Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More On Living With An Addict

Click on this title and you will find a link to the Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, Nar-Anon and several other, related chat rooms. You have to register before you can participate but it's easy and doesn't require you to use your real name.

If you or the addict are having a crisis and cannot get to a meeting, try logging on. There is always an AA or Alanon meeting going on somewhere in the country, as well as "rooms" for more informal discussions. You can find help and hope right away.

Will add more later.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

For Those Who Have Lived With An Addict

A few days ago my brother sent me a short email, telling me that he had just gotten out of a posh rehab on a resort island and is doing "fine." He has been an alcoholic most of his adult life. He also admitted that he has been chronically depressed for a number of years, and was drinking to self-medicate. I have no doubt most of that email is true.

Except for the "doing fine."

A couple of weeks of rehab is just the beginning. He has many years of compulsive behavior to overcome, twisted and broken relationships to mend, and the necessity to squarely face the consequences of a lifetime of addiction. It's not an easy road.

Another family member, who belongs to Alcoholics Anonymous, has "twelfth stepped" my brother, but it is up to him to acknowledge that he has hit his bottom (if he has) and to get to as many meetings as possible to help him get through the crucial early days of recovery.

My brother also has to face his family, who have suffered from his disease. Many addicts or people who have never lived with addictions tend to forget the families, or even blame them for "driving" the addict to his habit or not being able to rescue him or her from their own actions and their consequences.

I was once married to an alcoholic who had become sober in AA. He hit his bottom when he realized that if he didn't stop drinking he would die. As far as I know, he is still relation to alcohol, that is.

I believed because of the years of sobriety behind him he would be a safe partner to commit my life and my welfare to. In all other respects we were compatible and in love. It was not until we were living together that I realized he abused prescription drugs.

He would often get high in the evening in order, he said, "to relax." Nobody else in the household could then rest. He would sometimes become manic, barking out demands to do things for him, like produce objects he had mislaid himself or repair damage he himself had done but denied any responsibility for. He would keep me running for hours sometimes, gripped with fear that he was having a heart attack or insulin reaction or other health crisis, or desperately searching for something he said he needed immediately. If I was reading or writing or using the computer he would often talk non-stop, rambling, not allowing me to think or concentrate or pay attention to anything else. And I, patsy that I was, would oblige, trying to listen and respond and complete my task at the same time, usually without good results.

Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, he would lie, semi-conscious, his breathing labored, barely conscious. I would sit there and watch over him, ready to call 911 in the event he lost consciousness, which he had done before.

When he was high I would try to drive him everywhere, afraid he would get in an accident or I would receive that dreaded phone call from the emergency room or police station. Sometimes he would insist on driving himself, but wanted me to come with him. In the beginning, before I learned how to stand up for myself better, I would go along, ever obliging, holding my breath on every curve or swerving of the car.

Sometimes, when I got up the courage to tell him I was angry about his behavior he would storm out of the house, going, I knew, to get something to get high. Then I would lie awake, worrying that he would kill himself either in buying the drugs or in the car. I was being punished by not being able to sleep. It was only later that I realized that he had been jonesing in the first place and my anger was only an excuse that allowed him to justify his addictive behavior to himself.

One time I worried so much that I called him on his cell phone. I asked him if he was alright and he said no. He had gone to the grocery store, purchased a bottle of cough syrup, and drunk the whole thing. That stuff will rot your brain; he had become confused, couldn't find his car, and was wandering around the parking lot.

I tried so hard to be the loving, supportive, helpful wife to him. The one he had never met until me. It was these good intentions that helped to turn me into the co-dependent I became.

I tried to be only understanding and kind, though I often felt frustration and anger, which then made me feel anxious and guilty. As far as my husband was concerned, he didn't want me to have any feelings about his addiction at all. Period.

