abandon is a manipulative word in the mouths of many.

I have fun with words, and when my wife (a caretaker type) goes to help others, I enjoy saying, "my wife left me." I then say where she went and why. I'm proud of her role and choose to think that it is my own, much more humble, role to support her.

All this to say that you hadn't "abandoned" your husband. You are showing him love and compassion, but because the feelings have fled, you wonder. Don't count on your feelings.

My wife has left me. My feelings are self-centered, but my mind is clear. She's DOing GOOD.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is a bright light for me BECAUSE it swings and switches and is troubled by your real circumstances. It isn't a self help exercise, it's truthfully ambivalent. long term caring of any sort involves messy feelings, and when the person you're looking after is self destructive the feeling are even messier.

you are brave and doing your best, that's clear.

all the best

Gabriele Goldstone said...

So you feel guilty. But I think you're quite capable of forgiving yourself. In time.

Your Riley left a long time ago. Now it's just that horrible disease - possessing your man like a demon.

Why would your book stop you from writing this blog?
How can you predict how you'll feel when this is all over?

hyperCRYPTICal said...

Linda – I do so apologise for not visiting your blog within the last two weeks or indeed OARS as family circumstances have prevented much of my blog activity.

I have read your latest posts and must admit that they have deeply affected me to the point where tears have been rolling down my cheeks (and there is some still trying to squeeze themselves out from the corners of my eye).

Until finding your blog (and also Addy’s), I had no concept whatsoever of the hell of those sharing their lives with an alcoholic - for I only have experience caring for ex-alcoholics or those still dependent in a care home setting, who have no contact with their families whatsoever.

I agree with Addy in that you do not have to justify your actions – you have made a decision that is right for you and right for Riley – the time has come when you have a right to say enough is enough.

As always, you have my total admiration and respect.


Beth said...

Dear Linda,

I know I haven't been around much lately, but you are never far from my thoughts. I drop into OARS frequently and do keep up on what is going on. I think the idea of the retreat is a wonderful thing! I believe you are handling Riley's decline in a truly graceful manner and feel you owe yourself some peace. You have gone above and beyond what most would do and have lived in utter chaos brought on by another human being longer than any one person deserves. You have done for Riley what you set out to do....give him a soft and caring place to complete his mission. He has made it clear for years what his intentions are and he is accomplishing it.

When my A was at his worst I said to him many times that the hardest part (and there were many very hard parts) was watching him kill himself. There were many times that I wished he would just pass because it was too hard watching him deteriorate slowly, not to mention the misery he put me and the kids through while doing it. As you said in your blog, there was abandonment, but it was him that abandoned us for his mistress alcohol. We have discussed our mutual struggles many times so I know you understand. Fortunately he made the choice to get sober and so far so good! We went shopping the other day and were having a normal conversation and I was overcome with the fact that I was having a normal conversation with this man that hadn't been able to carry on one for more years than I care to think about. I told him as much. That it was just so nice to be able to do that, and enjoy being in his company. I know the bottom could drop out at any moment, but for now I'm just trying to enjoy being with a husband that wants to live. That I can talk to, and laugh with.

Linda, I admire you so much, and am so very grateful to you for sharing your trials with all of us. You helped me through so many dark times just knowing I wasn't alone. What I want most for you is peace in any form it takes. What I want for Riley is peace in passing, since I know that will give you peace. Take care of yourself Linda. If finances allow I will be at the retreat, if for no other reason than to actually meet you face to face!

jo said...

we do not estimate their time of death in a macabre way.

for me, it is a way to cope, to feel in control, and a idea this is not gonna go on forever, even tho it may well do so.