Robert and I were talking earlier today, about some of the alcoholics in our lives - whether in immediate family, or extended family, we agreed that often, they seem to be living in their own little universe, and that those of us who are not addicted, can have great difficulty understanding the thinking or the choices. He went on to joke that most alcoholics are the centre of their, and our, "soon-it's-worse."
That joke is silly, but it speaks of an unfortunate piece of reality. Alcoholism is a progressive, increasingly destructive disease, which if left untreated, will cause nerve, heart, liver, kidney, and brain damage - the list goes on endlessly. Over the ten years I was married to an active alcoholic, I watched him go from a man who could drink a 12-pack of beer and seem only moderately intoxicated, to a man who was drunk out of his mind on 6 beer, consumed over the same time period.
When I asked my doctor about this, he shook his head, and said that this was one of the signs that the alcoholic had moved into the latter stages of the disease. His body could no longer excrete the alcohol quickly, because his kidneys were no longer functioning at their previous level.
One afternoon, while I was rooting through the junk drawer in the kitchen looking for something, I found an invoice from a ambulance service. When I asked him what had happened, he refused to answer me. I phoned his best friend to ask if he knew - he told me that my first husband had started to vomit blood.
At the hospital, it was determined that he had thinning of the esophageal walls, a result of heavy alcohol consumption, and he was told if he didn't stop drinking immediately, he was courting death, that he could bleed out from one of the swollen veins in his throat before help could arrive.
He continued to drink, and I left the marriage about a year later. Almost three years ago, I was out walking my dogs, and encountered one of his daughters, now an adult with children of her own. She told me that her father was still alive, but in dreadful shape, because he was still drinking.
He was looking bad by the time I left him; I shudder to think what havoc and destruction another 26 years of drinking has wrought upon him. I pray for him, as I pray for my sister - not that they stop drinking, because that's not my job. I pray for their safety, and for my HP to bless them.
I feel enormous gratitude that Robert is not an alcoholic. Also, he has about 6 years of 12-Step experience, from the time when he was trying to quit smoking cigarettes, which he did manage to accomplish. As a result of this, he understands program principles, philosophy, and language, which makes for another area in which we are intimately connected.
I don't live with an alcoholic, both my birth parents are dead: the alcoholism in my family is my two sisters. The middle one is sober now, and the oldest is not. I have recently ended contact with my oldest sister, because I am no longer willing to subject myself to her verbal and emotional abuse. It was getting worse as her alcoholism progressed.
The last time I spoke with her, was when she called to rant and rave at me, because I'd asked her politely in a recent email to please not criticise our middle sister to me. That brought on a torrent of verbal abuse about how "people like you are so self-centered and selfish," - on and on she went, ad infinitum. I listened in astonishment for a minute or two, astounded that she would make a call and say things like that to me, when she knew I was going into hospital the very next day for the second major cancer operation, not knowing if I'd come through it, and yet she felt quite comfortable with calling to upbraid me, for setting a boundary with her.
That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back - I prayed about it, thought about it, talked to my sponsor, Robert, and a couple of program friends, then decided that I don't need to subject myself to that level of abuse just because we're related. A friend asked would I accept that from a stranger? I said I certainly would not. She smiled and raised one eyebrow, and we laughed together.
I cut contact off by writing another courteous email to say that's what I was doing, and why, then blocked her from my email. I recently changed my phone number because my ex got my old one, and she hadn't been given that yet, so she has no way of contacting me, since she doesn't have my address, either.
I find I can lose sight of what is and isn't appropriate, possibly because I've had so much verbal abuse earlier in my life from various family members, that it can feel almost like a normal family interaction. Al-Anon is teaching me that I have choices in these matters, and blood may be thicker than water, but it does not justify abuse.