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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, 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.


Unknown said...

Great post, Linda. It is good to be reminded that we need try to control our insanity (as related to the alcoholic) too. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Nice post.. Brought back memories of the first couple of rhabs my mom went to (yes first couple) we all had high hopes and were as you said afraid to confront her of our suspicions that she was drinking again. Whenever she came back from rehab we NEVER spoke about her drunken days/actions..it was taboo..looking back we should have gone on and on about how miserable she was to be around and how miserable and sad she was..should have kept bringing it up.. maybe? maybe would have kept her sober longer.. I doubt it but I think I am still wondering what IF I would ave done this or that.. Oh well. Good luck to you and to all our caregiver friends.

Anonymous said...

GREAT post, thanks! And that's true, it's NOT easy to do what she did, sit down calmly and offer that consequence, and then follow through with that decision. Good for her!!

Spent said...

Hi Linda, just started reading your blog. Sorry to post this here in comment section of your most current post, but I'm unable to navigate your blog and start at the beginning. I'm using a galaxy tablet - might that be the problem? Wouldnt surprise me at all if I just don't know what the heck I am doing... Anyway, if there is a link to the beginning of your blog or something I've overlooked, I hope I can be redirected.

Syd said...

Sometimes I know that I was crazier than the alcoholics in my life. I did all my insanity sober. Not proud of it but am thankful for knowing a better way than nagging and being a private detective. Boundaries and balance are important!

Anonymous said...

To the person who regrets not confronting mum with suspicions, let me put your mind at rest. Like you, after every detox I vowed to put all the bad stuff behind us and never cast it up to him. After 4 or 5 subsequent benders, I changed strategies that and started to remind him of the digusting things he'd done. Result? He said he only drank because I made him feel so bad. Drunks create no-win situations. They are always right, bad things are always someone else's fault.

I wish I could do what Linda's friend did, but my Other Half holds all the cards.He has put us through sheer hell over the last three years: he's had multiple hosptial visits, written off the car, been arrested for drunk driving and cost me my job because I couldn't rely on him (though he was at home all day) for child care or housework).

He'd been abstinent for 40 days, post detox, until the past weekend, when an idiot friend of mine offered him a drink after he walked her home from dinner at our place. She rang me to apologise and to warn me that he'd slugged half a bottle of vodka.

When he got home, I immediately confronted him - before he had the chance to lie - and offered to let this one go, since he hadn't actually gone seeking the alcohol himself. He was quite pleasant and agreed that the slip would end there and then.

Things were OK until yesterday afternoon. He was perfectly sober when I left home to collect my daughter from school at 2.30. An hour later, he met us getting off the bus, glassy-eyed, reeling and looking like a homeless person. My daughter asked him to go home, but he just followed us into shops and asked why we were being so nasty to him.

Later, I locked him out of the house (this was the agreed consequence if he every drank again), where he sat outside telling passers-by what a bitch I was. My daughter begged me to let him in before someone called the cops and, as we know from previous experience, they invariably call social services, who tell the school and leave your child feeling totally shamed and stigmatised. She's just started a new school and can't bear to go through that again.

I have no family and, thanks to him, no job and no money. Our only route out is through a battered women's hostel, to end up in some horrible estate with social workers crawling all over us.

He always wins. After today, he will probably treat us to a month or two off the booze, during which time he'll expect daily thanks and to be let off all household tasks in recognition of his multiple health problems (all caused by drink).

I have to acknowledge that, even at his worst, he isn't violent, just totally lazy, unhygenic and a disgrace to be associated with. Sorry for rambling - it's good to know I'm not the only one.

steph88 said...

I pray for a happy ending for your friend. My sister in law finally divorced my alcoholic brother after an almost three year separation. In his mind she is a monster that should have excepted him the way he is.. He is an angry person and their 2 daughters would be frightened of him when he was like that, which was every weekend. Now at 45 years of age, he is living with my parents in a different state and still pulling the same crap and my relationship with my parents is struggling because I refuse to take part in enabling him. It's so hard to deal with!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. My immortal drinks between .5 and 1.0 liters of vodka daily and still manages to assert that he has no drinking problem, I am simply overly-sensitive. I believe he actually believes this! I'm afraid I have become a bit of a "checker", as it is the only way to know the extent of the current situation.

