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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.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Forget about the alcoholic...

Over the past few months, it seems that my e-mail is over-flowing with letters relating that the alcoholic in their life has died. The mixture of both regret and relief is often the focus of the letter.

I like to call this passing of the alcoholic a “Gift of Freedom.” It is a gift of being able to regain a life without the insanity brought on by the alcoholic’s actions. It is an opportunity to reach for happiness in a new life. I don’t know how many times I have said, “I just want this to be over. If he’s going to die, just let him die.” Letting him die seemed like the most humane thing for everyone concerned. It would be Riley’s final gift to me.

I’m not alone in those thoughts. Almost everyone has used those words even if they were never truly vocalized. When we say/think it, we are only seeking relief from the immediate situation. The truth is that if the alcoholic could die and still leave behind the pre-alcoholic person – all our prayers would be answered. Unfortunately it does not work that way.

Once the loss has happened and we are gathered in a church, graveside, meeting room, or however it happens, we get the opportunity to eulogize our loved one. So what do you say about a person who showed up at your Junior Prom and knocked over the punch bowl? What do you say about a person who lost many jobs and all friends who did not share a penchant for inebriation? What do you say about a child who never really lived a full meaningful life past the age of 14? Instead of standing up and saying you’re happy the alcoholic is dead, what do you say?

While communicating with these people who have shared my experience of losing a loved one, I found that what we say and do is never about the alcoholism. We talk about the person before the alcohol took over. We share funny little anecdotes and memories of a time long ago. We silently put to rest the alcoholic and focus on the person.

In my opinion, it’s about the only thing we can do. No one wants to brow beat the dead. What good would that do? I have an image of a two-part cartoon of a wife shaking her fist at her husband and saying, “If you don’t stop, the drink is gonna kill you!” The husband responds that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The next frame is the wife standing over her husband’s open grave which is littered with booze bottles. She has a tissue to her eyes and weeps “Do you believe me now?” It’s a sad cartoon, but it’s what we all are thinking. Best it stays as a cartoon.

So how do we handle the grieving process and not harp on our own disappointment?  I’m a firm believer that some things are just best if left private. Publicly, I believe, we should remember the good and relate what a wonderful writer, provider, cook, etc., the person was before. In private with a group of people who understand you and your situation, you let all those negative emotions flow. Weep openly with those who care the most about you. Reach out to them for support in rebuilding your life. The group can be family, Al-Anon, OARS, a therapist, or any other support group. The point is to surround yourself with those who care and can offer direction.

Most caretakers of end-stage alcoholics grieve several times during the course of the alcoholic journey. They grieve every time the alcoholic relapses, every time they go into rehab, every time they cause chaos. The grieving seems to be endless. Then when the alcoholic dies – they grieve some more.

The good news is the “gift” part of the death. Once the survivors have recovered from the initial loss, they are able to move on. A constant state of chaos creates a form of “post-traumatic stress syndrome” and once the chaos stops the opportunity exists for peace and quiet. It is a bittersweet reward.

When Riley dies, I don’t want to be the one to eulogize. I’ll leave that up to others. His daughter will talk about the time he held her all night long when she was very sick. His brother will probably share stories of the time they shared in apartment. A friend from his past may talk about how he could make an electronic technician manual read like a masterpiece novel. A former shipmate may tell the story of how he “supervised” the changing of a flat tire. There’s lots of good stuff to tell. I’m sure the group will not leave with the image of Riley falling down the stairs in a drunken stupor. I’m happy for that.

Whenever someone wrongs me, I always tell myself that the best revenge is living well. So when Riley is gone, my revenge against the alcoholism (not against him) is that I will attempt to live my life well. I will survive and be happy.

WAIT A DARN MINUTE!! Why should I wait until he dies?? I think living your life every day to make it the best it can be is the only way to go. I’m not going to waste one second of potential happiness on allowing the stress of alcoholism to take me to a dark place. It's a tall order for someone who lives inside a craziness bubble. I'll have to remind myself to be happy several times during the day.

My mother used to tell me “This is a day you will never have again. Better make the most of it.” I think my mother was right! Today I will be happy, productive and make lemonade!


Syd said...

Good stuff, Linda. And yes to living this day as it is rather than waiting for one that may not come in the future.

hyperCRYPTICal said...

Your mother was right Linda - we must make the most of every day.

And you, you are inspirational!

Anna :o]

Bev said...

