Saturday, February 2, 2013

ISMs - I, Self, Me (Selfishness)

Right now is a tough time to be the wife of an alcoholic.

My mother has undergone a pretty serious, personally difficult surgery, and I flew back home to offer her emotional support as well as to be her caretaker in her immediate recovery.  For the past week, I have been here to make sure she is comfortable and has all the emotional support she needs.  Surgical drains must be emptied and its measurements logged, drain site must be cleaned daily.  Hugs must be given and occasional shoulder rubs offered.

"It's going to be okay, Mom."
"Just give all your worry to me."
"I love you."
"Your only job is to heal and be a good patient...Now drink your tea."

There has been a comforting and at times surprising outpouring of support and compassion from friends and family, but also from people my mother has not even met - acquaintances of mine and outright strangers to the both of us.  Each day there are calls, texts, e-mails and Facebook posts, asking "How is she?  How are you?"  This pure love and hope given to us also painfully highlighted the lack of support, care, and attention from one person.  Just one, out of the mostly supportive group of family and friends and neighbors and complete strangers.

Throughout all this, even during the surgery and right after, my husband has asked nothing of my mom's condition.  No "So how did it go?" or "How is your mom?"  "What did the doctor say?"  "How are you?"  "Your mom must be so relieved to have you there."  Nothing.  Not to mention, he has only called me once on his own - every other point of contact has been initiated by me.  It stings though it shouldn't surprise me - after all, when I'm home he barely speaks to me.  So his comments (even upon my return home) revolved around the various difficulties and stress my absence caused him - having to leave work at lunch to let our dog out and then drive back, having to wake up early to let them outside, etc.

Thus, it was no surprise to me that when my husband called me while my mother was still in surgery, the entire 30 minute conversation revolved around his interview that day with a new company (in another town. new post forthcoming).  Later in my visit, I couldn't stand it any longer - it was if my mother was the elephant in the room, so to speak, that he just refused to acknowledge her and her condition.  "I don't hear from you much", I said.  "No texts or calls asking me how my mom is, how I am...?"  My husband replied that I tell him before he has the chance to ask me.

Along the way in Al Anon, people have shared about the "isms" of alcoholism.  Though there are other forms of the acronym, often I hear it stands for "I, Self, and Me."  It is meant to illustrate a core issue with alcoholics, which is that even without alcohol they are still left with traits that can cause problems in their relationships and, not to mention, could lead them straight back to active addiction.  The math goes like this:

Alcoholism - Alcohol = ism.

Isms that stem from I, Self & Me could be selfishness, egoism, hypervigilance, control, manipulation, impatience, a quick temper, the list could go on.  But I think the core of these isms, just as the acronym stands for, is the self - so we'll stick with selfishness for today.

Why are addicts selfish?  I suppose that a self-centered focus ensures the survival of their addiction.  It could be a "chicken and egg" scenario.  The less time they spend thinking about anyone else, or any of their domestic responsibilities, walking the dog, paying the cable bill, the more time they have to think about their drug of choice, or use their drug of choice.  On the other hand, because their focus is on themselves and their drinking, they just do not have any space left to think about anything else.

Though my husband can be incredibly thoughtful and kind, I have learned to be careful and not completely accept these displays at face value, as sometimes gifts or favors really are about him, and not me.  Thus a bouquet of flowers doesn't mean: "You are so great to me."  What it really means is: "See how great I am? To you?"

A program friend lent me the book "Addictive Thinking", which apparently was written after a secret psychological interview with my husband.  The book is pretty good, not as in-depth into the traits that the author discusses, but everything makes sense.  The topics include an alcoholic's concept of time, their guilt & shame, feelings of omnipotence, their confusing of cause and effect, their denial, rationalization & projection and their hypersensitivity.  In my first post I mentioned how much time I had spent trying to diagnose him - "This kind of behavior has to be the sign of a mental illness" I would tell myself, "But which one is it?"

There is a blindingly obvious missing issue in this book, in my opinion - the selfishness encountered on a daily basis.  Insidious and a chameleon-like, it can seem charming and thoughtful at times and completely transparent at others.

For example, in general my husband rarely asks me questions, and when he does they have to do with him and his needs, wants, interests.  Such as - "Are we out of (x)?"  "Did you buy (x)?"  "Did you hear about (insert professional athlete's name here) transfer to (insert professional sports team name here)".  There is no lingering conversation in which he asks me how my day was, what I did; if I'm working on something he doesn't inquire as to what it is or stop to watch.  If I was not the one desperately reaching out on a daily basis, trying to connect with him on some level no matter how trivial, there would be no communication in our house.

I just returned home yesterday from my trip, and my mom called me after I landed to give me the great news that her test results were negative for remaining cancer, which was a huge relief.  A friend had to pick me up from the airport - that morning, after my husband and I texted about my arrival time, where he would be waiting for me, etc., he texted me back 90 minutes later and said "On second thought, just take a cab from the airport."  I asked why.  "I'm tired of driving this week."

Does this sound familiar to anyone?   According to Blogger's statistics I have readers (so flattered!) and would love to hear what you have to offer.

Until then, I'm hanging in.  Hope you are, too.


