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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.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The alcoholic's spouse...

I’m not an alcoholic. In some circles that statement would be considered a denial of being an alcoholic when I actually am an alcoholic. In that circle I would be damned either way. Logic tells me I’m not an alcoholic. I drink a glass or two of wine every year. I don’t over-indulge. I haven’t been drunk since I went to Jimmie’s place for a protest party in 1967. I know I’m not an alcoholic.

I also know that alcohol has damaged my life. Being the wife
of an alcoholic has caused me to be someone that I never wanted to me. I can turn into a shrew in an instant. I am less social and less trusting. Where I was once at the top of my game professionally, I stopped being able to concentrate on my office work. I used to be outgoing and friendly with a positive attitude. Now I just want to be left alone. My once balanced budget is now a sea of red. Even when I have money, I’m hesitant to spend it for fear of having none.

At the time I took Riley back in, my life was happy, independent, free and open to meet new people. That all changed after his first near-death encounter just a few weeks after he came to my house to stay. My friends stopped coming around. It was harder for me to work. I was spending all my savings on things I needed to care for him. There didn’t seem to be anything left over for nails, hair or restaurant gatherings.

I kept taking care of him because I was told by medical professionals that he was dying. I fell into a frog soup situation. Each time he recovered from a near fatal situation, his health was worse. He could not take care of himself – and now he is completely bedridden. And here I am still acting as his caregiver.

Something is different now than when I first started caring for him. I have found my life again. I work at what I want to do and don’t let Riley’s condition stand in my way. Well… that may be an exaggeration… but I’m getting closer everyday to spending more time away from him.

When I started this blog way back in 2010 I found my passion or more accurately, I rekindled my passion for writing. I became more active on FaceBook and re-connected with old friends. I took every opportunity to smile and talk to complete strangers on the street, in the grocery story, and everywhere I went. I came back to life as through I had been asleep for a long time.

As typical with lives, mine ebbed and waned as problems and situations changed. Riley got worse or better. We moved several times. I got sick. I got well. It’s called life. Even when I lost focus on my life, I knew I was in there just waiting for the opportunity to get out.

That’s what it is being the spouse of an alcoholic. It’s a constant struggle to remain alive and not disappear into his chaos. It’s so easy to stop thinking or doing for yourself because you become absorbed by the alcoholic. There are messes to clean up and things to be done that would normally be the responsibility of the alcoholic. You cease having a personality of your own. Your image to the outside world is that of a weak, clingy, victim who is the alcoholic’s slave and aid to his disease. No spouse would really want that but that’s part of being in the frog soup pot.

Frog Soup – Put a frog into a pot of boiling water and it will jump right out. Put the frog in a pot of cold water and slowly bring the water to a boil. The frog will stay in the pot and become Frog Soup.

The changes in the alcoholic household happen slowly and are nearly unrecognizable until the situation boils over. Once the alcoholic becomes so sick or dependent, the spouse becomes the caregiver and if she/he is not careful, they lose their life while still breathing.

It is very important for the spouse to remain the person that they want to be. If you find you’re losing it – search within yourself for what ignites your own passion. It takes some work in handling the details with the alcoholic. But it can be done. Don’t let the alcoholic’s desire to live in chaos become your existence. Create, generate, and/or preserve your own circle of friends. There are ways to meeting people in your situation other than Al-Anon, however, Al-Anon is a good start.

If it’s early in the disease, make plans for getting out. You may not want to go right now, but in the future, it may be the safest thing for you to do. Keep your options open.

No matter what… remember that you are a person worthy of a life of your own filled with peace, happiness, and independence.


AnneC said...

"Weak, clingy victim" struck a chord with me. My special needs 2yo and I left my alcoholic husband in 2015. Some viewed me as selfish, controlling and cold. Never mind that I took care of his disability, brought him food, alerted his family when he went missing. I lost my home, my car, my saving, my marriage...but I had my daughter. I lived off the kindness of other without financial support from him. It took 18 months to divorce. Silly me, I thought he may embrace recovery with each hospitalization and rehab. And I had to keep my daughter safe (without sole custody he could have taken her from daycare). He passed awayin 2015. He was 42. Most see me as strong, some see me as cold and some as weak. What they don't see or acknowledge is that I am grieving and broken. Slowly I am healing and learning who I again.

AnneC said...

