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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, July 3, 2017

Life doesn't always mean living

For more than 20 years I longed to have my husband stop his alcohol abuse, but he never managed to find a way to love sobriety. Too many times the family gathered by his bedside and held a death watch expecting him to expire within minutes. He always survived.

In 2012 he had a major heart attack that would have stopped life for most normal people. But, then, he is not normal. After weeks of watching him go downhill, he finally started recovering. He made it through although his life would change greatly because he would not be able to obtain alcohol. Finally, I had my wish. I had a sober husband and I expected things to change for the better.

Be careful what you wish for. He was home and he was sober. He also had brain atrophy which left him with a form of dementia. He was able to walk, feed, dress and care for himself. He could not hold long conversations. Clearly, he was miserable with this new lifestyle. Still… I did not buy alcohol for him.

He has gone on a slow descent ever since his heart attack. Five years later, he is completely bedridden and dependent on me for every bit of care. I’m in control of everything in his life from what he eats to the changing of his underwear. The biggest decision he must make each day is what he is going to watch on TV. Although, he can no longer change the channels without assistance.

I have my husband. I have a person in my home who looks like my husband but there is no conversation, no laughter, no exchange of ideas, there’s just a fog of unhappiness. I got what I wanted – a sober husband – but this is not how I imagined it.

Riley’s life is empty. It is as though he is being held captive. I’m told he can live in this physical and mental state for many years. He longs to go to a bar and get wasted. He wants to drive even if he is drunk. He wants his old life back. The life that has him consuming a gallon of vodka a day and endangering others on the highway is the life he wants. He doesn’t long for a life with me or close family ties to his grandchildren. He doesn’t want to go on road trips or socializing with sober people. He wants to be drunk. He wants to die drunk.

The next time you are in the emergency room because your alcoholic is vomiting blood or some other such ailment, don’t be so quick to decline a DNR or hospice. Think about Riley and his self-imposed prison and my prison-term as his caregiver. Life at any cost is not always a life at all. 


Anonymous said...

As the wife of a recovering alcoholic I was upset reading the past paragraph saying "don't be so quick to decline a DNR". I feel that is a terrible thing to say. I do understand your imprisoned life as I lived that life too, until my husband wanted to get sober and recover. However, if I gave up because his alcoholic ways landed him in the hospital so sick from alcohol poisoning and I was quick to DNR then I would be responsible for taking a life that wanted to get better. I am sorry that your husband is the way he is and he isn't interested in sobriety and you have spent your life being verbally abused by this man you feel obligated to care for. I get it, I did it, I raised the kids alone, I did it too!

My heart truly goes out to you as I know that feeling. But I don't feel it is right for you to put that out for others because we as the spouses at times get desperate but to give in and say DNR is just not right. I believe that you have a choice to still walk away as we all do and if we stay we should not be judged nor judge others. Something just sat wrong with me as I read that last paragraph because we all have to make these choices for ourselves and sometimes for our spouses too. I believe what their wishes are is what we need to honor whether or not they are kind loving people or totally miserable asses to be around that suck the life out of someone. It is still an individual choice and one that should not be taken lightly. And it can't be based on your own personal feelings of sacrifice care giving for an alcoholic is not an easy task. It is daunting, lonely, a very dark place, you are a real survivor and I have respect for all I have read you have put up with and done. It is still your choice it is each of our choices whether we stay or go, in good health and bad.

Harmony Rose

Anonymous said...

Time to walk away Linda, You have done what you can but you don't have a lot of years left. Don't waste anymore of your life on such a selfish wretch. Take care of yourself. Alcoholics never care or love anything but themselves. he could not care less about you. Time for you to go.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry. Please take back your life while you still can. I know much has been lost. Your life holds more value than what it has become for you. I am sorry.

Gabriele Goldstone said...

If you leave him...what's the worst that could happen?

Anonymous said...

What Linda graciously shares with her readers can be difficult for some to read. What she's going through touches a dark fear deep inside that I know I need to work through, no matter how much I want to hide from it. And I am grateful for the opportunity to confront that fear and acknowledge it.

I reread this post and don't see where she is saying to decide against DNR. What I got was her advice to not make a knee-jerk decision but instead to stop and think.

Making the decision to DNR is *not* "being responsible for taking a life".

DNR is the decision to put life or death in God's hands, which is ultimately where the end-of-life decision and responsibility belongs.

Samantha S.

The Immortal Alcoholic's Wife said...

Thank you for your comments. This post was not about leaving or staying. The point was that sobriety in and of itself is not what you might expect it to be especially if it's forced by a medical condition.

Riley has had a DNR in place for many years. In spite of that, he's still here, still alive and the fact that he's sober has not been a blessing. Samantha S said it perfectly -- "a DNR is the decision to put life or death in God's hands". It's letting nature take it's course.

Anonymous said...

Linda –
I have read your blog and even talked to you before about my mother who is now in a condition very similar to Riley. She was not so bad and was trying to get to a rehab program a few years ago but since that never seemed to be achievable (not by the way of trying by her) she now has slipped into what I think is late stage alcoholism. She was hospitalized last year 12 times one of which she was in hospital for detox that took 31 days. Every time she gets out of hospital and is detoxed according to them she has to go to a care facility as she is still unsteady on her feet and not able to care for herself. Luckily we have found a place to take her that costs a bit but they keep her sober and alive until she gets strong enough to fight like heck to get out and within months is right back there again.

