Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Black Cloud of Alcoholic Chaos

REWRITTEN at 4PM ET Wednesday.
The black cloud of alcoholic chaos is when the household is embattled with alcoholism. Here is what happens, at least in my observations in meetings, in our home and my research. It may not fit your experience, but I will bet it comes close.

When the drinking reaches a certain stage for the alcoholic, it is the spouse of the family that is the first one to detect that alcohol may be an issue. It is seen in crazy behavior; missed appointments, calling in sick to work, hidden bottles, abusive language, a lack of responsibility, laziness, insecurity, etc.

We try to help by; keeping the appointments for the alcoholic, accepting the abusive behavior, making excuses, and so on. Soon the situation is unmanageable. But because it's a little bit over time, we barely notice we have accepted behavior we never would have accepted before, and because it's a little over time, we pick up the responsibilities of the alcoholic. The scenario is like the boiling frog in the pan story (I posted this frog story in another post in this blog somewhere).

Help for the alcoholic is almost everywhere. Unfortunately, help for the family is scarce. What we find is that the research, books and articles mostly focus on the behaviors of the alcoholic - (which we ALL read in hopes for us to fix the alcoholic - don't we?).

As the alcoholic's drinking increases, it becomes the primary focus of the alcoholics world. Perhaps even worse, it becomes a major, if not the major focus, of everyone else in the family.

We, as members of the family and other loved ones, are forced by the indirect controlling behaviors of the alcoholic to ignore our own needs. Often, we ignore the needs of our children, in order to keep the household functioning. We don't ignore the needs of our children purposely, but the attention in on the alcoholic. All eyes on his body language. We ask ourselves; "Is he in a good mood?" And, "How much has he had to drink?" And we all hide our feelings or adjust our own feelings and moods to suit his.

Further, we try to put on this facade to the outside world looking in. That is, we hide what is going on in our homes and present to the world that the household is functioning normally. We do this with child who may have to "overachieve" to compensate. This overachievement comes in good grades, star athelete or some other form. Another child might be humorous - the funny little guy, who vys for attention or throws the attention somewhere away from the home. Or the rebel, the child who starts cutting class, or drinks with his or her friends, or smokes pot.

But make no mistake about this. This black cloud places a huge burden on all of us in the family. The more we try to "keep up" the facade, the harder it becomes and bigger the burden we carry. As indiviuals, we put on a mask to hide our problem and our fears in public. In some cases, we avoid going out - we isolate ourslves to escape and cope.

We do not ask for help because we don't want to be found out, we are embarrassed in some cases, we don't think anyone can help us, we are not sure how they could help or could possibly understand. And we are too busy to ask for help, except in the form of help financially when the chips are down, or the bills stack up. May be we ask a neighbor to watch the children if we are lucky. But in the way of help - we are left to fend for ourselves. We are fighting a multi-headed dragon with cooked spagetti. (a bad analogy - but you get the drift)

What we may do is try to talk the alcoholic out of drinking. We try to "fix" the alcoholic. We appear to make progress. But then we are stymied. The world unravels when he or she doesn't show up when the promised, doesn't do what they agreed to, won't go to work, does what they want to when they want etc. They begin to develop this "screw you" attitude.

And whenever we think we are managing "it" all, (barely - we are barely hanging in there), we are thwarted by the unforeseen chaos of the alcoholic. It may come in the form of an unpaid bill, or a traffic ticket or accident, or falling down in the front yard.

And then we have the normal pressures of life. A child gets sick. A child fights in school. A child fails a couple of tests. A child is angry - going through puberty. And we begin to think - "Is this normal?" Or is the child's reactions (sickness, fighting, failing, anger) part of the reaction to what is going on in the house.

So, with the alcoholic focused on the drink, and focused on himself or herself - the pressure is building. And now, after a while - perhaps they hit their 40's or 50's, they slowly or quickly, start to disintegrate. They look old. Their face looks really bad.Their mental processes are not functioning. Their eyesight gets worse. They get RA. They get artheritus. Their body fat breaks down. They are angry most of the time. They are falling apart.

And we literally feel a sense of dread every time we walk back in the house. Especially when the alcoholic is there.

It's like a black cloud hangs over our house. It is in many ways - the house itself feels very heavy. You can feel the dread of everyone involved. It becomes very distressing.

It is - what I call "the chaos of alcoholism" and the ensuing "black cloud" on the home. And no one, but no one, can understand this pain and sickness. There is no judge, no court, no jury, no lawyer, social worker that could ever imagine the sickness going on in the house. You have to be there to feel it. And that's what has to happen. Spend a day or two here and you too know what is going on. It in entirely unmanageable. And incomprehensible.

