Sunday, July 28, 2013

"...And The Lady Will have The Spinach Dip."

This past week and a half has been rough.

I mentioned in my previous post that my husband is once again stonewalling me - sleeping on the couch, getting ready in the other bathroom, not wearing his wedding ring.  Not wearing his wedding ring.  It always hurts, and always confuses.  Especially when there are small "nice" gestures thrown in each day for good measure (though he remains sleeping on the couch without his ring).  I try to tell myself, "This is part of the disease, this has nothing to do with you."  But it's hard to detach sometimes.

When I type it out it hits me how insane this all is, especially because I look back at what's transpired in terms of "arguments" and there isn't anything I did that could possibly justify this kind of behavior.  And that's the issue of mine that I still struggle with, even after a year and a half in Al Anon: every time there is unacceptable behavior I try to understand why, and how, and what did I do?  I still have not completely realized the fallacy of the "logic" - his or mine, in the dysfunctional dynamic we have been living in for so long - that the only thing that can change my husband's behavior is my behavior.

Last night, after coming home from work and making his own dinner, my husband left without saying to where or when he'd be back.  He returned shortly thereafter, having forgotten something, and he lingered at the door.  I gave in and asked him where he was going.

"Well out, right, but where?"
"Somewhere. I don't know."

He said he just wanted to be out, and it was very clear that he did not want to be here, with me, and our pets, and the weekend ahead of us ready to be filled with things to do together.  He looked sad, on the verge of angry tears.  When I offered that I'd be gone walking our dogs, that he could have the run of the house, I realized I was trying to get him to stay, and stopped. "Okay", I said, and walked away before he walked out.

This was huge for me - just last week he wanted to leave and I tried to talk him into staying, I just thought "This is ridiculous - I have to get through to him.  He can't just leave like this! I deserve to be listened to, I'm his wife!"  He ended up shoving me away from the door.

So last night, after he left, I continued to do the next right thing and take care of myself - I leisurely walked our dogs as planned and went for a swim.

In the pool, while floating around, I heard other couples in our complex giggling, laughing, talking on their way home from dinner.  It occurred to me it was Friday night - Friday night - and I am alone in our pool, and at this rate probably going to spend the evening alone and waiting for him to come back, potentially going to bed in a fit of resentment, anger and hurt.

Then the record scratched.

"No way", I thought.  "I'm going to meet my own needs."

So you know what I did?  I took myself out on a date.  I got dressed up, did my makeup, put on perfume, zipped myself up, told myself how nice I looked, and I took myself out on a date.  I let me pick the restaurant.  I even held the door open for me.  Who says chivalry is dead?

On the way to the restaurant, it was difficult to stay in the moment and not become anxious at the thought of my husband returning home and finding I had left.  "He's going to be upset" I kept thinking, but I put it out of my mind.  I wanted to give myself a nice night out, and the only way to do that would be to stay in the moment.

It was a late dinner, and when I returned home my husband was still gone, though I could tell he had been home.  A few things were missing, and it became clear to me that he had no intention of returning until the end of the weekend.

As of this post I still have not heard from my husband - no calls, no texts.  I awoke in the middle of the night last night in a panic, my heart racing, fearing something had happened to him or he'd been arrested or worse.  That this is somehow my fault, playing the guilt & regret tape on repeat in my mind, playing back things I could have done differently.  But I am not in control of my husband's behavior - there are no invisible marionette strings.  And any analysis of cause and effect means I'm slipping back into codependency and unhealthy habits.  His behavior is his property and my behavior is my property.  The more I remind myself of that, the better I can calm down, breathe, and get some sleep.

Why is it so hard to accept this?

When it comes down to it, it's this: when I accept that I am not the problem then I must accept that I am not the solution.  Anything I say, do or offer is of no lasting consequence to the health, behavior and sobriety of my husband.

It doesn't matter how much I love on him.
It doesn't matter how many times we have sex. 
It doesn't matter how often I tell him I love him.
It doesn't matter what or how often I cook for him.
It doesn't matter if I don't tell him "Good Morning" the morning after a fit.
It doesn't matter if he gets love notes or other tokens of affection.
It doesn't matter.

My husband will continue to drink until he experiences a consequence.  One could argue that all of the loving, kind things I've done for him - despite his unacceptable treatment of me - is enabling.  It's fuzzy to me, and though I'm not sure, I definitely do see how continuing to "go along to get along" has not helped him in the direction of a consequence.  And to boot, though I try to "let it begin with me", I too often fall into being a doormat.

I hope anyone reading this understands that it is not their fault.  That we all deserve to be treated with love and respect by our husbands and wives.  And that behavior and treatment of this nature is passive-aggressive manipulation, not communication of feelings, thoughts and needs.

