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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, January 3, 2013

Out with the old...

I knew that it would be difficult for me to downsize from a very large four bedroom house to a more compact, one bedroom in-law apartment in a house that I now share with my grandson and his family. As I unpack moving boxes and do my best to “get rid of” things I no longer use or want, I am reminded that a generation of youngsters has lost the concept of valuing what you have. My grandkids must walk through the garage portion of our very large house to enter mine and Riley’s living quarters. If I’m out there sorting, opening, organizing, there is almost always a comment of “Why don’t you just throw all this stuff away?”

Throwing away seems to be a theme these days. It’s a theme that I don’t understand. If you drive down the side streets into the residential areas, you will see appliances set out on the curb for either the trash man or a freebie seeker. These appliances may be out there because the owners renovated their home or maybe because it has stopped working for some reason or another. Whatever the reason, they’ve been discarded.
I have a fond admiration for the freebie seeker who will pick up the unwanted appliance, take it home and work on it until it is a productive piece of equipment again. In my day, things were repaired and/or repurposed. My mother could repair almost anything except her car – she left that to Dad. I remember her greased smudged face after she replaced the pump in the washing machine. The point is – we didn’t throw things away when they didn’t work the way they did when they were new.
I don’t work the same way as I did when I was new. I’m slower and things I’ve always been able to do for myself are far more difficult now. I fear I may wake up and find myself in the trash next to the coffee pot that has a clock that doesn’t keep the right time. The pot still makes a good cup of coffee, but the clock portion is no longer programmable. I’m a lot like that coffee pot and I hope that the fact that it takes a bit longer for me to make the coffee will not be of consequence. But I’ve already seen signs of de-valuation. My opinion is no longer listened too with undistracted attention. My suggestions are met with a sigh and roll of the eyes. I’m considered to be “old-fashioned” and sometimes a bother.
When I read that a suggestion to “just get rid” of the alcoholic in a person’s life, I feel it is another way that we simply “throw things away.” In many cases, I believe the best course of action would be to walk away from the alcoholic. But that is not to get rid of something useless, but rather to encourage a change for the better for all parties. Just because you don’t live with someone doesn’t mean you’ve put them in the trash can.
I have always been a bit of a hard-ass bitch that could stand up to almost anyone. I seldom show my fear – if you see it in my face, you should probably run for cover. With Riley remaining sober, even if it is not by his own choice, I feel I may have softened a little. While I may have wanted to “throw him away” many, many times during his drunkenness, I feel less inclined in his present condition. It could be the fact that he knows he needs me to help him manage his life so he is less antagonistic or it could be that he is now taking Prozac. It doesn’t really matter. I think I see in him a slight glimpse of the man I fell in love with back in the 60’s. The glimpses are few and far between, but just enough to be a reminder.
Riley doesn’t work the way he did when our relationship was new. He doesn’t have much to contribute towards any part of sharing a home or being a husband. The truth is, that part of him was gone when he decided he liked life better as a drunk than he did as a husband. I didn’t throw him away even when I separated from him. I may not have been in his life on a daily basis, but I was always there – in the background being silent and watching him choose his own direction.
For the grandkids, Riley is disposable. In the kid’s defense, Riley has made himself become disposable. He doesn’t participate in family activities and is unable to have conversations beyond guttural noises and heavy sighs. He cannot and does not want to relate to them. The result is that the kids have thrown him away and moved on to focus on other family members. I understand.
There are times when I feel sorry for Riley. I see this physically debilitated man who can no longer remember what happened the day before and must take several naps a day. He has no sense of smell and his entire right side is weak and nearly useless. He doesn’t have the strength to carry in the groceries or help me move boxes around the garage. He can’t drive. His life is all contained in his room with re-runs of NCIS. I’m sad for him. That’s where I’ve softened. In spite if it all, Riley still has value. He washes the dishes and puts away the groceries. He cleans the bathroom. Since his memory of the far distant past is better than his ability to remember what happened yesterday, he shares memories of a better time over our morning coffee. I will miss those things when he moves on to his next life.
Those soft episodes of emotion for him aren’t long lasting. I take a step back to remind myself that Riley is in the condition he is in because of his own doing. He created his situation and now must live with the consequences. He denies that alcohol had anything to do with him having a stroke or heart attack. He claims that alcohol isn’t the reason why he can’t drive or live alone. It’s easy for me to go back to being my naturally bitchy self.
Going through the boxes and sorting out the good from the bad, useful from the useless and historical from individual memory… I know to throw things away is not in my nature. It’s hard to make those determinations. I’m not a hoarder, but I’m not a discarder either. I value what I have and see worth where others see none. I can live with that.


