On Tuesday October 2 it will be exactly 6 months since my husband had his last drink of alcohol.
I have his permission to blog about his alcohol dependency and his recovery; he's been very open about it with everyone; but the fact remains that, six months ago, I suddenly had to deal with the fact that the man I've been married to for twenty-one years is an alcoholic.
How could I not realize something like that (you ask)? Well, that's a good question. I'm not stupid; I knew he always drank wine with dinner (I only drink with dinner occasionally); I knew there were days when he drank too much, and woke up the next morning hung over. (He's very hard to deal with when hung over.) But we don't spend our entire lives watching what other people do; I was working full-time, in a high-stress job that took a lot of my energy and attention, and - frankly - I'm not always that observant, and I didn't realize how far it had really gone. Also, even though I wished he wouldn't do it, I realized that there was nothing I could do about it. I knew couldn't make him stop drinking; all I could do was nag at him about it, which would make both of us miserable, because I dislike confrontation. So, I chose not to do that. Also, frankly, I didn't want to think about it too much. It's just social drinking, I thought - but it wasn't.
What's really bizarre about the situation is that his alcohol dependency, which is a Bad Thing, has led to his alcohol recovery - and that is a really Good Thing. I didn't realize until he started talking about his recovery that he had almost completely stopped talking to me - or anyone else - at all. I didn't realize until he started going to nightly (now, weekly) recovery group meetings, that except for work, and his solitary hiking trips, it had been months since he left the house at all, and years since he attended any kind of social gathering.
So what happened? He says he finally realized that his alcoholism was affecting his ability to hike and take pleasure in nature, which is probably his major passion; and therefore it had to stop. Also, at my suggestion (I cheerfully admit), he talked to the Employee Assistance Program at his job - and the lady there read him the riot act about the characteristics of an alcohol dependent personality, and he had every one of 'em. So she enrolled him in the Kaiser Chemical Dependency Recovery Program, and he enrolled himself in a secular chemical dependency support group called LifeRing, and he hasn't had a drink since. In fact, we no longer have any wine or beer in the house, and I'm negotiating to get rid of some old bottles of spirits that date from before we got married. But they're not critical because on his worst day he never drank spirits.
I feel like I've gotten back the man I married. He's chatty, he's cheerful, he's lost a lot of weight (many empty calories in booze), he makes awful puns again, he can go to parties and talk to people - a few years ago, we went to a New Year's Eve party at a friend's house, and he walked out after half an hour, leaving me to explain that he just didn't like crowds. I didn't realize then that the drinking was already a problem.
So where did this come from? When we married he was a social drinker, nothing more. Well, several personal things - we think it's been going on for about 6 years - and a genetic predisposition. His mother died of Alzheimer's disease in 2003, just before Christmas, after a ten-year "long goodbye." It hit him really hard. He was the caregiver, and he was very fond of his mother, and he had to watch her turn into a vegetable. That's one; the party he walked out on was right after that. Just about the time she died, his job became very very stressful. That's two. And finally, I knew that he had a history of weight problems in his youth, and he lost a lot of weight in graduate school; but I learned during the recovery discussions that he was bulimic at that time; he thinks the two behaviors are related (alcoholism and earlier bulimia), apparently there is some clinical evidence for it.
As for the genetic predisposition: I'll refer you to a book called Under the Influence, by Milam and Ketcham. Amazon has it; Barnes and Noble, or your local public library, probably has it. It's been around for a while, it came out in 1981. If you think that alcoholism is caused by moral decay or lack of will power or some variant of the "Demon Rum", you need to read this book. There is a small part of the population, I think around 10 percent, that simply metabolizes alcohol differently than everyone else. If people with this chemistry get into the habit of drinking regularly, for whatever reason, they find that they have to continue drinking in order to feel well enough to function; and the more they drink, the more they have to drink. They can recover if they stop drinking altogether; but after a certain point, they can't stop drinking without outside help. It's a startling and eye-opening book.
My husband, very fortunately, made the decision to stop before he reached the point where he had to go into detox - he just stopped drinking, assisted materially by the Kaiser CDRP, which provided him with different things to do instead of drinking. As people trying to quit smoking know, the habit patterns are as hard to break as the chemical dependency. He'd been coming home from work and drinking; now he came home from work and went to a meeting, and talked about it. In fact, some nights he went to two meetings: Kaiser's, and LifeRing's. He's now down to 2-3 meetings a week; he really enjoys the discussions.
I won't go too much into LifeRing here - I've linked their web site, you can read it for yourself - but he prefers them to AA because AA is just too Christian-tinged religious for him. He's a very religious person, but he doesn't consider himself a Christian (as I don't). In case you didn't think AA was a Christian organization, I'll refer you to the LifeRing leader's blog post on a recent court case, where a Buddhist convict objected to being forced to attend AA as a condition of parole. I've added the New Recovery blog to my links.
I've been mulling this post over for 6 months. I don't know if I'll post on the subject again; but I wanted to put this out on the table for discussion.