So take yourselves to dinner.  Take your kids for a walk.  Go to the movies.  Sit for a quiet 30 minutes by yourself.  Cook the new recipe your friend e-mailed you.  Read the book that's getting dusty on your side table.  Sitting around worrying, waiting or wishing for your alcoholic to meet your needs is such a waste of the precious now that we are so fortunate to have.

Please all take care of yourselves, and try to do the next right thing.  I'll be doing the same.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Marriage or Relationship With a Functioning Alcoholic - To Stay or To Go?

There have been quite a few comments on my first post, I'm Married to A Functioning Alcoholic, to me and to others regarding the decision of whether to stay or go.  So though I have several other posts waiting to be edited and published, and as I consider this myself, I thought I should address the issue of staying vs. leaving.

Oh, the stories I have heard in Al Anon.  I have heard stories of heartache, triumph, abuse, recovery, catastrophes and miracles.

I have friends who left their actively-drinking husbands, I have friends whose actively-drinking husbands left them.  I have friends whose husbands got into recovery and their marriage was saved (though as marriages do, they still have their challenges), and friends whose husbands got into recovery and decided to walk away.  Husbands who stopped drinking but were never sober (abstinence is different than sobriety).  Husbands who were never unfaithful, some that were.  Husbands who were never physically abusive, but emotionally abusive.  Husbands who were never abusive but were controlling or distant.  Husbands who sleep in and have a mostly-functioning job but can't make it to work on time or husbands who are totally on it, make it to work and never skip a day like the Corporate Superhero they may think themselves to be.  The list of the trade-offs and comparisons goes on, and on, and on...

A dear program friend of mine, for example - her husband actually talks to her about his drinking.  He talks to her ABOUT his DRINKING!  He admits to her that he has a problem, though he's not at the point where he can do something about the drinking as the main issue.  And sometimes I think - why can't my husband talk to me about his drinking?  (Never thought I'd be jealous of something like that).  Why can't he at least recognize it's a problem to me?

What makes some spouses "get it"?  What makes some of them hit some kind of bottom, get sober, and get into recovery?  What's the "secret"?  I'm not sure there is one but I wish I knew - first of all I'd be, like, a bazillionaire (you all would get blog-follower discounts, just FYI) but also for my own marriage's sake.  But I don't know it.

I think it is truly amazing, and such a great surprise, that we have a growing community of support here on my humble little blog.  It is completely unexpected but great to know that we are out there, and we are not alone.  Though we all share the common experience of being in relationships or marriages to an alcoholic, circumstances can be different.  Also, you are not me.  I am not you.  I see how many people are struggling with whether to stay or leave, and subsequent comments with advice on whether to do so or not. I also see comments urging me to leave my husband, and others suggest I need to honor my sacred wedding vows and be here for better or worse, in sickness (hello) or in health.  But my goal here is to share my experience and also to provide insight, information and tools for you to understand alcoholism and assist you in making whatever decision you feel is right for you - whether that is to stay or leave.  And though many people may tell you what they think they should do, no one knows what you want to do, what you should do or how to do it better than you.

One of the main traits of people like some of us?  We know it all.  Phew, lemme tell ya, we sure know how to be right and how to tell you how you're wrong.  If you did things my way, you see, it would be easier, you would be happier.

And maybe sometimes we are right about some things.  Maybe even what you should do regarding your marriage.  But a lot of us ignore one simple contribution to our marriages and relationships - ourselves.  Us.  We think the alcoholic has the disease, they're the one who is wrong, they're the one who needs treatment.  They're the crazy ones, not us.

But we have a disease too.  I would venture to say that most of us if not close to all of us are codependent.  Whether we've stayed with our significant others or stayed a while and left eventually, there is a reason we were with them, a reason we "chose" them.  And until I fix that about myself, the cycle only continues.  How many people have I heard about who marry one alcoholic after another?  Both in recovery and out.  Sure, it's easy to say we're just victims of circumstance, but pretty soon it's clear what the common denominator is - me.

It is not our fault, but once we become aware of our own challenges and traits it is up to us to take care of ourselves, and stop worrying about fixing our alcoholic spouse.

"You need to get him some help", I've heard people say, to me and to others.

That is incorrect.  My husband is an adult, and his sobriety and recovery is his responsibility and his property.  My recovery is my responsibility.  For those of you who think it is your responsibility to to fix your husband or try to get him to see the light, smack some sense into him - that is the crux of the disease of codependency.  I understand that we love them, we want what's best for them.  But enmeshment (the engulfment of codependent relationships) can push us to put our alcoholic's needs above our own.  Because if we didn't take care of them and tell them what was healthy or unhealthy, right or wrong, they won't ever know, because they just don't get it, right?

Thinking this way, though, means that we still don't get it.  Everyone has the freedom to make their own decisions.  I'm not in control of my husbands drinking or disease or decision to become sober anymore than he's in control of how long I walk our dogs at night, or how much gelato I portion myself.

