Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Starving For Affection

I read somewhere once that newborn babies who aren't held and nuzzled and hugged long enough will actually stop growing.  And that even if they are receiving proper nutrition, they'll die.  Our need for touch, whether empathetic or intimate, is so strong that it is connected to our very survival.

This morning I awoke to watch as our cat approached me, urgent and needy, purring as she too reached out and asked to be touched, scratched and rubbed.  To be loved.  Even animals have the instinctual necessity for physical affection.

Years have yawned over my loneliness, and I have dishonestly brushed away my own aches, telling myself that a lack of intimacy must be normal for a couple of our years together.  That it means we have a stronger more mature love that doesn't necessitate such displays.  That some of us just aren't as affectionate as others, that well, I'm just the giver and he's just the taker and that's our dynamic.  Despite it all, I still feel lonely.

My husband, I think, is very physically attractive.  When he is distant however, as he is now, and when he is cruel or neglectful, dishonest or self-amused, he is no longer so approachable and I find myself disliking him with adrenaline-filled intensity.  At other times he seems to shimmy away from my touches, returning with limp hugs and weak pecks.  When the stonewalling was at its worst last year, there was nothing in return.

Here, I should note that there is such a difference between affection that is given and requited, and affection one receives from their spouse unprovoked.  One instance is a reply in kind; the other is a reaching out, an acknowledgement. "I see you, I love you."  What I would do for a surprise hug at the stove while I cook his dinner, or wash the dishes, as he used to do.

He seems so far off now that I daydream desperately of being able to travel back to last Friday to visit with the man who brought me roses, to hug and kiss him, to be held by him.  I cannot recall the last time we were physically intimate - probably a month and a half ago, which is long for us.  Last week I initiated but he stopped before we went to the main event.

"I - I don't know what's wrong with me." He threw up his hands.

"What is it?"

He looked at me with his head to one side.


"...I'm not erect."

When I asked if it was me he assured me it wasn't. "Women always think it's them, just so you know", I said.

I've pondered endlessly if perhaps the flowers were an attempt at giving it another try - him hoping I'd fall at his feet and into bed and all he had to do was give me those flowers and it would go from there.  And when that didn't happen, he remembered our failed attempt, resented me for not trying again, and the stonewalling began.  Who knows.

In the early morning when my husband is turned towards me, I turn my back to him and shuffle closer to him, making it just so easy for him to put an arm around me should the thought flicker in his mind for even a millisecond.  When the final alarm sounds and he is out of bed for good, I am crushed.  This is the closest we will be for the next 18 hours and no contact leaves me sad and rejected.  After he is gone, at times I go back to sleep for a couple hours.  All of our animals climb onto the bed, and I relish in feeling my dog's back against mine, or being able to hold her as she lays without a fight, enjoying the attention.

The other night I came home late from a friend's small get together to find my husband asleep on the couch, curled up and facing the wall.  In his sleep his anger was gone, his face was soft and sweet.  There was no tension.  My husband who had ignored me for what seemed like an unbearable eternity was now vulnerable in front of me.  I took my advantage.

I bent down and spooned him.  I stroked his arm, kissed his cheek.  I breathed in his smell and felt the cool then warmth of his skin.  Something in me let go and was relieved.  As I got up, I again stroked his arm and rustled his hair with my fingers.

I glanced over him and watched as a ripple of goosebumps slowly raised down his leg to his foot.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In The Disease - Walking on Land Mines & Stonewalling

The recent months have been particularly difficult, and I see a lot of "insanity" and "in the disease" behavior and thinking in my husband.  As a result, interacting with him is at times maddening and subsequently I am left baffled and exhausted.  Slowly I see that a list of slights is being compiled against me, ready to be whipped out at a moment's notice, and it never ceases to amaze me just how quickly he can accuse me.  In the past I would feel as though I was trying to walk on eggshells and this has progressed into the feeling that the eggshells are now land mines.

Earlier last year, my husband and I relocated and he found himself in a job he "hates" and in a town he "hates."  When we first moved, he was very supportive and communicative, and still he has his moments, but this was a time when he seemed more himself.  He had been attending counseling and taking antidepressants, though he had not stopped drinking.  He seemed to be more relaxed and able to have tough discussions without them escalating.  That all went away in the first few weeks after moving here.  Soon he was verbally abusive, yelling horrible things - 

"You're a disease."
"I hate you!" 
"I want a divorce!" 
"If I could go back I never would have met you!"

- only to break down after my questioning and cry, saying that I wasn't the problem, he was sorry, that he just hates where he is in his life - he doesn't have a house, we don't have kids, etc.

After this happened a handful more times, he began stonewalling me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, stonewalling is: "A refusal to communicate or cooperate."

John Gottman, a psychology professor and marital therapist, calls stonewalling the "fourth horseman of the apocalypse" as relates to his cascade model of divorce prediction.  Well, that doesn't make me feel any better.  "In his studies, men's physiology reached a state of arousal prior to them 'stonewalling', while the female partner showed a physiological reaction of increased heart rate after her partner had 'stonewalled' " (from my friend Wikipedia).