Next post to this blog - what happens to our children and what roles do they tend to take?

Please provide your feedback. I would be grateful if you think I am accurate in my depiction or not.


Anonymous said...

The "screw you attitude" was got me to finally let go. It didn't matter what I did, what I said, what I covered, none of it. It got to the point were something twisted inside me looked forward to taking on all the responsability my alcholic wife chose not to. It became a part of me, and until I found a place that I could no longer take care of myself, that is when I had to let of all of these burdens. I had to watch her self destruct. It was painful, to the core of my being, and I felt guilty in doing so, but I had no other choices left in my bag.

She did, lost it all. Me, friends, people that called her a friend, her job, a salary, self dignity, and self awareness. It was and continues to be tragic.

I have been told she is entering in-house treatment, and has not had a drink in 10 days. How bitter is it not to believe it, as soo many times the words she spoke, never matured into actions. For her, I hope it is true, and finds her on her own journey of recovery.


Laurie said...

I think you are accurate Joe. I agree the help for the family is minimal at best. Which is why I'm finding the comments posted here so helpful! And yes, I know I have tried and tried to "fix" my husband. And everytime he decides to try the sobriety path I think of it as a success on my part and his. So, naturally, when he fails I see the failure as my own as well. I keep thinking, am I supposed to be the catalyst that makes him change? Am I enabling by not doing anything? If I walk out wouldn't that be the trigger to "rock bottom"? But then why should I walk out? I'd rather make him leave. I pay the bills (he hasn't worked in over a year) so I should stay in the house. Would that then be the first step to divorce because I know I'm not ready or wanting that. This is the argument that goes on in my head and gets me right back where I started...going with the flow and hoping for the "fix".

We don't want people to know what's going on in our home because it looks bad (it is bad!) and we feel we're at fault. The pressure to maintain a "normal" appearance is really too much - and it's just not fair!

You know, recently I heard someone say home is what they look forward to - going home at the end of the day. In this situation unfortunately our home, the place of peace, is anything but that. Just last night I thought this is just too much work. Going along with the game, trying to get through the night, it's just so hard sometimes!

Laurie said...

Oh boy, just need to vent...time to go home and I get to go home to him drunk and "listening to music" which means the stereo is up so loud I'll be able to hear it down the street...and he'll lay on the floor and want me to hold him and listen...and he'll cry...then he'll tell me how terrible I am and get angry...I can't cook dinner fast enough or satisfy whatever need or request he makes...I hate nights like this! Nope, no peace in this home...just the black cloud. Is this what life is about? I don't know...but, thanks for listening I just needed to vent and be reminded to pray the whole drive home!

Joe said...

I agree. I had forgotten that home was supposed to be "a place of Peace"


Anonymous said...

I think for me it came down to this:

1. Is she ever going to change?

I have no power over that decision.

2. Can I commit my 1 shot on this earth to someone who is incapable of committing to me?

I have power only in regards to my decision.

3. Can I achieve find peace happiness, even a simple normal routine running parallel with a daily storm?

I have power in this decision.

4. Do I continue the course out of unconditional love?

I have power over this.

5. Do I continue the course based on financial reasons?

I have power over this.

At the end of the day, we choose to be in the place we are in. It doesn't mean we have the power of the condition or state in which we live because we are only one player in this ugly, brutal game.

I fell out of love, because I don't know this women when she drinks, and that is most of the time.

I do love her as a human being, care for her as such, and pray that one day she can understand a reason and a way to arrest the disease, not try to cure it. Take the steps necessary to live her 1 shot here on earth with peace in her heart, passion, and a desire to absorb all the beatiful gifts God has offered us in this life.

I wish you all peace this Wed evening, and a calm heart as well.


Marie said...

You all are so directly in tune to what I needed to hear tonight!! I have recently moved out of my house with my 2 children and believe me it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do because why should I have to go?? He should he's the one who has caused all of these problems but he would never go. See my husband "used" to drink every single day all day long until he went into rehab now he just relapses on average every 6 months and so in between he is this very nice person who is constantly trying to be forgiven and try to understand why he does these things and then the relapse for a few weeks and then back to rehab he just got out for his 4th time and this I have come to believe is "normal" He truly makes my life nuts with this constant up and down highs and lows and still I miss my house??? Why?? Sorry I am also venting!!!

