On Addiction: Seeing the Signs of Addiction and Breaking the Pattern (Part 2 of 3)

Up Close and Personal with Stacy D. Phillips, Esq.
Stacy D. Phillips

As I shared in my previous article (On Addiction-Part 1), it’s been 10 years since I was married to an alcoholic. The trauma from that marriage continues to this day, though after a lot of hard work, I have become far better at coping with and processing the experience. In that prior article, I talked about the much-needed interventions and giving your spouse and yourself a chance or two to get the help you both need.

Let me just say that nothing about the experience feels comfortable. Abusing alcohol was my ex’s normal. That’s how he got through the day. He was what they refer to as a functioning alcoholic. And when he tried to stop by himself, that’s where things got really problematic, because a severe alcoholic needs to detox in a safe, controlled way and he wasn’t doing that.

He went through withdrawals seven times.

The first time I had no idea what was happening. I thought we were having an earthquake because the bed was shaking so terribly. I figured out that the violent event was his withdrawal. It took me a while, but it finally snapped into focus.

And yet another time was on our honeymoon, while on the plane to our destination. He was going through withdrawal, but I didn’t know it. He was very quiet, and eventually, I had to ask, more like pull it out of him. He simply didn’t want to talk with me about it. He wouldn’t share what was going on with him.

Another time I took him for an MRI – he thought he had a brain tumor. The alcohol effects had gotten to the point where he had huge gaps in his memory, and he was conflating stories to fill the gaps. He thought he had a brain tumor, which of course he didn’t.

Another time he had a seizure, it was straight out of a movie. There I was screaming to a 9-1-1 operator that I needed the paramedics. They came, of course – my heroes. What I didn’t know then but later learned is that you can have a seizure while going through withdrawal.

After his seizure, he was hospitalized for 6 days and then I checked him into the Betty Ford Clinic. He initially thanked me for that, but afterward, he got very angry about it and directed that anger toward me. He called rehab “the Gulag.”

And yet again he went through withdrawal at home with a nurse. It was no better than the times before.

The last time he went through withdrawal he was at home. He hadn’t told me and just left me to deal with it again.

As I’ve said before, ultimately, I drew a line in the sand, he crossed it, and blessedly he left before any more damage could be done.

My hope was that his withdrawal right before we got married would be his last. It was illusory. I truly believed this truly accomplished man could achieve any goal he set for himself. I now realize it simply was not his goal.

Looking back, I’m lucky to be alive. Driving with him, not knowing what he could have done, he was taking both of our lives into his hands. He also had guns! You get so pulled in and think you’re the crazy one. It’s just not healthy. Bad things can happen to anyone.

The first time after he went through withdrawal, and he was sober, I realized I didn’t know who I was with. Because all the years I had known him, he was intoxicated. His normal was being full of alcohol. And most people wouldn’t know he was drunk. He was fully functional until he wasn’t. It turns out I didn’t know him sober.

But all that said, I owed it to my loved one to try to help. I gave him more chances than I can count, way too many for the destruction that was being caused, until ultimately and blessedly he left. I learned a lot about the disease and a lot about myself and my resiliency.

As a mom and a family law attorney who believes in the institution of marriage, I think you owe it to your partner/spouse – in sickness and in health – to try to get them help. But even that must have limits.

The addict must first want help. You can’t truly help someone who doesn’t think they need help or worse who isn’t open to getting the help they need. Sure, you try to attempt an intervention. That may mean they go to rehab or another treatment program.

You may also find you need a personal counselor and even a psychiatrist or medical doctor who can medicate the addict appropriately as opposed to having them exercise self-medication by either drinking, using drugs, or smoking marijuana. If they have an anxiety disorder or other issues, they turn to alcohol or drugs to calm their nerves; that’s their way of exercising self-help.

My recommendation is to try helping somebody through a couple of relapses and that’s it. I’ve noticed 3 types of behavior regarding attempted recovery:

  • They really want it, but slip up. It’s hard work and it’s not always going to take the first time. Some genuinely need more than one chance for recovery to settle into a lifestyle.
  • They’re forced into it and they just go back to their old pattern. You literally can lead your alcoholic to a meeting, but you can’t make it stick. They have to want it deep within themselves. No amount of pushing can really be effective.
  • They may want it – even very badly – but they don't really want to put in the real work. Recovery is hard and takes a new commitment every day. It’s why they say, “One Day at a Time!”

The bottom line is this. It’s the addict who has to really, really want help. You need to see the signs, and they need to make a plan, find the tools and support, and work hard to make it stick.

It’s a disease. It’s their disease. Alcoholism sucks! However, all hope is not lost. In my next article, I’ll share my practical advice for those feeling stuck in a relationship with an addict.

This article was published by Stacy D. Phillips on LinkedIn on October 26, 2022. Stay tuned next week for Part 3 of 3 of "On Addiction."