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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.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Detach...

With very few exceptions, as parents we want our children to grow into loving, caring, responsible, productive adults. We teach them right from wrong. We encourage education. We convey our spiritual beliefs. We teach them to help those who are less fortunate. We instill a sense of compassion and understanding. And, in my family, we took care of those who were ill and unable to take care of themselves.

Our development is furthered from outside sources – mainly the entertainment industry. We see moral values defeat evil doings. We watch lovers overcome such malady such as cancer or life-altering accidents. Romance is everywhere and implies that it is something that MUST be attained in order to have a full productive life. We’re left with the idea that marriage/partnership is the primary goal. And, once found, that it should last forever and ever until death we do part. Well – that’s the plan anyway.

For the most part, it is possible. But, when one of the partners has an addictive personality, things get complicated. Our first instinctive action comes from all our moral value teachings – we must help the person who is the Ying to our Yang. It’s reasonable. It’s expected. It’s perfectly normal. Sometimes it even helps.

As time goes on, the addiction becomes the third party in the relationship. The alcohol becomes the mistress with a locked-on hold over the couple. The alcoholic begins to change in personality and values. There comes a point in time when the alcoholic is no longer recognizable to the non-alcoholic spouse. Now there are four people in the group – the two spouses, the alcohol mistress, and the alter ego of the alcoholic. That’s too much and no one is having any fun.

You’ve tried everything and don’t know what else to do. There is really only one thing to do. Most people consider that the title alone could be classified as obscene. Detachment. Just the word alone implies that you should stop having any compassion or concern for the alcoholic. Many people think that it means not caring. This is far from the truth.

When you think about detachment, try thinking about the detachment only being for the alcoholic’s alter ego. You still love and care for your spouse. That’s undeniable. But that other person – the insulting one who embarrasses you and complicates your life – that is the person from which you must detach. If you can do that, you will be much more at ease and able to cope with whatever is taking place around you.

If you are at the stage in the alcoholism where the spouse is so consumed in the disease of alcoholism that they become totally unrecognizable – it is time for drastic measures. The spouse you loved, the one you promised your heart to forever and vowed to support until death – is now dead. Even though he/she may be walking around and breathing the air in your space – that person is lost to you forever. It’s time to grieve. Allow yourself this. Go to a grief support group (I wish there were ones specifically for loved ones of alcoholics – but there is not) and tell it like it is. Cry. Get angry. Eat gallons of Ben & Jerry’s. Cry and then cry some more. And then you may find that you can accept the fact that your beloved no longer lives in your house even though the alter ego is still present.

Now what?? You’ve cried, etc., etc. and what’s next? Do everything you would do if there were an actual death. This is the practical stuff – let an attorney advise you as to how to handle the finances, etc. Hire a housekeeper (if you can afford it). Do whatever it is you would do if you suddenly found yourself as a single person. I don’t encourage dating – that just further complicates things because the spouse you love is really still there – but just gone on some sort of mental hiatus. When/if that person returns you want to be emotionally available.

The alcoholic alter-ego is now a roommate and not a spouse. You may not like this roommate, but you provide everything necessary for a safe haven. That’s how you fulfill that idea of taking care of those who are sick or unable to care for themselves. It doesn’t mean you lie to his/her boss – that job is not your business – just as any roommates job would not be your business. It is not your responsibility to see to it that the alcoholic stays sober. It is none of your business if the alcoholic seeks treatment or not. While you can be supportive – let things happen as the play out. Don’t answer questions for the roommate or make commitments – it’s not your place. Put those responsibilities squarely back onto the alcoholic’s plate.

Of course, you must consider children – if there are any in the household. That’s a whole other post. See my page Leave or Stay?

Re-discover your own life. Did you like to play golf before you were afraid to leave the alcoholic at home alone? If so – go play some golf. Develop new friendships -- if they are also spouses of alcoholics, that’s even better. You are in there somewhere – you’ve just gotten lost and now it’s time to be found. Stop spending all your time thinking, hoping, and doing for the alcoholic. Focus on your needs and what you want.

So are you thinking… it’s dangerous to leave the alcoholic home alone… what if something happens while I’m gone? If it makes you feel better, find a cooperative friend that can stay with the alcoholic while you are out. But, don’t let that stop you. If you have no support system, try attending some Al-Anon meetings. You may not like everything they say – but there are people there who understand what you are going through.