Some of us aren't in Al Anon, and that's totally fine.  Some of us are, and still tell people what they should do.  But all I can do here is provide you with my experience and say, "Here's how it was for me then, here's how it is for me now.  Here's how it could be if I stay, here's how it could be if I left."  I don't know you, and I certainly won't tell you what to do.  I can't judge you for making a decision I don't like (oh how judgmental I can be!).   Also, as much as I would like to be for my own sake, unfortunately I'm not psychic - I can't tell you exactly how it will be for you if you stay with your alcoholic spouse (whether they'll cheat on you or lose their job or you'll end up divorced) or if you leave your alcoholic spouse (whether they'll stay in active drinking or hit bottom).

Sure, there are specific commonalities to relationships with alcoholics, but they're not guarantees - if they were then some of the people I know need to get their money back.  It seems most of the almost-guarantees are the more general feelings of distance, trust issues, intimacy concerns, etc.  But I'm certainly not an expert.

For those of you just discovering that your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse is an alcoholic, and are wondering what you could be in for, I would urge you to learn more about the disease.  Whether it's research online, visiting a recovery or rehabilitation center and speaking to a counselor, or visiting Al Anon or open AA meetings, knowing how the disease works will help you no matter what decision you end up making.  I know for me, I was so baffled by why my husband behaved the way he did - it just didn't make any sense.  But thanks to open AA meetings I've learned that alcoholism is a "cunning, baffling and powerful" disease.

"Alcoholics aren't bad people, they're sick people" - that's what we learn from recovery centers and in Al Anon.

It has helped me to remember that my husband is a person, first and foremost, and a person whom I love who has a disease, and that I can separate him from it.  It has helped to relieve my guilt of feeling that I kept doing something wrong to upset him, to make him angry or sad or anxious, that this was somehow my fault.  It has made me more compassionate for him, even though his behavior is at times completely unacceptable.  It has helped me to be internally shielded from his attempts at blaming me for his drinking, for seeing through what the disease throws at me.  It has also helped me in almost every other aspect of my life, every other relationship.

Has it made me invincible, completely protected from anything he may say or do to me?  No.  After all, I'm human.  But I cannot tell you how much it has helped.  Even if I do decide to leave, all of these things will assist me in the end.  If I continue to stay, they will help me be near him without feeling his anger, and help me to continue my life without my focus completely on him.

The reason I started this blog was because there didn't seem to be a lot out there for people like me, who are married to an alcoholic who can hold down a successful job, doesn't miss work, hasn't been arrested and doesn't suffer the normal consequences alcoholism usually bestows upon the afflicted.  I thought it could help maybe just one person to recognize what was going on in their own marriage; that this indeed is a problem even though their spouse seems to "function".  I think most of us know it's a problem, we just didn't really know how to explain how it was a problem. It's a problem that we see because of proximity.  And when the disease is that close, sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees.

Would I have married my husband had I known he was an alcoholic?  Most of the unacceptable behaviors were there at that point, just not as progressed or to the frequency they are now.  I personally am not sure it would have made a difference having a word for what was going on, but it's hard to say, as I still struggle with the feelings that "maybe things could change if..."  Maybe it would have depended on how much I was able to really understand what alcoholism is.

I do know that with the stonewalling that is going on right now (similar but not identical to earlier this year) that has again cropped up against me after an argument but without any rational reason, I am not happy.  And even when things are calm, without stonewalling and everything is "normal", there is not a lot of talking, reaching out, or affection for a lot of the time.  It is probably the isolation of the disease displaying itself even to me, but it is as if my husband keeps himself to himself, and I in turn sometimes keep myself to myself.  Yes, we go on nice trips and he does sweet things for me here and there, because deep down I have to think he is a good person who is kind, generous and thoughtful - but those times become farther and farther apart.

The progression of the disease is invisible, but the force remains all the same.  It feels as though my husband is on the ocean, slipping away from me, and I am on the shore watching, helpless, because though I could and want to call out to him he cannot hear me where he is; and in his struggle he cannot call out at all, and is unable to row himself back.  So we watch each other from the growing divide, over the bounding waves, silent.

I have my concerns of what I feel I may need to do.  But I'm not ready.  I don't know when I will be, and even despite the turmoil of the last week, the feeling that something hasn't happened yet that is supposed to, hasn't come.  My husband himself said a few days ago, during an argument, "If it's so bad then why don't you just leave?"  What I could have said, and what I've been thinking about since then is, "Is that my only option here?"

To say it isn't easy being married to an alcoholic - high-functioning or not - is an understatement.  Things were not always this way.  And left untreated, I only have evidence to suggest that things will continue to progressively get worse, and I could be looking back to now thinking "Oh, when he used to bring me roses and then become upset and ignore me.  But at least he brought me roses."  Here's your flowers, enjoy your weekend without me.