Me again. I lost track of my points. 1. Labels suck. 2 damned if you do and dampened if you don't (stay or help). The irony!

Jenny Woolf said...

You have certainly been a caregiver longer than I expected for Riley. I started reading your blog just after he came to live with you and it sounded to me like he might pass away at any time. You have made a great success of the deal life has offered you and I feel you have been an inspiration and help to many.

JenM said...


I completely understand where you are coming from. The constant up and down, in and out of the hospital, my A not taking care of himself, it made me insane. I blew. I'm only human. And my A though sick and sober was still playing mind games. My A went to a friends house to stay for 3 weeks. I thought we were totally through. But I had time on my hands and went to Alanon. I journaled, went hiking, listened to my favorite music, I got some serenity back into my life. And I know our mutual friends were thinking I'll of me because I should be taking care of him. But I've learned that others' opinions are none of my business. Unless they're in my shoes on the daily, they have no say. And I still stand by that.

Last week my A got the prognosis that he has less than a year on this current liver and is going on the liver transplant list. It's a long shot getting a liver and we are making plans for the worse. We are back together, and he's trying to restore some of the brokenness of our relationship. Reality has set in. I'm terribly upset over everything, but I know doing this last bit of caregiving is the right thing for me. What I'm saying is don't let others dictate your reality because this disease is awful and the spouse takes the biggest brunt. Do what's best for your daughter and for YOU! Peace to you!

Anonymous said...

I'm supporting my best friend of 27 years through end stage alcoholism. He is suffering from Wernicke's encephalopathy, drinks a litre of vodka per day, hasn't eaten anything in weeks & his stomach has now swollen- I think his liver might be failing. His partner of over 20 years has stayed with him (he has been so strong, it's unbelievable) & I am supporting him too as much as I am able. He managed to hide his alcoholism for years (he worked away through the week for many years), Neither his partner or I had the first clue that he was an alcoholic until he collapsed & took a series of seizures last May & the hospital explained what was happening (although I fought them like crazy at first, thinking that they were wrong & wanted an excuse to not do an MRI due to cost etc- I even complained to my MP). I'm a chartered accountant, so it's not like I'm stupid or anything, he was just that good a liar. Of course, he had terrible symptoms, but he told me that he had motor neurone disease (and I believed him)- we even started researching how much it would cost to take him to Switzerland to end his life when things got too bad. Of course, I was gutted that he would be so cruel as to do that to his partner and me, but I understand that wasn't really his intention, he was just trying to ensure that we didn't find out so he could carry on drinking. He nearly died in hospital, I hoped that would jolt him....it didn't. He got thrown out of hospital in the end because when he was sufficiently recovered, he sneaked out and bought vodka.

His partner took out a loan he could ill afford to get him into rehab. He managed to sneak out and get vodka. As soon as he came home, he went back on a litre a day. We got him into an NHS therapy programme, if he manages 3 consecutive weeks of going to counselling, the NHS will dry him out again. I took him the first week & he did great. He has to keep drinking in the interim or risk withdrawal, so his partner measures out his drinks for the day & keeps the bottle hidden. On the days he goes to counselling (which I take him to because my employer allows me flexible working arrangements & his partner's does not) I measure out his drinks for the day & hide the bottle in a place his partner and I have agreed....tbc

Anonymous said...

On the second week, he refused to answer the door to me, I managed to get in through a side door & he was paralytic- it was 9am. He has been managing to get vodka delivered to the door. He asked me to take him to counselling again last Friday, which I did. His health is now so poor that the counsellor has decided to waive the rules & agreed to accept him in to dry out if he comes again next Friday as he will likely die very soon without it. I went to visit him last night and I do sense the beginnings of a desire to beat this (which I have never sensed before) but I fear it may have come too late. He looks as bad as he did just before he was hospitalised in May. His partner and I stayed up after he went to bed and I tried to begin to ready him for the possibility that we may be near the end. He knows and accepts it, we both agreed that we started to grieve for him some months ago.

His family have rejected him now- not that they were ever particularly involved in his life, his partner and I have basically been his family for a long time. They have gossiped about him on social media and unbelievably scurrilous rumours have begun to circulate about him in his local area as a result. One of his cousins called round to see his partner & helpfully (!) suggested that he was probably drinking because he's a paedophile- the only evidence he offered for that opinion is that he is gay. I have warned him that if he ever repeats that accusation he will be in court so fast, his head will spin, one of my sisters is a lawyer, this is no idle threat.

