Sometimes I’d like to scream, or cry. Or maybe pound the walls until my knuckles are bruised and bloodied. Instead I take a deep breath and bite my tongue. Literally. There is no greater frustration than families ‘helping‘ when it comes to addiction.
Addiction is a progressive and terminal disease. It can’t survive without an enabling system. Like it or not, families help the addict stay sick.
I once met a woman whose husband drank their entire marriage. Each time he was sick from drinking this woman would phone his boss and lie. “I’m sorry my husband can’t make it to work today. He’s been to the dentist and had a tooth pulled.” The boss must have caught on over the years he confronted her on it one day. “Mrs… by my calculations your husband has had more than twenty five teeth pulled, yet clearly he still has his original teeth.” Her husband ended up in treatment and she in the family program.
Being confronted and getting caught was the best thing to ever happen in their marriage.
Without it both would have continued silently suffering. One locked in deadly, mortal combat with a bottle. The other never really having lived, but simply existing, her entire world focused around one sick, self – consumed man. They were stooped, broken individuals when we first met. The pain and weight of addiction so great you could see it. Their “worst” day saved their lives. Both of them. He might have been the drinker, but she was in pretty bad shape to. You can’t live with addiction and not have it effect you. When you live in secrecy, and stress, you internalize your feelings. In other words you hide them. You can only get away with this for so long before they (your emotions) get you. High blood pressure, ulcers, headaches, insomnia, appetite (eating less or more) mood swings, mental obsession ( can’t turn off my thinking) heart disease and stroke are just a few of the physical ailments that come with living in addiction. Of course cognitively you’re effected. You’re thinking becomes just as impaired as the addict/alcoholic, without ever taking a drink, But it’s the spiritual malady that really kills. Colors turn off, birds stop singing, children’s laughter becomes annoying, people are avoided. Great long droughts of silent suffering, wondering why me. Joy flees, leaving behind an empty hollowed out husk of an existence. “I’m fine” becomes your mantra, the pain etched lines in your face, and your haunted eyes, telling a far different story.
I recently saw this couple. He’s retired now and they both, just, well….. shine. We laugh about what it was like. She says, with a smile on her face, “I almost loved him to death.“
I don’t think that was what they meant in “till death do us part.”
We can laugh about it now. But the truth is, we weren’t laughing then.
They tell me I’m powerless. I know it too, but sometimes I forget. For just a moment I wish I had a magic wand. One which could stop enabling. Stop it – dead in its tracks. Do you know how many lives could be saved?
You see without an enabling system, addicts/alcoholics are forced to face the consequences of their actions. They are forced to get well. With no where else to turn they almost always choose treatment. Yes, a few will choose to live on the streets. But most will not.
When it comes to addiction, we can’t let fear outweigh love. Just like a toddler you strap into the car seat kicking and screaming, you still do it. You don’t negotiate explaining it’s for their best interest. Their two. You don’t expect them to like it. Yet we have an impaired adult who isn’t capable of making healthy choices and we keep waiting… after all it’s their choice.
When you’ve attached your emotional well being to an addicts/alcoholics behavior, you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Hang on, hang in, or hang out. The choice is yours, but if the ride is making you sick, get off!
Of course without help you won’t. You’ll hang in growing more accustomed to feeling nauseous. At first it will feel weird but eventually you’ll adjust and re-adjust and finally mal-adjust. This is where I see most family members.
Thankfully my knuckles aren’t bloodied. I’ve found a healthier coping technique these days. It’s called my voice, and faith and the 12 steps.
Yes I know I’m powerless, but sometimes, powerlessness sucks.