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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.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Alcoholic Shades of Gray

After receiving a comment from a reader, I thought a bit of clarification might be in order. Let me see how I can explain this.

I am a senior woman and I own a black dog. Not all black dogs are owned by senior women. Not all seniors own a dog. Not all women own dogs. Not all seniors are women and not all women are seniors. Does that make sense?

I do not believe that all people who drink alcohol are alcoholics. Not all people who get drunk occasionally are alcoholics. If you have a drink after work or wine with dinner, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are an alcoholic.

I asked Riley to tell me what an alcoholic looks like. After all, who would know better than a self-professed alcoholic? He replied that if you
drink excessively every time you drink, you may be an alcoholic. If your drinking gets you in legal or family trouble, then alcohol is probably creating that trouble. If your main objective every time you drink is to get drunk, you probably have a drinking problem. If it is difficult to coordinate your job, family, and other activities, because you don’t want them to get in the way of your drinking, you are probably an alcoholic. Riley says “I’d rather be dead than sober.” He’s definitely an alcoholic.

So if your spouse is an alcoholic and you live in the same house, does that mean you allow and/or tolerate his drunken behavior? In my opinion, it does not. Saying that a person “allows or tolerates” another person’s drunkenness, is like saying that we (spouses, etc) have control over what the alcoholic does. We do not. Just because we may live in the same house, doesn’t mean we are a party to what the alcoholic does. Just because I am Riley’s caretaker doesn’t mean that I approved or accepted his drunken antics now or in the past.

It’s easy for people to say that someone is co-dependent because they haven’t punished the alcoholic in some way.  I don’t buy into the whole “co-dependent” thing that we hear so often. I’m sure there are some people that the title fits, but not everyone who is involved with an alcoholic is co-dependent. I believe that people who really receive some kind of reward from having a loved one drunk is rare.

Tolerating the behavior is possible. If you are in a situation where you can’t leave your home and separate yourself physically from the alcoholic, toleration is learned just for the pure survival factor. I don’t really like that word – I think a better definition is detachment. A person can cohabitate with an alcoholic but put a wall between the alcoholism and the rest of the household. It’s difficult. It goes against the basic concepts of marriage. But it is possible and has been done by many, many people.

The long and short of all this is that people can’t be put into cute little boxes and labeled by an outside observer from a sideline viewpoint. The world is not black or white – there are definitely shades of gray.

I used wine in cooking Duck ala Orange and in the Spinach/Artichoke casserole. I toasted myself on a dinner well cooked by having a couple glasses of wine. Does that mean I’m an alcoholic? I don’t think so.   


aoxomoxoa said...

Hi, first, thank you for your dedication to education. You have helped me tremendously.

I am still examining the role codependency has my life. While I have received absolutely no reward specifically from his drinking, benders, abuse, I was horrified to find out that for years I've been bending over backwards to appease him. As a strong independent feminist woman as somebody who consider themselves self aware, this revelation was nothing less than a horrifying. Somehow in the whirlwind of work, raising three children under ten, caring for my elderly father with Alzheimer's, his subsequent death, and caring for my mother with cirrhosis (unrelated to drinking), I found myself also trying to smooth out any wrinkle for him.

Jail for not taking care of that DUI? No problem I'll put money on your books and come visit. Too much anxiety to go see your probation officer?sure I'll call him. Blow all of your money on gambling machines and alcohol? I'll pay the bills.

But even as realized he is an alcoholic, and that I wasn't supporting someone down on their luck, and I eliminated these "biggies" from my life, I still caught myself sweating small stuff.

Again, to my horror, I started noticing that my anxiety was directly related to his contentment. I had to find a way to make him laugh, make him happy. That to me is codependency.

Alanon helped me realize the denial that ran rampant across the span of my lifetime, as I was raised by two recovering addicts. I blamed myself for my troubled childhood, I hated myself, I blamed myself for my relationship with my mother. How terrifying to realize that for my entire life, I have been manipulated by addicts, steered right into a life of untrue negative beliefs about myself. I have spent my life caretaking for people that have manipulated me into believing that I was the root of all the problems that I was the root of all the problems. What's worst is they didn't even realize they were doing it. To try and speak to my mother about it now would not only revictimize me, but I wouldn't want to risk humiliation of her denying it. I've come to realize that I've done the same "smoothing out wrinkles" for my family, as I have for my husband. I have taken on way more responsibility than is mine, even though it made me miserable, there wasn't a conscious reward. But maybe, like alcoholics, there is something conditioned in the reward center of my brain. I digress.

Thank you for holding the space for me to get that out.

Lastly, I too enjoy a couple of glasses of wine with a fabulous well cooked meals- not everyday. And not anywhere close to the extent Riley described. He really hit the nail on the head!


L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I had my owm immortal alcoholic. Turns out they are not immortal. Nothing ever came back irregular on liver tests despite itchy skin, rash, incontinence, wet brain, etc.The heart did eventually give out. Three rehab stays- all disastrous. Falls, brain bleed, staples in the head, c diff, seizures, heart attack, broken sternum- on and on. There really isn't any help. And the professional are never up to speed on what they should know. Plus alcoholics have a way of 180ing the situation so you are always the asshole. Thanks for blogging about your experience- in it I found answers and Riley's twin.

Mark Noo said...

Your right.
All alcoholics abuse alcohol, but not all alcohol abusers are alcoholics.

I had a dual diagnosis problem. If I had not gotten sober I could never have fixed it. If I had not fixed it, I could never have stayed sober. (6 years so far)

Getting an exact fix on alcoholism is hard.

I like your sentiments on co-dependence. My family (my grandmother and aunts and others)is full of women who remained married to alcoholics and they didn't enjoy it. There was no thrill in it for them. Loss of control grows slow. Women fall in love before they see their spouse falling into such disrepair. They have children. They build families with these men. They don't just trade them out and get a newer and better model. They honor their marriage vows. I think that more than any other reason, they stay because they understand why their husband drinks