Yup, I'd say that is about accurate.  At times I find myself shaking.

It went like this: I would see him in the morning when he left for work, words rarely exchanged on his part. He would come home, exercise, go upstairs to drink and work on his hobby or play video games, come down for dinner, and would retire upstairs thereafter.  He didn't talk to me unless spoken to, and sometimes not even then.  He didn't touch me, hug me, and forget about kissing or anything intimate.  When he did look at me, it was as if all the contempt, anger, sadness - whatever horrible chasm of pain he held inside of him was shooting out through his glare and onto me.  It was this weird alternate universe in which I found myself with an irritable, sheltered roommate who seemed to despise me, yet whom I had still somehow agreed to cook for and clean up after.

This weekend my husband went back to stonewalling.  And I was completely blindsided.  Friday, he had come home with a dozen roses for me.  He even put them in the vase himself, mixed the flower food in the water and all (guys - this earns major points).  But the man who came home that day and the man who was here the rest of the weekend and through to now seem vastly different to me.

Some of the insanity of the disease is so hard to describe to those who aren't familiar.  Everyday interactions
are taxed by short, irrational or rude replies to simple questions.  The strangest part about stonewalling this time is that it happened without warning - sure, I could see it starting, but there was no fight or tension that brewed it; there was no criticism (from what I recall) on my part.  Nothing I did, I feel, warranted even this kind of disproportionate behavior and attitude.

Soon I found myself back in my own insanity of replaying the weekend, trying to pinpoint what I had said or done to cause him to withdraw, and later to lash out.  By Sunday he was not looking at me or speaking to me unless I asked him a question.  When he did look at me his pupils were dilated, either with anger or alcohol or both, and his jaw clenched and unclenched, clenched and unclenched.  Later he questioned why I hadn't prepared his lunch with certain extras.  His tone was expectant and irritated.

These particular instances from this weekend illustrate what I think is the disease rearing its head:

While I was out walking our dog, my husband walked out to his car, and we were both walking towards it and each other.  He passes me and my dog sniffs him hello, my husband barely glances at me.  Thinking he was simply getting something from his car, I was surprised to hear him get inside and start it.

As he pulled out I stood there, waiting, and when he lowered the window, I asked "Where ya goin'?"  Normal question.

Without hesitating he said: "I just walked right past you, why didn't you ask me then?"  Not so normal response.

"...I just thought you were getting something from your car, I didn't know you were going anywhere."

"Well, I'm going somewhere."

"...Where are you going?"

"Hobby shop."  This specific store is closed on Sundays.  Should have been my first clue, but later I was still not so surprised to see my husband return with yes, more booze of various kinds.  He once again retreated to his room, where he continued to drink and work on his hobby.

Later that night as I was working on my own interests, my husband comes downstairs, downs a fresh glass of wine and grabs his keys.  I figure I better ask him when I'm "supposed to."

"Where ya goin'?"

"To get some F*CKING dinner!"  Looking back, I should have just let him go at this point.  But I just couldn't help myself.

"...Excuse me?"

"I'm f*cking hungry! I'm going to get some dinner!"

"I know you're hungry but why do you seem angry also? And angry at me?" To this he said nothing.

The conversation didn't go much further and he left, once again returning to go back upstairs.  I let him be, but did check his door when I figured he had gone to sleep.  It was locked.  My husband was sleeping in the other room of our house...with the door locked to keep me from him.  After *he* yelled at *me*.  The locked door was his last physical manifestation of refusing to talk, refusing to offer anything.  Refusing to open up.  And there was just nothing I could do about it, was there?  And take that, he seemed to say.

Being strong in my program, the first few days were not so difficult.  Besides, I have my own thing to focus on, a business venture, and I have felt more myself than I have in years.  I am fired up with passion and inspiration so much so that I must force myself to go to sleep at night instead of toiling away into the wee hours.  As the stonewalling continued however, this faded, and I broke down this morning.  

After being snapped at once again (an first thing in the morning - never ceases to amaze me) I asked him, what was wrong?  What did I do?  He insisted there was nothing wrong as he hurried around to gather this belongings for work.  

"I'm not stupid", I said.
"Neither am I."
"I know what you're doing, you're upset about something and now I have to guess what it is and until then I'm being punished."  
"I'm not doing anything."  He answers these questions without looking at me, busying himself with leaving.

I did what I could to get through the day.  Right now I am trying to remember what I have learned in Al Anon; that "taking care of me" means I am able to focus on myself, and in doing so I am able to lovingly detach and love him where he is.  I continue to hope for the strength to be able to do so.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I Am Married To A Functioning Alcoholic

DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert. I am not a doctor, recovery counselor, therapist, official representative of the Al Anon (friends and family of alcoholics) program or an alcoholic myself.  I am simply a wife who loves her husband but who despises the disease from which he suffers. This blog is an online journal of sorts, cathartic in nature but also seeks to inform others by exposing my own personal daily ups and downs of living with active alcoholism.

