"Our hearts do not need logic, they can love and forgive and accept that which our minds cannot comprehend. Hearts understand in ways our minds cannot" Lois Wilson, wife of Bill Wilson (founder of AA) and founding member of Al-Anon.
Something that is often left aside when tackling the devastating downfall towards an individual accessing treatment is the years of damage and stress caused to people close to the addict. Most treatment centres are aware of this strain but have to focus initially on the addict, bringing the family in when they have a sound and stable base to work with. It's a testing time for everyone involved and I want to talk about my experience of some of the pain I caused as an active alcoholic of over 20 years. Things developed slowly and the damages were smaller in the early years but they were still there. During the years of drinking and drugs there was obviously outbursts, times where things got too much for me to handle. Relationship breakdowns that would lead to a total meltdown in everything I did. Looking back, this is classic addict behaviour, I was overwhelmed and unable to cope, but back then it wasn't clear and many suggestions of mental health issues were thrown around. It was, I guess, the easiest and most logical solution, to label something and find reasoning for the destructive behaviours.
I often think that if I'd been able to be more honest about my addictions all those years ago then a lot of pain could have been avoided. In reality though, I wasn't aware of what was wrong with me, I knew that doing everything to excess was unusual but my problem was essentially my solution to life. It took many years to move my way of thinking and accept that the problem was me and my addiction and life was something that everyone else just got on with. So, with decades of hidden harms accumulated, lies and broken promises, I can accept these things as stuff that's probably ok to forget now things are better. I do however, want to mention one or two of the end stage alcoholic harms, the 'icons' if you like, that every time I even think about drinking, I bring to the forefront of my mind. These are direct damages to people I love and show the selfish, out of control nature of an addict in the grip of addiction. These are things that scare the people who experienced them, things that will stay with those people and be the reason why they are as frightened of me relapsing as I am myself. I'm going to make this brief as it's still difficult for me to understand my behaviour then, let alone talk about it, but I believe it is important for continued sobriety. I know it was the destructive force of the addiction causing me to act that way but I also have to accept that it was me and I did those things, taking responsibility whilst at the same time forgiving oneself for past behaviours is one of the hardest things for an addict in recovery. It's taken me three years to reach a point where I am at peace with it all.
When my Dad was diagnosed with end stage lung cancer, it coincided with a huge relapse and downward spiral in which I left rehab, flew to the UK, ruined any chance of saving my marriage by being drunk and aggressive in front of the in-laws, abusing my brother when he tried to help and culminating in me being taken back to Sheffield by my Mum. I couldn't have created a worse series of events even if I'd tried. My Dad died during all this mayhem and I was the last thing they all needed to deal with at such a testing time. At my mothers house I begged her for any alcohol left in the house due to withdrawing and I drank vodka straight from the bottle in front of her. (This had somehow become normal behaviour to me but to a non-addict, the sight must have been heart-breaking). I was killing myself in front of her eyes, literally crawling outside on my hands and knees to the porch to smoke and pass out, forcing her to call an ambulance and have and have me admitted to the same hospital that my Dad had died in only a few days earlier.
Another example of my abusive behaviour was when I was still with my ex-wife. I remember one of many times that I needed more alcohol so I would create an argument just to get out of the house. On this occasion she followed me so I started shouting abuse at her as she was crying asking 'why are you doing this to me?' I then left her alone at the canal edge to walk home alone in the dark whilst I headed straight to the nearest pub.
Finally, my brother. Many times over the years, him and his wife have taken me in after one disaster or another. The damages were again less at the start but became progressively worse as my years of drinking continued. I was verbally abusive too many times to remember and physically threatened him on occasion. The saddest thing is, this is just my recollection and the reality is almost certainly a lot worse.
I have to mention my Dad as he must have suffered huge stress too at my behaviour and he was always supportive and protective of me even when I was at my worst. He struggled to say a bad word about me and that's a reflection of his strength of character more than anything. My biggest sadness now about his death is that he never got to see the success I could become, battling this disease, though I believe he knows and that belief helps me maintain my sobriety every day. There were many other people affected and times I don't recall due to blackouts, many trips to hospital and back home totally lost to me in my mind as if they never happened. I'm not even going into the 'accidents', arrests, court appearances and admissions to various mental institutions along the way because I will lose my focus, but they are numerous. Maybe I will never know the true extent of the harm that I have caused? The only thing I can do now is to ask forgiveness, to truly forgive myself and to keep doing the next right thing and essentially live a good, honest life and not pick up a drink however difficult life may seem at times. Because compared to the years of active addition, life is incredible today, even the worst days are a million times better than that living hell, for everyone involved.
I believe now that the persistence that everyone who cared about me showed was incredible yet understandable to an extent. People simply don't want to believe that their loved one is capable of doing and saying these things whilst at the same time they don't want to believe that their loved one is profoundly unwell at the core, in fact, many would rather find some diagnosable mental illness with a tidy label simply as some kind of explanation. This is where addiction gets complicated and the drinking or using often mimics symptoms of other mental illnesses such as depression and bi-polar disorder, the addict sadly is often just in the grip of addiction, itself a debilitating mental illness, just a less socially acceptable one so admission or indeed diagnosis of it is virtually impossible until things come to a head, the families get tough, the person dies or ends up in a long term institution or prison or the individual finds enough strength and reason to get clean.
This makes me sad writing this and the situation for most addicts is bleak, however, the opportunity to get out of it is available to many and this to me can be their saving grace. They are usually highly resourceful, often intelligent and very able people and given the opportunity they can climb out of the pit of chaos and build a new life. I think if I wasn't an addict myself with my chaotic history spanning 25 years of active addiction then I would struggle to write with honesty and compassion, but the main thing I would struggle with would be hope. You look at the facts and the situation is pretty hopeless but you look at the individual and the situation is full of potential and the possibilities are endless. That's why recovery is difficult but so rewarding. When people are put off by the low success rates in recovery and ask me to quote figures, I try to steer them away from statistics as they just highlight the seriousness and negative bits of recovery like death and relapse. These things are sadly inevitable in recovery circles but I prefer to focus on the individual and believe that one addict who wants to get and stay clean, doing all the right things, has as good a chance as any. If we set them up to succeed and they follow through I'm confident that it is a disease that can be effectively managed in most cases, with vigilance. I love that I can now spend my time and make a living trying to spread a realistic message of hope for the still suffering addict and if you need for you or a loved one then visit my website and we will advise on the best treatment. I'm beginning to appreciate this alcoholfreeme.com!