Thursday, January 13, 2011

Everyone has things that are hard to say. This is mine.

You guys -- I am so tired.

At the end of this day, Wednesday, January 12, exhaustion has descended.  I am in bed.  I am wearing jammies.  My head hurts a tinge, but only because I am too lazy to get up and walk ten steps to the bathroom for some Excedrin.

This tired is the kind of tired that follows a very full day, a day when you have a million things on your plate, and all of them are good.  I think, "is it just Wednesday?" and I remember the full agendas coming up tomorrow and Friday, with lots of tasks and to-do's, and those things are good, too.

Sometimes I'm so grateful for my life, I want to fucking cry.

*  *  *

At this very moment, my husband is at an intervention for a friend.  It's the first time I've ever known someone, in real life, who has received an intervention.

We all have a lot of theories.  About how his alcoholism started.  We have all been frustrated, all have ropes that we have sworn we've reached the end of, and then, look at that.  More rope.

It's happened again, and again, and again with this friend.  Some of us have taken him to rehab.  Some of us have taken him in.  When he didn't have anywhere to live last summer, I woke up one morning and looked out my window, and saw him sleeping in our hammock.

*  *  *
I went to his wedding a few years ago, back when I first started dating Ross.  I didn't really know anyone there.  It was at Barr Mansion, and there was a seated stringed trio, and salad with pink dressing, and smiled anecdotes in the air about the couple and their courtship.

At one point I was standing by myself on the perimeter of a big, wide dance circle. Ross was I don't know where.  It was one of those moments when, surrounded by people, you just feel kind of lonely.  You can sense the personal histories and the long friendships in the room, and since you are not woven into those histories yet, you stand, quietly, respectfully, at the edge of circles.

That's when he, the groom, grabbed me by the hand.

"C'mon, Tolly!  Dance with me!"

I was startled.  And thrilled.  We danced one song. 

And you know?  I've danced to hundreds of songs since then.  But that dance sticks out in my memory, because it was such a kind and thoughtful gesture.  At my own wedding, several years later, it never once crossed my mind to look for that one lone soul, shyly shuffling their feet, desperately wishing someone would ask them to dance, or talk, or share a drink or do anything together.

But it crossed his.

*  *  *

Last night I was telling Ross, "sometimes it just seems so selfish.  This life that he is wasting."

And then I remembered my own life.

I remembered how criminally effortless it is for me, for most people, to make myself breakfast in the morning, to grudgingly pay my bills, to call my Mom.  It's not like that for him.

There are plenty of alcoholics in my family, but I've experienced them at a distance.  They aren't my mom or dad, they are jovial uncles, and one now-recovered aunt.  As a result, I've just heard snatches about alcoholism.  "It's a disease just like any other."  "You can be high-functioning."  "You can't just go cold turkey, you have to ease off or your body will go into shock."

Now that I am watching it up close, though, it surprises me that I've never heard anything about homelessness.  I mean, I've heard the two concepts linked in an abstract, TV news statistic way -- "over 1/3 of America's homeless struggle with chemical dependency" -- but I've never heard anyone say, "sometimes, certain alcoholics just slowly, steadily lose everything, including available places to live."

And it is so bizarre to watch.  Especially through my point of view, standing in the middle of my incredibly cute little life, with the husband and the cat and the job and the fulfilling hobbies and the parents who love me.  I look at him, and I see someone who hasn't lost the will to live, exactly.  More like he's lost the recipe to life.  He keeps adding salt when he should be adding sugar, and he repeats this same mistake over and over again until the cookies taste like absolute shit and that's when I finally realize, "this is a disease."

*  *  *

Here's what I've learned, in my very brief and still continuing exposure to alcoholism: It's really hard to be sympathetic.

It's hard because, unlike someone with cancer or diabetes, they look, act, and behave just like you and me.  Except when they are opening up a beer.

He came over to our house this summer while Ross was away, and we were sitting in the living room. He asked, "could I sleep here tonight?"

I started crying, because all of our friends had collectively agreed together: "Showers and coming inside for a glass of water -- those are ok.  Giving him a place to crash is not."  It was shortly before we started using the word "enabling" in every other conversation regarding this friend.


He immediately waved his hand graciously, like I had just said, "no, I'm out of printer toner, but I can get it for you on Tuesday." He smiled a little smile and replied, "that's ok. I understand."

"What are you going to do, baby?  What are you ... doing?"

I asked him this while crying a little, and I don't remember what he said.  I think he got up and said, "well I'll let you get back to it," which was nothing, I wasn't doing anything.  Except for sitting there, looking at him, refusing to let him sleep on our couch, which just felt so cruel and horrible in the moment.

*  *  *
The good news for this friend of ours is that, though pretty much all of his institutions have crumbled, his marriage, his job(s), his welcome at his parents' house, and his driver's license, he does have sympathetic friends.