Please remember that even while you learn about alcoholism to take care of yourself.  If I spent half the time on my business that I do discussing my husband's latest behaviors with my program and non-program friends I could have a lot more work done.  It's up to me to take my hands, pick up my focus and direct it to where it belongs.  I don't mean put my head in the sand, but acknowledge what is going on around me, accept it, and act on my own behalf - not his.  The more we leave their disease to them, the more they are forced to look at themselves and we are forced to look at ourselves and OUR disease.  Our energies are free to be put toward our passions, our kids, the responsibilities of life.

I'll be posting soon on the "Do" of "Learn the facts about alcoholism", which makes a nice follow-up to this post.  Until then I hope you all keep your mind where your feet are, and do something special for yourself today, no matter how small or trivial it may seem.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Update: Project "Hope"

Hope is still alive!

About two months ago I rescued Hope, an injured bird, from a main street in our previous town and took her to a wildlife rescue.  Since then I have checked her status a few times to no avail, but this past week I finally got some answers. 

Hope has been transferred from her rehabilitation in the baby bird unit, where she healed from injuries to her shoulder.  There was blood in her eye and an old wound on her left leg from which she also recovered.  When I think back to the way she was sitting in the road, so vulnerable and afraid, her wounds make so much sense.  Now, she is in a flight cage where rehabilitators are helping her test her wings in confidence so she can fly again and be released back into the "wild" of my old town. 

It was such a comfort to know that Hope is still hanging in there - naturally, as I have been concerned about her after having heard nothing of her condition.  But also because the past month and a half has seen me attend zero Al Anon meetings, and it started to show weeks ago.  So I need a little hope for myself right now.

Because no meetings means that my focus is mostly (or completely) on my husband's drinking and behavior.  No meetings means that I completely forget and/or find it difficult to like myself in a situation that I do not like.  No meetings means I stop taking care of myself.  No meetings means enmeshment, codependency, unhealthy decisions, creeping back into old habits and just All Things Shitty.

As I've mentioned before, the meetings here aren't what I'm used to as they are run a bit differently: set topics/focus for each meeting instead of speaker-chosen topics from the literature seem to have a rigid effect, and does not afford the same random possibility of epiphany and recovery (at least for me - I'm sorry but there's only so many times a month I want to hear yet again about "Step (x)").  The schedule is also not as convenient.  In attempts at compensation, the literature sits on my bedside table and I read several readings a day.  But the energy of a meeting, the feeling in the air of those who are walking in your shoes or have been where you have been, the understanding nods and thoughtful conversation with new friends - that cannot be replaced.

So my hope for this week is to go forth, explore and meet my needs - one of which is counseling.  Al Anon has been an invaluable resource to saving me in small ways and big, but as the program rightly suggests sometimes the help of a professional is needed, and I will be the first to admit that I need professional help right now.  Because you can't see me, but for the past couple of weeks I've looked like this:

The hope for me, then, is that after some much-needed meetings and counseling, I'll enjoy a slight personal makeover and end up looking more like this:

Fingers crossed.  It's a more slimming angle if anything.

And now, off to some much needed self-focus and self-care.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Keep Your Mind Where Your Feet Are.

Sometimes when things are so frustrating with my husband, I have tunnel-vision and focus on his itchy, irksome behavior or anything else over which I have absolutely NO control - his secret drinking, his in-front-of-me drinking, the fact that he's an alcoholic, how he loads the dishwasher - and *POOF*!  There goes my hour.  Or my day.  Or my week!  Year...yikes.

We just got back from our trip for the 4th, where we had some amazing outdoors experiences.  Amazing experiences that almost passed me by because I was stuck in my head and living through my husband's experience of withdrawal, cravings, distance, and anger, and not my own.  True, it sometimes seemed as though he was on vacation and I just happened to be there, but it didn't mean that I had to stop enjoying myself with such pathetic resignation after becoming aware of what I was doing.  No way.  NO. WAY.

So as my mind swirled with fear and worry and resentment and anger and hurt and grief and damn, ANGER, I literally stopped in my tracks and let my husband get even farther ahead of me on our hike, looked down at my feet, and closed my eyes.  I pressed into the dirt.  I wiggled my toes.  I tried with every force I could muster to figuratively shoot my mind and thoughts down my spine, through my legs and into my shoes.

"THERE.  You are THERE on the ground, on this path.  We are here in this moment," I told my mind and my feet.  They stared back at me, dusty and without response.  Which was comforting really because at that point in my insanity I half-expected something in return.

I closed my eyes and breathed in the smell of the beautiful clear and crisp air, looked up at all surrounding me and felt myself become enveloped by the space.  Pushing out anything negative and harmful just for that moment.  It was so important that all the miles we had traveled to get there turn out something healing and peaceful for me if just for that moment.