  1. First of all – how is your mom doing? I hope she is on a strong road to recovery.
    I can relate to your thoughts and feelings. I have been dating a recovering alcoholic (who is active in AA) for almost two years now. Whenever I bring up a difficulty at work, instead of just hearing me out and giving me my moment to be upset, I find that he often brings up some difficulty he is having at work – switching the center of attention to him. The chameleon isms you speak of happen all the time as well. If I am having a conversation with someone and he is in the room he will often interrupt either me or the other person to throw in his thoughts. He doesn’t even wait for a pause in the conversation… It is almost like a child with impulse or filter issues. Sometimes the topic he throws out has nothing to do with what we were talking about. He sometimes changes the tv channel without even acknowledging that someone else might have been watching something. It is like he doesn’t even see anyone else in the room – or maybe is threatened by them. I sometimes think that he places so much focus on his recovery (or not drinking), that he doesn’t have time to think of anything else. He is constantly telling war stories and glorify alcohol and laughing about the stupid inconsiderate, childish things he did when he was drinking. He obsesses about alcohol and drinking. We cannot pass one large group of people hanging out without him commenting that he bets they are drinking. We can not walk through the grocery store without him commenting about alcohol. If someone brings up alcohol he goes off on a tangent about alcohol, AA or what alcohol did to him.
    And, oh boy, can I relate to not being able to take displays of kindness at face value……… I just received a bouquet of flowers….mind you that even after almost two years he still had to ask me what kind of flowers I like and what I didn’t like and who a good florist was in the area. BUT what I see in this bouquet is “See what a great boyfriend I am to you?” I can guarantee that later today he will ask how many people I showed that he had sent them to me.
    I am struggling because I divorced an active alcoholic because I could no longer stand the isms and the drinking. Now I am dating a recovering alcoholic that is mostly the same except without the alcohol.

  2. Hi there, I know this is an older post but I am trying to catch up on your blog, since I found you the other night. I fell across your post by simply googling- living with an alcoholic. I was searching for answers, help, hope...I love your blog! It has really helped me understand things. You are so right on about the selfishness and the conversations. I did not realize it until now but that is usually what our conversations are bout. Never does he ask how my day was or how I am doing. I cant believe your husband did not pick you up. I am sorry you did not get the support you needed from him either. I do understand how that feels. When my mom was pretty much on her death bed my husband came out to help with final arrangements but the only thing he seemed concerned about was if he could have some beers there and if It was time to go home yet-not even thinking, this could be the last time my wife sees her mom....and it was. That kind of selfishness is something I will never forget.

  3. Thank you so much for your comment and your kind words. I am so humbled that my little blog and my own experience is of help to anyone out there.

    This post may be old but I still shake my head when I remember what happened. My heart goes out to you for your loss of your mom...

  4. Are we married to the same man? Some days I want to leave and some days I'm happy with him. It's really hard.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. Isms are maddening, my ah agreed to marriage counseling-we have had one session. He also agreed to outpatient treatment...yet to happen. He has reminded me eighty seven times that I should realize how hard this is for him and that I should be glad he has made any effort at all since he never did for his ex wife. Yay for me!

  5. Hmm maybe that's why I've been so suspicious lately - kidding!

    It's a rollercoaster, a merry go round, and not anywhere as fun as those two actual things.

  6. Hi,
    I just came across your BLOG, I have been glued to it!
    My husband of 12 years is a recently (this past summer) diagnosed (by our therapist) Functional Alcoholic (in denial).
    Im am on day 10, or maybe 12 of being ignored.
    My friends don't understand what seems like a delicate balance of not wanting to upset my husband...They say "just ask him what's wrong", and the worst part, is they seem annoyed when I tell them it's not that easy.
    My husband stopped drinking last summer after 2 DUI's that were 4 months apart. He told our therapist that he didn't think that he had a problem with drinking...just drinking & driving. What the What!!!????
    Anyway, it's nice to feel like I am not alone...and I guess the being ignored is, in fact, part of this disease.
    I have been trying to muster up the courage to find a support group, but every time that I think about it, I just cry (sobbing as I'm typing this)...I feel so pathetic.

    1. There are several support and recovery groups out there - whatever works for you, I hope you do it, though I know the initial difficulty. We do have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and our pain.

  7. I never realized this was part of the disease I always just thought my husband was self absorbed and had a huge ego , I also see why I am so lonely and unfulfilled.

  8. When my Mom was dying my alcoholic husband said to me, "Why don't you go to Iowa and stay there. I'm tired of you depressing me." Apparently her impending death from pancreatic cancer was not suppose to impact him at all. He also said when we had the tentative diagnosis, "I don't see why everyone is so upset." Everything is about him or the things he likes. It is so tiresome but I am starting to learn to not be angry. Anger is exhausting and changes nothing.

  9. I had a similar event with my AH. My mom was dying from pancreatic cancer. she was sick for about 7 months. At about month 5 he said to me, "Why don't you go to your Mother's and stay there. I'm tired of you depressing me.". Apparently my distress was not suppose to affect him at all. He spoke only once to my mother/father during the illness. He did not come to the funeral. Alcoholics are not capable of any sustained concern for anyone but themselves.