Thursday, February 16, 2012


It was a good day yesterday spent taking an old classic sailboat down the coast to a boat yard for surveying.  The potential buyer is coming in today.  Hopefully, the old boat will have a new owner and be restored back to her former glory.  She is a gem that was custom built in 1978 at the Cheoy Lee yard in Shanghai for a former Navy Captain and his wife.  She was sailed throughout the Pacific and then over to the East coast where she was owned by a gentleman who can no longer give her the TLC that she needs.  Yesterday, she moved like a dream, and we all enjoyed feeling the sturdiness of this boat as she was underway.

Last night, calls of confusion came in from my wife's mom.  She was saying that there had been a party and all her china was broken, she hadn't had anything to eat all day, and no one was home.  Jessica, the caregiver, called to tell us that Mom was having a bad day.  Some days she is perfectly lucid and others days she isn't.

An older friend told my wife that some caregivers abuse their patients, slamming them into wheelchairs and slapping them.  We know that Jessica and Brad are great people and treat Mom with love.  And we stop by often to see her.  I suppose that there are those who just reach the end of their rope with taking care of others, whether it's the elderly, the physically and mentally disabled,  or low bottom alcoholics.  We are supposed to have compassion, but the human psyche can only take so much stress.

Sadly, the number of people who have caregiver burnout is increasing as more caregivers take on the job without getting the help they need, or try to do more than they are able to--physically or financially.  Those who are burned out experience fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression which sometimes can result in wanting to hurt those for whom they are caring.

I think that living with active alcoholism has the effect of burnout.  All the positivity of a life can become filled with anger and frustration.  Feeling that there is no one to turn to, no one to share the secret with can create such isolation that life seems hardly worth living.  And the alcoholic is likely feeling the same way--isolated, ashamed, lonely, desperate, filled with loathing.  More than one person gets lost to the disease when there is no respite from it.

We all need breaks from whatever stressful activity we are doing.  I needed it when I was working so I would take vacation days.  We give the caregivers a break by either staying there ourselves or bringing in temporary help.  And I give myself a respite now and then for no particular reason by spending a shining day on the water on an old boat.  Just keeping things in balance. It really helps.


  1. Syd, my housemate works with community-based home care in disadvantaged communities here in South Africa and great emphasis is placed on sharing the load because working with those who are suffering dementia or terminally ill is exhausting.

    I also know from our shelter for battered women here in the village that many elderly female alcoholics are mistreated or physically battered by sober husbands and the same happens with elderly male alcoholics, often at the hands of angry adult children.

    It is highly problematic when a despondent and controlling codependent tries to take full responsibility for a late-stage alcoholic. The alcoholic often suffers far more than he/she would if they died in detox. Before they die, they are often neglected and poorly fed, don't receive good medical care for bruises or broken bones, are verbally abused and humiliated. The codependent may know at one level that the alcoholic at this stage is brain damaged and incapable of self-care but at another level the habit of punitive demanding and the expectation that the alcoholic should behave in certain ways leads to what we can only call sadism.

    A local court recently took away the wife's power-of-attorney for what the judge called mental cruelty. This is an extreme example of alcoholism as a family illness.

  2. ugh i know that burn out...with all the counseling i do you get it there as well...each week i see a psychiatirst to debrief and download from the week so that it does not happen...and periodically take that time off as well just to breath and relax...

  3. My daughter has been doing in-home health care for almost five years. From the stories she shares with me it is a very difficult job, and it's a difficult situation from both sides. Allowing others to care for us can be just has hard. Smooth sailing, Syd.

  4. I no longer mistakenly view myself as an endless source of whatever someone else needs, but as a vessel, capable of being drained. I know I need time and space, to refill and rest.

  5. Syd, this post was meant to be read by me. I have two low-bottom drunks in my life, one also bi-polar (for real!) and other with huge (really!) physical ills. I did not ask for them.

    Within a week, I felt already my spirit sagging, and my life being drained away. And so I paid down some rules for ME!

    Willingness to help, and doing it, does not preclude my personal responsibilities being attended.

    God sent me these two guys for me to help, and sent Peeps like YOU to help me stay alive while doing it.
    Thankful blessings to you.
    Enjoy retirement!

  6. "Keeping our pool filled" so that we can keep on giving, was what a counselor of mine used to call it. Abuse does happen but it is usually more by family members who are carrying all of the family baggage then by the paid caregivers. I mean that happens too but I have seen some scary stuff between family members...I have some stories! lol

    Great post Syd....and thank you for your comments on my blog. I always love hearing from you!

  7. I only need to borrow TAAAF's comment above - that says perfectly what I have learned too.

  8. Elder abuse is something that is increasing and we don't have interventions in place for it.

    Although good people need respite, there are also bad intentioned people who abuse the vulnerable. I am sure you would know the difference.

  9. Burnout is almost a guarantee for those living with an active alcoholic. Sharing in Al Anon meetings, daily readings and turning it ALL over to HP has saved me. I am important!!! Movies, fishing, golf, walking ... have replaced isolation and despair even as my alcoholic is still drinking.

  10. Yea, we all need a break for sure. I couldn't imagine being a caregiver for the elderly or a medical professional. I just don't have tha special gift. I am grateful for those who do. There's just nothing better than an amazing nurse when you're hurting.

  11. Did you ever read the biography of the husband and wife who founded Readers Digest (in their spare time, in the basement)? It's called American Dreamers. They had no children, no family, and they died alone and abused by servants in a huge mansion filled with expensive art and antiques. This has nothing do you with your situation, I know you are an avid reader.

    I know you are a kind and responsible presence in the lives of your in laws also.

  12. Kudos for raising a delicate subject about caregivers,Syd.There are laws that are supposed to protect those who have hired help.Then there are those whose family and friends share caregiver responsibilities.And indeed there is often a time of frustrations for many who are doing the caregiving.BUT there is never ever an excuse for abuse.If ever anyone suspects elderly abuse they are obligated to look further into it as far as I am concerned.Much like child abuse,elders too are helpless at times.As for balancing,yes of course,easy to forget but I hope your post here will remind anyone in that position.And thank you for posting.
    As always.xo

  13. I love that you can leave the trials of life behind and enjoy the steady voyage on an "old boat" ... just imagine all the tales of wondrous places and people that "she" could relate to you. (Sounds like you can hear her!)

  14. It is true living with active alcoholism that burnout lurks on the horizon if I don't work to take care of myself each day. I like what Craig shared; going and sharing in a meetings, calling my sponsor, reading, and most importantly keeping the constant contact with my HP. That balance is always evolving, never a dull moment.

    Glad your are able to give the caretakers some time off to help find their balance.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.