It was Al-Anon, a program for the families, friends and/or co-workers of alcoholics, that proved to be a turning point in my life. Although my husband was not then an active member of AA, he was still what they call a "dry drunk" and therefore his alcoholism was still relevant to his life and mine. There are chapters of Narcotics Anonymous and Nar-Anon for the families of addicts, but none within many miles, so it was the Al-Anon fellowship that I turned to. Its twelve steps and emphasis on achieving personal serenity and equilibrium, no matter what others are doing around you, has saved the sanity and sometimes the lives of countless husbands and wives.

My husband was less than thrilled about my involvement with AA, as he perceived it as a way that I would learn how better to manipulate and control him, or else it would encourage me to leave him. It actually does the opposite. I cannot detail here my long journey in the program, but I do want to encourage those who are suffering as I did and reassure you that you can find solutions to your dilemma. I did, eventually, make the decision to divorce, and the program provided the strength and courage to do that, but that is by no means the most common result of the fellowship. It has also given thousands, maybe millions, the strength to persevere.

A second step I have taken in my journey has been psychotherapy. There I have confronted and learned to accept or change both my strengths and my shortcomings or short-sightedness. It has given me the tools to be more honest, more insightful and also more able to stand up for myself in my present relationship. I am learning that many difficulties can be at least negotiated, if not always perfectly resolved. I am learning to be more forthright and truthful and less likely to retreat to my former role of the always-helpful, always-in-control and always loving wife. I am learning that it sometimes take courage to admit I am angry or confused or at a loss, in short, that I am human. It also takes courage to accept that neither my husband nor I are, or ever will be, perfect.

I don't think anyone would actually be able to live with me if I were.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Social Immobility: Climbing the Economic Ladder Is Harder In the U.S. Than In Most European Countries

If you click on the title of this post you will see the article from the Huffington Post that I am referring to.

This article affirms my own observation that the U.S. has been steadily losing its middle class since at least the 1980's. Although I have had some very good jobs in my life my income level has never equalled my father's. I'm one of those people who has been downwardly mobile in terms of my class. A lot of this is because in my 20's and 30's I had a career in the arts. While it was challenging and rewarding, the income of an artist is almost always unstable, so I had relatively good periods counterbalanced by periods of unemployment or underemployment, often working in restaurants or as an office temp in order to pay my rent. This left my average income below the middle class standard achieved by my parents. In this way my experience may be a little different from some who have likewise found themselves downwardly mobile. Of my family, though, only my oldest brother reached the level of material "success" that my father enjoyed.

When I decided, in my thirties, to pursue a more stable occupation I found that my degree in fine arts was just not that marketable. My friends and former schoolmates who had reached a level of middle class comfort had specialized in college in fields like business or law or education. I discovered what many former English or psychology or philosophy majors did: a degree in the humanities was worth very little in the real world. The age of specialization had come upon us and many of us, having been reassured by our parents and the schools of higher education that any major was useful in the job market as long as we graduated, found to our chagrin that our college years had enriched us as human beings but did not do much for our ability to make a living.

Not wanting to be a waitress for the rest of my life, I dutifully filled out applications for every job I thought I could qualify for and some that I couldn't. The response was underwhelming. It was then I decided. I had to go back to school and prepare for something else. Although English degrees are basically unmarketable, they are good for one thing: teaching. I determined to become a college teacher in English. Actually, I loved graduate school. I could then, and can now, happily be a student for the rest of my life. I got assistantships in teaching to help me pay for my education and ended up getting a Ph.D. I was a little older than my fellow doctors, maybe, but triumphant. I had found my calling.

Which brings me back to my discussion of downward mobility in the U.S. My college students are a bit wiser than many of my generation were, but a lot of them are still struggling to make it into the middle class. A distressing number of my students and former students are now working in big-box stores and other dead-end jobs that used to be filled by high school graduates. I hate to think what happens to h.s. grads if they haven't been trained in a skilled trade. The number of jobs that used to be tickets to the middle class are dwindling, forcing more and more students to go on to grad school where they can specialize still further and postpone adulthood even longer, or take dead-end jobs for which they are overqualified. Hopefully, many of them will eventually move up to positions of greater responsibility, but they will still have lost years of potential income and may never reach the level of comfort that their parents did.

