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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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Head for the hills!

Last night, I dreamed I was on a tropical island basking in the sun while reading a book and sipping on one of those fruity drinks with a paper umbrella. Off in the distance was a huge green and white striped canopy tent. The mosquito netting hanging from the edge of the roof was gently swaying in the breeze. I was relaxed and the thought came to me that I was glad I had run away…

Wait!! Oh yeah!! This was just a dream. When I opened my eyes I was face to face with Jax. A timid “meow” was his way of telling me it was time to get up. I rolled over and closed my eyes again hoping to recapture that feeling of being in some faraway place. It didn’t happen. It was time to return to reality.

Everyone has their favorite “running away” fantasy. Mine would not be on a tropical island – but hey – that’s what my sleeping brain gave me at the time. I would prefer a secluded mountain cabin near a lake or creek. It would be fall so I could have the fireplace roaring with bright flames. It would be cool but not cold during the day so I could take walks amidst the falling leaves. I would have several books with me to read at my leisure. There would be hot cider and apples with cheese. That’s my fantasy runaway destination.

I remember when I was a very young girl – maybe six years old or so – I got angry with my parents and brothers for some misdeed that I felt was unforgivable. At six years old, that could have been anything from not getting the last piece of chocolate cake to having help with kitchen clean-up. It really doesn’t matter why I was angry, but I just was.

I had had all my six-year-old humiliation I could take. That was it. I was going to run away from home. I yelled the announcement to my Mom and asked her if I could use her suitcase. She told me I could have the case and then helped me pack a few vital items. Clean underwear, my toothbrush, my favorite doll, and some books all went into that case. I snatched it off my bed and headed out the door. My Mom, asked if she could have a kiss goodbye and I obliged.

Out the front door I went. I had no idea where I was going, but gosh darn it I had just had enough of living with mean people. I got to the corner where my street ended at the big truck-route highway. So which way should I go? Where would I go? I wondered what was for dinner that night or breakfast the next morning. I sat on my suitcase and thought about my next move. Then I picked up the suitcase, turned around and headed back home. When you’re six there truly is no place like home.

Riley runs away often. It has been his motis operandi for as long as I have known him. He has run away from every person he has ever loved from his parents to his children. It’s what he does. He has run away with almost every one of the women with whom he shared an affair. He has run way to and with friends and shipmates. He has also taken off to parts unknown as a lone adventure. He especially likes to run away when he is faced with a difficult decision or a decision he has made puts him into a position where he must take responsibility. I used to say he was the incredible disappearing man.

Not much has changed over the years. Riley is still running away. It is my understanding that for most alcoholics, the alcohol is a pain medication that helps them deal with something so painful in their past that they must anesthetize themselves. That in itself is running away. In Riley’s case he is about to take that ultimate runaway route. He’s running from something so pain that feels the only way out is death. I have no idea what is causing his pain. Many people, far more knowledgeable than I, have tried to figure it out and none have succeeded.   Whatever it is, it is something he can’t be honest about in order to get past or over it.

We all run away at some point in our lives. If we don’t run away physically, we do it mentally. It’s that daydream that we escape to in the middle of a boring day. It’s the vacation with the family after a year of hard work. It’s being in the bathtub and asking Calgon to take us away.  It’s when I write something fictional or when I write about some great, happy, memory from my past. It’s different things to different people. It’s a normal part of our existence as long as our entire life doesn’t center on the running away rather than reality.

I have a plan… yeah! Big surprise, right?!?... I’m about to run away. I’m going to find that mountain cabin and I’m going to spend a few days in solitary delight. Well… I won’t be alone. Instead I’ll be sharing the seclusion with members of the OARS F&F Group. It will be the first ever retreat for caretakers, family or friends of end-stage alcoholics. If this retreat goes well, it will be followed by others in different parts of the country.

Imagine that you’ve been dealing with a difficult end-stage alcoholic and had the opportunity to run away for just a couple of days. Just the idea of having people around you that have walked in your footsteps provides a sense of unity. I envision sitting down to eat at a table without worrying about what’s going to be said that will ignite a volatile response. I hear laughter as we relate scenarios that others would find horrific. When we are all piling in our cars to return to reality, I see phone numbers exchanged, hugs, tears and leaving with friendships secured in concrete by the similarities of our situations. Now that’s one super way to run away.

