Monday, January 28, 2008

Stopping Chaos with the Alcoholic

Stopping the chaos with the alcoholic - at least to me - was really what the subject and focus of the past two weekends topics on Detachment and Boundaries were about.

The problem that I face is when a child is involved.

I struggle with both of these (detachment and boundaries) because my wife, who is my qualifier, likes to run around with no responsibilities. She takes my daughter from place to place, no prioritization, not understanding she has studies and tests for school and she needs some sort of "routine." Unfortunately, my daughter sees this running around as normal. I am trying to break this pattern by exerting and interrupting the cycle of chaos.

Of course, as soon as I write the word "exerting" I know that I have fallen into the trap of controlling. I know, I know. There are some who are reading this and they are smiling, nicely of course, perhaps saying to themselves, "Dear Joseph, don't you learn anything?"

But my daughter is not doing well in school. And anytime I try to sit and study with her, my wife has created "other plans" - like meeting friends, going shopping, etc. My wife can't sit down and study with my daughter - she functions sober with a huge IQ, but very, very little EQ (emotional quotient). My wife has very little ability to sit on the side of the other person and try to figure out what is going on and therefore try and be empathetic or try to "teach" from how others see things. She is very, self-centered. Or self-absorbed. She does not want to or can't - look at things from the other person's perspective. She cannot empathize - sit in the other person's shoes - to feel or try to feel how others may be feeling.

In fact, talking about this self-centeredness or self-absorbtion, when I ask my daughter how her day went, my wife answers! I have gotten to the point to where I even ask specifically by my daughter's name and my wife STILL answers!! It's enough to drive one to - I was going to say "drink" to be comical - but that may be inappropriate.

But back to trying to "fix" things for my daughter and give some sort of routine.

It is hard to set boundaries, especially when your children, where there is this natural bonding between mother and child. When I do start to try to change things by trying to realign the house by trying to focus everyone on the important things (such as school work), and stop the running around which adds to the chaos, I look like the ogre - the big guy who looks like he is being a jerk. My wife does the fun stuff and dad, well dad, is the meany.

One little story about dinner in our house. This is not what I expected from a mother. So, my viewpoint is being shattered. I was a little shocked, because I thought mothers were supposed to be very children centered.

My wife would bring home food, from the mall, you know the food court. She would buy a plate of food from one of those country cooking places. She would get vegetables, because they are "healthy". Of course these vegetables are cooked with sugar, salt and fat to make the food taste good. But never the less, they are vegetables, according to her.

Well, she would bring home a plate just for herself. No other food. I would ask, probably in a little bit of pissy voice, "Where is our food?" Her reply, "Well, you and our daughter [her name here] don't like this." I would reply, "So there is nothing for us?" And of course, there wasn't.

On other occasions, my wife would go to the store and buy already made chicken. She would fix her plate and sit down and start eating. My daughter who was 8 or 9 at the time would come in and say, "Where's my food mommy?" I would come from the office and see this and just stare in disbelief. Of course this is when she was drinking every day - full bore.

Now what she does, is she shops all day. She will hit Target 3 times in one day. Hit Target 3 days back to back. I think this is her way to drink in the car.

I have detached and set boundaries to minimize the chaos - so I am thankful for this. I will admit my boundaries and detachment were not always so great as to the fact I judged and provided my evaluation of the situation at times. And in those times I went toe to toe with alcoholism, and eventually was thwarted at every turn and lost. But over time I have come to use them, the tools of detachment and boundaries, and I would give myself a grade of "fair" today. And, by the way, my wife says that I am setting rules, not boundaries.

Now I am dealing with her (my wife's) inability to tell me what time she is taking my daughter somewhere and what time she will be back. And - is this going somewhere - more important than studying, going to bed at a set time, waking up at a set time, eating at a set time thing. I am trying to set "rules" - and maybe these are rules, for when my daighter should go to bed, eat dinner, what to eat, and when to study. So, not only am I controlling - and trying to exert influence, my wife thwarts it - undermines it - because of her power of being the fun one. And my child suffers. And I feel guilt and yet I know I must try to help.

