Recovery is Not Easy on the Family
Jill Pepe Asks ...
I am married to an alcoholic whom is trying to finally become a recovering alcoholic. He has wanted to stop drinking many many times in the past. He has cried about wanting to stop. We have had many late night conversations about doing it and why he couldn't do it or can't at the moment. His biggest worry is the fact that he is afraid of the person he might become. He has drank for most of his life, more now than when I first met him it seems. What changed and finally sunk in was the fact that he has been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. As a spouse I have been a co dependent so I could spend more time with him. That didn't work out well because I have really never been more than a three drinks in one night person and the spins suck. My husband has no idea what they feel like because he can drink endlessly and still not get the spins or get sick. I have been the wife acting like his mother kind of role. I have been the bitch wife, constantly bitching about finances, his time 'not' home, his sex drive and his short temper and anger issues. We have talked sensibly about his wants and the why's and what are we going to do about this disease that me not being an alcoholic just couldn't get a grasp on. I just couldn't get my head into his understanding and his way of thinking.
Now that he has been diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver he has quit drinking and "YES" I am very proud of him. and he has quit smoking as well. He's been drinking for close to 40 years. My concerns now are his mood swings and short temper. We are experiencing or maybe It's just me, self esteem issues. I'm afraid to say anything to him for fear of making him angry. I don't want to walk on eggshells though. He makes me feel feel like my IQ is not high enough to have a conversation. It's like a competition as to who is going to win the right to take over a conversation and who's story is more important. We can get into an argument over the weather report. OMG! I just want to scream at times. I didn't do a load of laundry yesterday and he gets so upset and mad. I didn't hear what he said the day before and he bit my head off. I don't know what I should be doing right now. I want to support him, I've been trying this whole time so why do I feel like running more now than before after all these years? I know he is going to change but how much? I'm so confused now. I'm choking up just typing this. HELP! I need some insight as to what to expect as a wife of a recovering alcoholic.
Florence Cameron Says ...
Only the beginning, hang on tight.
Putting down the drink is the first step in recovery, but by no means does this alone help the mood swings, the confusion and the angry and frustrating outbursts of the individual in recovery. There is a book by Tian Dayton called, "Emotional Sobriety" that could help you and your husband understand the interpersonal dynamics of recovery.
You stated that your husband initially was afraid of becoming sober out of fear of who he really is. Alcohol takes one's character, personality and values away, leaving in it's wake, emotional pain and turmoil. For the newly sober it can be a nightmare, waking up to all the emotions suppressed by alcohol. Alcohol tamps down the Central Nervous System and when removed, the body goes through a number of changes that have negative effects and usually these symptoms are so intolerable that relapse takes the individual back to drinking to avoid the pain of sobriety and the changes the body has to endure to reach homeostasis. After 40 plus years of drinking his emotional system is dis-regulated. I encourage you to peruse this site and find other stories similar to yours, as there are countless experts that help thousands daily from this web-site.
AA is an organization that helps individuals like your husband set the ground work for emotional healing. These groups support each other during the all phases of recovery. I want to add here that alcoholism is not curable, and facing recovery requires supportive people who have been there and can understand the emotional roller-coaster of recovery. Alcohol changes the landscape of the brain and after one year to 18 months of abstinence the brain can make remarkable changes. Your husband exhibits now, emotions that mimic mental illness, because he's cultivated this disease with his drinking. Alcoholism is a brain disease and support groups like AA and Al-anon help alcoholics and their family cope with, "the new normal".
After 10 years or more of drinking, the individual begins experiencing the physical damage of the disease, as you have now learned that your husband is suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. Our bodies can not operate on a steady diet of poison for years on end. The organs are not forgiving and it's the cumulative damage of all the years of drinking that eventually break it down. The emotional damage from, "stinking thinking", distorted beliefs about self and others, and rigid, inflexible behaviors also tears at the fabric of the family and anyone else that is attached. Years of drinking causes personality changes and AA can be a supportive environment where your husband can talk about his life as an alcoholic and how he can re-script a new life for himself.
This site is an excellent resource for help. I encourage you to use it and to take care of yourself. You stated that you are co-dependent and have enabled him. Let Al-anon help you free yourself from his disease and enable you to find some joy in your own life. Seek out counseling for yourself and begin a personal development journey to keep you in balance. Try to understand what he is going through by finding out what the post-acute withdrawal symptoms to expect and how to treat them. You can be empathetic with him, but gently disagree and don't buy into his ever changing moods. Matching his anger and being a right-fighter is not helpful to anyone. Learn to engage dispassionately and find solutions, rather than staying in the problem. Rely on your family for support, seek respite and solace for yourself. After all, your husband made the choices and decisions to be where he is today. This is his disease, give it back to him.
Jeannie Cameron, LMHC, CAP