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    Thread: A Hand To Hold

    1. #1
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      A Hand To Hold

      I am codependent. I recognize both the obstacle this poses in my life, and I also see this recognition as part of the pathway to my freedom.

      The substance which impacted my family of origin was not alcohol or even externally ingested or administered - to the best of my understanding, it was hormones and other brain chemicals gone awry.

      In my past, there was a great deal of screaming. I was over thirty when a therapist who specializes in trauma explained that I had PTSD from my childhood. It didn't make sense to me at first, sure it was bad, but it was survivable. I remember him telling me he was surprised that I was as functional as I was and that I was not an addict. Then I saw 'The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood' on the big screen. The scene where the Ashley Judd character wallops her kids (and is then institutionalized for her brutality) was transformative. I saw for the first time that what had been 'normal' in my early life was not at all normal.

      Although it was extremely uncomfortable, there was a new breath of freedom for me in connecting those dots, as if I were learning to really use my lung capacity for the first time. (That metaphor is literal in my case, I very often held my breath as a child, I suppose I was trying to stay under the radar to avoid setting off the inevitable and inescapable cycles of anger which regularly visited our home.)

      It was only partly a coincidence that I saw the film almost exactly at the time I started attending an ACOA group (Adult Children of Alcoholics and other family dysfunction). The therapist insisted that I belonged at meetings 4x per week. I no longer had a reason to avoid a women's group one of my best friends had helped to establish several years previously. She wanted to see the film, and we went. My recollection is that I had been to a meeting or two ahead of seeing the movie. I felt sentenced to attending the group and I did not like it. Slow tears streaked my face from open to close on that first day... Inside my head, the words, 'I am broken, I am broken' came from somewhere and kept repeating. I was relieved when the meeting ended and I could flee.

      But I kept coming back. I fit into the 'other' category, but my patterns and issues were identical to those of people who did have alcohol in their homes of origin. I learned an enormous amount about myself and I have deep appreciation for the 12-step model as a construct for reaching peace and self-forgiveness. I was there every week for upwards of three years (until a medical accident readjusted my life).

      Before that level of recovery (whatever it is or was), there were repeated rounds of physical recovery for me with surgery to address a major health issue. Complications with or alongside the surgeries found me in situations where the medical professionals did not expect I would survive, twice in my twenties and once at the end of my thirties. I remember not wanting to survive at parts of all of those experiences, once begging to be set free because it was utterly unendurable. I remember telling God that if he'd release me, I'd call it even and not resent what I'd been through - I blacked out about then, but apparently, my plea was not sufficiently convincing as I found myself awake again after yet another surgery.

      I often felt very alone, both in illness and in recovery. I longed to have someone to hold my hand and know who and what I was in the times when my strength was not sufficient to know that for myself.

      I find myself, today, with someone in need of that same assurance and continuity as he walks through his own valley of the shadow of death. There are many differences and many similarities in our experience. What I know for him is that only he will be able to direct his journey to freedom. It is a truly awesome journey fraught with at least as many life-threatening perils as I've found myself met on my own path. The day we met in person, he asked me to help him stop drinking - I really had no idea what I was agreeing to at the time, only that I loved him and that there is deep goodness in him and that I would lend whatever strength I had to assist him on his quest.

      I knew nothing then. I do not know much more than that now, but I've seen a very similar paradox in him of amazing strength contrasted by stunning fragility, as I have lived in my own life.

      What I first fell in love with about him, long before we met in person, was that his deepest love in life is for his daughters. It is for him, for them, and for the daughter in me who was left by her father, that I have devoted strength and hope I did not know I have within me.

      My father was not able to take a look at how I experienced my abandonment. I just wanted to be seen, and my father and stepmother took that as my wanting to make them wrong, somehow. So this part of my life is my taking a different path to help resolve for myself the stumbling blocks I have found no other way to tear down.

      So, this part of my journey is very much for myself as well as for the love in my life, and the loves in his.

      When my own survival has been on the line, I have learned there is no choice but to look inward to find the light and the voice which brings me through. I did not like surrendering to discomfort and the unknown, but I got better at it through repeated experience.