But I also realize I cannot be the husband, dad, and wage earner AND be the mother. I cannot be the parent for both my wife and my daughter. And frankly, I realize that now more than ever.

So, this past weekend - while there was no out and out chaos - there were missed times when we were to study for a make-up test my daughter is to take today. The times were missed because my wife had friends in town. Then I had to become no longer "detached" - which means I had to intervene on my daughter's behalf to study. Of course my daughter didn't understand - she wanted to hang out with my wife's friends' children at the house where they were all staying. And of course, my wife painted me with the brush that I am a "control freak." But I do not care about the painting or labeling - although in truth it does hurt because I want a partner, not an enemy. And not at the cost of my daughter's education and self-esteem and seeing me as the bad dad - not fun dad - not the loving dad. Because as we all know, children's schooling is important to their self-esteem. My big concern is my daughter failing a grade. So I am forced to get my daughter extra tutoring. And here my wife tries to thwart this, starting off by saying she doesn't need it. Or saying, my daughter is not "getting it" (meaning understanding the school work) not realizing that what she is not getting is because of not studying a little more and that why should she when her mom, a big figure in her life, says it's OK to play all day.

So today, my wife's mother comes to town. She is smart lady. But still my wife's mother. I am going to explain what happened this weekend in detail so she can understand the chaos and the problems we are facing in the midst of alcoholism. This weekend is an example of the chaos and turmoil underway. And the chaos has become normal.

In the end, alcoholism is not just drinking and being drunk. It is a self-centered disease and it sucks the life out of everyone to make the focus on the alcoholic. And the cycle - the cycle of self-centeredness - makes everyone feel they are not fulfilling the role they are supposed to fill if we take the eyes off the alcoholic. And because our eyes and focus have been on the alcoholic for so long it seems normal. We (I) have to break this pattern.

I have started to try to break the pattern. I do not know if I can complete the breaking of the pattern in the current situation without looking like I am the bad guy here. I am in a dilemma. A dilemma is a place where there are just choices of bad alternatives.

I seek a solution. And I pray for serenity this week. And I pray for my daughter to understand as well, that I am not the ogre.


Syd said...

It surely must be harder with a child involved. I don't have that situation. I can set boundaries and detach with love. I did find that if I talked about what I was feeling, it helped. In other words, I stated what made me uncomfortable and what I didn't like about a situation. I didn't judge or use the "you should" words. It helped.

Anonymous said...

It's what we do, not what we think.

It is difficult to keep check on the very fact that ultimatley at the end of the day, we only have the power to control ourselves, our thoughts, our actions. It is easy for one to see boundaries as rules, because they view them with opposite points of view depending which side of the fence you are sitting.

Your daughter is not deserving of being the ping pong ball between two paddles. I hope Joe that you continue to do what you believe in your heart is the best for you, your daughter, and your wife.

Peace this Monday.


Anonymous said...

I have never, ever done this--unburdened myself to a stranger-- but my husband is an acoholic he has blown up our lives again. I teach outside the U.S., far outside, and my husband had to fly to another country close by to go out and come back in to get a new visitor's visa. He had been here for 3 months and things were amazing. He's been in AA for several years and his growth and sobriety had been incredible. When he was in the other country he drank at the airport and got into a scuffle with airport security. He now has to serve three months in jail (he is in a country you don't want to be in jail in, we're somewhere in the Middle East). I'm not angry at him, I am angry at alcoholism. It is such an insidious destructive disease. My bosses at work know what happened which has been profoundly humiliating for me. I am an exceptionally private person. All this to ask, what do you do when the bad thing you fear happens. How do I get past the guilt I feel, both for not preventing what happened, and for going on with my life here. I have a very good life here, love my job, and where I am, but how can I when my husband is in jail? I am so tempted to erase this...but there is an Al Anon group here, do you think it can help me? I almost never turn to others for help.