Furtheron said...

Great analogy. One thing though is the cost of things relatively these days. When I was a kid a washing machine was a major expense one you only made rarely now a washing machine is not that dear relatively that is to wages.

What you show here though in your sticking with Reilly is simply to me that most human of traits. Love

Syd said...

It seems that somehow things have come back in balance with Riley not drinking. And with that, you are seeing the person who you loved and still do. I'm glad for both of you. I know that I would not want to be around an active drinking alcoholic, but believe that it would be like a death to me should my wife start drinking again. I love her more than anything.

SoberMomRocks said...

I love the analogy as well. But if I may, one of the reasons that people tend to throw things out now as opposed to fixing them is because fixing them is more expensive than throwing them out and buying new. The days when things were built to last and be fixed when they broke down are over.

So, in keeping with the analogy and a spouse who is an alcoholic (for me it was a father), I could only stay around until it cost me more to stay then it would to leave.

Thank you for another thought provoking and wonderful post.


Zowie said...

Thank you, Linda. But, may I say this about throwing things out? I have come to that point in life that unless something is a very cherished item from my past, and it is not needed, out it goes!!!
Very liberating and everything is so much neater. It actually makes me feel better (and lighter) to get rid of "old", not needed, stuff. Some things I donate to charity and other things are tossed. Once it's gone I don't even think about it anymore.

Good luck.

msterfun said...

I'd like to actually throw my father in to a garbage truck and slap that baby on the bumper and send it on its way. Siara sucker.

Anonymous said...

I had to actually physically throw out the alkie exhusband from my home one time. I asked my brother to come over and get the nutcase to leave my property and take his two cardboard boxes of property with him. Had to actually dump him in the street. They are like parasites that you can't get rid of. Complete insanity. When I think about it now it all seems so surreal.
Just for fun...I found this on the internet.
"Don't try to win over delusional people. You are not the jackass whisperer."

Anonymous said...

Thank you Linda for this blog. I have only just found it & it couldn't have come at a more appropriate time in my life x

"Anon above" thank you for uploading the Jackass Whisperer comment. Absolutely brilliant & will keep me sniggering through what are very long weekends until the working week starts again :-)

Linda, I've sent you an email, not sure if you received it. Thank you so much again & hope everyone is OK today x

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Well, I am glad you value the contributions he made in the sixties. What he stole from you remains to be blogged. I imagine it is a long list. On the other hand, he enabled you to become a nurse, which is a high calling. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me, says Jesus. I reckon you are treating Jesus MIGHTY FINE. Alcoholism is a strange disease. An alcoholic marriage is like a tree planted in a fence line. The sober person is the fence, the alcoholic is the tree. The tree becomes part of the fence and the fence becomes part of the tree, like as not. Knotty pine, knotty whine, barbed wire with sap running down. Beauty is still experienced, with rue.

Anonymous said...

As I listen to these comments, I realize that what the alcoholic does is DEMAND all the attention, love, pity, and gives none or very little back. So the caregiver has nowhere to rest her/his head.

Anonymous said...

Ah...the 60's. Like the Rolling Stones song...it's just your imagination. That sweet nostalgia is as addictive as the booze. Back in the day...blah, blah, blah. Same old. Same old. Being stuck in a time warp does not work for me. Mother Theresa spent her life in a depression. And what happened to Lot's wife when she looked back after leaving Sodom and Gomorrah? I really don't believe sweet Jesus gives his approval for how Linda has been treated in her life but the only one who can get her out of it is herself. Makes me wonder about the institution of marriage. At least the man named Riley has a pension check coming in. Too bad he and his behavior is included with the check. Linda, you are in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I take comfort in the hope that I too may soften one day, but for now, I cannot get past my own anger and resentment and the feeling of being stuck. I pray to reach acceptance of the things I cannot change. But I am not sure I will ever get to the point of accepting the behavior that is so hurtful to everyone involved. Especially the children.

KimLoree said...