      For him, well, I think he's beginning to learn to trust that another will be and do what she says she is and does. I can't direct his actions by any means, but I have been able to nudge him in healthful directions. I've been there in the moments when he finally noticed that things were 'that' bad that getting to the hospital was a necessity... and then get him there. It's taken a couple years to get him a full set of physicians to assess and address the spectrum of medical situations which have arisen from genetics and from addiction. I've been able to help offset issues from drinking with supplementation which has helped to reverse some early problems... We do not know where he is metabolically at this point - there may already be irreversible organ damage. But where ever he is, perhaps he's ready to actually let it be part of his past and to claim a new future. HIS future.

      This is my prayer. My life is my ardent prayer.

    2. #2
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      A Hand To Hold

      Wow. What a jorney you have gone thru. And to then attempt to assist another soul to come thru his own crisis, you our a very unique individual and he is lucky to have you in his life. It is not going to be easy. And he may not be able to do it, even with your help. Do realize that although you live him and he loves you the only one who can do this is him. Do not blame yourself if he does not succeed. I'm not trying to discourage you. I'm just trying to not let whatever happens let your own recovery falter. You are an extraordinary person. I wish you all the best. Being an alcoholic myself and living with an alcoholic I know that I cannot make my hubby stop drinking. Only I can stop myself. I love him and I can be there for him, but he has to choose to drink or not. It's very hard. It takes a different type of strength to watch a loved one struggle than struggle oneself. I really do wish you well, as I said you are a very special person.

    3. #3
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      A Hand To Hold

      Thank you, Hart

      Goodness, I wrote too long and had been logged out by the time I was trying to post.

      I appreciate your kind and thoughtful reply.

      Yes, I am quite aware he may not succeed in putting alcohol behind him... he's dancing right on the edge of the abyss, and it can be quite terrifying. He's very tolerant of my keeping track of his vitals, and I'm not always so good at hiding my concern or my shock when numbers are off the charts.

      Honestly, it's been quite grounding somehow... All this anxiety I've had all my life, so much second-guessing of myself - it turns out that my own challenges have prepared me to be quite useful in a few ways, and I'm learning to listen to my intuition better (and seeing it often be correct!).

      If he does not succeed, it will be difficult for me, no doubt. But there will be solace in knowing I have tried every darn tootin' thing I could think of to help. And then some.

      My heart is beginning to really feel he has rounded a significant bend. Time will tell.

    4. #4
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      A Hand To Hold

      Learning Curve

      This adventure I've been on has been every bit as confounding as the medical mysteries I've experienced in my own life.

      We kinda knew about the first mystery because of the 6 ft dark, wet patches on my downstairs neighbors' floors when their carpeting was taken up, but we didn't understand the magnitude at first. Mold was growing on the shoes and clothes in their closets and inside their picture frames on the walls. We'd all been having foggy brains and burning eyes for months... I had three hemorrhaging events in a year (the third very nearly killed me). The neighbors and I did air sampling just before then, and while the results didn't make much sense to us then, we moved out. The doctors kept telling us that mold can't hurt us. Then my 36-year-old neighbor was found dead by his mother one morning. Turns out that the mycotoxin he had in him (a metabolite, a product of mold) is a substance which has been used as a bioweapon, and the U.S. Army has a whole book chapter on EXACTLY how this stuff maims and kills. It took me several months of searching online for symptoms which matched his before I suspected this toxin. Then it took several months to find what I believe was the only lab in the country to test human tissues for this substance, and to get the coroner to send on the samples. Later we had mold from the property grown out in a lab and it produced the same substance my neighbor had in him, so we found the clear connection between the environment and his body. There'd been a sewer pipe leak under the building and the icky wet had grown up the wooden structure and into the walls. My friend is dead. His grave stone actually does say, 'I told you I was sick.'

      In some ways, the mainstream beliefs about the medical science of addiction are just as primitive as they are about mold and mycotoxins. There's a ton of good science developing, but it is scary and not well known/understood by most doctors or the public.

      The good news about alcohol is that doctors know it kills. The bad news is that we live in a society which is still stuck in the 'Just Say No' rhetoric of the 1980s as if addiction is no big deal if a drunk would just get with the program and quit already. If I had a nickel for every time someone was spit in his direction that if he loved his family enough that he would give up the booze.

