Alcoholism is a very selfish disease. If you are living with an alcoholic it is tough. The person concerned can seem his/her ‘old self’ some of the time but when the need to find a drink takes over a different character will materialise.
The alcoholic will tell whopping great lies to hide the dreadful truth of the addiction. There may also be stupid lies that seem completely pointless and enfuriating as well because this is not the sober person.
This person will not remember many of the conversations where you pour out your heart to him/her about the issues believing you have got the message across only to find the next day that it was a waste of time.
There can be anger and violence. Anxiety and depression are often lurking too.
I speak from experience, and deep sadness, about this topic. Sadly, my second husband, Steve, became an alcoholic in the late 1980’s. It started as social drinking and slid into drinking alone in the day and then hiding spirits around the house and lying about drinking all day.
It taught me a lot about myself and led me to practice holistic therapies now. The biggest lessons I learned from the experience are noted here. I do not have any professional or medical expertise in this so it just represents my views.
Please get medical advice at the earliest stage and stay safe. Steve mainly endangered his own safety. I did fear for the safety of myself and our dogs due to his incompetence when drunk (cigarettes left lit, hot iron dropped on carpet, sharp knives and left overs on plates on floor etc.). He was never violent or threatening. If your situation is unsafe then you need to secure your own safety (and that of your family and animals) as the top priority.
This is a disease. It is not something the person can “snap out of” as many people might say.
If he/she starts finding reasons to get a drink, or go for a drink, and gets very agitated if that does not happen then there is a problem. Social drinking is very different, the person can go for days without a drink. The point at which someone tips out of social drinking and into alcoholism can be hard to spot but there are signs.
By the time you have noticed it is a problem, he/she may well have a very much worse habit than you know. Look for reserve supplies hidden around the house and garden.
Perhaps the person is never fully sober and hides it well.
There will be a tipping point when you just know instinctively that he/she is drunk.
The lies become more absurd. The arguments start as you try and reason with someone who is drunk so cannot think logically. If alchohol has got a hold on the person then it is his or her best friend and lover. Nothing, and nobody, else is as important to him/her as the alcohol (whatever you are told at sober times).
Things to turn it around
There isn’t a magic bullet. These are some things that have worked for some people.
Medical support – There is often little help available unless the person can convince the doctor he/she is determined to give up. Steve was offered antidepressants for his anxiety but no treatment for the alcoholism.
One thing that apparently can bring success is friends and family organising a “lay it on the line” session together with the alcoholic. Each person speaks from the heart about how it is affecting his/her life, and express love for the alcoholic. This can apparently shock some alcoholics into stopping drinking.
Alcoholics Annonymous and other support groups have good track records, if the person will go and stick with it. Steve ended up going to the pub afterwards with one of the people there!
Going away somewhere to ‘dry out‘ for a period of time. Expensive unless you can get a medical referral. It is a tough drug to withdraw from, some say worse than Heroin, so it certainly isn’t an easy option. Steve did go away somewhere he couldn’t drink a couple of times but resumed the drinking again afterwards.
There was an underlying belief that he was destined to keep drinking (he called it “Kismet”) and we never managed to banish that belief, or the underlying anxiety and darkness he had within him.
Hitting rock bottom – sometimes if the person is on his/her own then rock bottom is hit and they start to turn it around.
What triggers alcoholism?
There develops a chemical need for the alcohol but not everyone who drinks a lot is addicted to it.
Often, our doctor told me, there is a family trait towards alcoholism out of lifestyle choices rather than genetic addiction. If all the adults spent a lot of time drinking then the youngsters join in almost as a ‘right of passage’ as soon as he/she is old enough to go to the pub.
There may also be a history of abuse or other sordid secret events from childhood that make the person’s self esteem very low and encourages the drinking to bury it.
If your alcoholic loved one does not truly, deeply, want to stop drinking AND believe that he or she can do it, then nothing will work. Don’t kid yourself.
It took me a long time to see that. All other routes were tried and, in the end, the doctor laid it on the line for me that the only thing left to try was to allow Steve to hit rock bottom. He also pointed out that Steve would not hit rock bottom whilst living with me because I was, just by being there, supporting him and his life.
I was struggling to hold myself and everything else together and knew I had to make this happen. Fortunately, I did manage to find a way for Steve to have his own house locally, and for us to split up amicably in 1998. We both had the opportunity to make a fresh start.
Unfortunately, despite a number of positive spells, he continued on the downward cycle until his death around 15 years later. Such a dreadful waste of a life. It is a horrible disease. We were friends through to the end.
Look after yourself
Some of this might seem harsh and not what you want to hear.
Generally, I like to look for the positive and I truly hope your loved one can sort it out. However, if that isn’t happening then here I am with some tough love and straight talking. It is what I needed to hear and you might not need it yet but please file it away in case you need some/all of this in the future.
The alcoholic will eventually drive away all but your most stoical friends and family. Social drinking is one thing. People enjoy spending a pleasant evening out with friends. When they find that one of them is repeatedly focused on getting legless drunk, leads others to do the same, is horribly tactless, tells lies and generally acts like a complete idiot then the invitations will stop.
Don’t blame your friends. Most of ours dropped us like a stone. At the time, I was incredibly angry and hurt. I couldn’t understand why I was being tarred with the same brush as him and deserted in my time of need.
Now, I can see that each of us wants to spend our leisure time having fun, or at least doing something that has a purpose. Spending time with an alcoholic is pretty pointless and uncomfortable. Given the choice most of us would avoid it like the plague.
