Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What is real

I don't think that I intentionally wanted to paint a rosy picture of what life was like to others, but somehow in the darkest moments of living with alcoholism,  I made up a different kind of life that wasn't real.  I didn't want to let others know what my past had been like or what the present was like either.

I realize now that this was part of what alcoholism does--it makes me want to pretend that certain situations did not occur.  I can remember that I wanted others to think that my life was a neat package.  The pretend life had to be maintained.  But there would be times when it was impossible to put on a smiling face.  What happened at home could be covered up,  but what happened among other people in social settings was not something that I could hide.

People that I hadn't seen for a long time would say something to me about what a party person C. was.  Always they would bring up the drinking to me, as if I had some control over it, or as if it were something to smirk or gloat about.  I felt for so long that what the alcoholics in my life did was a reflection on me.  My perception of building a fantasy life, of lying about how things were going,  could not be maintained because others would point out the truth.  I didn't want to hear anything resembling the truth.

I can remember the resentment I would feel when someone would mention my wife's drinking in a disparaging way.  I would feel a lot of self-pity about my lot in life.  Why did I have to have this burden of living with people who shattered every fantasy?  How could I make others see what a wonderful person I married in spite of the drinking? So no matter what, I did my best to smooth things over, to make sure that everyone thought we were doing just fine,  never letting anyone know when I was vulnerable and hurting, never letting on what happened behind closed doors.  In an effort to hide reality, I lied and made excuses.

Inevitably, as time progressed,  I became more and more angry.  I wished for the death of the alcoholic.  I thought about killing myself.  I wanted a solution that would free me from the torment that I felt.  I still tried to pretend, but the pretending became harder and harder because something within me had shifted.  I felt cornered in a situation which seemed to not have a solution.

I find that the incredible thing about living with alcoholism is that I could not see any clear choices.  Nor could I see the role that I was playing in living a miserable existence.

I think that I began to see how pathetic things were when enough cumulative events happened that I was forced to realize nothing was going to change unless I was the one changing.  It was survival mode at that point.  I could no longer pretend that things were okay.

I knew that I had reached a low point where there was nothing but emptiness inside.  The reality of knowing that the person who I loved was incapable of showing me love hurt.  The reality of knowing that I had turned into a judgmental, pessimistic, fearful, bitter, and self-pitying person also hurt.  I had little joy in anything.  Every task was approached just to get something done. I took on extra work just so that I would be exhausted and not have to feel or think.  That was what the ultimate reality of alcoholism did.

I'm grateful for finally being able to look realistically at my life.  I heard others in Al-Anon meetings talk about what they were going through.  I could identify.  How could they know what I was feeling?  The more I went to meetings and worked with a sponsor, the more I came to understand that I was not unique in how I tried to cover up the truth.  Most of us don't want to face the fact that our lives are unmanageable, that we are not happy, and that something is terribly wrong in the relationship with an alcoholic.

Once the truth is spoken,  a dam of feelings are unleashed.  Fortunately, I've found that the feelings aren't anything to fear.  It is a great thing to be able to laugh at so many things now that used to make me sad.  It does take time to bring that joy to the surface.  But just being able to look at myself and the alcoholics in my life in a realistic and truthful manner has helped me to heal. 

Denial is a powerful tool. Never underestimate its ability to cloud your vision.

Be aware that, for many reasons, we have become experts at using this tool to make reality more tolerable. We have learned well how to stop the pain caused by reality - not by changing our circumstances, but by pretending our circumstances are something other than what they are.

Do not be too hard on yourself. While one part of you was busy creating a fantasy reality, the other part went to work on accepting the truth.

Now, it is time to find courage. Face the truth. Let it sink gently in.

When we can do that, we will be moved forward. ~ Melodie Beattie


  1. Thank you for sharing on this topic. I would never recognize the truth if left on my own. Other people in recovery can help me see those walls of denial.

    Wonderful post.

  2. you have just sketched a page from my book... i did exactly the same thing with my father and life at home. and i thought that, once i leave home, i'd be free. what a delusion. because by this time i had all the barriers and walls up, all the pretenses in place, all the wrong behaviours and reactions programmed into me. and i'm still today trying to re-set some of these pre-programmed behaviours... prefect closing quote there syd, thank you!

  3. Those "cumulative events" get us every time. Well said, Syd.

    There are solutions (including leaving), but I took so long to realize that. I've heard a typical spouse/loved one will tolerate the situation for 7 years before seeking help. It seems strange to me now that intelligent, rational people can be so helpless when faced with alcoholism/addiction.