Sometimes there is a fear of letting go of that focus, like taking our eyes off a boiling pot.  "If something happens and my guard isn't up, I'll be wounded" or "If I don't try to figure this out or prepare I will be left feeling helpless or stupid."  But it is impossible to be prepared for everything, and hyper-vigilance is hardly the answer.  Part of what was going on was simple, really - my husband's disease is progressing and, as my sponsor wisely pointed out, the withdrawal is progressing as well.  He couldn't have his drink when he wanted it (didn't want me to see that he had smuggled in liquor in his bag, perhaps) and so he was angry and on edge.  As for the rest of it - the specific How's and Why's - I can't figure it out, and shouldn't keep trying to.  It's futile and really just not my job, not my deal.  In fact, one of the sayings in both AA and Al Anon is "Figuring it out isn't one of the steps."  So I'm off the hook there.

The rest of the trip I was able to (mostly) enjoy myself, even the good, sweet moments with my husband, which was great.  I like to think it's because I was able to just stop obsessing about what's going on in his head and do the next right thing.  Which was look out the window on our drive, and watch the scenery go by, soaking it all in and living through my OWN experience and feelings.  Here's hoping I can keep on doing that.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gangster-Wad: The Sequel

A couple days ago I posted about how I discovered that my husband is secretly saving cash and hiding it from me in our home.  Well, Monday came and went and guess what?  The wad went too.  This...this did not please me.

Frantically I searched our home (and even checked the pocket twice more - yes I knew it was gone, but dammit it was just here!) all the while cursing as I knew that my husband had simply taken it to work with him.  Surely, the gangster-wad would be snuggled once more in his jacket pocket upon his return.  Or, he had taken it with him and done something with it - bought something I can't see, paid someone back for a gambling debt, deposited it into a secret account.  The other paranoid fears I had are too embarrassing to admit.

But nay, the wad was not returned yesterday when he got home from work.  Throughout the night I tried, with some success, to stave off fears and worrying and questions and the sick feeling in my stomach that I cannot trust the man laying next to me on the couch.  I tried not to think about how he was stashing away "our" money and not telling me, all the while acting as if we have no money.

Tonight, I thought well, what the hell - let's check the jacket pocket.  And guess what?  Yup, it was back.  This confirmed to me three things:

1. My husband takes it with him to work each day, because:
2.  He doesn't want me to find it by accident (whoops) because:
3.  He doesn't want me to know he's stashing cash.

We're going on a trip for the 4th, to a place we've both never been.  Despite the fact that I'm wary of my husband now, I'm still able to look forward to the trip and be excited for it.  Because in a way, finding that money gave me a strange sense of peace - it solidified and validated my gut feelings (suspicions) about my husband's "management" of our money.  Now I'm comforted by the truth, and the truth tells me that I was not crazy for fearing he was being dishonest.  The truth was not what I wanted to hear, but it's the truth nonetheless.  And now I know where I stand.

My hope is that it stays where it is and I'm able to track additional "deposits."  In the meantime, part of my self-care is to continue to exercise my mind, body and soul, and focus on my venture and all things that fulfill me, bring me light and hope, and bring me peace.

Don't: Argue With A Drunk Alcoholic. Just Don't.

Or a drinking but not yet drunk alcoholic.

It's almost the 4th of July, and those of us in the states know that means lots of alcohol-filled barbecues and fireworks displays.  After all it's the celebration of the birth of our great nation!  Let's all get wasted in the name of patriotism!  So as the day approaches, this post feels timely, and I hope it will help some of you out there avoid any heated (and potentially dangerous) incidents.

Like I said in my previous post, there's absolutely no utility in arguing with a drunk alcoholic.  There's a saying in AA & Al Anon that alcoholics have "a thinking problem, not a drinking problem."  My urge to convince my husband of my perspective (read: I'm right) and the fallacy of his logic (read: he's way wrong) is still my first instinct, and each time it wells up to my lips I still struggle to pause before I protest.

I know.  It's so easy to say "Just don't argue with them."  Oh.  That's all?  Okay.  I'll just turn my Rational Switch (along with my ears) off and turn my Insane Patience Unknown To Humankind on.  I KNOW the pure skin-crawling frustration of feeling that you have to accept what the alcoholic is saying as if it's fact, or giving up, exhausted, after trying to make them understand.  So many times I've thought, "If I can just get him to understand what I'm saying..."  Two hours later, no dice.

Then one day I finally got it - I heard the Blue Refrigerator story.

So you're on the phone with someone, and they start talking about your blue refrigerator.  "My fridge is white", you say.

"No, it's blue."
"No - it's white."
"It's blue!"
"I think I know what color my fridge is."
"Hmm, apparently not.  Because it's blue - it's blue!"

There you are trying to convince the person on the other end of the line that your refrigerator is white.  I mean, you know that it's white - they're not even there.  They don't know what color it is because they can't see it.  And you don't have the sense to realize "Wait a minute - they can't even see my fridge, so how would they know what color it is?  It doesn't matter what they say because I know the truth."

