Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Secret Drinking

Most evenings I greet my husband at the door when he returns home from work, hug and kiss him hello, smell it on his breath, and just continue to pretend I don't notice.  Quite a few times I've caught myself sniffing, and he noticed ("What?") and still I said nothing.  The times he comes home and there doesn't happen to be an odor, sooner or later throughout the evening it will usually appear.

Sometimes it feels like I am playing a little game called "I Know You Secretly Drink But I'll Pretend I Don't Know So We Can Try To Be Happy Together", and even though I am playing by the made-up rules (and the rules I made up myself, mind you!) I'm still losing.  Part of being in Al Anon is understanding that we don't talk about the alcoholic's drinking with the alcoholic.  Actually, I'm pretty sure this hasn't even been suggested but it's what I gather from the program.  Indeed, the times I have discussed my husband's drinking with him, things did not go well.

Part of being a "functioning alcoholic" is that my husband is able to keep up his professional life and remain successful in his field while being a good provider to us.  The "alcoholic" part is that he drinks, he hides his drinking and also, he is drinking alone.  And, I suspect, everyday.  So he drinks everyday, alone, sometimes in his car before coming in the door so I can't see it (I prefer to think it's this instead of drinking while he drives home), and sometimes upstairs in our side room where I also can't see it.  He hides the bottles so that if and when I go inside, I'm none the wiser.

From what I have learned, there are a few reasons alcoholics hide their drinking:

1. To increase their intake unnoticed.

To clarify, though most of my husband's drinking is in secret, not all of it is - on weekends he puts on the show for me called "See, I Bought This Six Pack And Only Drank One And Didn't Even Finish It."  (I hate that show, it's always reruns).  In his mind, he's showing me he can control himself.  And for a while I believed it was true.

But one night, reality smacked me across the face.  He had a glass of red wine downstairs that he was nursing.  He took a sip and went upstairs.  I needed something from our bedroom and when I went up, our dog followed me - when he saw her (but not me) he told her to go downtairs.  Turning around, I saw his mini-wine bottle up in the air as he downed the last drops of the white wine inside.  When he came down from his sip he saw me seeing him; I said nothing and walked back downstairs.

My first thought was "But - he has of"  Well gee golly gosh.

2. The alcoholic knows their relationship with alcohol has become unhealthy.

At some point last year, my husband mentioned to me that he was working later and later at work because he figured the less time he was at home, the less time he had to drink.  He has made other comments to me that leads me to believe he may be grappling with the idea that he has a problem:

"I know I do, and I don't care.  And if you don't like my drinking you can leave."
"Well, I know I have, you know - whatever - but it's not a problem until it becomes a problem."

When I caught my husband making a drink upstairs in another room:  "You moved the bar upstairs?"  I couldn't help myself.  "Yeah well I know it bothers you so I don't do it around you."

Recently my husband told me some facts about how alcohol affects dopamine in addicts.  "How do you know this?" I asked him.

"I looked it up online."  Genuinely, I gave him a quizzical look.  "Because I thought I might be an alcoholic!" he said.

3.  Denial (They're hiding it from themselves).

I would imagine that drinking out in the open - and in front of me, especially - causes my husband to feel judged and ashamed.  He knows very well how I feel about his drinking, especially because I find it so damn hard not to make my little comments to let him know that I don't approve.  This in turn probably has a few effects, one of which is to really look at his drinking and at himself.  And seeing as he is still trying to control his drinking and further the idea that he doesn't have a problem, any introspective place probably isn't a very comfortable place for him to be.

So, let's just hide the drinking and I can pretend my wife doesn't know - because if she doesn't have proof I can say I'm not drinking as much as she thinks I am, or anything at all even.  And then I can also pretend that this isn't a huge problem, and I'm just hiding it because my wife is a controlling, judgmental wench of a woman who hates me and doesn't see that after all my hard work and providing for her, I deserve some booze right?  This last part is something he has told me in his own words - "I mean, I don't have kids, I don't have a house - can't I at least have this?"