  4. So long ago I lived this at home with my father, but reading this brought it back this morning. Oh, the damage we do...

  5. raw and real and puts us right there in the reality of it...i think we def want to hide, cover up, pretend and fantasize...and anger and resentment are def not far behind....

  6. Thank you for sharing this Syd. It is so raw and honest.

  7. I am struggling with giving up my fantasies about my daughter (who brought me to Al-Anon). In my fantasy world, she is excelling at college, taking care of herself, and going to AA meetings. In reality, its all she can do to take care of her dog and get herself to work. I am having such a painful time accepting the truth about her, but slowly I am starting to accept who she really is. At 21, she is working her recovery to the best of her ability. I have found much solace through your blog. Please keep on blogging. Thank you so much.

  8. Wonderful post and I could relate to all of it... "living a miserable existence", when I read this it pulled on my heart. I don't want to live in misery anymore and majority of the days I'm able to apply the choice to live better/positive life; however, I find it tough to co-exist with the one I love dearly who still lives every moment of his life in misery, anger, grief, guild, etc, etc. I pray he will want to find help someday.

    I just bought one of Melody Beattie's books on my Kindle and looking forward to reading it! I've heard great things about her books.

  9. I am always amazed by your drive for true recovery. You have experienced much at the hands of alcoholism, and have come out a stronger person for it. You are an inspiration.

  10. Hi Syd,

    Good post and I can so relate your feelings. When my children began using drugs I was definitely in denial, because they were using them for many years before I realized what was going on. They were somewhat clever about it. The school and the police were not knocking at our door, but when they left home, it fell apart for two of them. Their addiction and substance abuse took over.

    I went through the guilt and feeling like a bad mother; that I must have done something terribly wrong for this to happen. Al-Anon has saved me really. I go in every meeting and learn something new that I can use in my recovery. It's comforting to know that others have similar feelings.

  11. F.E.A.R., Face Everything And Recover. You really bring it to light. It's much easier to deny but the real recovery is in doing the opposite.
    Thanks for the suggestion to visit Atalaya. I will try to get there.

  12. Thank you Syd. The fantasy life I created was getting smaller and smaller. I love sitting in meetings hearing the experience strength and hope from others. I thought my life was just too horrible no one would understand. I was unique. Realizing I am not alone has given me a new freedom.

  13. Ah Syd, I was never able to put on a facade... believe me I tried. I knew there was something wrong in my family and in my almost-ex-husband's family as well. It was just so much better than my own, that I was so tempted to stay. Now, today, find that years later, the family of origin issues won't stay in their box... even though I live thousands of miles away. The defenses I learned in childhood also have to go, if I want to raise my son up with more awareness, and hopefully, more health... God willing.

    Program is such a God-send, for we don't get to keep our secrets hidden... from ourselves. Makes it the journey to the final frontier. ;)

  14. I too did the pretending, and denying. I much prefer a life lived in clarity, doing my best to work towards recovery. Great post.

  15. As usual Syd, you touched a nerve on a lot of people. I can see already that many, many of us can identify with what you are talking about. My mother is the alcoholic and I felt that way. My spouse is not an alcoholic but struggles with mental illness that no one except his doctor and I know about it. I have similar feelings and frustrations in coping with that. I am glad that I found Al-Anon before I got married so that I am better able to cope, but it still doesn't make it easy to live with.

    (And thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog by the way. It's always nice to hear from you.)

  16. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes us alcoholics as "tornadoes roaring through the lives of others." It's enlightening to read of your experience as one who has suffered that tornado.

    I work with alcoholic newcomers who are foundering in their own bottoms, finding themselves at the same "jumping-off place" as you found yourself. Some recognize what their behavior has done in the lives of their family and friends as well as their own. Some are blinded by blame and denial.

    I believe that the recognition of truth is a gift given by a Higher Power full of grace and mercy for his children. Many people come into meetings where the truth is spoken by recovering alcoholics, and their ears don't work. But some come in willing to hear, willing to believe that what they hear applies to them.

    That willingness is a great mystery to me: Why do some have it, while others don't? To me, it's the gift of desparation, a gift that they are willing to unwrap, and it announces: What goes on in your head is chaos, a long habit of living in a disease characterized by lies. The miracle of AA is that one drunk can tell another drunk the truth, and sometimes lives are transformed.


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