24 February 2010

The Hamster-Wheel

Be honest. When you think of an alcoholic or drunk, what do you think of? A down-and-out tramp lying in the gutter? A menacing teenage hoodie skulking behind a wall with his umpteenth can of lager? Twenty-somethings getting plastered on a Saturday night and stumbling to the ground outside a nightclub? We all have our own idea and prejudices.

What do you think of when you see someone in front of you at the supermarket check-out with three bottles of wine on the conveyor belt? If it's tucked among fresh vegetables or salad and a lump of steak, you probably think they are going to have a nice romantic meal in, or a pleasant evening with friends. What if they had three bottles of whisky or vodka instead? Would that change your opinion? I often wonder what people think of Greg and indirectly of me. I worry anyway about what people generally think and how they judge, not to mention the whole alcohol issue. Welcome to my world.

Greg is clinically dependent on alcohol (in other words, if he does not get that regular fix of alcohol, he will get the shakes and hallucinations at best, or go into a coma or have a seizure at worst). Any attempts to come off alcohol would have to be done slowly and under medical supervision such as in hospital or at a detox centre. This is something Greg has gone through several times in the past five years but always inevitably lapsed back to drinking again. Greg WANTS to stop drinking, but the reality is that the drinking does not want to stop him. When he is in the grip of his addiction, it costs too much effort to even think about stopping, too much effort to reduce even by one glass. The addiction is like a continual loop. Drink-sleep-drink-sleep-drink-sleep. With every waking, the fear of withdrawal is the only motivation that drives him to keep on drinking. He is like the proverbial hamster on the wheel. He finds it hard to jump off. He needs that fix.

I have explained before that I have become the procurer of Greg's poison. I enable his drinking. That doesn't sit easy with some people. Or with me for that matter. What? I moan about him drinking yet I buy it for him? What? Hide it around the house when I go away? Organisations like Al-Anon would say that it is best left for him to make his own mistakes. But real life does not always fit into perfect rules and patterns. Greg's health was already bad when his drinking started to spiral out of control six years ago. With heart trouble, poor blood and nerve supply in his legs and diabetes to name but a few complaints, he is now no longer able to walk more than a few yards unaided. Stairs (of which we have a lot in our house) defeat him. Up until fairly recently, he did used to drink/drive but recently his conscience finally got through to him. That and the recent discovery of a consultant at one of his hospital appointments that he was inebriated and driving a car at 10.30 in the morning. His car was temporarily impounded in the hospital car park: he has not driven since. Without me to drive him anywhere he is housebound. Remember, he cannot walk even to the front gate let alone to the nearest shop half a mile away as an alternative. So what am supposed to do ? Do I refuse to buy it for him, watch him go into a coma or hold his hand while he hallucinates? He is terrified of the thought of it and so am I. Supervised detoxes have already been attempted several times and failed. Medics and professionals throw up their hands and throw in the towel. They don't want to know any more. Who can blame them? Alcoholism is a drain on limited NHS resources. We are on our own with this problem and sometimes you have to take the least line of resistence to cope with it.

And so I find myself as much affected by the alcohol as Greg. Each day I too am on that hamster wheel. I have to ensure there are adequate supplies to fuel his addiction. I am ashamed of what I do. It does not sit easy with me. I am enabling him to drink. But the fact of the matter is that he cannot get it himself and he cannot forego it without dire consequences. Because Greg drinks a bottle of whisky a day, I usually buy two or three bottles at a time, several times a week. If I go away to my mother for a week or two, I buy 7 or 14 bottles at a time. Consequently, you can imagine, I stand out a mile from other shoppers and particularly if I were to keep on using the same shop week in, week out. So, each time I go out to get supplies, I consciously try to vary the supermarket or shop I get it from, so that I do not frequent the same place and become conspicuous. Even so, I can't bear the looks from people in the queue in front of me and behind me. I can feel their stares boring through my head. "look at all that whisky she's buying. I bet she's a right bored housewife." I feel myself like the traveller nonchalently walking through Customs with nothing to declare but feeling guilty as sin anyway. I feel the compulsion to let the check-out girl somehow know that I am sober, in control of my money, not slurring my words and can push a trolley in a straight line! The fact is I hate the whisky runs and want to curl up and die. Sometimes I try to put a brave face on it. How do they know that I am not making a wedding cake and am using the whisky to soak the dried fruit? How do they know I am not living abroad in some far-flung outpost and am taking a year's supply out with me? How do they know I am not running a small hotel and the whisky is for the guests? I try to be blase about it and pretend that buying three bottles of whisky in one go is a perfectly normal thing to do. Only I know that I shall be doing the same thing again two or three days later.