Also regarding denial - after my husband let me know that he had searched online for information on alcoholism after thinking he possibly is one, he proceeded to tell me the difference between himself and an addict.  "Addicts say that they have no control over it, they can't control it.  But for me, every time I drink I'm choosing to drink, it's a choice."

Like discovering squirrel plantings out in the garden,  I've found bottles buried in the nooks and crannies of our home.

Hiding places are found by me accidentally, typically during cleaning up (and in my early recovery, during remedial Step 1 moments of searching).  Pushing a chair out of the way to vaccuum and I find empty pints underneath.  Looking for the cat under the bed in our other room and there are empty tall cans and mini wine bottles.  Checking the side closet for moving boxes I see that on the top shelf was his top shelf Seagrams VO, mostly empty.  Also:

In between the mattress and box spring of a spare bed.
In his work bag.
Stuffed in the couch between cushions.
In his jacket after a road trip.
In the trash he takes out.
Behind his computer monitor where I couldn't see.
On our bar, but behind a bottle of a kind of liquor he doesn't or won't drink.
Under the front seat.
In his luggage.
In the trunk.

Sometimes the bottles never surface, and the scent is just lingering in the air, on his breath, or in an empty can of soda.

The times I've ever delicately mentioned finding bottles (definitely in the context of a drinking discussion, and not a random topic of conversation) my husband maintains that the found bottles are old and have been there for "who knows how long."

Before we moved some of our things this past weekend, we got the oil changed on my husband's car.  It had been a nice weekend for the most part, and a nice day in particular.  But wouldn't you know, when I got in and saw some empty mini-wine bottles on the floor of the passenger side and coming out from under the seat, my husband's mood shifted pretty quickly.  He clammed up, his eyes were wide, and before I knew it he was driving, nay, speeding to the oil change place.  A little too roughly I may add - taking turns fast and flying into driveways.  Surely, he was pissed.  But why?  I hadn't even said anything and did my best to pretend I didn't even notice - which was probably ridiculous considering how obvious the bottles were.

A friend of mine who is a "double winner" (in both Al Anon and AA recovery programs) explained to me that he wasn't angry at me - he's angry that I had found one of his hiding places.  He had been "found out."  That alcoholics are filled with shame and that that shame is exacerbated by someone who discovers their secrets, whether through discovering hiding places or anything else that supports or is related to their addiction.  "His way of life is threatened."

His way of life.  Drinking alone, drinking in secret, drinking period.

So how am I getting through this?  It is a struggle, but I have accepted that my husband is an adult - he has the right to drink.  I also have a right to not accept his drinking or the consequences to our relationship, and I recognize that unacceptable behavior is unacceptable.  To that end one of my options would be to tell him my concerns and be prepared to take any following steps for me and make my choices - this is not my strong suit.  Though it's taken me a while, I have learned that I can control the message but not the outcome (typically my past behavior was to tell him my message over and over again, for hours, essentially begging or pleading him to stop doing x and please do y, etc. until we were both exhausted.  Never worked).

Lastly, as ever I try to keep the focus on myself.  His drinking habits can easily become an obsession of my own, and so I tell myself to stop thinking of where he may be hiding his bottles tonight, to stop calculating how much I think he's had, and so on.  The only way to get through something like this isn't to ignore it, but to accept it, and to also accept that I'm powerless over the alcoholism.  I am powerless over my husband's own opinion of whether or not he has a problem, and I am powerless over his decision or lack thereof to enter recovery.

And so I continue attending meetings, talking to my sponsor and program friends, reading the literature, working on my business, and posting here.  This may be my secret from my husband, but it is a secret that I hope is maybe helping someone out there gain some perspective and realize that they aren't alone.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Geographical Cures Part 2

We're moving.