This inaugural retreat is being planned for the late August or early September. It will be either in the Smoky or Blue Ridge Mountains at the edge of the western border of North Carolina. Arrival will begin as early as Thursday and departure will be on either Sunday or Monday. I haven’t really thought about the agenda or even if there should be an agenda. This is, after all, a retreat from chaos and not a boot camp.

At this moment I’m not sure of what the cost might be, but I’m thinking it would be around $250 all inclusive. That’s not bad for four days of sleeping space, food, and great companionship. It would depend on how many people RSVP. I do think it would be good to set a limit as to how many people would be attending. Keeping the group small allows the development of more solid relationships. In my mind I’m thinking there should be no more than 20 attendees at any given retreat.

These retreats are only open to members of the OARS F&F Group. If you aren’t a member, join now so you can take advantage of this opportunity to run away. You must have a Facebook account in order to join. If you do not have a FB account you must create one. I have started building a separate website for OARS, but it is not up and running yet.

Riley came in and joined me as I was writing this post. He asked what I was writing about today. I told him it was about running away in a healthy manner. He asked me what I wanted to run away from. I told him I was running away from insanity. Then he looked at me with those quizzical big brown eyes in a sea of yellow and asked who was insane? I told him I was and that was why I wanted to run away. Occasionally, in the midst of all this, Riley says something profound… “You can’t run away from yourself.” He then left my office and as he was shuffling out the door, I wondered… when had he discovered that fact?

I can’t run away from myself. But I can retreat from things causing me pain so that I can recharge and renew which will in turn help me deal with the insanity that lives in my real world.


Anonymous said...

Riley is terminally ill with alcoholism. If you are right, he is not in his own mind. In his mind your absence would be a sudden abandonment. Not sure how you do that...Not sure I could with my spouse. But not to judge but just to say running away is likely not the answer here if your blogs are real. Not that you have an obligation...but I think having compassion for the disabled is something to think about. Just some thoughts.

Linda -- Immortal Alcoholic's Wife said...

I agree that Riley would feel abandoned if I left at this very moment. But, there's a big difference between taking a break and leaving for good. In all actuallity, Riley will probably be gone by the time I get around to planning or finalizing the plans for a retreat. Riley is very close to the end. Hospice has been ordered. I won't leave him for any longer than 24 hours at a time and I would never leave him on his own.

The blog postings are absolutely real. My "running away" is simply taking a break to return with a renewed energy that I can devote to his care.

All caretakers, no matter what the illness, need to take breaks. It is not impossible to get someone in to oversee the ill person in order to be gone for 48 hours or so. If a caretaker never takes a break, they can wear down and become ill themselves.

Everyone runs away mentally at times. It's normal. It happens everyday to everyone and there is no shame in that. I love my little fantasy escapes that live in my mind. They make me smile and give me the strength to continue with me day.

Anonymous said...

bless you.

etheltest1 said...

In the process of running away from a sleepless night, worrying over my son I came across your blog. usually I think of water - the ooze of sand between my toes, the soft sound of water meeting the shore - it's not working tonight . My son is 31 he's been drinking for 14 years and I am so afraid he won't make it - I'm losing hope - though part of me says he will, he has to -but -there's been close calls-

This is the first post of The Immortal Alcoholic I've read - can't read anymore tonight - have to get a grip - have to get some sleep -I'm glad I found your blog though.

Anonymous said...

Dear ethesltest

I hope you are ok, hope you got some sleep, sending you my strength and warmest hugs, I pray that your son gets better. My brother is 34 and an alcoholic, recently stopped drinking for the last few weeks after antabuse, I know your pain, our misery could start any day if he relapses, so enjoying the peace, but still know the pain

Barb S. said...

My husband is 48 and drinks at least a 6 pack of beer every night...and that's on a good day. My biggest fear is that he will live to be Riley's age. I know it sounds mean and cold but I'm tired. It's been 25 years..I've raised 3 kids pretty much on my own along with damage control done by his drunken episodes.