Few things hurt more than seeing a loved one slowly driving themselves closer to death. For nearly three decades, I witnessed a close family member battling alcoholism. At its worst, he drank a quart of straight vodka. Filled with shame, he hid the bottles, but the evident damage was done. Fighting often ensued followed shortly thereafter by a long drunken slumber.
Sober, this guy literally will take the shirt off his back for anyone. He goes above and beyond to help other people. His lovable personality and over the top sense of humor make him a fan favorite. However, once that sweet nectar hit his lips, Mr. Hyde no longer felt the need to hide. He released the beast within.
Without going into particular detail, I saw some shit. He often became verbally, and seldom, physically aggressive. It became a way of life though, happening nearly every day. I found ways to deal. I had my little escapes playing basketball outside until the sun went down, or running up to my bedroom to do my homework. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
This was how it was until I was sixteen. This individual hit rock bottom, tapping into the aforementioned quart of vodka phase. Slowly, I saw him deteriorate. His eyes grew a faint amber. His sunken cheeks barely kept his jaw in place. Most worrisome was his stomach. It gradually stretched out, providing a “pregnant look.” His abdomen swelled to the size of a cantaloupe. It was at that point we urged him to go to the hospital. After quite a long battle, he went. Doctors proceeded to pull nearly five liters of fluid from his abdomen.
He was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Essentially, his alcoholism damaged his liver to the point that his liver was shutting down. His liver was pushing fluid out into his body. The doctors informed us that if he did not come in that day that there was a good chance he might not have woken up the next morning.
He stayed sober for the next three years. He proved that even after being an alcoholic for over three decades that he could stop drinking. Then, shit hit the fan. A series of unfortunate life events struck our family. He struggled to handle the stress and fell back to what he knew – the bottle.
Fast forward ten years. Several rehab visits. Dozens of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Countless conversations. His alcoholism waxed and waned between short periods of sobriety and drinking binges. The reminiscent warning signs slowly reemerge. Sunken cheeks. Yellow tone to his eyes and skin. This poor guy looked like a shell of the man he was.
Thankfully, he is currently in rehab. I have not heard anything from him since he went in. They usually will not allow patients to contact loved ones for the first few days, especially if they are in detox. I am happy that he went, but it raises so many red flags. You sit and worry if they will follow through. You wonder if they will stick it out for the full treatment. You ponder if they will be able to keep up their progress even if they are successfully discharged from rehab.
It fucking hurts to know that this could be their last chance at life. It is difficult to not think about what could happen. I try to remain optimistic. I want them to succeed, but history points in the other direction. I want to fix them, but the situation is out of my control. They are the ones in control of their destiny. As a result, I feel lost and hopeless on how to handle these feelings.
It is going to be a balancing act. My typical defense mechanism is to stuff my feelings and let it build up. We all know that is unhealthy. At the same time, I cannot let my mind ruminate on this situation. If I do, I will lose focus on the present. I will end up honing in on past instances that already happened or on future what ifs that may never happen. It is about giving this situation the appropriate amount of attention and processing it as things come up. I am going along for this roller coaster ride. That is the only part I can control – my reaction to the situation.
-The Caring Counselor