This is the third time in a little over two years. This is the third new job for my husband in the same amount of time. With each new job there's been more money, a change of scenery, and as you can imagine lots of box-finding and packing and tears and "see-you-soon's" (mostly from me). This is another example of when the term "high functioning alcoholic" doesn't seem so functioning.

To someone on the outside (and even within his own family and friends) it looks like my husband is getting ahead, climbing up the ladder of success, earning more money and being a great provider.  All of these points, I suppose, are true.  But when my husband moves around from job to job, and town to town, it doesn't seem like he his chasing success - there are never comments of  "This is a really great decision for my career" or "The experience I'll gain there will prepare me for down the road."  It's not as if he is running towards something.  It feels more like he is running away.

"This place SUCKS! This place is the worst place in the whole FUCKING world!"  A common refrain during angry outbursts during the months in which my husband was again looking for another job, and something I still hear, even recently.  I heard similar things when we left our homestate, about how horrible it was there.  And then wouldn't you know, on that moving day, we woke up and my husband said "I can't believe I'm moving to god-forsaken (current state)."  I probably looked at him like a dog who just heard a high-pitched noise.  I just had absolutely no clue.

These aren't all the details, of course.  Before we moved here, we lost our house back home, a decision my husband made when the real-estate bubble had burst and we found ourselves underwater.  So part of the anger wasn't just at where we were.  It was at the banks, the government, everyone was against him.  He wanted out, and he immediately started looking for jobs out of state.  This was after we had already moved a few hours away from our house to another town, to what I'll call Job #1. Job #2 is here.  Job #3 is in another town a few hours from here.  If you can't keep track it's okay, I actually had to sit here and think about the math myself for a while.

When my husband got this new job - Job #3 - he didn't tell anyone for a while, maybe a month and a half.  He talked to his family here and there and made no mention of it.  This was probably for good reason - he was in the midst of stonewalling me.  Also, he told me in his own words why he hadn't told even his friends back home.

"I don't know.  Some people may not think it's such a good thing."

"Why not?"

"Because it's my second new job in as many years."  Part of me is grateful that he recognized that on his own.

I've posted before about the geographical cure.  Alcoholics Anonymous defines the geographical cure as "While still drinking, an effort to cure our alcoholism by getting a 'fresh start' in a new location."  In that strict sense I cannot be positive that these are my husband's motives, so when I say "geographical cure" I mean in the general, psychotherapeutic sense that he seems to be moving to avoid emotional or personal distress.

The problem for this approach is that at first, it kind of works.  Don't get me wrong - it hasn't worked yet for us, and my husband has been in our new city working for almost 2 months now - but when we have all of our things in our new place, and we're distracted with settling in, and exploring our new town (what little we do) and adjusting to new jobs, the excitement takes hold and we're left thinking well, this was a good move.  Then eventually that wears away, and when our routines are established and the dust clears, it's the same crap, different town.  "Wherever you go, there you are" they say in AA.  I've also heard it said this way: "I moved thinking things would get better, and for a while they did.  The problem was a couple weeks later, I always showed up."

Last week I posted about hope, and I must say that our impending move did give me some hope that things would get better.  "Maybe this new job will really fulfill him, maybe he'll be in a better place to consider getting sober."  Ah, those damn Maybes.  But see?  Even a part of me is falling victim to the same "logic"; though I do try to stay as completely conscious and honest with myself as possible, I am human and I have my own disease to battle, the disease that likes to avoid reality and wants to believe the alcoholic's logic.

Today I managed to pack one box.  Just one.  We need to be out by the end of next week, and we've moved most of our things already.  But for today I just packed one box.  There was always an excuse today of why I couldn't pack.  I had to walk the dog, I had to make myself lunch, I had to watch tv.  Part of this is denial.  I mean, why do I have to pack boxes anyway?  What am I, moving?  My program friends have decided that I'm not really moving, no - I'm just taking a trip, and I will visit my husband when necessary but always return here to where I still in reality actually truly reside.  Like, for realsies.

