These days I am doing far more than simply surviving, but am able to be of service to others and learning to trust my fellows again. Here are the five lessons I learned after many, many years of living with the disease of alcoholism.
#1: My first lesson was that reality for the alcoholic was completely different than mine. For instance, if my husband said he was going to the store to pick up milk that in reality was a trip to the liquor store to get vodka. He did not understand my frustration when he would arrive home with no milk and a story about the store having just run out of milk. I learned after starting my own recovery that my husband was residing in his own universe where the rules were made to his liking. He would have passed a lie detector test because he truly believed what he was saying was true.
#2: The second lesson was to not blame myself for the alcoholic’s disease. My husband’s drinking was always progressing to the next level. I blamed myself that I didn’t have the secret to stopping it. One day I found an article on the Seven Stages of Alcoholism. It was the first time I could see the progression of the disease in my husband. He was at stage five. Stage Seven was Death. This was like cancer and would march across the life of my husband if left unimpeded. At my first Al-Anon meeting I learned that “I Didn’t Cause it, I Can’t Cure it, and I Can’t Control it.” A simple sentence helped me greatly let go of my guilt.
#3 Learning to talk about the problem was my third lesson. There is a joke that goes, an alcoholic will scream, “I don’t have a problem, so don’t tell anyone!” That was my situation. I couldn’t tell anyone that my husband's drinking was making me crazy. I was ashamed and afraid to let others know how insane life was for me. When I was able to find safe people in Al-Anon they understood my struggles and shared their own stories of living with the disease of alcoholism. It all helped me learn to reach out for help for my children and me.
#4 I also learned I didn’t have to put up with unacceptable behavior. People who live with an alcoholic will often excuse the first few times they are mistreated with, “Oh, they just had too much to drink”. The unacceptable behaviors will continue to escalate and soon we are was allowing behaviors we would have never thought we would tolerate. Learning to protect myself was an important part of my recovery.
#5 Lastly, I learned I had to choose to survive even if both of us didn’t. Being a mom of five my instinct to save my children is what finally woke me up to reality. The disease was finally at the stage of his blackouts happening more and more often. He was not longer living in his body as the man I knew. His eyes would go blank and I knew I was speaking to the disease. It was unsettling to see it take over my husband in such a real way. I felt my children or I could be harmed during one of his blackouts and he would have no memory of it. The decision to ask him to leave was both frightening and courageous. He died seven months later from the disease.
These five lessons were learned over a 30-year marriage and in the recovery rooms of Al-Anon. Most people believe the alcoholic’s behavior will “settle down” and reach a point of leveling off. It doesn’t stop until the alcoholic draws his last breath or finds recovery. I hope someone reading this will pass it along to someone they know who lives with an alcoholic. Perhaps that person will see there is a better way to live and find recovery for themselves before spending years learning their own lessons.
A Reach Out Recovery exclusive By: Madeline Schloop:
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