A close friend of mine, “Kate”, is on a trip to visit her sister, “Alice”, perhaps the last time she will see her alive. Though Alice is just 60-years old, she is an alcoholic and her liver is failing. She actually quit drinking a decade prior but the damage was done.
Also permanently damaged was the relationship she had with her husband (after 15 years of hell, he left), children whom she has not seen in years, and siblings. Most of the family had to “cut her off” because they were tired of the endless excuses, theft, lies, and more.
As I’ve written numerous times, if you are married to an addict, or if you are dating one, you need to seriously consider what they hell you are doing to yourself and your children. Because you likely will never heal him but there is probably time to save yourself and children from the pain and trauma you will experience for decades and, likely, forever.
I tell my story of life with an alcoholic frequently on this blog but what is the impact of addiction to the countless other families who struggle with these terrible affects every day? Here are some universal traits. If you’ve ever lived with an addict, I’ll bet you can see your own life in most of these.
–Secrets and lies: First, the addict lies to himself that he has a problem at all. IF he admits to it, he will go through periods where he will blame you for his addiction and other times when he will tell you he really isn’t sick at all, it’s all in your head. You will begin to doubt your own sanity. He will lie to you where he is at and where he has been, and what he is drinking.
I remember too well Rob carrying around a soda until I would have a sip and realize that it was a lot of alcohol with a splash of root beer. He will deny and accuse. He will vanish for hours in the guise of “running errands,” which, in reality, means he is out feeding his cravings.
–Laziness: Expect an addict to not pull his own weight, or any weight, around the house (at least not consistently). After binging, it’s amazing how much rest, relaxation, retreats and vacations an addict needs. Most of the home’s chores will rest on your shoulders.
–You will stop recognizing yourself. Many partners of addicts become codependent or more isolated from people they love. They dread making plans (who knows if the addict will be emotionally well enough for anything), and the thought of unannounced visitors can be frightening. You will drown yourself in your partner’s endless needs and drama.
–Theft: Money and belongings will begin to disappear. You will likely start blaming your partner. This is a very bad idea because addicts don’t handle accusations, even if they are grounded in truth, so well.
–Your will try to heal your addict. Your love for him will often outweigh your love of self. Your entire life can easily be overrun by monitoring your addict’s progress, comings and goings, trying to catch then in lies, rewarding and punishing. Your own joy and happiness will take a backseat to the endless needs of your addict.
–Love is absent: Addicts hate themselves. They don’t know true love. They know how to manipulate. Their victims are spouses, girlfriends, children, friends, family, parents… Those that love and support the addict are of little use to them other than to help feed their addiction. Here’s your reality: your addict loves his addiction more than he will ever love you (or anyone else). Sound great, doesn’t it.
-Endless need to cover tracks: An alcoholic will take amazing efforts to hide his tracks. When that is impossible, he will ask family members for help. Like he may lose his job or money will disappear and he will need a temporary bailout. He won’t manage money well because addicts will spend on what looks good at that moment, as opposed to what is wise. Those who offer such help will become enablers and, perhaps, take away one of the few incentives he may have to seek help.
-Volatility: One thing that is certain in your life with an addict is that you will never know what is next. You will not be able to anticipate his moods. He will become giddy-happy or equally angry for no apparent good reason. He will scream or blame one moment, or give you endless amounts of compliments and love another. It is confusing and often frightening. Your days will become filled with dread and fear.
As those of us who live with and love an addict, we often become enablers, helping to cushion the blow of their addiction. We make excuses, we hide, we cover-up. Our own lives become a lie. We dread late night phone calls, or what the mail carrier may be dropping off.
When there is an unexpected knock on the door, we may not want to open it. Unrecognizable phone numbers go unanswered. We often don’t know how to handle mood outbursts. We try to become happier, angrier, set boundaries, have no boundaries, become perfect or more beautiful, make more money, keep the home cleaner or messier, do his laundry or none at all… No combination works.
We often become an addict of another kind—addicted to the apologies that will at some point begin. Addicted to makeup sex. Addicted to the thought that we will heal this person. Addicted to his promises that from this day forward, he will be a new man. None of these emotions are grounded in reality, and none of them are healthy for you, your children or your family.
I spoke with Kate just hours ago. Alice looks 20 years older than she really is. While mentally alert, her body is ravaged by years of alcohol abuse. Her children have traveled to make amends with mom and the reunion has been joyous on some level, but also tragic. How all of this could have been avoided.
Could the family have done more to help? If they had, would Alice have lived a happy and productive life?
She is brilliant, apparently, graduating with honors in high school and earning a PhD. She was a professor, traveled the world, and speaks several languages. Yet she could not overcome that addiction. The travel, job, family, and health—it all eventually came crashing down and Alice found herself back in the USA living in a tiny apartment on government assistance as her health continued to deteriorate.
Eventually true recovery began but she could not regain her health. Some things are too late and can never be “fixed.”
Alice’s husband and family eventually had to cut off ties in order to save themselves. Selfish? Likely not. No amount of love and prayers will make an addict get well. The addict must hit rock bottom, make a commitment to therapy, and have the wherewithal to stick with it. Some addicts are able; most are not. We can pray and hope. And, at the end of the day, we can save ourselves and our children.
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