My husband and I often talk about how we will 'handle' the 'other one's funeral'. Some of what we talk about is pretty dark humor but it's good to talk about it because someday 'that day' will come. One of us will be left behind and must 'pick up the pieces' somehow, be present at the funeral and all of what that entails. But I've rarely thought about it for our son who is alcoholic . I haven't gotten there.. I hope I won't but as time goes on...I am doubtful of his future. Every day is different - sometimes hopeful, sometimes desparte for his recovery and sometimes what comes close to 'normal'. I read about the wives, daughters, husbands and sons go through with an end stage alcoholic and pray that will never happen to us. But the longer my son remains an alcoholic the more real that possibility becomes. So l try to remind myself that I have a life to live too. And try to stay focused, stay positive. I have thought of a private funeral though for my son because I don't want to hear what others have to say about him - how horrible it must have been for him -especially when they never tried to be part of his life or avoid talking about him to me now. I think your mom was right Linda - you only have today and you have to make the best of it : D

Anonymous said...

Bill said...

I truly enjoy reading your blog because I can identify so much with your experiences and observations.

My wife recently spent 16 days in ICU followed by 26 days in an acute care hospital trying to get her off the respirator and back on her feet. At one point in the ICU the Dr told me that he couldn't guarantee she would survive. At that moment I had the thought that maybe that wouldn't be the worst outcome, but immediately felt guilty for having the thought.

She's back home now, but returned to drinking and not eating within a week after her arrival. This is the same pattern of behavior that put her in ICU just two months ago. The Drs have already told me that the next detox may not turn out so favorable. Again, the thought entered my mind, why are we continuing to bring her back from the edge? What's the point? One of the ICU nurses made the same observation. According to her, they see this type of behavior all the time in the ER and ICU.

It seems that the 'immortal alcoholic' is more common than I initially thought. I'm married to one....

Great blog. Keep up the good work.

frostie said...

Thank you for your words.

I divorced my alcoholic last year. I grieve our marriage. I grieve the 20 years spent waiting for him to "get better." I grieve my husband as though he is dead because it seems as though he is.

One thing that died was my constant expectation that he would be the perfect spouse if he could just be sober--stay in recovery--drink less--detox. A person is not the result of subracting addiction. I expected that if I could chip away the rocky exterior of alcoholism, I would expose the marble statue of David beneath.

The ugly times are gone because I have removed myself from the alcoholic equation, and while we are friendly, it is hard to watch my ex slip further away. As those of us who know the condition, it does not yield a sublime death. There will be no beautiful corpse.

Our children and families are marred by this disease, too, and I know that each of us will have to accept powerlessness, but will we ever do so, realistically and thoroughly? I know we already hear the "if only I hads.."

I have received many gifts. One is that I truly feel that I have given my alcoholic exactly what he wanted: to be alone. The freedom from my own anger has been sanctuary.


Anonymous said...

yes-you are an inspiration-and while i definately am not a stupid person by any means,i often read your blog and wonder that i have not the capabilities to put into words what you so eloquently say-my other half has relapsed-need i say'again'and i have spent a happy sunday afternoon cleaning ,washing sheets,scrubbing carpets and generally anti bacing the whole place-i often think of you at these times-you keep me going ,that and the fact that yes,we must LIVE our lives,despite them...and as i said before-he cant get at me in my head and my profession(art)is my saviour...and he will never come between me and painting,sadly,he will also never enjoy what i can offer him as the booze is SO much more important...i became a granny for the first time on the 20th of jan...i have no-one to share this with but you guys...he fell out with my son long ago...and 'forbids' me to see him and his wife ....so,i 'go shopping' quite a lot-as you can imagine!!a small triumph but a sad one ay?
ah well-his choice!
love the new format of your blog too!
happy new year to all of us!
lea(in the u.k.)

Tawanda Bee said...

My 24 year marriage ended when my husband walked in and said "I am healthy enough to live alone now, so I am leaving." After about 6 weeks I woke up and thought, I don't have to do this anymore!

It was a bittersweet moment. While I had been in Al-anon living a happy life for myself, I realized that I was still waiting... waiting for the man I thought he could be to show up. That's what I didn't have to do anymore!

Freedom comes in many packages. Mine came in the form of a Petition for Divorce. And today I can smile and say, "THANK YOU!"

Anonymous said...

Tonight I tried to explain how my alcoholic husbands behaviour is affecting us aka me. He said "what do you expect from me?" I said "nothing". Which is true with no job and no regard for me he can't give me anything positive. He didn't like the NOTHING response, got angry & elbowed a door. He now has an elbow which looks like a knee!! Now (again) it is updates on the pain, doesn't want medical attention & feels that more booze (& painkillers - a previous major issue) will sort it. Now all the remarks on "what I have made him do!!!" And how I have prevented him having kids! Etc etc. I need to get out of this chaos!!!!

Anonymous said...

Wish I would have found this blog a long time ago but alas it was only after the death of my wife of 20 years. So much truth in your pages. A lot of humor in the insanity. Yes one must live it to see the humor.
I have found much solace in your pages.

