What It’s Like To Care for an End-Stage Alcoholic

by guest on February 27, 2012

By Linda Jane Riley

Linda Jane Riley is the creator of the blog, “The Immortal Alcoholic,” about what it’s like being a non-alcoholic person married to an end-stage alcoholic. In her own words: “I’m an ordinary woman of a seasoned age who is faced with a difficult challenge–and I will not allow that challenge to destroy the happiness in my life or anyone else’s life.” She is the author of The WorkbookforCaretakers OfEnd-Stage Alcoholics.

Following is an excerpt from her blog, in which she addresses the frustrations of readers of her blog who wonder why she chooses to take care of her husband Riley, despite the enormous daily struggles.  

I welcome everyone’s comments even if they may be a bit hostile or negative. Each of us has a right to an opinion and a right to voice that opinion. In fact, one commenter says I’m a “sick f***” and that I would drive a person to drink if they weren’t already an alcoholic. So this post is dedicated to all those who think end-stage caretaking is a form of amusing entertainment for sadistic Nurse Nancy’s and bitter spouses.

Why don’t I just… put Riley in a long-term care treatment facility?

No matter how sick a person is, if he is not declared incompetent, that person cannot be forced into any alcohol treatment facility. Even then, most of those types of facilities would not accept an individual that has been forced in a facility through an incompetency hearing. Recovery just doesn’t work that way.

As for a regular nursing, physical rehab or long-term facilities – they will not allow the consumption of alcoholic beverages on their grounds. They offer no detox care, so they are not equipped to handle an end-stage alcoholic. Most end-stage alcoholics have been through the detox and rehab process many times, with the end result being a return to drinking. Because of that statistic, it is extremely difficult to find even a rehab center that will take on a multi-relapse end-stage alcoholic. The reasons for that are that they want to invest their time in people who really desire sobriety and also to eliminate a risk of injury on their premises. After the last detox episode (when Riley had a stroke) there was no rehab facililty of ANY type that would accept Riley as a patient within a hundred miles of our local area. He was too big of a risk for a potentially fatal fall.

Why don’t I just… have him declared incompetent?

That’s not as easy as it sounds. Riley is incompetent to handle his own finances or any other legal matters. But, he is aware what a competency hearing is all about. He knows what he is supposed to do to pay bills and buy groceries, etc. He has no ability to follow through on those tasks–and that is hard to prove. He often will appear to others as being perfectly capable of managing his own affairs. Outward appearances are deceiving, and he has the ability to “pull the wool over the eyes” of medical professionals who are not truly trained in alcoholism.

Being an end-stage alcoholic is degrading enough all by itself. Having your spouse, parent, partner or whoever declare that you are incapable of the simplest things–like choosing what you want to eat for dinner–is beyond degrading. It’s not my job to make him feel any worse about himself. He does that on his own.

I have full power of attorney, which gives me the ability to act on his behalf over everything that is relevant. It’s all I need for now. I’m fortunate because Riley doesn’t usually cause me problems that would require court intervention. The only issue we don’t seem to be able to resolve is his desire to drive drunk.

Why don’t I just… let him drive?

OK. Well… now… that’s just a stupid question. Drunks should NEVER be allowed behind the wheel of a 4000 pound potential lethal battering ram. Anyone who has to ask that question is not someone I would want on the road when I’m running my errands.

Why don’t I just… pack him up and send him on his way?

I took on this task as a means of preventing my daughter or grandson from becoming Riley’s caretaker. If I sent him on his way, he would find his way into their homes and thereby create insanity in their lives. I am his legal spouse. He is my responsibility. Many years ago I took a vow that said something about “sickness and health.” This is the sickness part and I will stand by that vow.

If a family member were sick of some other disease – Leukemia, Alzheimer’s, Stroke, etc – I would not pack them up and send them on their way. I would do the best I could to provide a safe haven. Riley has suffered a stroke as a result of abusing alcohol; he can’t remember simple things like how to get a message off the answering machine or to remove a pan from a hot burner. If he lived on his own, how soon would it be before he burned down his house? I don’t know, but I’m not willing to take that risk.

He’s not my prisoner. He’s my sick husband who would not survive in the real world.

Why don’t I just… pick him up when he falls?

I’m an old lady who is not even five feet tall and I don’t have a lot of physical strength. Riley isn’t a huge guy, but when he falls he is like dead weight. He has no muscle mass and cannot (or will not) assist in any effort to get himself upright. Even my daughter has failed at attempts to pick him up after a fall. But, because he won’t “push” or “pull”, even she has stopped trying to come to his aid.

I could call 911 and the paramedics would race to my door and get him back into his chair. The problem is Riley falls multiple times during the day and I truly believe the EMT’s might have people who are in urgent need of assistance. Someday, I’m going to need them to come running – quickly – so I don’t want to be the little girl who cried wolf.

Why don’t I just… make him use a walker or wheelchair?

Using a cane, wheelchair or walker, in Riley’s opinion, is an indication that he is old or not physically fit. In Riley’s mind, he is perfectly fit and is young. He mocks the seniors at the local senior center and laughs at the frailties of the aged. He wants no part of anything that would make him appear to be more “seasoned” than he wants to be.

In order to use any devices that would aid in his mobility, he would need some upper body or arm strength. Riley has no muscle strength from which to draw.

Why don’t I just… make him wear a diaper?

See the above answer. Same thing applies here. Diapers are for babies and old people.

Why don’t I just… stop buying him booze?

Taking away Riley’s alcohol would throw him into a self-induced detox, which could be fatal. Detoxing without medical supervision is extremely dangerous and it becomes more dangerous each time it happens.

By the count of the centers listed in the workbook that I keep on Riley, he’s been through five – FIVE – medically supervised detox experiences. Each one was worse than the last in terms of the actual process, causing seizures and strokes. None of the detox sessions ever led to long-term sobriety. After the last hospital stay, I promised Riley I would never push him into detox again. I do, however, encourage him and ask him if he wants to go. But, I don’t insist and I don’t push.

Why don’t I just… take him to AA or get him some help?

For Riley, AA is just a social activity. He would go all the time if they would just stop harping on the drinking thing. Because they don’t stop, he won’t go. He knows there is help there. He was very active in AA for many years, but now he just wants nothing to do with the “brainwashing” of any 12 Step program.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. It’s the same way with alcoholics and counseling. While I think it would be one of the best ways for an alcoholic to recover, it requires pure, unbridled honesty. Most active alcoholics are incapable of being completely honest. Many drink to cover their true feelings. I think it’s unrealistic to expect a counselor to take on the impossible of task of getting a drunk to tell how he/she really feels.

Why don’t I just… stop laughing at him?

To read the rest of Linda’s post, click here.

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