The musty, stale air fills my lungs; it’s less than desirable and mixed with the aroma of laundry detergent and full litter boxes. Pesky little flies buzz around me and periodically touch down on my head – a real nuisance in an already miserable, lonely environment; yet in the moment they are my only living companions. I stare coldly up at the pipes, wires, and vents on the ceiling that serve as the cardiovascular system of my once happy home. I’m wide awake on a mattress stuffed in the corner of my basement like a dog that couldn’t behave; the defiant and untrainable type. Sleep is out of the question once again as my mind races with the thoughts of what’s unfolding here before my very eyes; no one to blame but myself although thoroughly convinced I am within my rights to start pointing fingers – as any professional, self-centered alcoholic should. If things weren’t bad enough, I once again smuggled in airplane sized bottles of booze to comfort me in my time of distress – you know, because it’s still all about me and what I’m going through. Why should I go through this without my ever-loving, always there for me sidekick? I can see no reason why not and eventually the drinks take over as the world fades out. Before I know it, the maddening sound of my alarm clock is screaming about how it’s time wake up and head off to work.
Approximately two years earlier, my wife and I had worked hard to purchase a home of our own and provide an environment suitable for our children to thrive in – a play room with all their toys, bedrooms of their own, and a backyard with plenty of room to run around in, complete with a swing set and trampoline. We had great neighbors and things appeared to be falling into place as we were growing as a family and moving forward into the next phase of our lives. Taking on the responsibility of home ownership would change the dynamics and responsibility a bit, as now my salary alone would not keep us afloat; but we knew this ahead of time and agreed that we would make it work. After all, we really were a good team as long as my alcoholism was in check. Problem was – I couldn’t keep it in check. Essentially, I was living a double life; splitting the love between my wife and kids with the love for my bottle. I wanted the best of both worlds and it turned into a love affair that would ultimately lead to the destruction of a family that had great potential for everlasting love, joy, and happiness.
Hindsight is 20/20. I hate being the Monday morning quarterback, but I’ve had to come to terms and take ownership of my part in the series of events that took place. It’s the only way to learn from it and pick myself up to move forward. Being sober for a time and removing the blindfold has enabled me to see things in a very different light. Although it has been a long, daunting road full of personal heartache and struggle, I have worked diligently at putting myself in the position of what it must have been like living with…well…me. I imagine it went a little something like this:
- UNPREDICTABILITY: Because of the battle constantly fought in my head and a complete lack of emotional regulation, it was merely impossible to speculate which Chris was going to show up on any given day. A result of my choice to continue living in untreated active addiction, depression, and anxiety disorders. With stability being non-existent, I had created the, “walk on eggshells”, environment and rocking the boat always led to me getting defensive or shutting down altogether. I didn’t have the ability to let my wife into my world or my struggle which led to the breakdown of our connection on that deeper level we once shared. With no reliable communication, our growth as a couple and a family became stagnant, disheartening and imminently lifeless.
- UNTRUSTWORTHY: Trust was out of the question. I became so entangled in my lies that I even started to believe them myself. My reality was so far out of whack. I would say or do anything to preserve my ability to drink undetected – or so I thought. The biggest hurdle to this was coming up with untraceable money. To solve this problem, I would ask my grandmother for money to “buy breakfast” at work, steal a dollar or two out of my wife’s purse in the morning, get cash back from the convenient store, pawn items from my house, and even take coins out of my children’s piggy banks. There was no level I wouldn’t stoop to in order to feed my habit. I’m sickened and disgusted to even think about how I could behave in such a manner. It absolutely supports the idea of this disease being cunning, baffling, and powerful – it’s no joke or something that should be taken lightly.
- MANIPULATION: In my case, this is probably where most of the long-lasting damage was caused. By and large, the people in my life became mere objects or pawns in my twisted game; turning them against each other to protect myself and my agenda. I manipulated my parents, complaining about how bad it was being stuck in my home situation. I manipulated my wife by telling her the things my parents did were out of line. I consistently played both sides to appear like I was the good guy in a tough spot. The relationship between them is strained to this day, likely because of my selfish desires. This same pattern played out with friends, other family members, in-laws, and co-workers; all to coerce people to feel bad for me and be on my side when it came time to choose, and more importantly, take the focus off the real problem at hand – my undeniable lack of self-control.
- IMPULSIVE BEHAVIOR: Simply – I acted before thinking of effects or consequences of said action. This was most prevalent when it came to money management and our financial situation. As an addict, when I want something, I want it now. I can’t wait, that would be silly. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and die so I might as well live today. And I’m certainly not going to run the idea by my wife, because I know she would not be in agreement with what I want. I’ll just do it and deal with the consequences later. Not the healthiest of mentalities – especially when the bills don’t get paid on time or we struggle to even put gas in the car as a result.
- ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS: I used up all my, “I’m sorry, I’ll stop that – I promise”, talk. The well ran dry. It meant nothing; I never changed. After a while, the words I spoke were meaningless because there was always false hope tied to them. I know my wife, family, and in-law’s wanted to believe what I was saying, that I would change and become the man I needed to be, but I took the validity out of those promises because although I loved talking the talk, I just couldn’t walk the walk. The grasp of my alcoholism was wrapped around me too tight.
So what is the best thing for families to do when dealing with a person who exhibits these behaviors? First and foremost, you need to take care of yourself; try to understand the three C’s of addiction: You didn’t CAUSE the addiction, you can’t CONTROL the addiction, and you can’t CURE the addiction. If warranted, seek professional help for yourself such as therapy or twelve step groups like Al-Anon. There is only so much a family member can do for the addict or alcoholic. You also need time and space to recover – the family is sick too. Remove yourself from any abusive situations – mental, emotional, or physical. If at all possible, try and stand by in support of the addict or alcoholic – even if that needs to be done from a safe distance. In the event that kids are involved, it is virtually necessary to remove them and yourself from the situation, but still state your support. Alcohol and drugs have made the addict feel inadequate and valueless already so any support for recovery will increase the chances of growth. There is a difference between helping and enabling. Support your loved one, but don’t bail them out of situations they end up in. It’s important that people like me understand the consequences of our decisions; it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, catapulting us into the overwhelming desire to change and seek a better life.
I know these things not by studying statistics, researching, or taking a college course on the topic. I know this because it’s what happened to me. This is what addiction is capable of; what it has the power to do and how it affects families in such a destructive and negative way – but all that can be reversed in time. It takes a lot of work, open-mindedness, and willingness – but I don’t think anything is unfixable. I’m sober today and the obsession to continue on in active alcoholism has been lifted. I spend my days working towards recovery instead of working towards yet another relapse. These are things I thought were impossible and I truly believed I was the rare case of the un-helpable; destined for a dark and miserable existence. I don’t think that anymore. The struggle is real, don’t get me wrong – it’s the most difficult battle I’ll ever face, but a new solution to my problems is also just as real, and it’s playing itself out in my life one day at a time.
A family is fragile – it truly needs constant nurturing and attention to flourish.