In the same way, the disease clouds the thinking of alcoholics; it can prevent them from being able to see things as they are, to see things as we see them or to appreciate our thoughts, feelings or perspective.

If you were talking to someone with dementia or Alzheimer's, and they thought it was 1950 and your name was Pearl, chances are you wouldn't sit there arguing with them that nope, Gladys, it's really 2013 and no one's named "Pearl" anymore.  And if they had schizophrenia and wore tin-foil hats because the CIA was spying on them from Mars, you probably wouldn't even attempt to go there.

So the next time your son or daughter or wife or husband tries to accuse you of something, calls you names, insults you, tries to manipulate you or can't see why what they did/said upset you - just remember that they just can't see it, they are not able to get it.

And if you feel like you're going to lose it, do what I do and say this under your breath:

"My refrigerator isn't blue, my refrigerator isn't blue."

In recovery it's said that "alcoholics act and we react." In general and in specific situations, over time a dynamic takes shape, and slowly our own power, proactive choices and assertive behaviors slip away; we start surrendering our own thought creation and soon responses are knee-jerk and off-base.

So remember:

Don't JADE


Prior to Al Anon, this was my completely instinctive method of communication.  Example:

Him:  "Oh we're out of lettuce, I guess that's too much to ask"
Me JADEing: "Uh no it's not to much to ask - do you know how hard it is to keep up with all of our grocery needs?  I'm at the store almost every day!  I'm doing the best I can here, geez."  (Progress not perfection - this exact exchange was actually 20 minutes ago).
Me Not JADEing:  "Well let's have (x) instead."

This is a pretty mild example.  But traditionally when confronted with an accusation, snarky comment or an invitation to an argument (and remember: we don't have to attend every argument we're invited to) we end up justifying our position, arguing back, going on the defense or explaining ourselves.  All very passive, reactive ways of communicating.

Why do we do this?  I imagine a lot of us (myself included) grew up in homes in which we felt our feelings weren't validated, we did not feel heard.  And this probably made us terrified to state our needs, wants or feelings.  Because what if that upsets them?  What if they don't accept our needs, wants or desires?  At some level, we just don't feel entitled to them.

After living with an alcoholic for so many years, so afraid of upsetting him, any question or statement of his that pings off that fear in me causes me to react, almost as if I am trying to calm him down before things go sour.  JADE is a defensive, knee-jerk reaction that we develop from feeling that at any moment we may be under attack.  It's the hyper-vigilance of the Al Anon world.

Personally I used to (and sometimes still do) repeat myself 1,000 different ways to try to get through to my husband.  And like I said earlier - totally never worked ever.  "Worked" meaning creating any kind of lasting change.  He may sit there and appear to be listening, and in the end placate me and say "okay."  But sure enough when the dust settled everything would be as it was before.  And as the disease has progressed, this kind of JADEing usually ends up pulling me into an argument that may not have been there had I just not engaged.

Something to also remember regarding JADE and not arguing with a drunk alcoholic - "No" is a complete sentence.

So everyone have fun, be safe, and enjoy the fireworks.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Control, Secrecy & Trust

This is a very complicated post, with twists and turns and back stories and off ramps to offshoots and turnarounds back to the point.  So much so that right after drafting this, I decided against posting it.  I was afraid.  I thought you would judge me.  I was embarrassed, full of pride and beating myself up.  But not posting would be dishonest, and misses the point of this whole blog.  So please bear with me.

Tonight, my friends, we are going to talk about a few commonalities in an alcoholic relationship:  control, secrecy, and trust.

Since the beginning, I came to know how oddly secretive my husband is.  "He's just shy", I'd think to myself and explain to others.  Shy became Introverted, which turned into Private, then crossed over to Secretive.  Something has always felt amiss, and with the fervor of any "lovestruck" young woman I brushed that Something aside.

As far back as our first few years of dating, secrets showed up in drawers, rang on phones, displayed on cellphone bills, and were pieced together by innocuous, passing comments of family and friends.  More often than not, though, secrets usually revealed themselves in the teeters and missteps of his gymnastic deception.  Lying is a craft that cannot succeed without a diligent memory, and I can only imagine that arrogance, laziness and just plain exhaustion from keeping it all straight creates the cracks for the light to shine on in.

And today there was some definite light shed.  And a light bulb for me.

Trust has not been a bedfellow of ours for many, many years, a result of consistently finding out that my husband had been dishonest about something.  And each and every time I have discovered his dishonesty, he would accuse me:

"You're a snoop!"
"I guess that's what happens when you look in my phone."
"Stop looking through my stuff!"

He was insulted.  How dare I discover his lying?  Because sheer suspicion has never been enough to coax the truth from him.  Not by a long shot.

"If you accuse someone, you'd better have proof!  You can't just accuse me without evidence!"  He likes to say.