Manufacturing jobs, which once were a reliable ladder into the middle class, are likewise disappearing, shipped to third world countries. A nation that once prospered by making things is rapidly becoming a nation of call-center and other service employees, and even these jobs are going overseas. The once-solid middle class is being eroded.

It appears now that countries like Canada and a number of European nations are outstripping the U.S. in their opportunities for upward mobility. I would hate to see a mass exodus of young talent leaving this country, but eventually they will go where the jobs are.

Meantime, as much as I can, I try to prepare my students for the challenges and realities of our current job market. MBA's (Master of Business Administration) are currently becoming a dime a dozen, while undergraduate degrees in business are about as useless as philosophy majors. Not every MBA is equally valuable now; the degree has to come from Harvard or Cornell or Yale. The competition for professorships is fierce. Not everyone can become a doctor or a lawyer, and even law is becoming an overcrowded field. And with the cost of higher education, we can't keep our students in school forever, leaving them with enormous student loans before they've even found their first job.

It's time we paid more attention to our shrinking middle class.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is President Obama Too Thoughtful?

I remember, when I was a little girl, my grandfather saying that Adlai Stevenson had lost the election to Dwight D. Eisenhower because Stevenson was "too smart" for the American public to appreciate him.

We in the western world have always had an ambivalent attitude toward intellectualism. On the one hand we revere geniuses like Einstein and Shakespeare and Newton and are taught in school to emulate them. On the other hand, we have the somewhat comical images of the mad scientist and the absent-minded professor -- characters who are capable of amazing mental feats but generally incapable of dealing with the mundane realities of everyday life. We have Shakespeare's Hamlet, a thinker who becomes so paralyzed in the process of weighing the meaning and consequences of his actions that he cannot act at all. We are familiar with the question, "If you're so smart, why can't you (enter the appropriate common sensical act)?" We have the frequent portrayal of intelligent young people as nerds and socially inept losers who are never invited to the prom.

It is to America's credit that we managed to elect an intellectual to the highest post in the land. We proved that we really can choose a leader who doesn't fumble for words and wasn't a C student in school. We have overcome many of the stereotypes of the effete academic. This is progress.

Still, while I like and admire President Obama, I find myself impatient with what sometimes appears like an inability to act decisively. We need a leader who can not only expound on the necessity to move the ball down the field but the ability to get it through the goal posts.

When the president calls on us to reflect on our goals and aspirations he calls upon our highest and best selves. We are heartened and inspired. He invites us to reason and to act according to the most noble motives. Sometimes, though, we as a country must not only reflect but move forward decisively.

President Obama has said that among the many notable presidents our country has produced he most admires and tries to emulate Abraham Lincoln. There is no doubt Lincoln was a mental heavyweight. But he was not only a thinker, he was a fighter. He pulled no punches when he wrestled with his enemies and was not afraid to make unpopular decisions. No one wanted a bloody civil war less than he did, but when he was called upon to lead he moved forward with courage and determination as well as with grave doubt and apprehension and, yes, sorrow.

Our president believes strongly in the power of reason and civil debate. This is why, in large part, we have elected him to office. It is this sanity that appealed to so many of us during his campaign.

Now, though, it is time to take on those enemies who are determined to stall all progress and mire our legislative process in the mud. It's all very good to reach out to our adversaries and invite them to reason with us, but another thing entirely to let them bring our government and our society to a standstill. Every concession to the forces of inertia is a victory for the status quo, and a defeat of the change we voted so enthusiastically to enable.

It is time for President Obama to do more than speak softly and reasonably. It's time for him to step down from the professor's podium and fight.