Tomorrow I will have to get my act together and pack many more boxes.  Boxes to be piled on top of boxes, next to and in front of other boxes.  Also on the list is to find more boxes.  Boxes.  Sorry, just had to say it one more time.

For now, goodnight, and I hope for you (as for myself) that you keep your head where your feet are, no matter where you are.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Keep Hope Alive

A few days ago I purchased this greeting card.  Discovering it in the store gave me a thrill - for the past couple weeks I have been wanting to post here about the subject of hope, and planned to include an image of the first few lines of Emily Dickinson's poem against a photo of yes, a bird.  Originally I was going to include a gorgeous photograph of a crimson red cardinal, warm and bright against a wintry background.  Fitting, I thought, for the idea of hope.  Cue finding this card, and it's been resting on my work desk ever since.

Hope is for some of us a scary concept, especially those of us prone to extremes (ahem).  Too much of it and we mistake the comfort for a free Greyhound ticket to Denial (Greyhound should be the only accepted and allowed method of transport back to grimy, backwards Denial.  Our punishment for such a masochistic trip).  We tell ourselves, "There's hope!"  We hope for them to get sober, we hope for them to make amends, we hope for them to realize all they've done to hurt us and hope that they'll realize just how much they don't want to lose us so that they'll choose us over the bottle.  We hope that we can be their consequence, their bottom.  Is that really what I want to hope for?  "Why can't I be his bottom?"  Uh, ew.

Too little hope and we are in despair.  We are hopeless.  Stuck in our doom and gloom we catastrophize and worry, we prepare for the worst - starring heroines (or heros) in our own imaginary fairytale tower, we lay in wait thinking there is just no damn way our one true love is going to slay their own shitty dragon.  Nope, we're just victims and there's absolutely nothing we can do.  We focus on our qualifiers and lose ourselves.

Of course, there needs to be a balance with hope, and there needs to be an understanding of just what kind of hope is okay to hope.  The hope is ultimately for our own serenity, whether the alcoholic is drinking or not.  It is for us.  But us good al anons, we love to give everything to our alcoholics.  

"You can take this, you can take that, here have this too - I will give you everything I have until I am sucked dry and exhausted and without dignity and self-respect, and then I will feel guilty for not being able to give you more.  Here, I will even give you my hope!  It's all I have left, but it's yours now, so the hope is for you to stop drinking.  It's not about me anymore."

Cut to today.  After a "French Chic" themed lunch with friends after the morning meeting, I was on my way home down a main street, a box of 6 macarons as my co-pilot (talk about a sweet ride).  

Driving along, I followed a turn in the road and saw something in the middle of the lane next to me.  It was a bird. Sitting awkwardly and obviously injured, it gazed up at the sky with its mouth agape.  I was horrified and wishing with the sick feeling in my stomach that it didn't die that way, crying out in pain or for help.  

"Maybe it's not dead."  I started the conversation with myself.

"Am I really going to turn around for this bird?"  

"Well you can't let it sit there in the road - it's going to get hit."

"People are going to think I'm crazy going into the road for a bird.  Am I really going to do this?"

"So. *shrug*  You rescue snails on the sidewalk."

"What if it's dead?  I mean, what if it's dead?  Can you handle that?"

"But what if it's not.  Can you handle not knowing?  Can you handle that?"

Sigh.  No.  No I can't.

I flip a U-turn, enter the adjacent shopping center and empty a shoebox I happen to have in the front seat.  I hurry out of the car in my red suede pumps to the road, waiting for cars to stop flying by.  At first from my distance, the bird is so still it does appear to be dead.  But a car whooshes over it and then another, and I see its head turn to and fro.  It is petrified.  Its mouth is agape again, without a sound.

At this point, I am visibly pleading with the cars.  "Please stop!''  And then I say my worst fear out loud.  "Please don't hit this bird in front of me, please don't hit this bird!"  Surely people must see the little one, but no one slows or stops.  No one except one crazy Francophile broad in an ill-fitting black vest and red lipstick who may or may not be talking to herself.

