Sobering stuff

28 Aug


I didn’t drink the caffeine-free coffee, but the therapy was good.

Our television is bust. One of the children threw a shoe in its direction and the screen cracked. At the moment we don’t have the spare cash to buy a new one, but when we do I’ll replace it. Despite the fact that the children say they don’t mind watching only half a programme, I actually care about what’s happening on the right hand side of the screen. I gave up on the broken set when I realised a two person scene was actually being presented to me as a visual monologue.

The broken television proves that when things stop working properly we try to mend them, and failing that we replace them altogether. It’s the sensible thing to do. My husband was a broken man a few weeks ago. I didn’t want or need a replacement. I wanted him to get better and luckily, so did he. Finally, he realised it was time to take a look at his wiring.

For the past few weeks he has been undergoing intensive therapy at The Priory, a place so synonymous with troubled celebs that people think it’s a bit of a joke.

Far from being a joke the care he has received has been incredible. When I speak to him on the phone, I hear a positive voice on the end of the line. He has taken so well to it all that I really am beginning to wonder if he has had a lobotomy. The very mention of the word group therapy in the past would have brought him out in hives, and if the doctor couldn’t prescribe something to cure his ailments, then he didn’t want to know.

On my weekend visits to the hospital, I’m pleased to say that I have not clapped eyes on any bloated members of once famous boy bands. I have, however, been introduced to other patients. Mostly lovely, they are from all walks of life: a barrister, a builder, a serviceman, a housewife and a university student. Whoever they are and whatever they do, the one thing that unites them is that their problems – ranging form sex and love addiction (SLA) to alcoholism, have become so out of control that their lives were becoming, or had become unmanageable.

My husband has less than a week to go before he’s released in into the world again, hopefully a cleaner version of his former self. In preparation, last week I was invited along to a family therapy day. I never believed for one minute that I’d be the one feeling intimidated on entering the building (an impressive castle-like facade with an interior much like a 1970s Blackpool hotel). After all, I wasn’t the patient – I was a visitor.

As I walked into the large room where other family members of the patients had gathered, I felt nervous because the first thing on the agenda was to introduce ourselves to the group. We then had to explain how someone else’s addiction had affected us. Our stranger status would be short-lived: within a mere hour we would know so much about each other’s lives.

The things that we were opening up about had, for most of us been kept as secrets. Secrets  that at times were so excruciating for myself and other to disclose that it felt that the room needed special walls to soak up the uncomfortableness of it all.

Secrets are common to addicts. They hide the truth because of the shame that is often at the core of all addiction. And the family lies too. Whether they kid themselves that the someone they love doesn’t really have a problem, or are too afraid to admit to anyone that their family has a bit of a loose cannon in a seemingly normal set-up, then secrets and lies spread like a bad disease, and end up affecting the whole family.

It was incredibly hard to be honest, and at times it was hard to listen. However extreme the stories were, or different in parts, there were common themes. The fact that living with an addict is a very lonely experience; that as much as you love them, your love is tested by their obsession with their addiction; that the lying that is so much a symptom of the addiction can sometimes be too much to bear, and you start disbelieving everything; that you often blame yourself for the addict’s behaviour; that you try to control what the addict in your life is doing despite the fact that much of life is uncontrollable, and as a result becomes miserable.

Nearing the end of the day, the patients – our family members – were called into the room. We, their family and loved ones, sat on one side of the room to face them on the other. I’m making it sound all a bit Jeremy Kyle, but what followed was so important and affecting that I’m still trying to process it all a week later. Each of us took it in turn to tell the addict in our lives how their addiction had affected us. This wasn’t about dialogue. It was our turn to tell them how it was: to get it out there, let them really feel the consequences of their actions. It wasn’t a telling off. More an exorcism, a way to unmask all of the secrets that had made us feel so helpless and vulnerable.