I’m not one to easily discard anything. I have to be in the mood. And when I am, I have to act quickly. If I go thru my closet and pull out the clothes that no longer fit….I need to remove them from my sight, lest I decide to go back thru them to see if maybe I want to keep a couple. I have to act before my sentimental/indecisive self works away at my motivated/decisive self.
It’s been that way with my marriage. When I was younger and stronger, I was more willing to discard the vows for a more sane life. I packed up the house and moved out more than once. But each time, when the man that I fell in love with appeared from behind the bottle and agreed to center his life around his family, instead of the alcohol….I pulled him back in from the curb.
Now in the last month, I have seen him on what I thought was his death bed. I thought I was ready to trade him in for the life insurance, until I faced the man on that bed. He was so ill, and so incapacitated….I didn’t know whether to pray for his end…or his recovery. I don’t recall ever being so conflicted. What would recovery look like? Could I care for him in this way for the long term, changing his diaper and bedding and holding the bucket for his vomit?
Now….he is past immediate danger, his body having cleared itself of the horrible toxins that nearly killed him. He has some late/end stage symptoms but doesn’t have others. He is going to get a liver biopsy to help with prognosis. He isn’t able to get around without a wheel chair or walker. He is getting physical and occupational therapy. The confusion, while markedly better, is still exasperating and sometimes (much) worse than others. For instance, I’ve had to tell him hundreds of times now that we put the dog down 6 years ago, and the cat 2 years ago, and which house we live in, and that he doesn’t need any money for snacks, and that he doesn’t need jeans or shoes, and that he doesn’t need to order dinner, and on and on and on and on!!!
So…I have saved his life by getting him the help he needed. I have been thru hell and back in this 32 year marriage and sometimes feel like I am in a living hell now….work, hospital, eat, sleep, work, hospital, eat, sleep, repeat. And what do I have now? A sober man (28 days) with a frail body and mind, who has begun to understand what he has done to his life and mine, and who is very sad and apologetic for it all….who declares his love for me and his amazement that I am still at his side. I tell him I love him too and that of course I’m here, that I know he would do the same for me…and I don’t know if any of that is true. I appreciate getting a glimpse now of the kind, sensitive, loving man that I once knew…and that he apologizes and recognizes what I have given up for him. I’s not the kind of love that I want to feel for a partner in life. It’s more like the post above, about the tree and fence growing together.
I’m angry at him for making the choices he has….but I made choices too. I helped enable all of this to happen. Now it is what it is. And wanting it to be something else isn’t going to change it. I can’t leave him now…because he is no longer capable of caring for himself…and there is no one else. What I can do, is what I have been working at for the last year….to separate myself from him. Just because we have to live together…doesn’t mean I can’t have my own life. I have been half of “Kim and Gary” for 32 years. I am now working on rediscovering just “Kim”. I have taken control of my own money. It’s not “ours” any more. The decisions as to what to do with it belong only to me now. I remember that I like nice surroundings and pretty clothes…and hats. I like to wear hats…and so I have started buying hats…and pretty clothes…and knick knacks… and new pictures for the walls. I am discarding (donating) old things and replacing them with new. (I’m not made of money…I discovered Thrift Shops).
What I am doing may not be right for others….but I don’t think I could do it any differently. Everyone has to make up their own minds about what they should keep and what they should discard.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I am where you are, although my alcoholic husband is not quite as debilitated, he will be in the not-so -distant future. He already has some of the deterioration: short-term memory, moodiness, inability to learn new things, easily confused, swaps day and night, just to name a few. Now we are facing GI issues. Many people can't understand why I didn't leave years ago. Part of it is financial, to be honest. But the rest is exactly what you talk about here. This man still has value and I still love him...albeit in a different way. It is borne more of compassion for someone I have shared more than half my life and raised two children with. It's the same morning coffee conversations and the times when he does something truly helpful that keep me going, and the fact that at some point he will need the kind of care you provide to Riley. 12-step programs have all sorts of names of us...codependent topping the list. I gave up on those years ago, because they simply don't get it. More power to you, and Godspeed.

Anonymous said...

i think you are one of the most intelligent,thoughtproking women i hve heard in a long ime-my other halfs alcoholism comes and goes-what never changes is the self pity and blaming everything and everybody for his life-such as it is..it drives me mad-the endless repetition i need to do-and that whatever i say,he will shout me down,drunk or sober,so i give up-i'm a painter and thats the most important thing to me-and it means i can go to the one place he cant get at me-inside my head...i know i'm waiting for the day one of us will be 'free'..whenever that is..i take my hat off to you lady!
all best wishes

aliciabutterfly26 said...

The part where you said "throw him away" was so true. Ive used those exact words in regards to my dad and how the medical system treated him. Sober him up a bit and hand him a bus ticket; he was in hospital shortly before he died of a heart attack and no one thought to check his heart because he was so obviously a late stage drunk. He wasnt disposible to me.