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

To Spent -- You can go to the BLOG ARCHIVE on the left side of the screen. Click on 2010. That's where the blog started. You might be interested in The Immortal Alcoholic's Wife. There are things in the book that are not in blog and vice versa. The PDF version (which should work on your tablet) is for sale on the right side of the blog screen.

If that doesn't work, let me know and we'll figure something else out.

Thanks -- Linda

jo said...

anonymous...that is binge drinking. mine alternates with that but his last a week or more before he does his one day off to show everyone he can not drink.

i hear ya., they always win. i, too, have nowhere to go.

just know you arent alone.

Brian said...

I'm a severe alchholic, drinking 750 ml vodka each day when on a binge. This happens about 3 weeks after I run out of adaptogenic/immunological tea. To quit again, I simply keep a pot of tea on the stove and drink several cups a day. The first night I have the cold sweats, but otherwise wake up refreshed, calm, and relaxed. If I formulate a pound of tea, I don't drink at all for three months, but relapse about three weeks after discontinuing use of the tea. When I drink the tea I set and accomplish tasks and goals, smile, and feel good. When I don't have the tea my mind circles, I experience depression, my productivity goes down, and I relapse into deep alcohol use. Research shows this tea works on the hypothalamus-pituitary adrenal axis and relieves stress and depression. It also improves strength, mental clarity, balance, and mood. I obtained the formula in Russia in 1994 and add to it chaga, phellinus linteus, ganoderma lucidum, and triamedes versicolor from the woods here in Alaska. The Russian ingredients are eleutherococcus, rahponticum carthamoides, schizandra, rhodiolia, aralia, ginseng root, rose hips, St. John's wort, and licorice root. The tea is formulated the same as in Russian pharmacy, with the addition of the mushroom conks mentioned above that are harvested here in Alaska. The tea improves function of all 8 organ systems, improves skin conditions, immunological disorders (MS, Parkinson's, Arthritis, Chron's) and is known to improve cancer conditions. I have hundreds of pages of research that get very technical but the bottom line is this is some sort of miracle tea. It's also good for ptsd, add, hdhd. It is good for athletes and the aged. It noticibly changes my hair color from gray back to black. I wouldn't be alive without this tea, and write here now to convince myself to never run out again, it is just not worth it. The tea is my medicine for a happy, loving, and productive life, for without it I sink deeply, drink heavily, become depressed, and feel that life is not worth living. I would liike to make this tea available to others that want to improve their life.

Olesya said...

Don't give up. Sometimes it seems like it is very hard, but if you keep doing this you will be successful.

Anonymous said...

My parents were alcoholics. Most day when I came home from school, they were toast! Dad was an incohearent laughing mess as usual and mom was loopy. I was sick of it! Sick! I called one of my uncles (dad's brother) and cried my eyes out over the phone pretty much. About twenty minutes later, the frond door swung open and in he walked. He looked at my folks and shook his head. He asked me to go out to the car so I went. About fifteen minutes later, he came out and motioned for me to come in. I went back inside and he told me to get some clothes and things and asked me if i wanted to go home with him and my aunt. I was so happy about this at the time. I know he was doing his best to protect me from the madness of the situation but it went to far.It was years later I was told by family that my uncle lost his temper with them and punched them both out cold and put them in their bed to sleep it off. Two days later the police came and got me and took me back home. My parents were not upset with me at all. They were pretty upset with him though and I don't blame them I guess. It was all such a big mess you see and relations were strained at best for many years after that. Dad never talked to his brother again. Mom died about a year later and dad just gave up. He died about 8 months later and I spent the rest of my childhood with my uncle and aunt. They were fantastic people you see. Not that my parents were not. I guess everyone has a limit. Even a child. I was 9 and 10 years old during this mess. Needless to say, I do NOT drink! Never have, never will. It's poison in my opinion.

Jacqueline Moss said...

Linda, thank you for this excellent post! I'm a recovering alcoholic who spent four months in Rehab and had several slips this past summer. Your post helped me see things from my non-alcoholic boyfriend's perspective!