I asked Ross what he missed about him the other night.  I told him about the wedding, and I also told him about this one time the friend cheered for me during a bowling game, and I said, "that's what I'm holding out for, the stuff that I hope comes back if he gets healed."

Ross said, "I miss his creativity.  He's a hard worker.  He's funny and incredibly smart and he likes to make people laugh.  I think this thing is not him.  I really don't think it's him."

He said it with such conviction I believed it, the distinct and firm separation between our friend and it, the foreign agent.  Like he caught a really bad strand of the flu, and just like the stuffy head wouldn't be "him," the red face and the random crying and the tone in his voice that wavers from venomously biting to pitifully childlike isn't "him."

*  *  *

It's been a couple of hours now and Ross is still at the intervention.  Sometimes I think forcing our friend to get help, like, physically dragging him into a treatment center and all but strapping him down (Ross actually did that with him once) is the answer.  He's staying with another friend right now, in an arrangement that's about to end.  And then?  We don't know.  We remind ourselves not to be fatalistic, but we also say: "He could be homeless, he could die; these are his choices if he opts not to get help."

I'm not saying it's Satan, all I wonder is: What if Ross is right. What if the person opting not to get help isn't "him."

"If he wants help, he has to be the one to choose it."  That's another thing I've heard about alcoholics.

But, where is this choice-making power supposed to come from?  How does power get distributed, how do some of us pour ourselves a bowl of cereal like it's nothing, and how do others (like my friend) forget to eat for days?

I don't know how to end this post.

I guess now would be a good time to say something like, "I just hope he remembers that dance we had, and how great that made me feel."  But he's too smart for tinny platitudes.

I don't think he even reads this blog.  If he did, though, I guess I would want him to get to the end of this post knowing -- "ok. I am worth thinking about."

We aren't that close, it's true.  But I seriously think about you all the time.


bob-o said...

this is a fantastic post. you are a gifted writer and a wonderful person tolly. i'm glad i checked the eavesdropper one more time before i went to bed.

Jessica (jayarebee) said...

Beautiful, beautiful post.

I, too, have never had to deal with it so up close & personal, but it has run pretty rampant in my family too among my grandma's brothers, and I see how hard it is on her.

Hats off to Ross, you, and all your friends who are supporting him the best way you know how. I seriously hope the message gets through to him, if not tonight than soon.

Stay strong, keep fighting the good fight.
P.S. I love the bird navigation buttons. :)

Rachel from Love a la Mode said...

My boyfriend from high school is a recovering addict. He recently relapsed just a few weeks ago. It's a long and tough struggle for everyone involved... at least the intervention will show him he has a support system and people who love him and are willing to help him get better. That's the most important thing.

Claire said...

O Tolly, I am so sorry to read this about your friend. I will be praying for you, for Ross, and for y'all's friend.

Megan said...

Painfully thoughtful. And lovely.

magnolia*mama said...

this made me cry. you're a beautiful person and a gifted writer. I hope the best for your friend.

Laura said...

Beautiful writing, Tolly.

adrienne breaux said...

Tough. Beautiful. Eloquent. And eye-opening. A good post with good points. I hope you update us on how things go.

Greg said...

Oh Tolly,

I had to comment on this post because it hits too close to home. Once upon a time I was married. My ex-brother-in-law was and is an alcoholic. Just like you, I'd never really been close to anyone who struggled with a dependency like his.

When he wasn't drinking, he was fun to be around. When he was, he tended to (pardon the expression) sh*t where he eats. It was VERY uncomfortable for me. I did not know how to behave around him. Since he was my wife's brother who stayed with us temporarily, I was in a difficult situation.

He would challenge me when drunk, sometimes trying to get me to fight. I was tempted a few times but knew I'd regret it, so I held back and struggled with my feelings.

I bumped into him in Colorado a couple years ago. Nothing had changed. He had a black eye from a fight he'd been in while drunk. His roommates had beaten him. I remember feeling really sad and also disappointed in him.

I know what you're struggling with. Your sober friend is a super nice guy. The same guy drunk turns into someone you do not like.

I had to kick my ex-brother-in-law out of my home, eventually. Although I was relieved, it did not feel good.

I thought my ex-wife would be upset, instead, she was relieved too. While we both felt it was our duty "as family" to help him, we had to look after our own peace of mind too.

You've written a beautiful, honest post. I can see why you feel so drained today. You left all your feelings on the page this time. Well done.

Russell said...

It's a disease that damages more than the individual, it reaches in to every part of the persons life in a destructive manner. We all want to be empathetic but after a while nothing will work. There is a solution but the alcoholic/drug addict has to make a concious choice to do the work.
Beautifully written narrative about the confusion, helplessness and pain suffered by everyone who is affected. You've done all you can and are not to blame.

