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Alcohol was at the forefront of my marriage for many years. During the course of time we'd been together, we attended marriage counseling twice, spent countless hours arguing into the wee hours of the night, with no resolution of course, and jeopardized every part of our relationship. It always takes two to tangle (or tango), but when one person is primarily foggy from the effects of alcohol, it makes everything less clear. When I first met him, he was a blast. He always drank more than I was comfortable with, but I thought I'd found my soul mate, and went right along for the ride. Our relationship was volatile for the first few years. It was passionate and tragic, all at the same time. As I matured physically and emotionally, I began to see the way things really were, rather than the way I wanted them to be. I tried everything I could, at the time, to make things better, or different, from my perspective. I tried drinking with him, I tried being sad, I tried being angry, I tried complacency, I tried begging, I tried talking, to not avail. Nothing seemed to make him see things my way.
The journey was somewhat lonely, but it's been mine. I have learned to love unconditionally; I've learned that we are all different in some ways, yet all extremely common in other ways. This person, who resembled Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at different periods of time, is still the same. I am the one who has changed. I am the one who has begun to question a deeper level of happiness, to wonder what makes people act as they do. At the writing of this manuscript, I was at a place in my life that was the emptiest emotional state in which I had ever been, yet at the same time, I felt fuller than ever; more full of joy, more full of peace, more full of contentment. I felt self-confident and capable, and able to manage myself and my life. However, I also felt like I had suffered the loss of a very dear friend. Had I outgrown this person who shared my home? The man I had lived with drank at home on occasion, usually just one or two, but the majority of his activity took place at local social events, and at bars, lending to the fact that he was rarely ever home. So how could he be an alcoholic when he just likes to have a few beers with the boys?
I know there are more extreme situations, but I can't begin to detail for you the multitude of dysfunctional events that occurred because of alcohol. His drinking led to countless hours passed out in a chair, continuous driving while intoxicated, nearly starting the kitchen on fire from leaving food cooking on the stove, passing out and forgetting about it. There were birthdays that had been forgotten, feelings that had been hurt and infidelity that had occurred. Many, many times, I had been completely and totally embarrassed in public by his behavior, which led me to stop going out with him altogether when I knew we would be in that environment. There were many times when he flirted with or made lewd comments to other women in front of me, other times when he drug on with derogatory comments toward me in front of others, and complaining conversations about me and how irritating I could be to him. I used to walk away and attribute it to his "condition," until I finally had "the" talk with myself and made myself believe, and understand, I did not deserve to be treated that way. So many times the following day, he would pretend as though nothing happened, or just simply deny that it had. Most of the time, he could not remember that it had happened at all.
For most of our time together, the extent of his alcoholism was shared by me with only my closest friends. I kept it from our families for the most part, and I became used to ignoring the situation and going on with my life. Fortunately for me, I am a person who looks for positive things in my life that fulfill me, and I don't mind spending time alone. I even learned to go out alone to maybe see a movie or grab some dinner.
The person who resided inside the layer of excessive drinking is a wonderful man. He is thoughtful, kind, hard working and family oriented. This is the person I have stayed for. There has not been violence, and I began to revolve around making sure I was not available to him, or around him, when he was drunk. Much of the time was a vicious cycle of drinking one day, and hung-over the next. The situation was always extremely predictable.
Every time, and I do mean, every time, something happened in my life that was traumatic for me, the death of my 4 grandparents, countless issues with my youngest son, tragic issues in his own family, and a variety of other emotional events that occur in our lives, he was at some local bar. Whenever I needed my partner to be there for me to tell me everything was okay, he was not there. So many nights I would lay in bed and cry, not sleeping until he was home. Many nights I would go to bed and drift into a wonderful sleep, only to be awakened to the door slamming, the refrigerator door creaking, and then him crawling into bed in the middle of the night, after the bars had long since turned off their signs. I would methodically get up and move to the couch or the spare bedroom in an effort to salvage a few more hours of sleep, and to avoid the smell of him and his locomotive like snore. His selfishness and simple inconsideration made me so angry when I'd wake in the morning exhausted, sore, and irritable.