As a "high functioning" alcoholic, my husband is successful and makes good money.  Without giving away numbers, let's discuss a clumsy third analogy and say that in the span of incomes there are peanuts, cashews, pistachios, pine nuts and macadamia nuts (Macadamia nuts meaning ridiculously, exponentially wealthy because I mean really, the only people buying macadamia nuts besides tourists at Hawaiian Walmarts are the same people who could just as easily slip them in their vintage, quilted Chanel.  I predict macadamia nuts will be the currency in some apocalyptic, dystopian future).

I make peanuts at my venture currently, while my husband makes pistachios.  We're not wealthy, we're comfortable.  We're not wanting for anything and theoretically there should be plenty left over.  My husband makes deposits into our joint account (opened just last year) each payday, and though he uses our account, he also uses his personal account.  It's never felt right - as if he was keeping money for himself, or away from me at least.  It was "our" money but I had no access to it.  When I confronted him about my concerns, he didn't budge.

"This is how I do things.  And if you don't like it, that's not my problem."  Control.

The deposits fluctuated and would eventually become smaller over time.  Hmm...if he's putting in this much, where is the rest going? I thought.  After crunching the numbers (or Pistachios, as it were) on fixed expenses while at his previous job, I thought, Hmm...there should be plenty of money left over.  I mean, he makes Pistachios.  

One day, frantic and convinced he was somehow spending money where I couldn't see it, I searched the credit card bills and the mail and the paperwork scattered throughout our home.  There had to be some kind of trail.  The bills added up, nothing seemed out of place.  Something still didn't seem right.

Hmm, maybe there's a savings account I don't know about?
Maybe he's investing in stock?

And then one day, after a particularly horrible week with two strokes of potentially costly bad luck, our account had been overdrawn and my husband addressed it by phone with me.  I tried to explain the expenses we had - his birthday amongst them - and that he had been four days late with his biweekly deposit.  Of course, I didn't also mention that he himself was also using the account, so why was I to blame?  He would hear none of it.  He told me there would be big changes in the management of our account.  Namely, he was severely limiting my spending money.  He told me that for every $1 I put in, he would deposit $3.  Nevermind that he's dissuaded me from having a job because in his words, my venture is my "full-time job."

The worst part was this exchange:

"You're going to starve me?  Is that your plan?"
"No - you'll have food.  You'll have shelter, and food.  But that's it."  His calm was bone chilling.

My husband was now my keeper.

"It's a pretty good deal if you ask me - $3 is a pretty good return for $1."

As a program friend put it - "Nothing personal, right?  It's just business."

Weeks later the payday arrives and a drastically reduced deposit is put into our account.  I somehow scrounge and make it last.  The next payday comes, and as I'm rushing to finish my husband's breakfast and lunch for the day, he quietly opens his wallet and places some cash on the counter nearby.

Furthering the nut analogy, let's say the amount was Peanuts.

Peanuts.  He put peanuts on the counter.  Peanuts is not enough to cover groceries for a week, or gas, or anything else we need for our home.  Peanuts will be gone in days.  Peanuts is not enough to help fund my venture.  Peanuts is all I will see for the next two weeks, and surely the account will be overdrawn because it's peanuts.  Peanuts is punishment.  The reason for the punishment is a post in and of itself, for another day.  But his history of violent behavior with me has caused me to, wouldn't you know, be a teensy bit apprehensive about having children with him.  At times this makes him insane with anger and resentment.  As a result, and partially in his own words, peanuts is my punishment; my consequence for being hurt by his abuse, consistently unstable moods and behavior.

This morning as I resumed unpacking, put off the last couple of weeks due to venture demands, I started to attempt to organize our closet.  Surrounded by outerwear and dress shirts, I pushed a section aside to make room and felt something in a leather jacket's sleeve.  I felt again.  Not there.  I went to move the section once more and that's when I felt it - a firm lump in the front pocket.  And that's when I found it.

A huge, mobster-movie wad of $100 bills.  Lots of them.  So many I knew it was thousands.  I was shaking.

I put the money back and stood there, staring at the jacket.  I paced out of the room, into the kitchen without purpose, back into the bedroom, into the closet.  My vision blurred as my mind raced, my thoughts scrambled.

I knew it. 
Why is he keeping this here?
He doesn't want me to know.
How long has he been hiding this from me?
Why isn't this in a savings account?
He's a liar.
How long did it take to save this?
We owe my parents money.
What else is he hiding?
I wouldn't even know even if he *did* had a savings account!
He's preparing to leave me.
Attorneys can't find cash in the closet.

Sure, maybe there is a completely rational, reasonable explanation for him hiding cash in a huge wad in one of his jackets in our closet without telling me he was saving "our" money.  Maybe there's a reason he chose not to open a secret bank account that I would never be able to find out about.  But in my gut it just made sense.  As with anything else I've ever found out, it was a confirmation of an intuition; you see what you've suspected all along right in front of your eyes, and as your stomach jumps and squirms it tells you "See?  You were right!"  And you have never been so completely pissed to be right.

