If you are the wife of a problem drinker, there are only two times that need close attention. First, pay attention to the time when your husband is drinking. Is he able to control the amount he drinks? With regularity is he able to say he’s going to have “one beer while I am watching the game” and actually have just one beer? Would he be surprised to know there are men and women who open a beer and at the end of the game they have not finished drinking it? Is he predictable? Does he always do what he says he will do or does drinking often take priority over you or the family?
The other time you will want to pay attention is the time he is not drinking. You, the family, his boss, co workers, friends, everyone who is watching the problem drinker slowly backing in to a cell of isolation, loneliness and shame as a result of the drinking always hope for periods of abstinence. They are grateful when the drinker is not drinking. What they don’t understand is this period is marked with feelings of not fitting in, bouts of insecurity, challenges with maintaining relationships. The drinker, without alcohol, has often been described as a body of raw nerve endings. The drinker may vacillate between the nice guy and a person so angry you wonder how you could have ever had any good feelings toward him. For him, his relationship to alcohol when not drinking is marked by thoughts of drinking again and experiencing the soothing affect of alcohol.
Eventually the drinker will have to drink again. He may pick a fight or find some other way to blame his return to drinking on someone else. But he will need to experience the sense of ease that comes with alcohol. What the drinker does not know, is there will come a day when there is no longer a sense of ease with alcohol no matter how much he drinks.
When this point is reached, the drinker may be hopeless. In this condition there are three places continuing to drink will take him. He may get arrested for driving under the influence. Chances are he has been arrested once maybe twice for this already but now he’ll be arrested on a much more serious charge. There will have been an accident. Someone might have been hurt.
Death is an option for this drinker. There are several medical deaths associated with drinking but there are hundreds of other ways to die including accidents and over dosing but possibly the worst death is the one where you do not lay down and have dirt put on your face. The alcoholic dies of loneliness and despair. He dies dreaming dreams and making plans but not being able to put the bottle down to accomplish any of them. He dies a little every time he sees that look in his wife or mother or brother or sister’s eye. That look that says, “why did you drink again? You promised you wouldn’t” The alcoholic meant it when he made the promise and he doesn’t know any better “why” he did it than you do but he’ll die of the shame, guilt and remorse he sees reflected back in those eyes.
Or third, and the seemingly most difficult choice to make, he will seek out help. He knows someone who quit drinking and went to Alcoholics Anonymous. He may start out making a phone call to that person. He has insurance. He may call to see what benefits he has and obtain a referral to a detox, residential or outpatient program.
He makes the phone call and arranges to meet that person at an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting tomorrow. He schedules an assessment tomorrow at the treatment center. The mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister, whoever loves him and is still in his life feels hopeful. This is good news.
And, it is good news until the next morning when the drinker realizes he has over reacted. “What was I thinking to make that call?”, “It’s not really that bad”. And instead of going to that AA meeting or checking in to treatment, he resolves to not drink again. He may go a day or two. He may eventually stop on the way home for one drink and actually go home after one drink. He may do that three or four times but eventually, because of his relationship with alcohol when he drinks, he will be drunk again and wrestling with a hangover at work the next day. Soon he is as bad as he had ever been. This may happen a few times. Families should be supportive when healthy choices are made but not devastated when alcoholism shows up.
Making a decision to change a life style may be an easy one to make in light of all the negative consequences the drinker faces. The drinker has never had difficulty making decisions but his follow through falls short. It’s been his history when he has sworn off it’s not unusual that it should be different now. His life is riddled with negative consequences but rather than follow through with the phone call and go to an AA meeting or go to treatment the drinker will always manipulate, plead or in a loving way attempt to persuade someone to present a third option. This is that curious relationship the drinker has when he’s not drinking.
The drinker is often certain that if people in his life would just listen to him and follow through as he suggests, all will be well and the drinking will be held to a minimum. At this point family members have one of two choices.
Families can believe the drinker. There should be no shame or embarrassment in believing one more time. This is your child, your wife, your mother or father. This is someone you love and you simply aren’t ready to let go. I have been where you are. I just ask you to understand you are in a boxing ring with alcoholism. You are going to get beat up and you too could die the alcoholic death of loneliness and isolation.
You can stop believing the promises, the stories, the excuses, the lies and walk away. You may have walked away emotionally long ago. Tell the alcoholic to make a choice between drinking or living in your home. If that’s not possible then you move out with a family member or friend. Contact a professional interventionist. Turn your drinker’s initial entry in to recovery over to someone not emotionally involved with the drinker or you. Let someone with resources help the alcoholic follow through with the decision to make a change in their life.
The best scenario occurs for your family. The drinker goes to treatment and to Alcoholics Anonymous. The early days of this may look surprisingly like the days when he would stop drinking on his own. He may be excited and happy one minute and angry and depressed the next. Remember the relationship he has when he’s not drinking?
Until he develops some strategies for living comfortably, he will be restless and irritable. Alcoholics Anonymous is the best place to develop these strategies because he is surrounded by other alcoholics who have been through the experiences he is going through. These men and woman share experience with one another. They talk openly about what they use to be like. They talk about things that non alcoholics might find shameful and yet, when these men and women talk about them they laugh. The laughter is the identification, “yes, yes, I have done that too”. The new man or woman sees rooms full of people who were at one time new too. Rooms full of men and women who have the strange relationship to alcohol when not drinking and yet they are six months, nine months, a year, five years, sixteen years sober. They share with the new one that they enjoy being here with one another. They share strength. And they let the alcoholic know if they can stay sober, he can too. They share hope. In fact, they do nothing more than share. They hope the new man will come back. They make it inviting for the new man to come back but if he doesn’t, they turn their attentions to the next new person coming in to the room. There is no therapy or counseling in AA which is why it is important for the alcoholic to seek out treatment as well as AA attendance if necessary.
“Alcoholism”? I have it. I didn’t when I first approached Alcoholics Anonymous. I had excuses, lies, manipulations, justifications, plans and designs. I am glad all that eventually fell away. Today I have a solution for my feelings of not being enough, of not being the right kind. I don’t have to worry about not being smart enough or pretty enough or cleaver enough. Today I don’t worry if you find out about me you’ll leave me. “Alcoholism”? It has given me freedom. I think I will go to the park and watch my grandson play ball.
Email your questions or topic suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s experience this journey together. You will remain anonymous.