The final beginning of the end for me was a high school class reunion. He had never attended any of his class reunions before, and made quite an entrance at this one. He came home to get ready for it, already having visited the local cantina and well on his way to an eventful evening. He made a complete fool of himself, and that night, I was not proud to stand by his side. I knew a few people there, but for the most part it was my first time meeting most of them. We mingled and I spent much of the evening performing damage control and watching him bump into the walls as he walked to and from the restroom. Two women actually approached me and asked how I was able to "put up" with his behavior. These were perfect strangers mind you, and I was completely mortified. I promised myself then and there, that would be the last time I would allow him to do that to me. I promised myself, that even though there resided a good man inside the dysfunctional one, I would risk losing everything in my life to have the peace and joy I felt I deserved. That was my first recognition that I was truly ready for change, when I realized I would, literally, risk it all!
My intention in sharing these situations is not to expose, or mock alcoholism, or make public my most personal situations, but to make you aware of the many situations I allowed in my own life. It was a continuous cycle of dysfunction and I allowed it to affect every moment of my life. I continued to function well on my own, but decided that being alone and lonely, was far better than being with someone and being lonely. The incredible difference in this personality when drunk, or when sober, was staggering.
The relationship had, at times, been extremely painful for me. I had never really been able to express that out loud, or to admit how really bad things had been. I finally developed the courage and conviction to take my life back. However, there had also been good times, too; many, many good times. It was not until the point that I made an internal decision to change my life, that he decided to change his. Call it fate, call it destiny, call it whatever you wish, but once my thought process and my actions, and primarily my reactions changed, it was then that I noticed a change in him.
Addicts have a unique sense of fear of not being the center of attention. Once you make the determination to make yourself the center of attention again, and care about them from a distance, they get confused. In my fortunate case, two people in my life have made a concerted effort to change the way they live, because I first made a decision to change the way I live.
In changing myself and the situation surrounding me, I was forced to not only react differently to the addictive condition, but also to really do some soul searching and take a good long look at myself in the mirror. This was probably more painful than realizing that my reactions must change, in order that the status quo may change. I cleaned the house, I worked full time, I paid all of the bills, did most of the shopping, did all of the laundry, ran all the errands, renewed the insurance; well you get the picture. I had also returned to school as a part-time student, and spent 2 years writing this manuscript. I also did all of the start up paperwork, operated and maintained a small business we operated. I worked on research and development of new products, took care of all the communication and made sure everything ran efficiently and smoothly. By all certain standards, I could probably be considered a control freak. Not in the sense that I feel like I need to control everyone around me, but a deep need to control the circumstances surrounding me; a need to control situations that affected me. It was not my fault he was an alcoholic. However, because I had taken on the entire management of our life, it allowed him the freedom to go to work each day, stop off for a drink on the way home, and have no other responsibilities, aside from maybe mowing the lawn once a week during the summer months. I had become the perfect enabler. I made sure everything was in order for him so that he could continue his cycle of destruction with no interruptions.
Once my decision had been made to make a change, I began to push and then gently shove some of the responsibility, and accountability back on him. If things he needed to do or accomplish did not get done, I left them undone, instead of running to make sure they were taken care of. It took some self-managing control on my part, but I was finally able to analyze what really was my responsibility as a healthy, functioning adult, and let him do the same.
I have been affected by addiction in many areas of my life. My first encounter, or awareness, was actually at the age of 8 years. I had a very charmed childhood including dancing lessons, gymnastics, skating, camping, skiing, festive family gatherings at holidays, canopy beds, lots of quality time with grandparents who were very close and all of the other facets of a fairytale childhood.
When I was 8, my parents became foster parents. A child, only 3 weeks old, was taken from his biological parents, and brought into our home. The child had been found along side the road in an automobile full of people who were passed out drunk, and also high from sniffing paint. The child was also unconscious.
This beautiful baby boy had been born prematurely, in a bath of wine, and at 3 weeks of age, weighed less than 5 pounds. My father is a big man, and could hold the baby in the palm of one hand. I instantly fell in love with this child and he became my actual, living doll. I dressed him, coddled him, fed him, bathed him, and spent the night with him when he suffered from various bouts of pneumonia, allergies and colic (withdrawal!). Not too long after we intercepted this child, along came another.