I am married to an alcoholic.  A functioning alcoholic is still an alcoholic - I know this.  And I know that some people resent this label, as if adding the word "functioning" somehow makes these alcoholics better than other alcoholics.  All it means, for me anyway, is that my husband can continue to keep drinking without "seeming" that he has a problem to himself or those around him, especially as he is successful for his age, pays our bills (maybe not on time, but they get paid), and we are not wanting for anything material. 

Here is the list of how things are a little different than what people may expect:

He has not been arrested for a DUI (oh the times he's been pulled over and I hoped he would).
He has not lost a job because of his drinking (on the contrary, he is getting ahead with each new job).
I have never had to call in sick for him at his job or answer calls from his employer wondering where he is.
I have not had to call bars asking around trying to find him.
He is not constantly falling-down drunk, or even obviously drunk, to anyone (other than my now-trained eye) who would look at him.

He is not the "typical drunk" that some of us think of who ends up penniless, homeless, or in jail.  His consequences are less visible, but I know them all too well.

How do I know he is an alcoholic?  When I first published this blog, I wanted the title to include "(?)" after the word "Alcoholic."  It felt wrong of me to diagnose him as something that he himself denies being.  It has taken me a lot of pain, many Al Anon meetings, and a few figurative knocks to the head to realize that my husband is very likely an alcoholic.  After all, reading the literature on alcoholism did not draw a lot of similarities to my situation, and I found it difficult to relate. 

If someone were to ask me "How is your husband's drinking a problem?" I would struggle with an answer that made sense to most people, though sadly it is coming into focus.

My husband is a professional; we are both college graduates.  He is very intelligent, though he may not admit this himself, and provides well for us.  I love him very much.  I feel he is fading away faster than I can grasp at him; truly I miss who he used to be.  We do not have children, and have been married for a few years, though together for much longer.  The last few years have been an absolutely "Why are you still here?" kind of insane at times.  We have moved twice in the last two years, and may be moving again soon, all times due to him changing jobs.

Though my husband is an ACA (adult child of an alcoholic), and though the disease is in his other family members and extended family, and though he would occasionally tell me "I think I'm done drinking for a while", and though he has always drank as far as I can remember, I didn't truly know he had a problem until just last year.  I was used to buying a bottle of wine a night for some time, and later it became two.  His moods were erratic and frighteningly changeable - "Jekyll & Hyde" I would explain, frustrated and frantic, to loved ones who had heard about it too many times already. 

Going through various Wikipedia articles on mental illness, I tried desperately to understand where he was coming from and explain how he was so easily enraged, where his "communication style" originated, but nothing seemed to fit - Bipolar didn't work because he was never "manic" or anywhere approaching ecstatic; indeed his moods are usually "Okay" or "Watch out."  The closest it came was to Borderline Personality Disorder, but he wasn't clingy and didn't beg me not to leave him - typically he was the one telling me to get out, that he wanted a divorce, that he hated me, etc.  (I should note here that I have learned that mental illness can occur with addiction, but I also eventually learned that it was a waste of time to try to "figure it out.")

So here we are.  Two things lead me to start this blog: 

One, it is therapeutic for me to say to strangers anonymously what I often times do not discuss in meetings, as Al Anon meetings are about ourselves.  But, though I do intend to show my experience and feelings, I do not mean to abuse this forum as a place to merely complain, be stuck in the problem or focus solely on my husband without offering any strength or hope - I have done enough of that in my early recovery and it is a struggle each day to fight that impulse. It's not fair to me, my husband or anyone reading this looking for a glimmer of hope for their own recovery.

Two, because I could not find many resources such as this online, I wanted to have something out there that illustrates to others from a personal perspective that yes, alcoholism can be a problem in your relationship even without a financial or legal consequence.

It creates a distance, puts up a wall.  It ruins things, hurts people, and can consume you.  In short it just plain sucks.

This blog will be completely anonymous on my part, which I feel makes my story more relatable as surely it is the story of many spouses of alcoholics, but I intend to also honor and protect the anonymity of my husband.  I am in my early 30's, and am currently unemployed.  I attend Al Anon meetings regularly, meet with my sponsor and work on the 12 steps.  Currently I am working through Step 4, "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." 

I will say this - Al Anon has saved my life.  What the program teaches may be common sense to people who don't have experience with addiction or didn't grow up in dysfunction or addiction.  But for me, it just saved my life and showed me what I could do to help my situation.  It helps me focus on ME instead of the alcoholic, to stay in the solution instead of the problem, and gain strength in my own boundaries (which have now graduated from "non-existent" to "weak").

To those out there in my situation, I send you wishes of hope, strength, and love.  And I hope myself to be enlightened by the wisdom of your experiences.  I look forward to your comments and look forward to having comrades on this strange, weird, amazing journey.