You’ve grieved over your loss. You’ve found yourself again. It’s time to find some humor in your situation. Let’s face it – as sad as it is there are aspects of alcoholic actions that are funny. Looking for the milk in the oven – putting a jacket on upside down – illogical conversations – all good for a laugh. When you find yourself getting angry with the alcoholic – stop and ask yourself… if this were on a sitcom… would it be funny? If this were not happening in your house – would you laugh or at least chuckle?

I used to get frustrated at Riley when he would insist that a program from season one of NCIS had never been seen on television before. Especially when I knew he had just watched it a few weeks before. I used to try to tell him it was not new… it was a re-run—again. Now I just smile and say… Oh that’s nice. That smile leads me to thinking how fortunate I am to have that program be his big issue of the day.

Instead of thinking of detachment as distasteful… think of it as a life saver – your lifesaver for your life. Not the alcoholic’s because the alcoholic must find his/her own lifesaver.

I’m not saying this whole thing is easy because it most certainly is NOT. I consider that I’m fairly well detached from Riley – but there are days when I have to just get through each minute. I still get angry. I still yell. But I also laugh and always remember – this Riley is not MY Riley.

By the way… I had a friend who was the spouse of an alcoholic. She gave a specific name to her alcoholic’s alter-ego. It helped her keep her perspective about who was with her at any given time – her husband, Henry or the alter ego, Hank.

15 comments:

Syd said...

Detaching with love is difficult at times---the love part is hard. But I remember that this is a disease. And I also am glad that both of us are in recovery. The alcoholic personality may still come out at times, but I have learned to let that go. I no longer feel resentment about the past. I do think that Al-Anon is one of the most valuable programs for those who live with alcoholism. Going it alone is so difficult.

Timothy Odum said...

My biggest challenge has always been detaching. The problem I have is between my ears. If I can get the alcoholic out of my head, that's when I think I have truly detached.

Anonymous said...

I have been able to detach from my alcoholic spouse, but it has taken some effort to let go. The hard part is watching her slowly debilitate herself with alcohol. I make it a strict practice to not help her drink in any way. I don't buy it, I don't pour it, I don't touch it. Nevertheless, she finds a way to purchase it and consume it. Detaching also means (for me) that I don't confiscate it or pour it down the drain. I am not assuming the responsibility for keeping her sober. That's her job and she's failing at it.

Anonymous said...

I have decided to divorce my violent alcoholic husband after fifteen years of marriage. I cannot detach from a man who verbally abuses me as he follows me around the house and when that isn't enough he starts the other types of abuse--physically hitting or breaking things.

Anonymous said...

How does a mother "detach" from her only son who is a "binge" alcoholic in denial?

Anonymous said...

All you can do is raise your kids to the best of your ability . at some point, as with us as well, we all have to take over the responsibility of ourselves. We all make decisions in our lives and have to live with the outcome, good or bad. That also includes a persons decision to NOT get help. Its horrible to watch someone destroy themselves. Its like watching a horror movie and knowing what is going to happen but being defenseless to change the outcome. Having a relationship with an alcoholic is emotionally consuming, as those of you who understand, it takes over everything and becomes the consequential elephant in the room. Its consuming and continues to grow. Detachment is the best approach. Remember, it is their life , and unless they change it , it will not change.

Anonymous said...

I call my husbands alter ego ET. It stands for evil twin. Thanks for this blog. It has given me strength and peace.

Anonymous said...

52 female married kids 18,14,11 drank almost daily 27 years. Been in AA and sober for three months now. Whole new world. One minute at a time. To afraid to go to a doctor and find out how bad my liver is. Prayers to all who are struggling and those who struggle with them.

Anonymous said...

I'm recently divorced from my alcoholic husband after 28 years of marriage. I know I did the right thing for me, but I don't have a 'don't care' button that I can turn off. I continue to be overly concerned for his future, employment and health. My question is: WHY CAN'T I PUT MYSELF FIRST???? Why have and why do I still allow HIS choice to drink and his alcoholism to consume my head. Anyone else have these thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Agree

Anonymous said...

Help please my brother died he was 36. He didnt have a relationship with me or my family. He was a chronic alcoholic who died alone and was dead for 4 days before he was found. I dont under stand the autopsy report simply lists chronic ethanol use as cause of death

Anonymous said...

Kelly Flint and Coping:
Many months back Kelly asked why anyone started to drink heavily and Coping replied that they believed it was genetic. It was asked why people became heavy drinkers. While I will never speak to others experiences, I will share mine.