The traffic slows and I take my chance, scooping the bird into the box.  When it tries to get away I'm relieved - it's in better shape than I thought.  Okay little one, I tell the flapping box, okay.  

Wouldn't you know, there's an animal clinic in that very shopping center.  I teeter through the parked cars, my long tassel necklace swaying side to side with my hurry, and through the doors of the clinic, breathless with a mixture of embarrassment and too many crêpes.  The receptionist's gaze, though unwavering, betrays her wish to eyeroll me.

"We don't take birds here.  And even if we did the vet is gone for the day."  She directs me to a clinic down the road that takes birds.  Somehow we make it in spite of my attempts at keeping the box steady and shock-absorbed by knee-driving.  The office cat flirts with me while I wait.  Now that I think about it he probably wanted what he saw as a neatly-wrapped snack.  The woman ahead of me looks curiously at the Donald Pliner box (eBay) but never asks.

"Oh you'll want to take it to the wildlife rescue." Again, directed elsewhere. "They're closed now but just bang on the door - they're still inside."  On the road again, feeling like Goldilocks.

We arrive, along the way passing a few critters in the road who hadn't been so lucky.  After some frantic knocking I see ah, the door is unlocked.  A confused volunteer pushes it open and invites me in.  I hurry to the admissions desk like Shirley MacLaine, and another volunteer swiftly and gently takes the bird from me.

"Here, fill this out" - someone else hands me an admission form.  An admission form.  I briefly think to myself, "Really?" but almost collape in relief at the bureaucratic validation of this midday rescue mission.

Date.  Time.  Species.  # Individuals.  I print legibly and press firmly as instructed.

Reason(s) for Admission - CAUGHT BY CAT (in all caps - not sure why).  BAT - COMPLETE QUESTIONNAIRE (also in all caps).  Electrocuted.  Caught by Dog.  Gun shot (dear god).  Vehicle collision.  Possible poisoning.  Caught in trap.  Struck window.  Caught by human.  Fell in pool.  Unknown trauma.  "Caught by human," hehe.  Technically true.  I end up going with "unknown trauma."

The volunteer who took the bird comes back from a room I can't see, presumably where some of the animals are kept.  "Is he - or she - going to be okay?"

"She.  Yes she's just a little freaked out right now but I think she'll be okay.  Right now she's in the room with the baby birds."  The volunteer behind the desk lets me know I can check on her using the number referenced on my form.

A small sign at the desk asks "Please help us care for your animal with a tax deductable donation!".  As I sign a check for $20, I tell her about the greeting card.  I figure what the hell, so I ask her.

"Can I name her...Hope?"

She smiles.  "You know, if you name the animal we actually write it on the top of their form, and you can check on her using that name."  She writes it down, and hands me my copy.

As I write this, my hope is that the wildlife center is doing their best to keep Hope alive.  To heal her, to nurse her back to health, to rehabilitate her and one day, to set her free to fly again.  And right now I can honestly say that I feel her perched in my soul.  Singing the tune without the words, never stopping at all.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It Has Nothing To Do With You. Really.

I read somewhere recently that "The alcoholic isn't drinking at you."  They're not doing it, in other words, to upset you, to irritate you, to piss you off, to make you depressed and wonder why the hell you married them.  Although you may wonder that.  Alcoholics drink because they're alcoholics.  They may try to blame it on someone or something.  But it isn't personal.

It's a shame that it took two weeks of really phenomenally romantic, sweet and thoughtful behavior on the part of my husband to catalyze the epiphany that you know what?  Wow.  This has nothing to do with me.  I've been the same - doing the same sweet things, talking the same, texting the same, asking the same questions, doing my own thing.  It's him that has come around.

