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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.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What happened?

As we progress through our lives we humans get comfortable. Somehow in the midst of the comfort we come to believe that this is the way things are, and this is how I can expect them to be for a very long time. The reality is that the world, and our lives, are in a continuous state of flux. Fran├žois de la Rochefoucauld said: "The only thing constant in life is change". Sometimes we forget that little sentence and life surprises us in not so good ways.

This morning I made a statement to Riley who in turn made a statement that I asked him to repeat because I didn’t think I heard him correctly. As soon as he is done, I ask him to explain himself just to make sure that I understand. He cannot really explain, he just repeats his original statement. Then it hits me – oh yeah – he doesn’t understand me rather than me not understanding him.

It is my fault really. When one person places unrealistic expectations on another the person placing the expectations is at fault. I know that Riley has trouble connecting the dots. Why am I always asking questions about one thing or another and then shaking my head in confusion at his answers?

Riley is changing. The changes are subtle and I don’t even realize there’s a change until I face it head on. I am also changing. My aging brain requires clarification far more often than I would like. More than half a century has gone by since my birth during a time when the world was simpler – easier. Now we have right answers that are only right if they match up to a certain circumstance. Sometimes I get off track about all the “if this – then this or that” explanations.

At the same time, I often get irritated by the supposition that I need the same thing repeated to me over and over again. Does that really offer an explanation? If I say I don’t understand, is it helpful to repeat the statement over exactly as it was originally stated? I don’t think so.

I am old. I am not dead, nor did I lose information or intelligence I gained from my experiences over the years.  Most of my younger family members know that on certain items, I have the memory of an elephant. Sometimes I mix up names or places – but you can be sure if I say I remember – I darn well remember. I imagine that someday, it may become harder for me to recall the past as specifically as I can recall it right now. I pray that day is a long way away.

In Riley World, Riley always will tell you that he remembers the past exactly. Of course, he does not. He has been blessed with the unconscious ability to fill in the blanks with random irrelevant information without any thought. He truly believes that he did X or Y even though there is absolutely no way he could have done either one. It is as though his memory was wiped clean and is filling it up with things he would like to have in that space. When his explanations make no sense to me, he shakes his head and says that he thinks there’s something wrong with me.

Well… he is right… there is something wrong with me. I’m expecting that the Riley I had meaningful conversations with in the past has not changed. Even when I speak to him and remember there’s been a change, I almost always am surprised that he changed just last week. Sometimes it’s hard to accept change. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore it.


Life is going to change – last week, this week, today and tomorrow. We may feel comfortable where we are right now, but soon things won’t be so comfortable anymore. Most likely, when those changes take place, we will shake our heads (again) and mumble to ourselves – “What happened?”

There is the other side of the coin -- If nothing changes everything will stay the same. I think I'd rather have the change.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The clinical term for what Riley does when he can't really remember is called confabulation.

Anonymous said...

I noticed that my lady friend who is a late stage alcoholic is also afflicted with confabulation. She makes up stuff! She used to be a nurse and they pulled her license because she showed up intoxicated to her job. She agreed to rehab but she did not go. The record is available online. They DID test her urine. Yet, she made up some story saying that her urine was never tested! She can not tell the difference between what really happened and what she imagines! You are not alone!

aliciabutterfly26 said...

I worked briefly in a brain injury clinic and we had an end stage alcoholic lady client who cofabulated. Korsekoff's syndrome and very, very common in alcoholics.