Alcoholism is a very selfish disease. The person concerned can seem his or her ‘old self’ some of the time but when the need to find a drink looms large that changes and a different person appears. This different person will tell whopping great lies to hide the truth of the addiction and can be a completely different character from the sober person.
Having been the wife of an alcoholic who eventually died as a result of the downward spiral triggered by the alcoholism, I speak with authority and deep sadness about this topic. The experience was not something I would wish on my worst enemy. It certainly made me stronger and taught me a lot about myself that led me to practice holistic therapies now.
I speak here of the biggest lessons I learned from my own experience, I do not have any professional or medical expertise in this.
Note: 1. Get medical advice at the earliest stage. 2. Look after your safety. My ex- only ever endangered his own safety and indirectly mine (cigarettes left, iron on carpet etc.). He was never violent or threatening. If this is your situation then you need to secure your own safety, and that of your family and animals, as top priority.
About the Alcoholic
This is a disease. If the person 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 acceptable so the stage when someone tips out of that into alcoholism can be hard to spot.
By the time you have noticed it is a problem he or she probably has a very much worse habit than you know. It is probable that there are reserve supplies hidden around the house and garden. Perhaps the person is never fully sober and hides it well for ages.
There will be a tipping point when you just know that he or she is drunk instinctively. Then the lies and the arguments start as you try and reason with someone about something they cannot think logically about.
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, not even you or any of the family whatever they say to you.
Sometimes friends and family organising a session to sit and speak from the heart about how it is affecting them can shock the person into stopping drinking. Sometimes Alcoholics Annonymous and other support groups will help. Sometimes going and ‘drying out’ for a period of time can turn it around.
Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol are as severe as some drug addictions so do not underestimate how hard it is for someone to do this. The pull to return to drinking is strong as well if there is a deeply ingrained habit.
If your alcoholic loved one does not truly, deeply, want to stop drinking AND believe that he or she can do that 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 said that the only thing left to try was to allow my ex- to hit rock bottom. At that stage sometimes people do sort themselves out.
It was pointed out very clearly that he would not hit rock bottom living with me because I was, just by being there, supporting him.
I realised that I couldn’t hold myself together much longer and luckily an opportunity arose that allowed us to split up amicably. We found him a nice house not far away so we could both have 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.
Looking after yourself whilst living with the alcoholic
How things might pan out
Warning. This might seem harsh and not what you want to hear. Generally I like to look for the positive and I am doing that here with some tough love and straight talking.
The alcoholic will eventually drive away all but your most stoichal friends and family. Social drinking is one thing. Your friends enjoy spending a pleasant evening out with friends. When they find that one of them is repeatedly focused on getting leglessly drunk, being horribly tactless, telling lies and generally acting like a complete idiot then they will go.
Don’t blame your friends. Most of ours dropped us like a stone. At the time I was incredibly angry and hurt to be tarred with the same brush as him. 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 – you will be the only one who can remember most of the conversations. Given the choice most of us would go.
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 stopped being sociable and was actually limiting your life. I remember realising that after a while we always had to stay near a pub when we went away in our motorhome. A new “buddy” would be found at the bar, with whom we had to stay drinking till late. That made for a late start (and hangover) the next day when the sun was out and birds chirping when I wanted to be out walking with the dogs.
There might be a phase where you know how bad things are but friends and family can’t see it (or don’t want to believe what they see). They 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 feeling very hurt because 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 will probably feel you are a failure if you still love the alcoholic. Why isn’t our love enough to turn this around? etc. Remember it is a disease not a choice that the alcoholic is making. An illness.
Learning to keep your own sanity, your job going, your family and pets safe etc. through all of this is a steep learning curve. There has to be a stage when you decide this ‘thing’ is not going to beat you. Giving in to it makes everything so much worse. You have to find the strength to steer your way through it and out the other side, wherever that is.
How do you do that? You need to find things that will pick you up. Get 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’ Freebie that will give you some ideas for this that work.
The basic finding I can report is that if you change yourself you can change your life circumstances for the better. Find the things you are grateful for, the things that make you smile, appreciate the small things in life. Take it a day at a time or an hour at a time just to get through it.
The journey to or from work can be tough. Trying to forget what you left or worrying about what you are going to find when you get home. I got Louise Hay’s subliminal self-esteem affirmation cassette tape (yes it was a long time ago!) and putting that on in the car lifted my mood and helped me to transition smoothly and feel calm inside, for that period of time at least.
There are so many more things these days that we can call on to lift us. All of the holistic therapies I offer can provide support and a bit of a lift in a similar way, specifically tuned to the recipient. Crystals, music, EFT (tapping), anything that makes you feel good is to be remembered and used when times get tough.
The more buoyant you are then the more life will flow to you and opportunities to unpick a dreadful situation will appear before you. That is it in a nutshell.
I sought help from Al-anon (for the partners of alcoholics) and I spoke to other people who had experiences of living with an alcoholic.
Everyone had advice for me based on their experiences. Many told me to get out and leave the house but that did not fit with my gut feel that there was a way through it that freed us both.
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 answers that didn’t fit my situation! I volunteered for the Samaritans for several years as a way of paying back this big favour.
There is a sense of bereavement to lose one you love to this disease even if he/she is still alive and living with you. The hopes and dreams you had for a future together have been brutally smashed into the ground and life won’t be the same again.
Once I was living on my own again I realised just how near to breaking point I was. It took a long time and a lot of personal development work for me to forge a new life for myself and my beloved dogs again. Building new friendships was hard and, even now, I am aware they could end at any point. Perhaps that is healthy – after all we are all alone when we enter and leave this world and have our own paths along the way.
Why couldn’t I “fix” my ex- you ask? Well when it started I wasn’t practicing the therapies. Trying to fix him, and myself, were the big drivers that led me to discover the magic of holistic therapies.
For periods of time he did lift out of it but he always relapsed. There were two reasons for this I now believe.
Firstly he had some deep dark childhood experiences that had left him with deep emotional wounds (a common issue for alcoholics apparently) plus there were a few other alcoholics in the family and family social habits rotated around drinking.
Secondly he did not believe he could beat it. Having seen older family members die from alcohol related diseases he felt it was inevitable for him. He used to say it was Kismet.
These days I have a few more tools in the toolkit to try but I certainly don’t have any ‘one size fits all’ magic fix for this dreadful disease.
Catching it early, before the disease gets a grip, make your chances of a good result very much better. Make sure you have a few days a week without a drink, or give it up altogether perhaps.