I say it's a shame because for most of us - for me, anyway - the crappier things said to me have always been easier to believe, as if it is the truth being reflected back to me through the behavior of others.  This poor treatment leads to me feeling somehow to blame.  And it starts with the Why's - Why is he doing this?  Why is he suddenly acting this way?  Why is he like this to me?  Why does he treat me and only me like this?  Then there are the How's - How does this happen?  How does he think this is okay?  How can he not see what this is doing to me?  How does this happen?  Inevitably the Why's and the How's lead to the Maybe's.  Maybe if I hadn't said this.  Maybe if I tried doing that.  Maybe if next time I make sure this.  Maybe it's because he needs more sleep.  Maybe he's really truly actually upset about that.  

Then comes the self-blame, the guilt, and down the rabbit hole I go, sucked into the darkness with a pinhole of light above me that I can't see.  I'm hopeless, helpless, out of control and out of my mind with fear, stuck in The Past and scared to death of The Future.  Meanwhile, The Present goes by and if I am not worried, distraught and depressed, I busy myself with distractions - some healthy, some not so healthy.  But mostly I ponder The Dilemma, which is What Am I Going To Do?  And the wind blows, and The Present slips away, and there I am moving along into The Future that I'm so afraid of, looking over my shoulder into The Past.

Today's meeting topic was "letting go and starting over."  Lightbulb.  "I've forgotten that phrase, 'Let go or be dragged' " I shared today, and went on to describe the analogy of my current experience, which is me clinging for life to a rope tied to my husband's truck as he drags me along, "Oh, go ahead and go wherever you want and just drag me along, I'll just be hanging back here for the bumps and twists and turns."  But you can't yank a truck to a stop as you're being pulled by it any more than you can stop the direction an alcoholic is moving toward and pull them back to reality, reign them in.

This is, in my mind, a Step 1 issue.  "Focusing on anyone else but ourselves keeps us in denial" was part of the lead today, and it's so true - the more I focus on his behavior, the more I start to wonder why, and how, and think maybe, and pretty soon I think well, I could fix this somehow.  Which is the illusion of control.  And remember - the Three C's tell us that we didn't Cause it, can't Control it, and can't Cure it.  So thinking that I'm somehow to blame, that maybe if I do x it will fix it, completely goes against this wise acronym.

It is so much easier, I have found, to lovingly detach when things are consistently bad than when there is a dramatic change for the better in our circumstances.  Suddenly I am right there where I used to be, feeling connected with my husband, forgetting that yes, this too shall pass, and when the pendulum swings the other way I find myself just absolutely crushed.  And I must tell you all that I cannot remember a time in the recent past several years in which my husband had been this consistently good to me.  I don't just mean the absence of fits or tantrums or emotional/verbal abuse - I mean proactively kind and thoughtful treatment.  To have him switch back so quickly was a swift kick to the groin of my heart.  So to speak.  I have been devastated and despondent, grieving and angry.

So for now, I am trying to remember that this has nothing to do with me.  I'm a good wife to my husband.  I am far from perfect and I make my mistakes, but throughout I do my conscious best to remain loving and kind.  In no way do I deserve unacceptable behavior, and in no way does his drinking or tantrums have anything to do with me.  My husband has his choices, though he may not see this or understand them, and I have mine.  My choices and my behavior are my property - his are his.  It doesn't matter if he says he's upset for this reason or that.  Even if I have screwed up or said something rude, my husband does not need to react the way he usually does.  He has his choices.

It has nothing to do with me.  Really.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I'm Still Here

Lots, lots, lots going on these past few weeks. 

Venture is doing well, and we have a move underway, and there is so much to share with you all that I find myself not knowing where to start.  But in the hopes that you're a forgiving bunch, tomorrow I'll close my eyes, mix them around and pick one out of my imaginary hat.  A few things I can say now: 

1) I'm in need of a good Al Anon meeting (a GOOD one - good lead, good shares).

2) The literature is always available to me and I have to remember that a) I am able to read and b) I own the books so c) read them already. 

3) I am grateful for so many things, most of all my amazing friends. 

4) I had cake today.  At least I think it was cake.  Cute story forthcoming. 

And with that, I bid you all a good night.