Continued.....All of this is pushing him down the path of giving up, he never goes out because a) he can't walk any more because of the Wernicke's b) everyone in the neighbourhood is straining to catch a glimpse of him & he knows it.

I'm trying hard to stay positive & be as practical as possible, but there are moments of despair. I have a family of my own to worry about- my parents have health issues & live with me & I have a sister with severe mental health problems who has to be institutionalised periodically, I am having to simultaneously fight the authorities to get her the financial support she needs (and is entitled to) alongside supporting my friends. I have also raised her son & financially support him (he lives with me too). Having so many dependants means it is critical that I continue to do well at work (I'm chasing promotion to get more money flowing in) while balancing everyone's needs- every one of them seems to think they should be my priority.

Anonymous said...

Continued......However, I am coping. Here are the strategies that work for me:

1. I believe that things will get better- my friend's situation will be resolved one way or the other very soon.
2. I tell him I love him every day and remind him of our truly wonderful memories. I genuinely & wholeheartedly forgive him for what is past (NB I'm an atheist, this is not a religious thing) and have told him so. I have promised him that I will never reject him, ever. If he dies, then I know I did everything I could, will respect his choice (that's what it is in the end), grieve for him, then his partner and I will resolutely move on with our lives.
3. If he recovers, then our lives will change, rather than spending social weekend evenings sitting in the house, having a drink and listening to music, we will take walks, drives, indulge in hobbies together (his partner and I both stopped our (extremely moderate) drinking as soon as the situation came to light, so we can all be teetotal together).
4. I'm taking a break. The three of us booked and paid for a holiday together a year ago. His partner and I are taking it. He is going to stay with his partner's parents (bless them for agreeing to it) & we are going to switch off from the situation and re- group.
5. Until he is dried out (if that happens) he has to drink. His partner and I accept it, no nagging, no real comment on it- got to be done, end of.
6. We all laugh about the situation as often as possible. We tease him for his symptoms and make jokes in extremely poor taste between us (e.g. We were saying he's addicted to concrete, the inevitable result of face- planting into it so regularly)
7. I'm going to lose weight, get that promotion and make life better for everyone, whatever happens. I will not wallow in grief, I need to rejoin the human race!
8. I'm educating myself about the medical effects of alcoholism so I can understand what's happening- which led me here
9. If people unconnected to me give me an excuse to take it out on them, I take it i.e. His gossiping neighbours & family- it's in my nature to fight for the people I love & I like doing it

Anonymous said...

Continued.......Thanks so much for this blog, it's good to see someone who has a similar approach to the situation. I fully recognise that my life is much easier than yours, I don't have to deal with him every day, that's his parner's burden, but I hope that lending them both my strength & practical support is helping. Keep doing what you're doing- you're getting it right in my opinion. I looked into AA & al- anon- not for me or my friends, that approach will simply not work in this case. I'm his best friend & he couldn't tell me, no way he'll open up to strangers & frankly, I think they'll only give him ideas! Also, he was forced to attend an Al- anon meeting as part of his rehab & they laughed at his behaviour & ridiculed him. I really wouldn't be able to tolerate anyone doing that.

Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to share my story, I'm surprised how helpful that was, actually. Keep going everyone, entropy is the nature of the universe I'm afraid, laugh when you can, forget about guilt & self flagellation- they're useless and remember that your life will improve one way or another, even if that means your loved one is gone- just do everything you can to make sure you have no regrets when it happens- that's my advice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments anonymous! As always- thanks Linda for your blog and continuous Sharing of your knowledge and experience. More helpful than you could know. It is very helpful to know that we are not alone- whether we chose to stay or chose to leave. I think at this point it's most importNt to remember to take care of ourselves as best we can in the meantime. This blog and comments are one way to do that. It helps to know we are connected to people that "get it". I don't feel so isolated all the time. Great for our mental health!! ❤️

Anonymous said...

I just keep telling myself that it will be over someday and then I can be me again. I just hope I can hold out till the end. My husband is still functioning which even amaze's the Dr. I see the progression daily and often wonder is this the day?? He even said yesterday that the dogs (that normally don't care for him) wouldn't leave his side and followed him every where. He said"I wonder if they know something?" which makes me wonder.