Just over two years ago, my whole world turned upside down when I finally woke up and didn’t like what I saw. My life had become a tangled mess; filled with lies, deceit, cover up and was a constant raging war to change an alcoholic. I am a determined woman and was used to rising to a challenge but I eventually came to realize that a battle with alcoholism was one that I was never going to win. I finally gave up because I knew that I had tried everything within my power to cajole, support, threaten, monitor, mollycoddle and control the monster illness that is alcoholism but with zero success. Each time that I thought I had hunted down every last bottle of alcohol, another one appeared. I found them in every conceivable place; closets, clothes, laundry baskets and plant bushes in the garden. I had developed my hearing to such a degree that I could hear a beer cap being removed at half a mile. (And the kids wonder why I can hear them opening the cookie jar from the next room!) I poured copious amounts of alcohol down the drain. I tried everything I could possibly think of to make a difference. Nothing I did seemed to work.
Alcoholism is a momentous force to be reckoned with and can only be stopped if the person decides that they want to stop and then takes steps to make that happen. I had been promised a million times that things would change, a new leaf would be turned and an improved man would rise to the surface. I couldn’t afford to wait to find out if that would ever happen because I was in serious danger of losing my own mind. I had become a co-dependent and my whole life was governed by the behaviour of an addict. I would say that I’d done a pretty good job of covering for him as most of our friends and family were surprised when all came to light. However, at what expense had this cover up been achieved? I was exhausted with the weight of it all. I’d like to be able to tell you that I came to a rational, informed and calm decision to walk away but it didn’t happen like that.
One Friday night, I finally snapped. After irrational, aggressive, abusive and alcohol-fuelled behaviour, I said, “No more.” I was ‘sick and tired’ of being ‘sick and tired.’ I’d reached the end of the line with my alcoholic. I would not allow this putrid and toxic illness to destroy my whole family. I called 'time' on being in the same home with this man who I didn't even recognise anymore. I could not change the alcoholic but by God, I could change things for myself and my four precious children.
And so I did. Come Monday morning, I swallowed my pride and took myself off down to the welfare office to register for benefits, I met with the bank manager and asked for a break in my mortgage payments until I could get back on track, I registered my children for free school meals, I contacted all the credit card companies and dealt with each of them, one by one and then I collapsed and cried a river full of tears.
Naively, I suppose I still held out hope that my alcoholic would change. Surely the separation would do the trick, no. Surely the threat of divorce and then the actual divorce would be the catalyst needed to change things, no. What about everyone knowing about his illness? No. Stopping contact with the children would surely be the final straw that made the difference, no. Absolutely nothing outside of the alcoholic can change them; only an internal desire and decision to stop drinking on their part will bring about change.
So, where are we now, just over two years on from that pivotal Friday night? My alcoholic and I are divorced. I am no longer reliant on welfare to feed and clothe my children. I am making mortgage payments again. There is no longer credit companies involved. I have returned to work and am teaching again. I’ve learned who my friends are and know exactly who is there for me when it really counts. I’m learning to implement a 12-step program in my life which enables me to live a life of serenity. (Ok...not all the time but I’m more serene than I used to be! J ) Occasionally, I still cry but there are droplets not rivers of tears. I have felt like never before that God is real and near to me.
Now what of my four children? The older ones have had to grow up before their time. They saw a devoted, loving father turn into a stranger. They know that alcoholism is a family illness and that its damage can cause cracks that tear families apart. They sometimes keep their thoughts and emotions bottled up, but other times they let them out and we have kicked doors, shouting, swearing, blaming and tears. They are learning that it’s possible to love the alcoholic but hate the illness. We are all learning to leave the alcoholic to God and never give up hope that he will find sobriety.
Why am I sharing all this with you? I share this for one reason only and that is to give those who need it hope. No situation is so bad that it cannot be changed. If you are worried about a drinking problem, be it in yourself or a loved one, seek help sooner rather than later. If you love someone with a drink problem, it is possible to find serenity whether they are drinking or not. I don’t promise you that it will be easy but it is possible. You may have to walk away for your own safety and sanity. If I can do it, then so can you. I pray you have the courage to change.