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You’re Husband is a End Stage Alcoholic. Now What?

I live in a world that others would never even attempt to imagine. That is, unless, of course, you are a non-alcoholic who has become the caretaker of an alcoholic who would rather die than be sober. Everyone talks about the horror and pain of living with an alcoholic, but until that alcoholic reaches “end-stage” the true senselessness is never fully realized.

How or why do I do it? My husband, Riley and I were separated for 15 years before he came back to my home. He was near death. His roommates could not, and would not, take care of him and did not want him in their house. My daughter wanted Riley to come live with her. I am still legally Riley’s wife and my priority above all else is my children. I would not allow my daughter’s life to become encased in all that alcoholic hazy crazy nonsense. We had lost my son to alcoholism, but my daughter had managed to dodge the alcohol bullet. I would not allow her to now become the target. Riley is my responsibility and I took him back.

Riley is truly an end-stage alcoholic. He has been turned away at medical centers, because to have him as a patient is too high of a risk. He will most likely die from the next attempt at detox. Hospitals and medical personnel don’t want to be around and have it happen “on their watch – in their hospital”.

I don’t feel badly for Riley. He has had numerous chances. At last count, I believe it was twelve rehab centers, eight detox hospitalizations with four being nearly fatal. Over the last 30 years, the longest he has managed to maintain sobriety was 3 years. The three years of sobriety was met daily with complaints of how he didn’t want to be sober. Asked point blank “Would you rather be sober or dead?” His answer is always an unequivocal, resounding “Death over sobriety!” It doesn’t matter if you ask the question when he is cold sober or if he is totally drunk. The answer is always the same. Riley has made it clear that whatever happens to him is worth him being able to live out the rest of his days in a drunken haze, devoid of his family and any friends, all of which are long gone.

The only way to survive the insanity of being a non-alcoholic person immersed in the life of an alcoholic, is to detach. To detach means to separate, either mentally, physically or both, from the person causing pain. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

We learn from childhood that being a “good” person means helping others. To be a good spouse we are taught to put our beloved above all else. The concept is everywhere. We see it in the movies, on TV, read about it in books, and hear sermons – all based on the importance of loyalty, love and commitment. We even vow to it in the presence of God, family and friends on our wedding day when we say “‘til death do us part”. All of that doesn’t serve the spouse of an alcoholic because they must adhere to a different set of standards.

In order for a non-alcoholic spouse to survive, he/she must “unlearn” all those things we learn as we grow up. We must realize that there is a point at which the vows have been fulfilled even when the spouse is still breathing. We must understand that being a good person doesn’t mean forgetting about personal needs and boundaries. Self-preservation must become the foremost concern, and it doesn’t indicate failure.

Lao Tzu has been known to say, “When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” The non-alcoholic must let go of the person (him/herself) who has been infected by the alcoholic lifestyle – which focuses on trying to get the alcoholic sober. To let go of that purpose allows the non-alcoholic to heal and blossom into someone with a happier, more purposeful life.

It doesn’t make any difference whether you stay in a relationship with the alcoholic or if you leave — the non-alcoholic must learn how to change the focus. The first step is to take a personal inventory of yourself and not the alcoholic. This isn’t a list of faults, but rather a re-introduction to oneself. What are your interests, likes, dislikes and what brings you joy when you rise in the morning? Rediscover what you want from life and then go for it. If you want to be a photographer – start taking pictures. If you want to go back to school – take a class. Realize that you have a life outside the insanity circle and cultivate that life.

For the non-alcoholic, education is the key to survival. Learn everything about the biological dysfunctions of an alcoholic body. Learn the names of the associated diseases like Cirrhosis, Hepatitis, Delirium Tremors, Hepatic Encephalopathy, Esophageal Varices, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, and Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy. Find out everything you can about these diseases. There is no such thing as too much knowledge. By gathering as much information as possible, the non-alcoholic will know what to expect as the disease progresses.

It is important to remember that the alcoholic at end-stage, is not the same person as the one the non-alcoholic fell in love with. That person is gone. There is a grieving process that must be acknowledged and accepted. Feel the pain; go to a grief counselor; cry on your best friends shoulder; eat gallons of ice cream and then, finally, emerge on the other side of the insanity as a strong, determined, healthy individual.

Although no one else could probably imagine the difficulties the non-alcoholic faces each day, make every day the best day possible. Learn to smile. Laugh out loud. See the humor and take care of yourself. Greet each day with gratitude – if you can’t find something BIG to be grateful for, find something tiny. In doing this, the non-alcoholic might just find that things may be crazy – but there still can be at least a sliver of sanity.

Linda is the wife and primary caregiver of an end stage Alcoholic. She maintains her blog The Immortal Alcoholic as a resource for other loved ones of end stage Alcoholics.

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