This morning. Greg asked me to bring some whisky back with me, when I went out. At the supermarket, I gingerly put three bottles on the conveyor belt. To be honest I was not in one of my confident moods today. I was flicking glances as usual behind me to make sure there were no neighbours or people I know in the vicinity. As the check-out woman started to run the items through the laser-reader, she picked up the second of the three bottles and said jokingly "Oh my goodness, things aren't THAT bad are they?" I froze like a rabbit caught in the headlights. All I could think of as a lame reply was "oh yes they are!" She thought I was joking. She was not to know I was not! Would she have commented if I had had three tins of beans or three packets of orange juice? I scrabbled together my shopping, paid the bill and rushed out of the supermarket, choking back the tears. I really do not want to do this any more. I really don't. This hamster has had more than enough.


Dr24Hours said...

I have no advice, certainly. I doubt you want any from an alcoholic like me. I can only thank you, again and again and again for showing what my life will be if I tip another glass.

I believe there is hope for all of us. But I don't believe that hope always translates to fortune. God bless you. And once again, thank you for helping to save my life.

elsy said...

my heart goes out to you and not in the least would i condemn what you do, as you say you really have no choice..........hope this does not appear stupid, but could you not buy online and have it delivered, then at least you would be spared this ordeal

Nota Bene said...

mmm..the buying is your point of exposure, and I'll bet that no one else notices really - checkout staff have a fairly dull time of it, so anything might cause a comment. It must be so difficult for you - and if you feel bad about it, you'll feel prying judgemental eyes even when there are none...I don't know whether you should or should not be buying the stuff...you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. If he is clinically dependent on alcohol, and the professionals have given up, I don't see that you have much choice.

From a simple, practical point of view, perhaps you could order online and have it delivered?

For your own sanity, I hope the day that you don't have to buy it may come come sooner rather than later. May you keep the strength that has got you this far.

Kit Courteney said...

At the risk of copying from above, I was also going to suggest buying it online!

I'm not surprised you feel as you do. Part of me wants to give you a big shake and a plane ticket to somewhere warm for ever and part of me understands that you are tied to this situation because you are who you are.

I just wish that there was something we could all do to help you. It's most frustrating, so goodness knows how you cope!

Robert said...

Lots of questions!

Firstly, the first alcoholic I met, when I was about 16, was a respected senior bank manager and church organist. He hid his 1 - 2 bottles of vodka habit well. )He was also hiding his homosexuality!) In the years since then, I have met many alcoholics in various stages of their condition (the last one is a recovered one, but still goes to AA because he still needs their support). The entertainment business attracts people with a predisposition for alcohol &/or drug abuse. I have seen both. None of these alcoholics were of the down-and-out type, although a couple subsequently went on to blow all their worldly possessions to buy drink. I don't think the "old" idea of an alcoholic holds much sway nowadays.

If I saw someone in front of me in the supermarket with 3 bottles of whiskey, I wouldn't give it a second thought. People are always bulk-buying booze there. It might be a less common occurrence, but most definitely not particularly unusual. I also know wives of drunks. Lots of people feel sorry for them, but they don't judge them in any other way.

I know that you enable Greg to feed his addiction. You have no choice, due to his medical condition. He, however, has the choice whether to go on a detox programme or to keep drinking. Imho, he has the right to make that choice. Even if it is slowly killing him. So you are enabling him...? Okay, but you are not encouraging him. There is a huge difference.

As you know, I have had my own issues about "enabling" my wife to avoid dealing with her mental health issues.

I'm sure that you know that you can get Greg's booze delivered. Cases of booze, if you want. That, at least, would remove one of your problems.

You are most definitley in an unenviable situation. Want to know what I think of you? I think that you are doing a superb job in extremely difficult circumstances. I think that Greg doesn't know how lucky he is!

nuttycow said...

Oh Addy - I can't offer any advice. I can offer my virtual support though. I know it's not much but I hope it let's you know that there are people out there who care for you. I think you're being really strong.

