Thursday, January 27, 2011

The End Of Our Journey Together

In April I wrote about my life with an addict. In one part I misspoke. I wrote that I had divorced my husband. In fact I was only thinking of leaving him; in the end I chose to stay. I have not posted for almost a year because I have been so busy coping with this disease in one way or another that I have not had the energy or desire to write.

I did continue to attend Alanon meetings, as I last wrote. The meetings in my area, at least, are open to the families and friends of addicts as well as alcoholics, and about half of the people in my home group are in this situation.

The first thing I learned was that alcoholism/addiction are diseases. The addict may begin by using the using the substance recreationally only on occasion. Some people can remain at this level for many years. For many others, however, there is a reaction that causes them to crave the substance physically, makes them unable to stop after one drink, and prevents them from functioning well without it. Many alcoholics, for instance, have told me they have become addicted after only a few bouts of drinking, while other people can drink moderately for years and never become alcoholics. Actual alcoholics or addicts may insist that stopping the drug of choice is only a question of will power and that they can do that anytime they like. They are either kidding themselves or outright lying.

Understanding that addiction is a disease and not a moral failing changed my attitude somewhat. I became more understanding and compassionate toward my husband. My reactions of rage at his behavior subsided and I was more able to deal with his illness objectively.

I had learned that the only cure for most alcoholics/addicts is to admit to themselves and others that they are powerless over their drug of choice. This may take a very long time. Many lose jobs, homes, families, friends, even become street people and lose fingers or toes due to frostbite before they reach this point. AA calls this point "hitting bottom." It is only after the addict reaches this bottom do they become ready to concede that they are powerless over their drug of choice and their lives have become unmanageable. They must reach this point before they are ready to be helped. This is called Step 1 of the 12 steps of AA.

Step 2 is very difficult for a lot of people. It says "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Neither AA nor Alanon define what that power is. It can be God, Allah, Krishna, Buddha, nature, the universe or any other deity of choice. I know one atheist who decided that the "group conscience" of AA was a power greater than himself.

There are ten more steps of this spiritual program, the goal -- for those in Alanon --is to "achieve serenity."

That's right. Not how to control the alcoholic/addict. Not how to manipulate him or her in the direction we think they should go. Rather, we learn to stay sane within an insane environment. Yes, alcoholism/addiction create insanity in both the addicts and their families. We learn to "detach" from the situation and look at it objectively. This doesn't mean we must stop caring. Only that we must stop our own crazy behavior, like screaming, scolding, shaming, becoming verbally or physically abusive, trying to arrange situations to cover up for our family member and/or keep him or her from becoming accountable for their own behavior. These behaviors either give the addict an excuse to use more or make life so comfortable for them they have no desire to change. Rather we learn when and how to speak clearly and calmly when the need to do so arises. This is called "detaching with love."

We learn that many of us are what are called "co-dependents." Whole books have been written on this subject so I will only speak of my own experience. I came from a home where my father was an alcoholic. He was no longer drinking when I was born but the behaviors normally associated with alcoholism were still there. This included erratic bursts of temper followed by remorse, unpredictability, unreliability, untruthfulness and self-justification to name a few. AA calls this being a "dry drunk."

I patterned myself after my mother, who I have decided was a co-dependent. Her whole life was her family. She believed her role was to be a "helpmeet" (as the Bible says) to her husband in all things. She thought her job was to fulfill every single need of every one of us, no matter how impossible that might actually be. If she was unable to live up to her standard of perfection she turned on herself with blame and shame. She could never possibly live up to her own standards so she was always angry with herself.

She was also always angry at my father, though she tried to hide it. If any of us children fell short of her standard of morality or spirituality she became angry with us too. She would come to me, even when I was very young, and unburden herself of all the sorrow she had endured from my father. I was too young to be of any help, of course, and I was just left bewildered as to what I could or should do. My father was actually very good to me, so I loved him almost as much as I loved her and felt torn in my loyalties. I grew up an anxious perfectionist like my mom.

In my relationship with my husband and in my journey in Alanon I began to recognize and begin to correct some of my co-dependent behavior. I consciously decided to stop feeling anxious and guilty whenever my husband indicated that I was not perfect. That's still my immediate reaction, but I'm beginning to recognize and correct it.

I stopped keeping my husband's addiction a secret from his family and mine. I found that his family was perfectly aware of his problem but didn't want to bring it up unless I chose to confide in them. I gained a warm and supportive family group who loved my husband as much as I did and were willing to help in any way.

I learned to stop covering up for my husband's erratic behavior and let him take the consequences of his own actions -- to a point, that is. I wouldn't let him drive when he was high, especially when I was in the car and my safety was at stake. I would make sure he kept his doctor's appointments. I would take charge of our bank account when he was impaired and not let him spend all our money buying foreign drugs on the internet. Anything that negatively impacted me or my own safety, especially, I took charge of.

I found in Alanon a group of non-judgmental, warm and supportive people who I could call anytime, night or day, for help. I received guidance in changing my behavior and encouragement with every little baby step I took.

I hit my "bottom" and began going to Alanon about a year ago when I was forced to admit that everything that I had tried didn't work. His addiction was spiraling out of control and my life was filled with worry and anxiety. I knew I had the option to leave him, and carefully considered it several times, but decided to stay, still hoping he would get to the point of wanting help. I loved him and there is always the possibility of change. Unfortunately, he had a very low bottom.

Not every Alanon story has a happy ending.

On January 3rd my husband died of a combination of a weak heart, an overdose of drugs, and severe depression. It may have been unintended but it was effectively a suicide. I had called 911 several times in the previous six months because of overdoses. Every time he went to the hospital they strongly advised him to enter their substance abuse unit and every time he refused.

I knew one of these times I would call and they wouldn't be able to save him. That is what happened on January 3rd.

His family and friends and I gave him a respectful funeral. We were recognizing all the good things he had done for others and all of his positive qualities. Despite his addiction and other faults he was dearly loved by many and will be missed. There will always be a hole in our lives that he had filled.

I continue to go to Alanon meetings and practice the 12 steps in my daily life. I feared I might become suicidal myself if he were to die; I could have blamed myself for somehow not doing the right things to prevent him. With Alanon's help I have been able to see events clearly and though I am terribly grieved, I do not hate myself for what was ultimately his choice. I continue to receive the warm support and welcome of those who have been through this themselves.

I believe in eternal life and feel comforted to know that my husband is continuing on in his spiritual journey. Though there is probably a period after death when we review our lives here on earth, I do not believe in hell or everlasting punishment. I know he is well and with God and would wish me to be comforted. He did love me, after all.