Joe said...

I reread my post. It sounds like I am angry. May be I am. I don't like anger. I really disdain the word - I actually hate the word, but I hate the word "hate" too. Another dilemma. What word to use then?

Anger. It is really the word to use. I am avoiding using it. I am frustrated to the point of going in a circle. It is not always this way. I have a lot of peace, albeit, I do not have a marriage.

I worry about my child. She is a beauty. I want to protect her. I do not want her to be raised like I was raised. I am going to chill and pray for guidance.

Thank you both. I like the word "Peace" - I say it a lot these days. Even at work. Peace.

Joe said...

To Anonymous - This is a safe place as is Al-Anon. The "rule" is we are all anonymous. We may use first names, and we never try to seek out who each other is or who they are.

If I can also say this about what you posted.

You mentioned guilt. We all face it - and have it or had it.

But if I say this about what you said, You could not control what happened to your husband. Even if you had gone with him this time, you cannot be with him all the time. What Al-Anon teaches you is that you cannot control the alcoholism. You are right it is such a misunderstood disease, and is such an - insideous - as you call it and a great word - disease.

There is a phrase at Al-Anon; You did not cause it; You cannot cure it; And you cannot control it.

We are glad you unburdened. Al-Anon (and you should know almost every meeting has a different "feel" to it) is another place where you can unburden. It should be a place to let go of some of that guilt. But you may find that you are going to have to attend several meetings to get the full affect of what Al-Anon offers. For there is no one offering up solutions. Only hope and you learn thru hearing your voice and hearing your voice of issues being spoken by others in the meeting. The insight is what provides you the solution after a while. And the insights offer you peace and some relief by keeping you from trying to control the disease.

I hope this helps you. And I know we all hope you post here when you feel like it.


PS - there are some smart people here and they will offer up encouragement and guidance

Anonymous said...

Hi I just recently started reading your blog and I just wanted to say how extremely helpful it has been for me. I feel like I am among a group of friends for the first time like you truly understand what I am going through. I am also the spouse of an alcoholic and I have recently moved myself and my children out of our beautiful home to try and maintain some sanity. It was the forth time he entered rehab and I just cant step over his drunken body again and feel that this is the life I have been chosen to live. I am a sensible person and I am a good mother and I am at a loss for what to do now because he is once again sober and making promises (like usual)I feel I am at a cross roads?? I need to be a role model for my children and I can sympathize on what it feels like to not be the "fun" parent believe me I am the only gown up in my house!!

Anonymous said...

Ya know, the word "Peace" just has a powerful message. It doesn't mean anger, fear, frustration, second guessing, all of what drives us to say and do things we don't want to do or say.....

It say's to me..... Relax..... Take a deep breath..... Focus....

Even just for the slightest moment, it brings me to me a soft heart, and one that I can respond to with the right words, and the right decisions, without guilt, and straight from my core being.

Peace. Wow, just think what the word "Peace" could be for those who seek it, but find it without booze. It is at the end of the day, a great place to be, if only for a fleeting moment in time, an hour, a day, a week, a year......

One day at a time is great victory!

Peace this Monday night to all that find this place......


nanceelee said...

I have such compassion for a parent that is dealing with addiction within their marriage. Parenting is challenging without this added stress. The disease of addiction clouds over so many happy times for a family. Of course, there is no such thing as a "normal happy family", every family has challenges. It does seem, however...that addiction can swallow everything in it's path and "poof" family memories are changed forever.

I remember my parents telling my brothers and I that our high school was much too far away for us to be involved in any sports or band. When we needed a ride, they didn't want to be bothered. I remember so much after reading Joe's post today, about how we were made to be invisible. I can think of it today and realize that it was them, and not us that had the problem, and that brings me peace and allows me to forgive.

I admire those of you who are fighting and walking the line on behalf of your children.

To our anonymous poster--we are glad to see you here, we care and would like to help in any way we can. I am helped everyday by my friends at my Al-Anon meetings, online and offline. Keep coming back, you are always welcome.