DogLover said...

Perhaps you should have re-named yourself "Hammy" the hamster!

I quite understand your feelings when buying Greg his bottles. However, as others have said, probably no one notices or thinks the thoughts you attribute to them.

Anyway, it doesn't matter what they think, does it.

You have my every sympathy because, as you know, I have been in roughly the same sort of position as you. Luckily I regained my sanity through Al-Anon and my problems are long ago over. But I have to say that I think you missed an opportunity when Greg came out of rehab and wanted to start drinking again. He wanted you to get him his bottles. I feel, rightly or wrongly, that that was the time to refuse. If not, then it was your chance to sit him down at a time when he was (relatively!) sober and agree to get him his drink on condition that you gradually reduced the amount you let him have each day. Indeed, could you not do that now, checking first with the doctor whether there would be any danger to Greg's health?

I do understand the stress that this would involve and it is not the ideal, which is for Greg to hit rock bottom and decide for himself that he must quit.

Perhaps you could ask your Al-Anon friends what they think of such an idea?

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

It certainly is a dilemma Addy. I think I can understand how you feel and I too would go along with the suggestions to buy online. It would save your embarrassment, which is unfair to you - you have enough to deal with anyway. Or could you use a "cash and carry" warehouse - that would make it cheaper too. A x

Millennium Housewife said...

I'm up there with Robert sweets, an impossible situation that you're just trying to get through as best you can. I really don't think people will notice your whiskey buying, they're too busy watching me blatantly bribing my kids with chocolate, letting them stand in the trolly and stuffing magazines complete with crappy plastic toys in their hands when the above fails.
You could get yourself a t shirt printed that says My Husband's An Alcoholic And All He Got Me Is This Lousy Tshirt. Might be a conversation starter? x

Kate said...

What a nightmare you are living in. I can say nothing useful, but I am so moved by your description of your life. What a monster is alcohol.

Gill - That British Woman said...

no advise from me either, but to say I am thinking of you and your family.

I do have a question, how on earth can you afford it?

Gill in Canada

Working Mum said...

I thought about you last week as I bought a bottle of whisky in a supermarket for my dad's birthday. As it moved along the conveyor belt with my Innocent smoothies and Easter Eggs, I did wonder if anyone was judging me and then thought how it must be for you buying all that whisky for Greg. Funny you should write about it now, but not funny that it is such a trial for you. I was also going to suggest buying on-line. No judgement, just sympathy.

Elaine Denning said...

Big hugs for you. It must be so difficult. x

I often go to my little corner shop for basics, and because it's such a trek back up the hill I've been known - on several occasions - to grab a bottle of wine or two at 9 in the morning to drink later in the day. This may go unnoticed in a big supermarket when people buy all their groceries together, but when I'm just buying bread, milk and wine, I get some funny looks and the odd comment. Of course, when it happens, I feel I have to justify myself, and I always walk out wondering what they think of me.

Like the others have suggested, online shopping may be the way to go. x

grandmamargie said...

I'm so sorry that life has dealt so with you. No judgement here, either. Only prayers.

Monalisa said...

It is so easy for other people, even family, to have an opinion on you buying his alcohol and enabling him to drink, but they are not in your position.

Anonymous said...

Hi Addy,

As already said above I would also consider buying online. You are in an impossible position but anything that can be done to eleviate your own suffering should be done and that seems, to me, the best way.

You buying Greg his drink tells me only one thing and that is that you care. It bust pull you apart inside. You know what its doing to him and you don't want it to continue. But more than that you don't want to see him suffer. I can't begin to imagine what Greg, and you, goes through when the habit is not fed.

I hope you find a solution that works. It is a shame that you are left with these dilemmas and preferably they would belong to Greg but I can tell how caring you are so I just hope you can see yourself that your intentions are from the heart.

All the best


aims said...

I'm so sorry you are feeling like people are judging you and that you have to account for what you do.

Here we cannot buy alcohol at a grocery store or convenience store. We must buy it from a liquor store - including beer. Nobody judges anybody as they wait in line - only perhaps on their choice of alcohol preference.

Having just come from the States where you can buy it anywhere - it never occurred to me to judge anyone with a load of alcohol on the belt. Why should I? I don't care or think about what goes on in their life no matter who they are or how much they are buying. It is their business and not mine at all.

