A Potted History – ‘Through the Glass Darkly’ (Part One)

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I want to share our story. Not all the gory detail. Just the bare bones of our journey through alcoholism, and maybe, just maybe, out the other side. I hope it helps you somehow.

My husband had always liked a drink. And it was very much part of the culture in Ireland. I liked a drink too. However, it eventually became clear that, unlike many other people – including me – Noel had become unable to control his drinking. Like many men, he used alcohol to deal with stress, anxiety and depression  – and had become addicted.

I realised that we now had a serious problem, and that Noel’s drinking was out of control. No matter how much I nagged, begged, pleaded, cried, criticised his behaviour or threatened consequences, he would not stop. Noel’s alcoholism was destroying both our lives. Both of us suffered severe depression and felt, separately, that life was no longer bearable. Noel was essentially committing suicide , and I planned ways to kill both of us, as we plummeted further and further into despair,  and debt. Luckily, we had no children, so had only ourselves to consider.
One day, realising that Noel had no power over this terrible affliction, I confronted him with the undeniable fact that his drinking was out of control. He agreed, as we held each other close and cried – and our long and painful search for help began.
We were now living in England and, despite working full-time, I spent endless hours searching desperately on the Internet, in the phone book, in libraries, looking anywhere and everywhere for support. There was very little, and it was very fragmented. I was confused – at this stage in my life I felt ashamed and embarrassed, and found my husband’s behaviour inexplicable. I could control my drinking – why couldn’t he?
I had been brought up to think of alcoholism as a weakness. Obviously, I must be morally superior, or of a better class, or was a much stronger person. So how did this explain the fact that I KNEW my husband was a good and very intelligent man, who had the highest standards of principles and behaviour, and tremendous willpower? But everything I read, everything I heard, everyone to whom I spoke, told me he was choosing to continue drinking and that he could stop if he really wanted to. So why was he doing this to me? Didn’t he love me enough? Despite all the apparent evidence to the contrary, I knew he did – demonstrably!! None of this made any sense!
Such is the stigma around alcoholism that you feel you must hide the dirty little secret of your addiction, or that of a loved one. I had long been too ashamed to admit to anyone that my husband was an ‘alcoholic’. No-one knew.That included our GP. It took a while, but eventually I gathered up all my courage and made an appointment. I remember that first appointment with anger and distress; sadly, the doctor I saw on that day let me down. He said that ‘they’ couldn’t do anything about alcoholism, and I went away in tears.
It was a full year before I gathered up the courage to go back to see another doctor. His response was totally different. He went into action immediately, and took charge of Noel’s treatment. He could, however, offer only what was available to him. Over the next 15-20 years, Noel did everything that was asked of him. He attended sessions at a local alcohol treatment centre, where he was offered various, seemingly random treatments, including acupuncture, Indian head massage, reflexology, acupuncture and Neuro Linguistic Programming.
Throughout, he was obliged to attend group sessions, which, as a quiet and introverted person, he intensely disliked. And for a highly intelligent man, the ‘treatment’ seemed incredibly patronising and did not appear to respect the views of the ‘alcoholic’. Why would it? Laughably, it seemed that the plan was to try to talk him out of alcoholism – as though he had ‘chosen’ this destructive and devastating way of life, and ‘chosen’ to destroy his marriage, his own health and our happiness.

At the time, I naively believed and hoped that this strange concoction of approaches might work. I was desperate. Our lives were in turmoil. I had lost the man I loved to a pernicious drug. I was married, and yet had no husband! His body and his brain were being destroyed simultaneously. His personality was eroded. It was like living with cancer and dementia – but there would have been support for these, and Noel would not have had to feel unworthy and ashamed if he had fallen prey to those illnesses. Not ‘self-inflicted’, you see……….not his fault.

Noel attended one session of Alcoholics Anonymous, but did not return as he felt it was not right for him. Instead, we both attended a local peer support group, run in those days by a Hospital Psychiatrist who specialised in Alcohol Use Disorders. Noel  saw a raft of psychiatrists, social workers and counsellors, was given anti-depressants, and was eventually sent on a 10-day rehabilitation programme in a nearby city. He agreed to go, against his better judgement, in order to please me.