She is still married and when my stepdad is out of town I often take care of her – and the last two times were extremely rough. She always starts drinking and they hide it from me until she is usually going so good she can no longer hide it and then it is too late cause she can not go without it as she has had several seizures when she detoxes at home. So he leaves her wine to drink and goes out of town – I go stay with her all day and basically come home just to sleep. Every morning when I get back she has a new injury – from falling. She no longer can control her bathroom habits so we try to keep her in a brief but she takes it off and then has poop dropping everywhere.

This was a very attractive vane woman who is sitting in a home that was gorgeous like magazine perfect. Now she is pooping it up and this person would have never never wanted to live like this. She sits alone all day on her couch afraid to move cause she falls – she is all bruised up from falls – sick with alcohol and worse without. This is no life – I decide that she needs to get sober again so back to hospital after fall – then they detox – now she is at home again. I go to see her and she is sitting there looking like someone I don’t even know with a few others there in worse shape physically but not mentally. She smells of urine and all she talks about is a dog she doesn’t have and even thinks she is still in her own home. This is not my 67year old mother – I do not know this person. So I am left wondering just what you are is it better to sober them up for a life of unhappiness to feel better ourselves or let them drink and quit intervening and let god decide?

Anonymous said...


My opinion, for whatever it's worth, is there is not one single thing you've said here that is terrible. I agree with every single word. I've just been through a near death experience with my alcoholic (not my husband, but my best friend of over 30 years) & honestly, I wish he hadn't come through it. He's sober now, but only because he's got brain damage & liver and kidney failure that have rendered him so disabled that he has no way of getting his hands on alcohol. He's really trying to get back to his old self, for however long it lasts, but his misery is palpable. If somehow the choice had been mine, I would have let him go. He's already dead & he's never coming back & I see it every day. His eyes are fixed upon the abyss & I know he will never look up from it again. I love him, I made the choice to stay in his life & I'm here to the end, but I truly wish he was out of his misery.

Yay for those who recover, but it's not possible for others, the damage just runs too deep. I know that all the posters are all just trying to help, but I can't agree with those who are berating you for thinking of letting him die. Sometimes, love means making the choices your loved one isn't strong enough to when the opportunity arises. If the opportunity to action a DNR comes for me, I know what I'll be doing. It's out of love & true understanding of the position he's in, not because he makes my life difficult (and believe me he does, no one has ever hurt me as much as he does & I'm still letting him do it) & it is the same for you, I'm sure.

Keep your chin up.

DeJordy said...

I have a friend from AA who had a similar path as Riley, only his was sudden, from a fall down a staircase during a relapse. He was a bright man, a thoughtful AA student, with a successful career in finance, and now he is in a nursing home babbling because at some point he picked up one drink.
Prayers to you.

adri said...

I.. have read all the above comments and I have this one thing to say: the fact someone chooses to commit suicide, regardless of the means they pick, is not ever anyone else's fault. ever.

my father is an alcoholic and I've been through the falling down the stairs, hospitalisation, cold turkey crisis, the rehab, the psychotherapy, the aa meetings... ONCE. I sat there telling a bunch of strangers how my father beat me till I was 17, then I turned and kicked his ass and showed him I mean business and then did that again the last time he attacked my mother. I humbled myself and told how I missed him as a child and how I never saw my father sober in 20 years. ONCE. I drove every day to the hospital and back after work and skipped work, I spent days off work and nearly lost my job, I drove him and went to every god damn meeting the shrink invited the family members to. when he got home, I was considerate and supportive. ONCE.

Before all that happened, when he was laying at the bottom of the stairs bleeding, I looked myself at the mirror because I was considering NOT phoning 911, and told myself "it's a life. you'll do this, ONCE". then I went downstairs and first slapped my mother to get her out of her hysterical screaming fit - I also did that, for him, ONCE, and then phoned the said 911. Once.

of course he relapsed and is at a much later stage now, but I did all that - ONCE. I am not doing it again, and I don't believe anyone should. we're all allowed to make mistakes. we're all allowed to screw up our lives. but when we get a second chance and we blow it - on purpose - then it's our own fault and our own decision. and I sincerely believe that's it then: when we purposely decide we don't WANT to get better, all the responsibilities other people had toward us simply disappear. the others then have to observe their responsibility to themselves, and to others. because while you are spending your time on a person deliberately drinking themselves to death, other, more deserving, more needing people around you are not getting the attention they deserve. your family, your friends, your pets, and not the least: you.

I don't think that, once a person makes a firm decision to murder themselves with alcohol, you are responsible to do everything in your power that they don't. I believe, that at that point, your responsibility changes to making sure they don't take anyone else with them. You did an amazing feat of saving your daughter from this, but I am SO sad to see you have chosen to do so by sacrificing yourself. I do believe you should have ditched him - in a humane way, but ditched him. some people reading my comment might think I lost my humanity and compassion, but I argue that by saying there's only so many hours in a day, and ultimately we need to make choices to give our best to those who want it and deserve it. alcoholism is also a choice, a choice people need to live with and bear consequences of when they make it. I am happy you found a way to channel it into something positive, and I do believe this blog is an amazingly positive thing to come out of such a terrible situation.

this is also a terrifying thing to read, in the sense of how long it's taking. I have hoped my father has little to live, now I'm scared this is going to last much, much longer.

Anonymous said...

"I would be responsible for taking a life..."

The only person who would be responsible for taking a life would be the person who drank themselves to death.