Many people ask why I have stayed so long and put up with Greg's alcoholism. Like with many things involving emotions, it is not an easy question to answer. To start with, we have been married for nearly 34 years and in addition were together five years before that, so that is a heck of a long time invested in one another. The alcoholism only started 6 years ago when Greg took early retirement because of heart disease and the diminishing ability to commute to work. The previous 28 married years had been a normal reasonably happily married relationship.
When the alcoholism started, it was uncharacteristic and I had hoped it was a minor blip which would right itself. By the time the penny dropped that there was no quick fix and this was not going to get better, the thought of leaving him was at the time out of the question. You know how it is, if you have teenage kids, you want things to be consistent for them, particularly with important exams looming on the horizon. You don't want to upset the apple cart. The problem is that the alcoholism does not make for a peaceful life anyway, so you are damned if you leave and damned if you don't. [All credit to Kay that she managed to survive the shellfire and do as marvellously in her exams as she did.]
With each detox or hospital emergency (which ultimately led to yet another detox), I hoped that this time it would work, but inevitably Greg would return to drinking again, fooling himself and me that the occasional drink would be OK. Unfortunately I was to learn that an alcoholic cannot dice with alcohol in that way. It's all or nothing. No grey area at all. One drink leads to another and another and in the end it spirals out of control again. I admit that I had high hopes just before the first detox. When that failed, my expectations became less and less with the subsequent ones. The statistics speak volumes...apparently only 1 in 10 alcoholics manage to overcome their alcoholism.
Another thing, I suppose, is that I come from a family where marriage is sacrosanct. My parents were ecstatically married for over fifty years before leukaemia tore my father from my mother. [My mother has still not got over her grief some eight years later and says goodnight to his photo on her bedside every night.] I thought I was equally blessed in my marriage as things were fine up until 6 years ago. To give up and walk out on the marriage just because of the alcoholism seemed cowardice. I suppose too, I have always liked a challenge and I thought I could beat this black shadow that had crept over our family. Unfortunately, though, it has since shown me who is boss. One thing is for sure, the whole experience has made me a stronger person than before. I have achieved things and endured things I would have thought were not humanly possible.
Early on in Greg's alcoholism, an emergency doctor once told him that if he stopped drinking abruptly, he would suffer horrendous withdrawal symptoms such as hallucinations, fits and tremors. That frightened Greg so much that he would turn to drink as soon as he woke in the morning, for fear he would start off the withdrawal process . Ironically the very thing that made Greg feel ill in the morning was the very thing he needed to feel better. He would wake retching, feeling nauseous, shaking. But after a couple of stiff drinks for breakfast, he would begin to feel better and the day would continue with bouts of sleep and renewed drinking to keep up the alcohol levels to avoid withdrawal. This deep-seated fear has now made him alcohol-dependent and his lack of willpower has meant that he is unable to reduce gradually, as the doctors all advise. I have seen this fear in him and witnessed him reduced to tears when he feels he wants to stop but knows he just dare not. I have oscillated between feeling sorry for him, because he was not always like this, and being extremely angry about what he has put the whole family through.
There comes a point in this cycle between the detoxes, when Greg is no longer able to buy his own supplies. This is at the point when he is usually drinking a full bottle a day, his health has deteriorated and he is not eating at all because the alcohol suppresses the appetite. He becomes physically weak and mentally incapable. I have therefore been the one to buy his whisky supplies when it gets to that stage where he can no longer get out on his own. The one alternative is that he goes without alcohol (which, as I have mentioned above, he cannot for the reasons of withdrawal) or the other alternative is that he drives to get it himself. I would rather have it on my conscience that I am enabling him to drink by buying the stuff for him than risk him running someone over with his car if he gets it himself. Of course I would rather not have either option, but the fear he has (and, if I am honest, I have too) of the withdrawal symptoms is too strong a threat to ignore. We are both caught up in this addiction for different reasons. Him because he needs that alcohol in his system and me because I know if he doesn't get it, it will tear him apart. I am however the only one between us who seems to understand that it will eventually kill him. He seems to think he can outwit it. I am resigned to the fact that he will never manage it. His health has suffered too much already and each time he detoxes he does not bounce back so easily and his liver and brain suffer that little bit more. I know it is killing him. Also I am aware that, if I should decide to leave him, he would not be able to cope and would inevitably be alone in an emergency and possibly die alone. Not exactly a nice thought for any of us to contemplate, whether we are alcoholics or not. Strange as it may seem, I certainly still care enough to feel guilty about this.
Shortly Kay is about to embark on a new chapter in her life and will be leaving home for exciting adventures at university. I then have some tough decisions to make.