I was raised by very loving parents in a stable household. Neither of them drank outside of the occasional drink during holiday celebrations or special events. Three times per year at most.

My first real encounter with alcohol came when I was about 14. A friend and I got drunk while I stayed the night over his house. His parents drank and he had access to alcohol. I was a shy kid and introverted. That night gave me a feeling of freedom that I never felt before.

Through my teenage years I found alcohol to help me become more sociable and outgoing. I used it as a means to feel like I was living life. My first girlfriend was at age 15. While I was drinking more consistently (pretty much every week and drinking to get drunk), I stopped while we were dating. She was much more important to me than getting drunk. That was a life saver for me at the time, due to my friends moving on to additional recreational substances.

After the first love crush and crash, I reverted back to my old supposed friend. I cannot remember a time in my life where I did not experience severe anxiety. Alcohol helped those times. Anti-depressants were tried and the effects were worse than the anxiety. Alcohol again was the relief for me.

It became the weekend release. Work hard, and party harder. Stress and anxiety would build up, but drinking for me seemed to be the answer. That is until I lost employment in about 2006. I felt even more anxiety, so my prescription was more alcohol. It worked for a long time. I felt the escape but did not realize that I was becoming dependent.

My drinking started to cover the weekdays. It felt free for a while being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. I had savings, so money at the time was not an issue. Weekends turned into more weekdays. Every time I needed a release from anxiety, I just twisted a top.

I recently just turned 40. My drinking is severe. I usually buy 2-20 pack bottles of beer for fear I will run out before I am satisfied. It is not daily, but becoming five days a week. My recent doctor’s visit has high blood pressure which requires two medications and an abnormally high liver enzyme reading which led me to your post. I am told to stop drinking for three months and get retested. Time will tell (if I am able to, or if it is too late).

It is my view that understanding an alcoholic is not something an outside observer can do. We (they) know there is no control or power. Well, very little. Alcohol grants the addicts a release and a moment to not be completely surrounded by pressures, lets us be in denial, and actually gives some strange pleasure. While we do know our behavior is destructive, our consumption and reliance is our only perceived refuge. If you point out our flaws, we only seek the bottle more for release, comfort and escape. We are fighting ourselves. Alcohol when used as an escape is a very hard mistress to part with. We fear being left belittled, alone, useless, and most of all fear the pain and suffering we tried to avoid for all of our drinking years.

I know this won’t answer all of your questions, but I hope it helps.

Thank you all for your posts. I will re-read them in my fight for at least three months. Hopefully, a lifetime.

Anonymous said...

The only way I found to detach from my alcoholic husband of nearly 17 years was to divorce him. Even though I gave him countless chances to change he didn't. Now our family has broken up and he sits alone somewhere doing I don't know what. I hope and pray that he will realize that his drinking and violence has brought us to this end which is divorce. I have a teenaged son who I hope doesn't take on his negative traits.

Anonymous said...

My husband has been in and out of rehabs and hospitals for the past 5 years. In the past month he had confirmation from doctors that he was fine, no liver or heart problems. Recently he was sober for 3 months. And relapsed three days ago. It seems the effects of alcohol affected him faster than before, he doesn't make any sense, he is in a motel and I am scared for his life.
I have basically forced him to get to detox and hospitals in the past, but this time I feel different, I feel guilty I am not running to get him help, to call an ambulance, to call his friends to help him.
Is this wrong? Shouldn't I be helping a person that might die, I don't know what to do...

Anonymous said...

Adult married alcholic, bipolar adult in denial let go by wife, kids, parents, brothers and family, friends in his house after doing all efforts to admit him to rehab facility. He now contineously drinking. Now tcalling parents who avoid responding then he leave the voice mails with death like sounds. Father is sevrly mentally and physically sick and mother is also sick and devastated. Both parents have lost family support too due sickness and old age. Now mother is loosing her mind and control to cope with the situation. Being a loved one, how long the parents will resist and avoid contacts or find out what is the condition of their loved ones.
This is really the night mare for both parents. Sleepless nights with sevre stress and anxiety.
Passing through double side sword. At one hand can not respond or contact their loved one on other hand can not having any support from
Remaining family members. Not able to go to Other Alanone or other support source as having no mobility. Don't know what to do and how to spend rest of the life with this nightmares and emotional pains and stress.