I can see this is wearing you down to the extreme and that is why you are caring so much about what others are thinking. If you have the option of buying online and having it delivered - then go for it - even if it costs more. The drivers won't care - you're paying their wages.

Please know - I do not judge you and never will. I only hope that you find bits of happiness here and there in each and every day.

Flowerpot said...

What a hellish situation Addy and I do so feel for you. I would suggest ordering online too. Also are you getting any support in the form of Al Anon or AA or whatever? One of my best friends is a recovering alcoholic and she says she would never have got through it without them. If you could talk about your situation it might ease it a little bit.

Furtheron said...

I feel for you.

My wife never has never had to suffer that indignity yet. I remained a functioning drunk in my bad days and always drank away from home generally. She only enabled me in staying with me - but she loved me and if she had left would it have gone worse and never come back? I don't know.

Words of encouragement... difficult. But Greg can do it. 1000s of us have. I did go into rehab but my withdrawals weren't too bad, sweats, shakes odd mad dream but not too bad. I was lucky.

But he can do it - it doesn't matter how bad you are - I meet people everyday who were hopeless drunks killing themselves and now clean, sober, reponsible, respectable.

Let go with love - is the phrase Al-Anon say I believe. But for you that must be so so hard but what of the alternatives? Hard thinking ahead but maybe it is time for the hamster to leave the wheel and accept that the consequences of you doing that are not your fault - he is the person who is putting himself there.

Get him to call 0845 769 7555 he'll only speak to someone who was one day exactly where he is now but now is no longer there.

Good luck

ADDY said...

Thank you for your comments. I have thought of getting the whisky online before, but even then I would be ashamed for the delivery man to bring a crate of whisky to my door. I am so stupidly self-conscious about these things, I know. I suppose though it WOULD be the lesser of two evils.

Any Edge- I am so glad you are managing to stay sober. It takes guts. Long may it stay so for you.

elsy/ Strawberry Jam Anne/Kate - thank you.

NB - as you say, I am free fom buying at the moment. I just wonder how long for?

Kit -Free plane ticket gratefully accepted. LOL. Thanks.

Robert - thanks. You've made me feel a lot better already!

Nuttycow - Thank you. It's amazing how people I hardly know are rallying round to comfort me. It does help a lot.

Doglover- Greg has never done rehab only detox. Rehab would involve a 6-moth stay in an institution and Greg won't even think about it let alone do it. He does not want to be away from home. It is only rehab that addresses why you drink and gets to the psychological bottom of it all. Once Greg has gone through detox, he invarialy goes back to drinking at some point and goes out in the car to buy it himself. He hides it for a long time and then I get suspicious and find the bottles. By then it is usally too late to talk him away from it as he is in the grip of addiction. Greg does not do gradually and he is not an easy person to rationalise with.

MH - Love that T-shirt idea.

Gill- We now live on a pension, a fraction of what we once earned. As you ask, how do we afford it? With difficulty. Greg has taken out three loans to pay for it so far. I dread to think where the loans will mount to in the future.

Working Mum/Elaine/grandmargie/monalisa - Thank you.

Nechtan - Thanks. Yes, a lot of mixed emotions here.

Aims - good to see you back again. Yes, I think a lot of the problem is that alcohol is so readily available here and with relaxed licensing hours too, people can buy it almost anywhere round the clock.

Flowerpot - yes I go to Al-anon. It is good to meet others (nearly all women, interestingly enough) who are in the same boat as I am and it helps to talk about it openly and get things off my chest, but there are thing I am finding difficult to go along with (like the Higher Power bit, for example)

Furtheron - I appreciate what you say, as one who has been there yourself. I know many people have got though it and come out the other side. But I also know that only 1 in 10 will actually stay sober. The trouble is that Greg is not one who will always do what others want of him and can be an awkward cuss. He won't even entertain the idea of AA, even tho I have tried Al-anon for me. However, he may now have reached his rock bottom and be more willing to give it a try. Let's hope.

DogLover said...

I know things have moved on and Greg is receiving treatment in hospital, but I must just add that I didn't realise he had only ever been to detox and not rehab. No doubt that was at his insistence. The one without the other is virtually useless, of course.

My thoughts are with you, Addy, and I hope the outcome you want is achieved.

DD's Diary said...

I think online is the way to go ...but hoping the detox will sort things out xx