My wife, an end stage alcoholic, passed at home a few weeks ago. The end was quick and sudden. After many years of denial (on both sides) she did try rehab for the first time last summer. The new and shiny wore off after 38 days and it spiraled downhill fast. Drink ruled her life. She had all the classic signs. Cirrhoses, extended belly, loss of muscle mass, anemia, alcoholic neuropathy etc...

Since Drunkleen, oops, Kathleen is now gone yes I have the euphoria of freedom.
No more cleaning up her mess, arguing, dealing with the daily upset and aggravation.

Then the euphoria did become bittersweet. I of course will miss the memory of a woman I loved dearly a long time ago. I will miss the sober fun times and try to forget the bad.
I do have some guilt feelings until I remind myself that I was not able to change it and no matter what I would have done this was the destination.

Her wake of destruction left behind a Daughter that loved her but wanted little to do with her. A Mother and Father who had the same attitude. Grandchildren that luckily never saw the drunken side of their grandmother. Thank you for small favors. Friends, she had none. They all were smart and bailed a long time ago, who can blame them. I stuck around because of my moral compass and I do remember saying for better or worse.

I have been offered a second life and plan on using it to its fullest. So yes, In death there is life for the survivor afterwards.

Thank you for this blog.

jim griffis said...

Great article. Sad but true. How many alcoholics have we lost over the years and they never become the correct statistic. The go into the statistical data as "suicide" "auto accident" "heart attack", adinfinitum


Anonymous said...

Mine died in November. We gave him a lovely funeral. All the friends who never visited turned up to remember the "legend" he used to be. He's left me and my daughter destitute. All the years I hung on in, hoping he'd crack it and turn back into the man I fell in love with. totally wasted. He was a complete and utter bastard,selfish to the core. Yet I loved him and had to watch him suffer hideous pain and indignity. Strange Life.

Anonymous said...

Mine died in November. We gave him a lovely funeral. All the friends who never visited turned up to remember the "legend" he used to be. He's left me and my daughter destitute. All the years I hung on in, hoping he'd crack it and turn back into the man I fell in love with. totally wasted. He was a complete and utter bastard,selfish to the core. Yet I loved him and had to watch him suffer hideous pain and indignity. Strange Life.

Squitherwitch said...

Thank you once again for echoing totally how I feel. This blog is a light in the darkness for so many of us; this was the only thing I found anywhere that reflected and dealt with what we were going through.

Your 'end-stage' definition got me through so much and it made sense of so many things (vanishing Listerine),prepared me for what was to come from the massive (rehab/detox wouldn't be successful) to the everyday (the nurse telling me, then me witnessing, that my husband -the alcoholic-was drinking hand gel while in hospital on a 'detox') down to the practical (I linked to it so many times in an attempt to explain what was happening and the chaos we were living through).
He died last June. Bittersweet is so apt. The initial 'sweet' relief that it's all over for both him and us, has faded and now I'm at the bitter as I'm missing the man that was there before the alcohol took over. Then there's the bitterness of guilt at any improvement in our lives being at the cost of someone's life & at things 'working out' for us (we're still in our home, no alcohol related insanity to deal with any more, I have the kids) and the guilt over the fact that I wanted him to die on so many occasions just to end the hell we were living with (they say to be careful what you wish for!). It's so hard being the survivor on so many levels.
Just hope the sweet will follow one day (right now it feels like it never will; have another close family relative going downhill fast due to the ravages of Alzheimer's and trying to cope with being a single parent, returning to work and getting our children through this is so exhausting).

Thanks again.

Fidalgs3 said...

Sister3 I just came across your blog. I am an alcoholic in recovery myself. It is a family disease as the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous states. In my case, myself and my two sisters are all members of the alcoholic club. One sister in denial, one Sobre for 10 years and one who lost her battle recently and is gone forever. It is hard for me to relate to most of the comments here. She had been very sick for 25 years and although I feared she would one day loose her struggle this way, I never felt it would be better. As it turned out it may have been less painful for her in the end, but I don't feel better. I don't feel guilty. As a recovering alcoholic, I know I did everything I could and in the end she just could not get better. She tried so hard though. She never blamed anyone but herself. She tried to live with this disease alone so she would' not involve all the people who loved her....and there were many. She did , however, involve us all and now we are left to grieve and miss her twice. First when we lost her being to the disease and second when we lost her life to the disease. I will be eulogizing her and I have decided to talk about her life without mentioning any reference to alcoholism. We will be celebrating her life her live her loving heart and all the joy she brought to her family and friends. To me it is no different than if she died of cancer. You don't talk about the cancer. I will be remembering a beautiful woman that I was blessed enough to know my entire life.