Thursday, September 6, 2012
Slip but don't fall...
I was told that a friend’s husband recently returned to drinking after a year of sobriety. My friend was a bit miffed at me because I didn’t seem surprised. In fact, I said that it was predictable. This is a case of me speaking without thinking. I should have consoled her and supported her, but instead I just spouted out the facts. When a woman is distraught, she seldom wants to be slapped in the face with something as useless as “facts.” I took a mental step back and put my logical mind on hold. I hugged her and told her I was sorry that her husband was being a jerk. That was what she needed and that was what I provided after realizing that I was also being a jerk.
However, facts are facts. This had been her husband’s first time through rehab and it is quite common for first-timers to “test the water” – so to speak. They may not be totally convinced that they are alcoholics so they have a glass of wine with dinner or a beer with the pizza. Most times those seemingly innocent slips turn into another descent toward the bottom. Sometimes they are able to stop and realize what they are doing is destructive and other times it just gets increasingly worse.
For the family and friends there is a process of discovery and acceptance of the relapse. When an alcoholic goes through rehab, the family is elated with the possibilities of returning to a normal, sober life. They envision rekindling of relationships, professional success, and the ability to have everyone seated around the dinner table for a meal. It’s almost like a honeymoon with all the expectations of a wonderful life ahead.
It’s because of this “honeymoon” that we don’t want to believe that the alcoholic has returned to drinking. We don’t trust our instincts because we want more than anything to be wrong. Our instincts tell us something is wrong. We see the signs, but close our eyes. We are afraid to confront the alcoholic with our suspicions because we don’t want to upset them and make them so angry that they stomp off to the nearest liquor store. In our minds we think that if we accuse the alcoholic of drinking and they are not that they are so fragile, they just might start drinking.
This is where things get a bit insane. We need proof. They only way to confront the alcoholic is to have solid irrefutable evidence that the alcoholic has in fact returned to drinking. We search the house, car, yard, or anywhere else that might contain a hidden bottle of booze. We check the bank account for liquor store activity. We might even follow them or set up baby cams. We begin to obsess over where they are and what they are doing. Then when we confront the alcoholic they might just point to the recent activity and ask – who’s the crazy one?
Most often our instincts are correct. It’s that feeling in our guts that tell us the truth. A spouse just “knows” when their mate is cheating. In the case of an alcoholic the booze is what they are cheating with and just like an affair – we know. Proof is good to have, but we wouldn’t be looking for proof if we didn’t already know.
Unfortunately, most alcoholics are hesitant to freely admit they have returned to drinking. They give excuses and tell the family that they are wrong. They think they are smarter than everyone else and no one will know what they are doing. So they make it difficult for us to help them find their way back before they are in so deep that they cannot get out. It’s a sad situation.
The one thing that must be remembered is that it is very common for alcoholics to relapse. The relapse in and of itself is not the big issue. What is important is what happens afterwards. If the alcoholic is able to see it as a relapse and not an end, they may be able to get back into the sobriety arena. Sometimes a slip is just a slip and with a little stop and rebalance, they can get stay on the road that leads to a healthy life.
Families and friends have slips also. They have a slip back to the insanity of micro-observing everything the alcoholic does. In their valiant attempts to keep things going in the right direction, they get off their own path to sanity. In their search for “proof” they may do things they wouldn’t think of doing otherwise. At these times we must remember a slip is just a slip and not an end. The sooner we regain our balance, the more likely our lives will be less insane.
In the case of my friend’s husband, she was able to stop the search for proof by getting her husband into a situation where he was unable to run from the conversation. She then told him that she knew he had been drinking and that she wanted to help him over this bump in his sobriety road. Of course, he resisted and insisted that she was wrong. He wanted to know what proof she had. She calmly told him she didn’t need proof because she had her instincts to tell her that the man she loved was heading for trouble. She told him that he was the love of her life and she knew him better than anyone else and knew when things were “off.” And things were not right. She also told him that slips and relapses were common in the early years of sobriety and that she would provide him whatever support he needed to make sure would be able to enjoy their life together. She told him that if he decided not to get help and return to sobriety, she would leave him because, although he is the love of her life, alcohol took that person away and she didn’t want to live with the drunk.
He did not stop drinking. Within a month, my friend packed up her things and moved out. She left him in his drunkenness and set up housekeeping elsewhere. Only a few weeks after that, he went back into rehab and has been clean and sober for about a year. My friend has not returned to the family home yet. The couple are talking and “courting” and enjoying their time together.
This couple’s story may have a fairy-tale ending. Or not. Only time will tell.
In my opinion, my friend did the right thing. She confronted, offered help and ended with a consequence which she put into action. She presented herself in a sane manner and showed strength in not letting him turn the conversation into ranting and arguing. Inside she may have been a quivering mess of Jello, but outside she was strong and determined. She was able to maintain her sanity.
It sounds so very easy. Trust me – it is anything but easy. It’s never easy to confront an alcoholic or to leave your soul-mate. For most spouses of alcoholics, my friend’s scenario would not go down as it did for her. When dealing with alcoholism we must always expect the unexpected and be prepared for unpredictability.
at 8:43 AM