Jess ( said...

Thank you for posting this. Too many times I have seen friends struggle with various addictions, and instead of trying to help, I've let them go, not wanting them to "drag me down with them." I admire your and your husband's courage to be good friends. I hope he recovers, but know that if he doesn't, you've both been as loving and caring as you possibly can.

eeg said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. You approach life with such gratitude and honesty. Sending good thoughts your friend's way...

Kay said...

Tolly, my father is a recovering alcoholic and I have a close friend who is also a recovering alcoholic. My childhood is overshadowed by a man who kept us walking on egg shells, never knowing what turn his mood would take. I like to joke that I'm a human barometer now, able to sense the changes in pressure in a room of people in a snap! Sadly, my father's alcoholism overshadowed a time of my life that is usually considered the best part of growing up. Luckily, my father got help. Now I still hear about drinking and how much he misses it, but I can depend that his moods won't wildly shift, he won't be mean or ugly and that he loves me. I hope that at some point soon, your friend will be in a stable place, and finding peace and growth in his life.

Rachelle said...

Tolly thank you so much for sharing this! My friends and I are going through this with one of our friends. She has a great job, a two year old little boy, a great husband & a new home.

It is scary to watch any disease erode someones life. Alcoholism is tough, because many people due function at a high level and well lewts just face it. . . drinking is a socially acceptable activity.

Thank you again for sharing this post and know that your all being "a good friend" to this man & I hope he gets the help he needs!


TOLLY! You made me cry, and I NEVER cry, especially over blog posts. Thanks for sharing such a painful story in a beautiful way. It's the second story I've heard in the last 2 days that reminds me how much of a disease it really is...that so often the alcoholic hates themselves for giving into the disease even more than the people around them realize. Thoughts & prayers for your friend, and he is lucky to have you & Ross in his life!

Cody said...

Great Post. I envy your writing!

Peggy Keefe said...

Such a moving post. Tolly, if you wrote a book about calculus, I'd read it. I'll keep your friend in my thoughts.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Thank you, everyone. I love that you guys are cool and open enough to read stuff like this, and even more than that, generous enough to offer up your own experiences.

I don't know what to say except, I just really appreciate you guys weighing in. It's my first time with alcoholism. Watching someone else go through it, I mean.

Anonymous said...

My first husband was an alcoholic, which, of course I didn't know when I married him. By the time I "got it" we had a 2 year old daughter.

It destroyed our life.

The main thing I learned was that loving someone fiercely isn't enough. You get to the point that you have to protect yourself and the good things in your life from the horrible effects or you will go down too.

It's incredibly difficult to watch someone slide slowly away from you, but it's worse to help them destroy themselves. I couldn't be a part of it anymore.

I hate to say it, but it's doubtful this intervention will help your friend in the long run. My ex-husband did a 30 day in-patient program. Within 6 months he was worse than ever.

His children (from our marriage and his previous one) have no idea where he is or if he's even still alive. And the saddest part is that they really don't want to know.

I hope it turns out differently for your friend.

Dad said...

Bravo! You've learned how to NOT let misguided sympathy drag you to the dead end of Pity Road. It's hard to tell someone you care about "No, I won't enable you." But self preservation being the first law of nature you cannot knowingly let an alcoholic drag you over a cliff. Saying "No", might seem harsh to a friend who appears in need, but losing all their old friends may just be the bottom they need to come to their senses. Realize this: Their situation is not your fault. It is theirs. Making them comfortable with their addiction is your fault and only prolongs the agony.

bsimms8907 said...

You just put into words so many things I have been feeling and thinking lately. I have a similar situation in my life, but instead of it being a close friend it's my sister. It hurts so much watching her slowly ruin her life and cut off every person that truly loves her because she cares about alcohol and drugs more than she cares about her family right now. I always feel like there's something I should be doing... something more I should expect out of myself to help her, but like you said I'm tired. I'm tired of thinking there's something I'm supposed to do to help her when she refuses to help herself. It all makes me really sad.

Anonymous said...

just putting this out there, alanon is a program that helps friends and families of alcoholics. i've been going to meetings for 2 years now and i can honestly say it has CHANGED my life. you didnt cause it, you cant control it, and you cant cure it. alanon has put hope and joy and love in my life where i saw none--and the alcoholic is still drinking!! alanon is not for everyone, i just wanted to tell you there is help. i also wanted to say, even when/if the alcholic gets help, life is still hard--sometimes harder! learning to live for yourself and knowing there is a higher power out there is really the key. said...

You're a beautiful writer and a wonderful person for caring so much. I've also been exposed to but comfortably distant from alcoholism before -- almost all of my extended family but no one in my home. Then, about a year ago, we found out my brother had problems with substance abuse. I am so lucky that the recovery process was so easy -- there was a short period of denial, but after that he began to detox. He's doing so much better now, but after I found out, I was at such a loss. I was fucking pissed, heartbroken, confused... and as a result, the only thing I could do was love him as hard as I could. I think that's the only thing we can do.