Blessings and Peace.

Anonymous said...

Like others here, I was never allowed to be the fun parent, I know how much it hurts.
I feel the profound guilt of choosing to subject my children to this life every day.
But they still love me, and they know I love them more than anything! I am always there for them, they know that. Irrespective of what is wrong, how far I have to drive or how much it costs, they know I will be there.
Somehow this seems to make us ok.

Joe said...

To Anonymous - you are doing the right thing. We are suffering guilt - but you should not be "tricked" into thinking you are the bad guy here.

My mom - she was in the same position - she is a saint. She still feels guilty, but we always do the best we can under the circumstances. We cannot predict the future although we try to ... God knows we try to and we do what we think we know as the best thing, and it hurts sometimes.

God BLESS you.


Anonymous said...

I do realize that I feel guilt and I greatly appreciate all of your well wishes my circumstance being that I have children involved in this does cause a great amount of guilt with each relapse I almost feel responsible since I am the person who chooses to have my children living in the same house as a person with such an addiction? I know this sounds irrational but I am the sensible adult and I should know better?? But I always want to believe this time will be different.

Laurie said...

Like anonymous, I just stumbled on this blog and feel like I'm not alone anymore. I'm the wife of an alcoholic, well, he won't admit he's an alcoholic but he is. He's been in rehab once and swears he will never go back. I keep searching for answers, surely there's something I can do to make him stop drinking so we can have a normal life. Just reading what's been posted, and I knew this anyway but really want things to be "different" for me, I know I can't DO anything to make him stop. We don't have children so I guess that's a blessing, but still I've built my whole life around him and our relationship. I probably do all the things you're not supposed to do...I cover for him, I get angry, I get depressed, I cry, I feel like it's my fault. I read here about detaching with love and I don't know how to do that. I'm not even sure I know what that is. He's so controlling when he's drinking - I go home and he wants me to listen to music or lay down or hear a story that doesn't make any sense, and if I don't comply he gets angry. I don't know how to have my own life. I really can't believe I'm unloading here, but I don't know where else to do it. I have one friend I share this with and she encourages me, but she doesn't really understand and she doesn't like to see me upset so I can't go into a lot of what's on my mind. I just feel so alone's good to read and be able to share...I wish you all could provide the "answer" but maybe what I need is to learn how to cope with this, how to live my life and feel good about me. Thanks for listening...and thanks for helping me think about peace.

Anonymous said...


Your last statements hit me smack right between the forehead.

It is a pattern... That needs to be broke. I made the decision very recently to stop the insanity. When I say no, I mean no. I am no longer available to be the janitor, sweeping up after each hurricane.

Uniquely enough, she has begun to realize that I am serious, and will not bend to the pressure, the lies, the "I'm Sorrys" that have become routine, and no longer pressure me the way they used to.

Break the Pattern. Break the Pattern. Amen brother.


Joe said...

Anonymous - if you have an Al-Anon, I would attend. Don't tell him - or anyone. Just go. After 6 to 10 meetings you will hear others who will speak to you thru their stories. These stories give you insight. They will also provide hope. They - the stories will relate to you and your situation. Then after a while you have courage to say "no" and mean it. Or else. Or else is a consequence that you have to decide. It can be as simple as going out the door for a walk and out the door for a day or out the door - well - you know the rest. The consequences are your to decide after you explain what you will not allow any more. But you need courage and hope first. You get that from Al-Anon and the readings and a sponsor who will guide you.

Stay around and read and chat with friends here.


Joe said...

Kevin - you are correct.

We all need to be sure our "no" means "no" and that the "no" is non-negotiable.


kim said...

I cannot thank you enough for posting these comments. I reached my breaking point this weekend and it has helped me tremendously to know that you all are out there. I understand more than ever that I am not alone.

Anonymous said...

yes Thank you for sharing. where are you all? these posts are from 2008. Dusty