UziCue said...

you are right on with a few exceptions of life when my spouse was drinking.
i got to a point where i just stopped caring. believe me, apathy is so much worse than hatred.
we had to lose almost everything. we almost lost our marriage, but i am grateful that that didn't have to happen. this past year that he's been sober has been one of many ups and downs. it certainly has not been easy, and i feel i have a long way to go, but i am on the road. i am grateful for al-anon and all the lessons i have learned.

A.J. said...

Wow, everything I have read here has touched me very deeply. Kevin B, very well said with the questions it came down to for you and your life. Marie, I understand where you are too. Joe, I've been reading your blog for some time now, and I respect you and what you're going through.

I left the alcoholic. We had a child together who is now 1 year old. The toughest part for me was putting her first--before my love for him. It took a lot of tears and a lot of going back and forth in my mind about "what exactly WAS best for her, an alcoholic father or no father?" I never wanted to raise my child in a split family. That was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I loved this man. He swept me off my feet; he also just about destroyed me. Alcoholism IS a family disease. I was sick from this disease, so sick that I didn't care about myself in this situation. But, I kept thinking about what this environemnt was doing and would do to my daughter. I couldn't stay.

It'll be three months this week. I have no idea if he's drinking or not. The biggest relief for me was letting go of that need to fix him and trying to control the alcoholism in order to hold my family together. I didn't discover Al-Anon until after I had left. Part of me wished I would've discoverd Al-Anon a long time ago, but the other part thanks God everyday because if I HAD, I may still be learning how to deal WITH him.

My point is, at this point, three months later, I can see clearly now (can you hear the song? a little humor)...Yes, there's a part of me that still thinks about the house I used to live in. I still think about my daughter's room with all of her things, and a part of me still misses the heated garage I used to park my dependable 4WD vehcile in. One could look at my life now and think I am worse off--being a single mom, in a tiny little one bedroom rental, parking on the street and praying my little car starts each day....but, WOW--does it feel good to be me! Noone knows the life I used to live, and noone (except all of you) knows the eggshells I used to walk on wondering what kind of mood he'd be in, how drunk he'd be, and if I'd make dinner in time or cook it properly....I don't have to worry about saying something to set him off anymore. I can be ME, and I am actually beginning to love being me. I just said last weekend that I "love" my life right now because of the healthy circle I've created and the person I am able to be. The anger, hurt, and despair is slowly fading. It's been a tough three months, but it was all worth it.

I'm not giving advice here, because it's not my place, and every situation is different, but I just want to give one of you "hope" from what I've gone through. I didn't want to walk out that door and I didn't want to stay gone--but I did. Now, and only now, I know that I did what was right for me and my situation.

Look to your higher power and in the Al-Anon books. You'll know when you need to know what the answer is. And, please, this is the only the 3rd comment I've written, if I'm out of line here in any way, please, somebody tell me because Al-Anon is still fairly new to me. Thanks.

Joe said...

These are all good comments. And you can vent, you can express opinions, you can type on forever. There is no judgement here of anyone.

I and I assume others gain so much from reading these words. And how some are rebuilding their lives again, how you came to a decision point.

I am at a decision point. The forces of the universe are converging. My concern is getting our daughter out of the house. This will be the hard part. I don't want our daughter to be the center of the issue and be in the middle. But I also want to have her in a normal house where she sees and feels the normality and not think 10 years from now that the chaos is normal. And then look for a boyfriend who brings chaos to her life and have her feel comfortable with this and assume that "Ahhh, I recognize this. It is like mom and dad. It must be right."

Now I am venting.

Please continue to vent and share. We all benefit from your stories and feelings.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for sharing your frustrations. If your like me, they are hard to release at times.

I have a very special women in my life that I am finding I have always loved.... And she said this to me one day, and it stuck..

Houses, cars, diamonds, boats, all the things we think make us happy is at the end of the day, just "stuff"

How those words ring true. I am finding that my journey is about the little things in life, the simple things that somewhere along the line I lost.

There is great joy in them, we just have take the time to appreciate them.

Peace to you this Thursday Marie.


Syd said...

Having grown up in a home where my father drank (a functional alcoholic who drank on the weekends), I can tell you that there are a lot of effects that occur: the feeling of having to be responsible about everything, the embarrassment, the denial, the low self-esteem, the need to control others come to mind. And now I've lived in an alcoholic marriage for years (now my wife is in AA for a year and a half). All the adaptations that I learned as a child were played out in the marriage. Alcohol has a life long affect.

FrannyGlass said...

Very grateful to have fond this blog. Thank you all for sharing. Your comments are giving me a lot of strength.

FrannyGlass said...

Very grateful to have fond this blog. Thank you all for sharing. Your comments are giving me a lot of strength.

