Sobriety is divine not only for the alcoholic, but also for the alcoholic’s family. Alcoholism is a debilitating disease, but unfortunately many of us have been impacted by it. My husband was an alcoholic and it destroyed him. His name was Sahil and he was a kind, calm, patient, and intelligent man. He enjoyed traveling, reading, collecting pens and loved electronics. He taught me to be patient, brave, daring, and confident. He believed in me and that meant the world to me. He loved me with all his heart and I was blessed to be loved like that. Alcoholism is not easy for the alcoholic or the alcoholic’s family to live with.
Educate yourself about Alcoholism: The sayings “Ignorance is bliss” and “Knowledge is power” are very true and it’s essential to find a right balance between the two when it comes to alcoholism. Knowing about the disease is necessary in order to prepare yourself to make informed decisions and what to expect - but at the same time, don’t get too involved in the alcoholic’s life. It’s very important to learn about the disease because it provides us with an insight on how to handle situations with our qualifier whether they are health related or daily interactions. It’s not necessary for us to monitor every move of the alcoholic. Stay away from how much liquor is consumed, whether the alcoholic made it to work or his/her appointments, who he/she is meeting with. All that does is cause us more stress and the focus becomes on the alcoholic and our life revolves around the alcoholic. We need to focus on ourselves and take it one day at a time. All this is easier said than done, but I found that when I stopped focusing on my qualifier, I found peace.
Support System: It’s extremely important for the alcoholic and the alcoholic’s family to have a support system around them. While the alcoholic might not be interested in doing that since he/she are in denial , the family members should try to build a good support system around them. I was born in India and moved to the US in the early 80’s when I was in elementary school. My parents and my sister were aware of Sahil’s drinking and were always there for me. Our social circle mostly consisted of Indian couples and even though everyone was aware Sahil had a drinking problem, no one would address it. I also had friends from college and work who I was closer to, but we didn’t see each often because we all lived too far. But I talked to them often and was a lot more open with them. I started confiding in some of my friends about Sahil’s drinking. It was a big relief because I could finally talk to someone outside of my family and it made me feel normal. There’s a big stigma attached with addiction in every culture, especially in the Indian culture. The Indian culture is all about hiding your problems and keeping appearances. While addiction is not easy to talk about in any culture, American or Indian, the Indian culture makes it even harder. I remember attending the parties and feeling so embarrassed and alone. The feeling of isolation would come over me especially when I was at the Indian parties. That feeling carried on most of the time with me during my husband’s alcoholism, but especially around people I couldn’t be open with. I am not saying that I wanted to address this issue with everyone, but I was tired of pretending and feeling alone. I remember going to the parties and wondering if anyone else was in the same situation as me and was just too afraid to talk about it. I so wished we could have opened up to each other and helped each other through this difficult situation.
Perception of Addicts and Their Family Members: There should be no shame in loving an addict; I wish I could erase the taboo attached with loving an addict. While the addicts are responsible for their choices and their lifestyle, they deserve to be loved. No one gets up in the morning and decides to be an addict. Who wants to drink all day and night, make a fool out of themselves, lose their jobs and relationships, and damage their health. It’s true having a drink is the addict’s choice and quitting is the addict’s choice too, but the disease plays a role in it as well. I was angry with Sahil for not being able to quit drinking, but I finally got to a stage of acceptance. It brought me peace; of course at the bottom of my heart I still wished he would quit, but I realized it just wasn’t going to happen. Most addicts lie, manipulate situations, and are very selfish, but they are capable of loving people. Not only that, I always believed Sahil loved me and I felt loved even when other people felt otherwise. Sahil was a man who lost his way in life and never found it back.
Many people feel that alcoholics are horrible people and drink because they enjoy drinking. While that might be true, most alcoholics drink to escape the pain they carry around with them and to avoid dealing with emotions. So many times I talked to Sahil about why he drank and encouraged him to go for therapy and enter rehab, but he refused. He was in extreme pain and I felt his pain; I so wanted to change that but there was nothing I could do but pray.
Another perception that’s skewed is about the family members staying with the alcoholics. Some of us choose to stay with them not because we are weak, but because that’s what works for us. I tried separating from my husband a couple of times, but I returned back to him. Even though I knew that leaving was probably the better choice for me and there was nothing I could do to stop my husband’s drinking, I just couldn’t leave. A lot of people felt I was weak for staying, but eventually realized it was what I needed to do.
Support Groups: It’s very beneficial for the alcoholic to attend AA because it provides support for an addict since it is safe. Al Anon and Al Teen are equally beneficial for the family members for the same reasons. Sahil unwillingly attended very few AA meetings, his main concern was that he didn’t want to quit drinking, so why should he go. I told him that he doesn’t have to even want to quit, just attend the meetings for support, but he refused. I started attending AL Anon and found it to be very useful. It was so nice to be able to open up about my qualifier and say whatever was on my mind. I knew I could talk about Sahil without anyone freaking about what he had done or how I had reacted. The biggest thing I learned through Al Anon was that it’s ok to ask for help and to not feel ashamed about it. The other thing I learned was that I should not feel ashamed about loving Sahil. Yes, Sahil was an addict, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good person and didn’t deserve to be loved. I got a sponsor and connected with other people there who provided me great advice and support. It was huge to be able to go to Al Anon and be able to relate to other people who understood me. There was lot of empathy and support there and a lot of positivity. For me, getting a sponsor was the key. She guided me when I asked for advice, was always there whenever I needed her, and more than anything never made me feel like I had messed up. Her understanding and compassion helped me tremendously through this difficult time.
Sahil and I were married for about 13 1/2 years. He was hospitalized multiple times for pancreatitis, and also became a diabetic. He lost about 35 pounds due to diabetes and malnourishment. Sahil was small in size to begin with and never had much of an appetite. He was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 95 pounds. During the last couple of years we were married, Sahil was hospitalized numerous times. He was hospitalized for pneumonia, low sugar, high sugar, seizures, Diabetic Ketoacidosis, Electrolytes imbalance, and alcohol withdrawals. The last time he was in the hospital he suffered from Lactic Acidiosis and went into cardiac arrest a couple of times. In the end, we decided for DNR. Sahil passed away peacefully and I was grateful and heartbroken at the same time. I was thrilled that Sahil was not an alcoholic and alcohol didn’t have any control on him anymore. But I was sad of the life that Sahil and I were robbed of. In the end, Sahil wasn’t working, spending most of his time in bed, hurting physically and mentally. Sahil wasn’t living, he just existed. The hardest part was watching him go through anxiety and alcohol withdrawals. He was suffering and I was suffering. I truly believe sobriety is divine and some people are lucky to find it on earth, but Sahil needed to be with God to find his sobriety and for that I am extremely grateful.