      What I first fell in love with about my boyfriend is how much he loves his daughters. If it were as simple as 'I'm not going to drink because I love my daughters,' his addiction would have been cured many, many moons ago.

      I didn't know if it was odd for an alcoholic to get drunk on the plane home from rehab, but the rehab wouldn't talk to me about whether or not that was normal or what to do about it. At the time, I'm sure I felt he was exercising insufficient willpower.

      A few months later (mid-spring), I saw him stay drunk for a full week straight, and that piqued my curiosity a bit because that seemed like a situation in which he really did not have control (ah, step one). Immediately after that, however, he pulled off an enormous feat in his work which took a huge amount of energy and brainpower, and I wondered if I was wrong about the control thang.

      Finding info about the stages of alcoholism isn't always easy - especially about end-stage disease. So I can't put my finger on where I saw it, but at one point (about two years after incident), I saw a brief list which said that staying drunk for a full week was an indicator of end-stage alcoholism. I guess it's good I didn't know that at the time because it likely would have scared me away. I knew it was an indicator of something enormous, I just didn't know what. Seeing him succeed in his work in the couple weeks after this event had me scratching my head. I wanted to know if he could rally in his personal life the way he did for work... Wasn't seeing that happen.

      So, the year moves ahead to fall, and I'm scheduled to pick him up at the airport when he's coming into town. I drive two hours to the airport and learn when I'm almost there that he ain't on the plane. He's sick and couldn't make it to the airport which is a 5-minute shuttle ride from his hotel. I pay the change fee and schedule him on a flight the following day. Again, I learn as I'm arriving at the airport that he's not on the plane. He doesn't NOT come home to see his girls, so I'm pretty sure something's amiss. No, he says, he has a flu.

      All the flights to where he was had left for that day, but I buy a last-minute ticket and get myself out to him the following day. The situation to which I arrived broke my heart and smashed any illusions that the circumstances were easily surmountable. There were mountains of gallon-sized booze bottles and food cartons and the vestiges of another partier who apparently didn't have any apprehensions about leaving him unable to function. He hadn't showered in days. Obviously, he'd forbidden housekeeping from tending to the muck and mess. He was ill. Very ill.

      A week had passed and he was finally home again before I was able to get him dragged to a physician - 'it's the flu, you don't go to the doctor for the flu,' he kept protesting. I found someone with a good bit of experience with addiction, and I brought a bag large enough to carry an empty bottle to show his daily intake. After lab work and imaging showed there was no NOT going to the ER, he felt sufficiently cruddy that he agreed to go. He doesn't remember much of that week when they treated his pancreatitis (and liver disease and pneumonia).

      He was released the day before Thanksgiving, and his family took him to a dinner where alcohol was served. He was very specifically NOT served alcohol, and his family was shocked, SHOCKED that he drank (apparently, he picked up drinks which had been served to others and left unattended).

      Now, come on... I was pretty ignorant of this whole mess back then, but, um, if a dude is sick enough from drinking that they keep him in the hospital for a week to get him off alcohol and try to get his body to stop imploding, you don't take him to where booze is served to others... you just don't. And if you DO do that, you accept that he's gonna drink, because the chances of an unrecovered alcoholic drinking at a holiday event are somewhere between a hundred-ten and a thousand percent. He's gonna drink - you don't need any neuroscience to figure that one out, it's just friggin' common sense. And if you've fought as hard as I did to get him medical help (flying to another state and back), and then have seen how intense and how long that help needed to be, you just don't set him up to be back in the drinking saddle again the day following his release from the hospital. In the hospital, they told him his liver would need six months of not drinking to be normal again.

      Best I could tell, nearly all of his family members were seeing this as a matter of morality, like if he would just straighten up and 'just say no,' he could get over this alcohol annoyance or whatever. The clear message of shame for his not having accomplished this already rankles me.

      By now, I'm clue-ing in that will power is at least not fully the issue here... whatever this addiction thing is, it's not just something a person can shake off like a Labrador emerging from a swim in a lake. I'm beginning to develop a certain respect for the degree to which he is trapped within himself, and it's occurring to me that he may well need daily support to find his way through.

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