So it made sense.  Of course, I thought.  This is where it's going.  This explains the peanuts.  I grabbed the wad, jumped into the bathroom and locked the door, running the water in the sink to hide the sound of me counting the cash.  My hands shook so hard I kept dropping the cash.  Started over.  Lost count.  Dropped it again.  Turned off the water, turned it back on.  Started counting again.

I need to make piles of $1000 to keep track, I had the sense to realize.

The bills kept tangling, piles were blurred.  I can't tell you how many times it took me to recount, but once I had the total I was flabbergasted.  More than a month's pay before taxes was sitting there on our cluttered counter, next to the empty tube of toothpaste.  Falling onto the floor next to his sneakers.

I have never seen so much cash in front of me in my entire life.

The shaking continued as my anger grew.  He gave a paltry 2.5% of this to last me two weeks.  To buy groceries to make HIS meals, to unknowingly help him save THESE thousands and thousands of dollars in complete secrecy in a leather jacket in our closet.  The designer leather jacket that I bought him years ago (eBay), coincidentally.  The leather jacket I remember unpacking a couple of weeks ago, empty pockets and all.

My heart sped up and my legs started moving.  I wanted to confront him immediately.  What would I say?  Surely our trip for the 4th of July would be off.  He's going to be pissed and punish me for finding his secret.

I took a small amount of it, intent on mailing it to my mom.  I searched my work desk, saying I was going to send her a note to cheer her up, and that I would be back soon, all the while feeling the cash scream out from my own pocket.

On the way to the post office, my mom told me to confront him.  That she didn't know what she would do.  That sending the money to her would be stooping to his level.  To talk to him.  My friend back home had different advice.

"There's more money.  That's just the hiding place you found accidentally.  Don't confront him until you've searched every nook and cranny.  And when you do tell him - be careful.  He's going to be pissed.  Just be safe."

I had already turned the car around, my fingers sweating on the wheel, intent to say nothing.  The money in the pocket was the ace up my sleeve.  "Just because we know something doesn't mean we need to do something about it right now," I've heard it said.  Before Al Anon I would have marched straight out of that closet with the gangster-wad leading the way, indignant and resentful, full of adrenaline,  demanding answers.

At lunch I choked down my entire meal, nauseated and without hunger.  I smiled.  I talked about normal things.  I attempted to look like my previously buoyant, bubbly self.  He said things I half-heard.

"...the tv we have now is 42" I think..."
You've been hiding money from me.  
"...Later this year the new Xbox is coming out. Will you continue the tradition of buying it for me? Haha."
Wow.  You're a liar.  
"...and then we can bring our bikes with us..."
Thousands - thousands!

Throughout the day I calmed down, still seeing the wad of thousands on his face, in-between the lines of his conversation.  I said nothing.

The trust is gone.

Hours later, a reminder rang my cellphone that afternoon.  It was the local shop, telling me how well I had done that month, that despite their poor performance I had done amazingly.  So the reminder is that I can take care of myself.  It may not be enough right now, but I can do it.  It was a small comfort in the engulfing panic of catastrophizing:

Attorneys can't find cash in the closet.  
This is his parachute.
There just doesn't seem to be another reason.

When we ended the phone call, my husband listened to me rattle off the recount of our conversation, visibly excited at my success.  I told him how hard I'd been on myself these last couple weeks, that I felt my venture couldn't possibly go anywhere.  That I was depressed and grieving my dream.

"I thought, 'What was I thinking?  I should get a job already - I mean what am I doing?' "
"No no - look how well you're doing!  You'll sit here and work on your venture all day, and you'll see - you'll get there!"

He came over and held me, and swayed me slowly side to side as he consoled me.
Is this a lie?  
If I hadn't found that money this would be true.

I'm not sure how much longer I can keep it to myself.  For 24 hours the small amount I "borrowed" was still in my possession, while I thought of where to put it, whether back into the gangster-wad or into a hollowed out book.  Under a lamp?  Somewhere in the car?  Bag of flour?  Paranoia colors every possible place as just so discoverable.  My sponsor had a different idea.

"If he's stashing that money away, he is certain just how much is there.  He probably counts it every single time he adds more.  I would put it back as soon as you can, and check after the next payday to see how much was added."

Damn.  She's right.  And if I didn't return it soon enough, there's also the chance my husband would notice the amount missing and simply move the location of the stash without saying a word to me.  And then what?

I have vacillated between anger and resignation, but I remain committed to my own sanity, which is to stop going in analytical circles of Why and When and How Long.  So for now, the only thing I can do is continue to do the next right thing, and take care of myself and focus on things that lift me up and clear my mind and soul.  And one day I will know what to say, and how to say it, and what to do.