Anastasia said...

I am in tears here. at work. Thanks a lot Tolly!

My mom and my dad are alcoholics. And I can't imagine the pain you felt telling him no. I couldn't have done it. You're right that they have to want to change. I am praying for you and all your friends that love him. I hope he gets better.

I don't know why this is making me cry so much. I have to go hide at work now. ;)

Anonymous said...

Ross & Tolly,
You guys are doing the right thing to try an intervention. The hardest part may be letting go and wondering if he is dead or alive. I have learned the hard way that you can't save anyone, just yourself. You can try to help but he has to really want it. Our Uncle died of a heroin drug overdose after much help and tons of rehab. It was back in the 80's. I went the funeral and my mom said "this is what happens when you do drugs." I was like 8 and I will never forget it, he was like 32. If you know you did your God honest best, that is all you can do. Good luck, and may he realize "this is it."

Ross' sister,


Karan said...

My heart breaks for all of you. I wish the best for your friend.

That Chelsea Girl™ said...

I just wanted to let you know that what you are going through, the emotional rollercoaster of knowing an alcoholic, is completely normal. Alcohol has a funny way of being the cure and poison. It's like the old-age tale between good and evil, only at some point it becomes mostly an internal conflict, and I wish I had more words of comfort to soothe you.
3 of the 4 adults I lived with in junior high are dead due to their own battle with alcoholism, my mother included, and I truly hope your friend realizes how beautiful his life is and that he wants to get the help he needs.
Take care, Tolly. You and Ross good people, despite whatever outcome this intervention brings. Don't ever forget that.

Austin Eavesdropper said...


I am completely floored and blown away by everyone's personal stories. It is almost shocking how much this one issue affects so many people.

Thank you so, so much for sharing your deeply personal stories here, you guys. Ross read through them over the weekend, too.

Today is, in so many words, Big Decision Day for our friend. Ross took him to a treatment center last week after the intervention, and he still refused to enter. So our friend made a deal with Ross, that the next time he drank, he would either enter treatment or be thrown out of our other friend's house. They bought a Breathalyzer so they could test him at random.

He drank over the weekend.

This morning, I woke up and found him sleeping on our couch.

I woke up Ross and told him, and he made our friend leave.

So today, he either checks into treatment, or he is officially homeless.

While I was sleeping, I had a dream that a tiger, and then a wolf (you know how dream objects morph) was trying to get into the house, and then I woke up and smelled alcohol and there he was.

Still so surreal.

Ryann said...

Hi Tolly,

It is an incredibly difficult disease. And it is really hard to separate the person from the acts. I have not found a way to do it yet. It has taken me years to finally understand that no amount of pleading, bargaining, threatening, crying, arguing or heartache will make the person stop drinking. It really is all about when they decide to get help.

And that's when you can be there for them. But don't expect it to be easy or quick. As I'm sure you've realized, the most horrible low point in your life is nowhere near their bottom. Their bottom is unfathomable.

There aren't any good answers, at least none that I have come across, to explain it all. But know that it is OK to love someone, without actually liking them. And that saying no is the best thing for them.

I wish you the very best of luck, and hopefully very little grief.

kellynD said...

Tolly, this post brought tears to my eyes. I know all too well how it feels to be close to an alcoholic.

My dad drank my entire life. I never knew any differently, and thought that's just the way dads behaved. One day he came home unusually drunk and angrier than usual and started hitting my sister and mom. My parents divorced soon after, and my dad just got worse. He started drinking and driving with me and my siblings in the car. My mom wouldn't let us see him anymore, and we didn't want to. We stopped seeing him, and his health got worse. He started getting in fights in bars, at the beach, anywhere there was alcohol and a group of people. He stopped showing up to work, started fighting customers and eventually had to close his business. A year ago, he tried to kill himself. Depression and alcoholism are a common and dangerous combination. Thankfully, a family friend found my dad after he overdosed on pain killers and took him to the hospital.

My dad has been sober for a year. We're really proud of him but it's hard to heal after so many years of hurt.

I'm so sorry you're going through this but know that things DO get better. :) Best of luck to you and your friend.

Brandy said...

Hi Tolly. I just (happily) discovered your blog and came across this post. I'm dealing with a similar situation with a dear friend. Everything you wrote hit so close to home. I hope your friend has gotten the help that he needs or has started down that path. It's so frustrating to watch someone who has touched your life -- either once or even a million times -- self destruct. It's oddly comforting to know that there are others who are going through this and feel the same way I do. Thank you for posting this. Makes me feel like I've got a pal that identifies with me.