On the way to this situation there may be a few other phases.
You might well join in the drinking for a while, enjoying the social side of it. At some point you will realise that it is not fun and is actually limiting your life.
We had a motorhome and I can remember realising that we always had to stay near a pub when we went away. We’d go for a meal and then a new “buddy” would be found at the bar, with whom we had to stay drinking till late. I got fed up of the following morning’s late starts (and hangovers). I wanted to be out walking with the dogs and sightseeing.
It is your secret. There is likely to be a phase when you know how bad things are but friends and family don’t. You might feel very ashamed not to be able to sort it out, “after all love heals everything doesn’t it?” No, it doesn’t. When you tell them.
Friends and/or family may not accept it. They might not want to believe it. They still see the alcoholic as a sociable person and believe you to be completely paranoid with a lively imagination. This phase (if it happens) will make you feel as though you are going completely mad, combined with dismay that those you love the most don’t believe the deepest darkest pain in your life (when it has taken you all your courage to reach out and speak of it).
You feel you are a failure if you still love the alcoholic. Remember it is a disease, not a choice that the alcoholic is making. It is an illness.
You can (and must at some point if things keep declining) make a different choice for your life, rather than be dragged down by it.
Keeping yourself functioning
You need to keep yourself in balance. There is a lot to cope with, perhaps you need to keep your job going, support your family and pets safe and so on. Doing that while going through the ups and downs of living with an alcoholic is very tough and a steep learning curve.
Decide you are going to stay strong, that this ‘thing’ is not going to beat you.
Giving in to it is tempting but someone has to keep things going and that person probably needs to be you.
You have the strength to steer your way through it and out the other side.
How do you do that? Firstly, believe you can do it. Keep on top of your thoughts.
Ditch thinking about the the dreams you had previously, that fairytale life has gone. Grieve for it by all means but don’t stay stuck on it or put any energy into berating yourself.
Find ways to clear those sticky emotions – the anger, the frustration, the bitten back words (I can help, there are ways to do this that are simple yet effective). Do things that will pick you up. That take you out of the negative thought patterns that arise from observing the horrors that are going on in your home life.
I have a ‘Build a new life in five minute chunks’ free download that will give you some ideas for this that work yet won’t take hours of your time up.
Change yourself and your life circumstances can change for the better.
It sounds a bit “woo woo” but it works so try it. Notice the things you are grateful for, the things that make you smile, appreciate the small things in life.
Focus on getting through a day at a time, or even an hour at a time, just to get through it.
The journeys to & from home can be tough. You need to forget what you left behind when you go. On the way home you will worry what you are going to find there. I found Louise Hay’s subliminal self-esteem affirmation cassette tape (yes it was a long time ago!) and put that on in the car. It noticeably lifted my mood and helped me to transition smoothly and feel calm inside, for that period of time at least. The relief it gave me was tangible.
Now I use my e-Pendant, stress-pendant, homeopathic remedies, essences, tapping and many other things. I did use homeopathy and Shamanic healing for Steve as well as I trained in them. For him, there were successful periods but he kept on relapsing. I wonder if the e-Pendant might have dug in deeper (I didn’t have it until much later when he was already very poorly).
I did briefly try Al-anon which is the support group for families of alcoholics but did not find what I needed there. Now there are all sorts of support groups etc. on the internet these days. Stay away from ones that focus on “poor me” because what you focus on you get more of. You need supporters to get back to being you and dropping the pain you are going through now.
Trust your gut feel. You probably have the answers that are right for you within already.
The Samaritans in the UK are there to listen at times when life seems just too dark for us to cope. The best call I made was to ring the Samaritans – they listen without judgement and let you spill out all the mess that is going on in your mind and start to make some sense of it. That was exactly what I needed. The answers were all in my head but jumbled up with everyone else’s instructions that didn’t fit my situation! I only called the once but that call helped me straighten out all the chatter and information in my mind so I could see what had to be done.
(I paid it back by volunteering as a Samaritan for several years, it was that life changing for me and it was fascinating to learn how to be that ear for others).
Finally, don’t expect everything to drop into place and your bubbly old self to return once you have split from the alcoholic. If it does, that is great. Probably though there will be a lot of rebuilding of yourself and your life to do before you feel content and truly happy again.
Steve moved out in the January. I was pretty close to falling apart by then.
In February I was sitting in the living room with the log fire on and hardly any furniture because the replacement carpet was half fitted – half the room was concrete and half carpet. I distinctly remember thinking “I can’t take any more”. It was completely overwhelming.
The next morning I came downstairs to find water flooding through the ground floor. The mains pipe had burst. It was six months of hell. De-humidifiers in the house, the woodwork, the flooring, everything had to be slung out and replaced, fortunately on the insurance. I also had a squirrel in the roof driving the dogs bonkers and someone ran into my car. I could cope with more, I had to!
The lesson from this for me was that it is so important to get one’s energy levels up and a positive frame of mind so that the situation is turned around – we attract in situations that match our energy levels and this is what I was doing.
I would be honoured to support you to get through similar transitions. I have tools now that are great at clearing the blockages and getting us back tuned in to who we really are and feeling tuned in to our intuition in order to make progress.
The more buoyant you are then the more life will flow to you and opportunities to unpick a dreadful situation will appear before you.
RIP Steve (pictured below in 1987 with me and two of our dogs).