This well-intentioned, but ultimately useless, ‘treatment’ included confining him to a small room to detox, and only letting him out to attend yet more group sessions, where he was essentially humiliated and made to feel guilty for his past behaviour. That made me angry – my husband had nothing to feel guilty about. He is a good man, has always loved me and treated me well.
When I went to collect him after the treatment, he was unhappy, lonely and desperate for a drink. That appalling experience irrevocably changed my outlook.I knew by now that Noel had not failed – rather, the treatment had. We went home, a lot wiser, sadder but just glad to be back together.
It was around this time that I began to understand what might really be going on in Noel’s brain. Having been a skilled teacher who supported the Local Authority in turning around failing schools, I then had begun to work as a behaviour consultant, training and supporting staff and developing programmes to support troubled youngsters. I had learned how our brains develop learning by building neural pathways, which become strengthened and reinforced over time, as behaviours are repeated again and again. I knew, through my research, that alcoholism seemed to be an uncertain mixture of genetics and this learned behaviour. But everything I was hearing from so-called ‘professionals’ told me that abstinence was the only way. Noel must stop drinking. He was being unreasonable. He was choosing the wrong path! Sadly, it was not only professionals, but also fellow sufferers, who espoused this view, leading us further into isolation and despair.
I knew by now how utterly irrational and stupid this was. Noel desperately wanted to stop drinking. If he could have torn his brain out of his head to get rid of this dreadful addiction, he would have done it!
Realising that the support Noel was getting was not working, I continued to research online. Meanwhile, my beloved husband was becoming more and more ill. He was now epileptic. His liver was failing, and his once powerful and logical brain was unable to function properly due to toxins which had built up because his liver could no longer remove them. By this stage, even our wonderful GP did not know what else to do and I was left entirely alone with a dying man.
Over the years, I had seen innumerable ‘cures for alcoholism’ advertised on the internet, only to dig a little deeper and find them meaningless, or based on some mystical and supernatural ‘higher power’. So it was with some cynicism that I came upon a book entitled simply, The Cure for Alcoholism. Resigning myself to yet another wild goose chase, I delved a bit deeper. It seemed to make sense – surely not! This book, written by Dr Roy Eskapa, set out clearly the logical, scientific reasons for alcohol addiction. It described in detail the process by which a person’s brain learns the behaviour and eventually becomes ‘hijacked’ by it. The neural pathways become so deeply ingrained that the person is indeed ‘powerless’ over their drinking – their brain is dictating the behaviour, and the desire to drink is driven, insatiably and irresistibly, by the way their brain has been changed – ‘rewired’ if you like.
Finally – a logical explanation! And not just that – the book explained, also in great detail, how the brain, having been changed and restructured by alcoholism, could unlearn the behaviour – could, in effect, be reset to a previous point in time, a time BEFORE the addiction pathways had been built – a time when there WAS no addiction!
This is called The Sinclair Method, after the scientist who developed it. Naltrexone (or Nalmefene) must be taken in conjunction with alcohol, as it works to block the opiate receptors in the brain. It reduces the feedback that drinkers normally receive from alcohol. This gradually weakens the addiction pathways. The scientific method is called pharmacological extinction.
I also discovered from the book that there is something called the Alcohol Deprivation Effect, which means that, after a period of abstinence, the brain’s urge to drink alcohol returns stronger and more irresistible than ever. That explained the increase I had observed in Noel’s consumption of alcohol after time spent in rehab. That made perfect sense too!

Could there be hope for us after all?

We’re still here!

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I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long.

I’m back now.

The worst happened. My husband’s liver failed. We spent all of last year fighting for his life. And, so far, we’ve succeeded.

The tragedy for us is that, after all my desperate searching, I found the cure for alcoholism JUST TOO LATE. Don’t let that happen to you.

I have SO much more to say about all of this, and loads to share with you. Stick with me – and stick with your alcoholic, if you can.

Thank you x

…….and a Happy New Year!?

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Greetings to all readers in this new year!

This is a time when we reflect on what has gone before and what is yet to come. I have occasion to do both as I write this blog on the eve of my return to work after the Christmas break.

At the beginning of every new year since my husband became ill with alcoholism, we have held each other close, felt sad for the past and consistently hoped for better in the future. Why better? My husband couldn’t have tried any harder over the years to defeat this terrible affliction that blights his life, so I can’t ask for better than that.

What has needed – AND STILL NEEDS –  to be better is the treatment offered to sufferers of this dreadful disease, and society’s lazy, discriminatory attitude towards them. If my husband had cancer, or MS, or indeed any other illness that is not related to alcohol or drug abuse, people (professionals, friends, family, society in general) would not punish him for it! They would not (I hope) virtually ignore him and dismiss his serious illness because they choose to believe that it is self-inflicted. What nonsense! People who become addicted to alcohol do not do so through choice, nor do they remain addicted through choice……..who would choose this?

