Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yes, Alcohol and Running do mix!

I liken living with alcoholism to living in a war-zone.

My first husband is Lebanese and after years with him and visiting that beautiful war-torn country, I actually related better to his experience years later while living with an alcoholic.
When I read I remember I was a Point, I was a Circle by Hoda Al-Namani (and if you have not read that poem in its entirety, you should), I thought, this is me. This is my life. And I am not living in Beirut, Lebabon.

Like one who lives in deceit, I stone myself and call for help
Your wound grows and grows,
It slits my throat from vein to vein.
I put sand in you wound,
I put in your wound a giant, and around myself I light the fire.

If you are an addict, I am sorry. This story is not for you. There are hundreds of stories and resources for addicts. What seems to be forgotten is the families of those addicts, who largely suffer in silence.

There will always be another excuse, another mistake, another relapse, another addiction or anger about a parents’ addiction that they need their lifetime and yours to get over.
With addicts there is just always something.

And if you're reading this and you feel yourself getting angry perhaps you probably know that someone is finally telling the truth.

Of course I have empathy for the addicts too. So much that I belittled myself for 7 years.

When my husband first relapsed after his mother died, my well-meaning Christian father told me to just love him. But that's the problem with the addict: the more you love, the more they take of you and everything else, until there's nothing left to give.

And then there are the definitions that will drive you mad. What exactly is an alcoholic? I remember the first time my husband went through rehab, my dad's wife said, "Well, he can still drink wine, right!?"

There seems to be so much confusion around this issue. No one wants to label another as an alcoholic because it might mean that they are as well. My own definition has become more simplistic over the years. If your drinking harms you or your family in any way, and you can not stop, you are an alcoholic.
I have looked at other families with envy when I know they are the real thing. You can always tell. It’s not me, always overcompensating, trying to be two parents at once without appearing to be or that there is any problem, which is really the equivalent of being three. It wears you out, wears you thin.

I was living on 10 Excederines a day to get by between stress, lack of sleep and extreme headaches. I had dropped more than 11 pounds from my wedding day weight, which was already low. My sister told me, now that you've cut your hair short, you look like that boy from the Jungle Book! While many women would like to be a size Zero, I know for me, it wasn’t healthy.

Where would my husband be if I got sick? In the end I thought about that a lot those nights he didn't come home. If I got sick he'd be with his bottle somewhere and I'd still be alone raising these little kids.

I remember the night I decided to stop walking on tip-toes. I realized all these years I had become less of myself. I was worried about his anger, or that he would relapse, or be too stressed out, or our actions would cause something bad to happen. Suddenly I realized how ridiculous this all was. One strong parent was better than two half- assed-pussys. I decided then I would be me. I would let my children be themselves. We would suffer the consequences - whatever they were. And God help me, he would not hurt us - no matter what. I would stand strong. It was his turn to learn how to deal with the reality of our existence instead of us having to shrink because of the reality of his.

I remember before the first rehab, a very good friend looked me in the eyes and said, "Run". His mother had been an alcoholic and it had stunted his life. His comment affected our friendship for years. Three years later, when I found out about the relapse, I thought about this friend often and the courage it took him to say this and acknowledge my reality. I don’t know that I have ever even thanked him for it.
Thank you J.

But it was the best advice I received and it is the advice I would give my daughter if she ever became involved with an addict (past or present). Run. Run like hell.

The reason I think it hurt me so much at the time is that it would have forced me to see my part in things. And when you are with an alcoholic, you are used to suffering in silence as the martyr, wondering why the alcoholic does what he does.

I wasted 6 years of my life wondering why.

I've come to realize it doesn't matter.

He didn't love me or himself enough to change and he never probably will.

Running would have taken action, and courage. It would have said he can not do this to me. I am stronger than this. I can do better. Instead, I stayed.

Now I must wonder what my why's where that kept me and two, young, innocent children trapped there for so long. It wasn't love. I know that now.

The other part is that it would have forced me and others to acknowledge the truth.

Alcoholism is still hidden in the shadows. No one talks about it. We go to all lengths to avoid the subject altogether. Both the addict and the co-dependent will do anything to hide their sense of inadequacy. No one says maybe you shouldn't have that next drink, or maybe you shouldn’t drive your car just now, or any of those gray-area things that alcoholics are so good at lurking in.

By running I would have to tell the truth. He drinks. All the time. It is not pleasant. My life is out of control. And the hardest one, I need help.

If you know someone who is married to or in a relationship with an alcoholic the best thing you can do is to acknowledge it. If they say, "I think he's drinking", more than likely, that means he his. Tell them to trust their instincts. Addicts are master manipulators. Do not believe their words. Believe their actions. Tell them if you see shady behavior. It may be the link they need to prove to themselves they are really not crazy after all.

When I finally left my husband, I was only able to do so after taking weeks to compose a list of facts. At my office, I began to put together a black and white list of the things in our relationship that I could not accept. He did not go to my grandfathers’ funeral, he did not come home all night long, and he brought cocaine into our home. After 4 and ½ pages of undeniable facts that I could not argue the validity of, I realized that there was no longer any question of whether or not I could stay with him anymore. As I wrote to him, the list made that impossible, even laughable.

When you live with an addict, you are never quite certain what reality is. Everything becomes blurred. By writing down the facts as they happened, he could not come back to me later with his own version of the truth.

In my case, there were months of lying about his sobriety when I just couldn’t be sure whether he was drinking or not. Had I begun writing down his actions sooner, instead of listening to the words that I so wanted to believe, I would have saved myself at least a year of heartbreak. If you know someone who is with an addict, give them the encouragement they need to know they are strong and that they will make it.

Often times, you are so alone in your relationship with an addict. You feel you will never make it. There is no one who offers to help. Be the one who offers a loan, offers to baby-sits, and offers a place to stay - without judgment. They may not take it - but it is comforting to know that it is there. The worst thing is to pretend that everything is OK when it is not. The worst thing is to say nothing.

This is my story, and this is for you, for any of you who are in relationships with addicts. You are strong. You can leave. You can run. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. But when you are ready, you will know, and the strength you need to do it will be waiting for you there.

Before I left my husband, a dear friend from Jr. High sent me a quote from Maya Angelou. She says, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them!" As women, we must remember to trust our instincts and not wait for the men in our lives (especially the alcoholics) to change into butterflies.

The truth was I knew what I thought the first time I met my husband, but I gave him chance after chance despite it.

While I have seen some wonderful transformations in AA, the statistics are not promising and I would not place any bets for my future on another addict. These days, I have everything placed on myself.

The heartbreaking thing about this essay, is that I wrote it months after leaving my husband. I was feeling pretty strong, and very empowered. Then he went to Betty Ford for 90 days, and I really thought everything would change, again. Things were very good for a while. Then a few months later, he relapsed. Not for a long time, but long enough. It has been another 4 months of misery, even after him getting sober again. The trust is just not there. It breaks my heart that I actually gave my husband the list, told him I was leaving (again), and here we are AGAIN! I think what I have learned is that the list doesn’t matter.

1 comment:

  1. You are so right, Sula, it doesn't matter. I have finally stopped spending hours and hours of my energy wondering why, why why. It doesn't matter and you know what? There probably isn't a right or wrong or specific anwser anyway.