FrannyGlass said...

Very grateful to have fond this blog. Thank you all for sharing. Your comments are giving me a lot of strength.

FrannyGlass said...

Very grateful to have fond this blog. Thank you all for sharing. Your comments are giving me a lot of strength.

Laurie said...

Wow, so good to read everyone's comments! We are all experiencing our own unique effects of this disease yet they are similar in so many ways! It seems sad to say, but it is really comforting to me.

Kevinb, thanks for your comments on the things we have control over and how those things factor in our decision making. Joe, isn't it amazing we forget the home is supposed to be a place of peace? Makes you wonder how the children view it. It's got to be tough with kids involved - I pray for extra strength for you. Marie, I think your comments made me think I could be in your situation, wanting him to leave and finding out that he won't. So the decision really is mine.

Mostly, thanks to all of you for your comments and Joe for starting this blog. I've never done anything like this and I'm finding it so helpful! Blessings to everyone!

Marie said...

Everyone's comments are so comforting and helpful to get each of your perspectives really means alot to me!! Joe your comments about your daughter searching out the same chaos in the future with a man really hits home for me. My two children are both girls ages 5 and 8 and I fear that they will look for an alcoholic spouse because I have been reading that girls with an alcoholic father are statistically much more likely to chose an alcoholic spouse and it just sickens me.

And A.J i really like how you said you chose your love for your daughterover your love for him(you put her first) that is what I feel I have done by moving out. Even though my husband and I do still have contact which I am wondering if I should continue but for now I have found some form of peace because if he bothers me to much I just hang up the phone!! (Ha, Ha!!)

Joe said...

Just for the record, I have never been one to share my feelings or especially blog - about anything. It was born out of desperation. If you look at my first posts - you will see I was a nightmare - still crazy - but moving toward a resolution.

I am glad it is helping you all. And I hope we can move us all in a positive direction. We are all doing the best we can. So, keep your chin up!


Anonymous said...

Hi Everyone,

Been a rough week for me, and looking forward to my weekend.

Wanted to share this with you, as some of us I hope, have several days to rest our bodies, and minds.

"You have to count on living every single day in a way you BELIEVE will make you feel good about your life".

Jane Seymour

Peace to all this Friday Morning.


Kim said...

Thanks for being here. Joe, I agree with your description. It is very difficult to live in such a chaotic household. We struggle with nightly rages from my husband. I am at my breaking point. Today I decided to find some help for me, so that I can better help my three children, and I was fortuate to find all of you. I appreciate knowing that I am not alone and that others are surviving the madness.

amyh said...

Hi all. This is my first post. I am sooooo thankful that I have found this blog. All of this sounds so familiar. I am certainly living under the black cloud. My husband and I have been together for 12 years. Married for 7 years. For the last 9 he has been drinking. Says he likes the taste of beer! Sure. He has admitted he has a problem (no kidding), but hasn't took any steps to correct it. Things just seem to get worse. To the point that I have had just about as much as I can take. I'm tired of the passing out, the urinating in the house and not knowing you did it! But we are always sorry when we find out!! Sure. Not a day goes by that I am not walking on egg shells wondering when I come home how is he going to be???? What's worse is we have a 3 year old daughter that's involved. If it was only me it would be much easier to pack up and move out. Not that easy. I don't want to take her from her dad and certainly don't want to break up a family through divorce. When does it stop? I'm tired of the I'm sorry crap. He's sorry until the next time. The next time he is drinking and says ignorant things to me. Makes his little digs. He is very jealous and insecure. I will be 28 this month and I can honestly say I don't know where I will be in the next 2 years. Surely didn't see myself living in this situation! I can't keep this life up. We have everything going for us, but there seems to be one thing missing. Our relationship. I resent him sooo much for what he is doing to our family and our relationship. I am living with 2 people. The caring husband and the selfish asshole who can't give up the drinking to save his family! I have so much bottled up. Anger, resentment, sadness... Sorry to ramble. It's nice to read the different blogs. Suddenly I don't feel so alone.
Thanks for listening.

Joe said...

Amy H - Welcome - start here and post your comment on the latest Blog post which is here ...

You can cry a thousand tears, ask for advice, rant, get pissed off, get offered advice, get some compassion.

So welcome


Anonymous said...

You just brought me back to my childhood life of 20 years ago.

Unknown said...

Spot on! Unfortunately, it's like the start of the final phase of alcoholism, I think. Scary to watch your loved one trudging down a hill when you know there's a dropoff at the end, but they can't/won't see it. It plain sucks actually.