Another fashionable misconception is that alcoholics derive ‘pleasure’ from drinking alcohol. Fortunate are those of us who can still derive any pleasure from a glass of our chosen tipple – once addicted, there is no pleasure. Life for my husband became a sheer relentless, exhausting hell of slavish obedience to the bottle, desperation for the next drink, often to the point where he would even have hurt me, the person he loves most in the world, to get to the drink that would satisfy the terrible, relentless craving. THIS is alcoholism. This is addiction. There is no pleasure in it – only the relief experienced when the driving need in your brain is satisfied.

But we (mostly) all drink, and so we all think we know best. After all, WE can handle our drink……….yeah! How are we superior (morally or otherwise) because our genetic make-up has not helped turn a habit into an addiction?

Here is a taster of the ‘wisdom’ and advice I have received from various quarters, in person, on the phone and online over the years to date:

     Alcoholism isn’t an illness or a disease – it’s a choice – I know now that addiction, by its very nature, REMOVES choice

 ‘Alcoholics’ are weak-willed – If only these judgemental people could have witnessed my husband’s strength of both will and character throughout these dreadful years!

He cannot fix this himself and must surrender to a ‘Higher Power’ – No! He needs medication!

He is feckless – No! He’s ill. Would you say this if he had cancer?

You deserve better than this – I deserve better than a husband who is ill?

You are not to blamehow do they know? I might be – and am grown-up enough to admit it if I am!

There is no cure for alcoholism – once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic – wrong! This may have been true before The Sinclair Method was developed, but hasn’t been since

Save yourself, divorce him – but I love him….and he’s ill!

Your husband is worthless and morally corrupt – always implied, often by people who don’t even know my wonderful husband, and who are often (I have to say) not exactly paragons of virtue themselves!

I should point out at this stage that:

a) I have not always felt like this – at first I believed all the rubbish myself and blamed my husband, even though it was not his fault

b) I was in the fortunate position of being able to make a choice about staying with my ill husband. We never wanted children, so that wasn’t an issue, and my husband is a gentle, loving man who doesn’t change (much) when he drinks. I can’t, and don’t, speak for those readers whose partners may be violent, or who may have children that need to be removed from the situation. You have to make your own decisions.

HOWEVER, I would just ask this. Think for yourself. Don’t let others mislead you into believing the ‘accepted wisdom’ about alcoholism. You married/fell in love with/decided to live with your partner for good reason. Remember that person – he/she is the same person, but is now ill.

The same applies to those who have a relative who is ill. Your brother or sister, or son or daughter, still loves you, no matter how badly the addiction makes them behave towards you. THIS PERSON IS ILL AND NEEDS HELP!

NOT the kind of help listed above.

My husband and I are going into this new year with the first REAL hope we’ve had in many, many years – The Sinclair Method. Science. Sense.

Remember this –

follow the evidence

Good luck!

Well, here it is……Merry Christmas!

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Not for the partners, siblings, children and families of those who are addicted to alcohol, it isn’t!

This is the worst time of year for us. This is ‘traditionally’ the day I would get up, feeling that all hope was gone and that I was losing the one person I loved more than anything – the very person with whom I wanted to spend Christmas. Sure, you can set aside your worries for a day and enjoy a drink with the alcoholic, but when you stop and they go on, the misery returns. It’s a lonely life.

But I haven’t set up this blog to revisit the misery my husband and I have endured for over twenty years. I’ve set it up to challenge all of the misinformation and unecessary (yes, completely unecessary) suffering that alcoholics and their families have been put through for decades.

With the New Year comes hope, and there is hope out there.

Let me begin to explain in my next post. In the meantime, make the most of your Christmas Day – whatever that means for you, and I send you love and understanding. You AND your alcoholic.

Happy Christmas?

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Hi. I’ve been living with, and loving, my alcoholic husband for nearly thirty years. During that time, I’ve learned a great deal about alcoholism – and life in general. I want to share that knowledge with others who find themselves in a similar position. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend huge amounts of time searching desperately for help and advice online – and you’ll get it – lots of it. Most of it will be based (at worst) on ignorance, prejudice, hatred, confusion or (at best) stories of personal experience which can relate only to that person. Everyone’s experience of alcoholism is individual, and no-one can really know how it is for you.

If you will bear with me while I get this site going, I hope to give you support and advice that is based on a genuine desire to help you and/or your loved one who is currently addicted to alcohol. Note that I say CURRENTLY.