The second was the biological brother of the first, not yet 2 years of age, and just 11 months older than the first. He had also been taken from his biological parents, put in foster care, and then removed from an abusive foster home. The biological family had a total of 6 children, all of whom would eventually be removed from their home. Eventually, the two boys who had come to stay with us were adopted by my parents. I had one older, biological brother, and now 2 younger brothers. Though adorable from the start, the two have had to overcome many obstacles in their life related to the inherent birth defects resulting from the substance abuse of their biological mother. She passed away at the age of 40 due to complications from liver cirrhosis.
I have watched close friends and family members lose their "self" in the haze of drugs and alcohol abuse; some managing jobs and family, and managing to stay afloat instead of drowning in a sea of dysfunction, others participating in recovery, and others choosing simply to deny that it plays any major part in their life.
My most traumatic and trying experience has been the meth addiction of my youngest son. His substance abuse started early in life, at the age of 11. Of course, it didn't start out with meth; it started with huffing and marijuana. Because of his addictive nature and tendencies with which he was born, his abuse and aggressive addiction didn't take long to root and involved marijuana, cocaine, heroin, prescription pills, and the ultimate merciless master, meth. The warning signs were all there early on, but I chose to ignore them. I chose to deny that I should be the one who would have a high school drop out and become the mother of a drug addict. My other son and 2 step-daughters had always been relatively socially "normal" (whatever normal means), and had gotten good grades and participated in sports and other extracurricular activities. My son is currently clean after a 12 year struggle, and prison time. He continues to live his life one day at a time and fight the good fight. He is truly one of my dearest friends, as are both of my sons, and one of the most compassionate, intelligent and loving individuals I have yet to meet. I thank him frequently for the insight he has provided in my life. His, and my suffering, have allowed me the lessons of non-judgment, acceptance, altruistic love, and spiritual growth the like of which I never thought I could experience. By writing this piece, I risk the relationship of friends, family and acquaintances, but my hope is that by sharing the knowledge that I have gained, you might be assisted in your journey. I hope you are able to find even one piece of advice within the pages of this book that may help you to be happier. Life is never perfect, and we shouldn't expect it to be. However, when such incredible suffering is in our midst, we can still make the choice to be happy moment by moment.
For the longest time, I asked myself why I was given this son with such extreme issues. Hadn't I been a good mother, hadn't we given him everything? His addiction and all of the resulting circumstances took so much from me, that I had been forced to make physical and mental changes in my life, huge changes.
My husband had suffered several bouts of unemployment after working for the same company for nearly 25 years which put our finances in jeopardy. The company he worked for had gone out of business and forced everyone into a layoff. In our small rural community, jobs like his were difficult to replace and he had struggled to find another long term place to fit in. I was forced for a period of time to work 3 jobs, and also assist in running our small part time business, while trying to keep up with my son's various court dates, disappearances, middle of the night phone calls, and medical issues. One of my jobs required a huge amount of travel. I was lucky enough to have been able to work from a home office for about 6 years with all of my work. However, working 12 and 16 hour days, traveling, trying to maintain our business venture, and juggle all of the dysfunction caused by my husband and my son, at one point, I just felt that I needed to return to my grassroots effort of simplifying my own life so my physical and mental health could be reinstated.
We had our 3 other children, some of whom were having families of their own now, and this one individual, this 4th child, seemed to get all of the attention; all of the negative attention. I was literally at my wits end, and suffering from exhaustion. I had made a decision to take a full time position with less than 1/2 the pay I was currently making, and to put our part time business as a second priority. I had come to the point where I was willing to risk it all for a more peaceful, fulfilling life. I had hit my rock bottom. At that point, I literally felt like I was treading water with barely enough strength to keep my head above water, and slowly heading for the falls! My husband was able once again to secure work, and it opened up a window of time for me when I could finally breathe. I looked back over the past 10 or 12 years and could absolutely not recall how I had gotten to the point in which I was. It had been such a bucking bronc bareback ride, no spurs and no saddle, but I had been holding on to that mane for dear life, hoping not to be bucked off. All of the events in my life had led me to this point. My love of writing, the lessons I had learned about addiction through my son and through my marriage, and literally 3 or 4 months of illness I had no explanation for, the beginning of migraine headaches, and the loss of my self, were all sitting right in front of me. I began to take back my life, one day at a time. I began to walk slower, make sure I got a good nights sleep, start eating right again.
Excerpted from HOW TO LOVE AN ADDICT by Therese Small Copyright © 2011 by Santico, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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