When a brave and beautiful 18-year-old, sitting next to her mother, had to look across at her alcoholic father and tell him “I love you so much, I’ve always been your princess and I know this is going to hurt you. But you made me feel terrified on the nights you’d wake me at 3am and tell me you were going to kill yourself because you were so unhappy.” It was hard to watch the father, in his forties, weeping into his hands as he listened to all the pain he’d caused.

When a husband turned to his wife and said “I was getting really tired of having to undress you and put you into bed every night. I thought it was normal to have to do that, and speaking now, I realise it’s not.”

A wife looked over to her husband, a man who, despite having cirrhosis, continued to drink himself to death. “The only time I liked you was the instant you woke up, because I knew you hadn’t had time to pick up a drink.”

One woman told her partner that when he regularly went on benders he’d lose all sense of responsibility. He’d drain the bank accounts, and leave cocaine lying around the house. They had a toddler who was quite capable of picking up the drugs and eating them.

There were tears, not just from the addicts and the family members, but from other patients who were sitting in on the session. It was the process of listening that was so powerful.

After a day, a drop in the ocean compared to my husband’s stint, I can see why group therapy works. You cannot continue to be selfish, because you have to sit up and listen.

When someone is addicted to something (be it drugs or alcohol or sex or food) it becomes the only thing that they care about and it’s a wretched existence for everyone in the end. The people in the room – all of us – were living proof of this. The group teaches empathy and compassion over judging and retribution. Above all it encourages us to understand the power of being kind to ourselves and the rest of mankind. Lessons such as these stretch way beyond the confines of The Priory.

On returning home that evening, I received a text. It was from Sarah, a woman married to an alcoholic on the programme. We had laughed with each other at lunch about our futile attempts to keep control of our husband’s disruptive behaviour. She was obsessed with keeping order in the home, despite working full-time. I would become obsessed with re-arranging my diary, in order to try to stop my husband from bingeing. The message read: “I drew real strength from you today. Stay strong.” My feelings were the same. I was grateful to have met her, partly because it enforced that regardless of how my husband gets on when he gets out (I have no control, but I hope it’s well) I have made a new friend.

My husband has had an amazing opportunity. It is now nearly time for him to come back into the real world. Whether he is guided by the 12 steps (something he struggles with) or simply continues to go to group therapy, it’s a choice only he can make. By the time he returns this weekend, we’ll still be viewing the X-Factor in narrow screen. But hopefully we’ll be watching through clearer eyes.


15 Responses to “Sobering stuff”

  1. Simon (@SimonJ68) August 28, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Powerful writing
    Hope all works out.

  2. August 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    This was sent from my HTC on O2

    • Audrey Mitchell August 28, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      That’s beautiful Grace. Well done. x

  3. laurawardphotography August 28, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    I’ve been that 18 year old girl. Really struck a chord with me – beautifully written. Hope you can both find an anchor in the waves.

    • mothersruined August 29, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

      Thank you very much. Glad that you could relate, though sad that you had to experience something like that when you were so young.

  4. Me August 30, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Good luck. I’ve sort of been where you are (minus the coming home part). Don’t forget yourself in the process.

    • mothersruined September 1, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      Thank you. I also have some good support, which I agree is as important.

  5. sarinamoliver August 31, 2012 at 6:32 am #

    Lovely writing darling. This struck a real cord with me and my fucked up family history. Although I’ve never been to family therapy I wish I had now. Good luck all of you. X

    • mothersruined September 1, 2012 at 11:49 am #

      Thanks S. Yes, family therapy can sound daunting, and to be honest it’s hard to convince everyone to go along to it. But just a day and everything felt a lot clearer. x

  6. Peter September 1, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    What an excellent and enlightening piece. I do hope it works out for you.

  7. Suzie September 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    What a wonderfully poignant post. Thank you for sharing this, at what is obviously a very difficult time. I’m going through therapy myself and my husband joins me tomorrow…so it really gave me confidence about the whole process. Good luck with everything.

    • mothersruined September 3, 2012 at 10:41 am #

      Thanks Suzie, taking everything one day at a time at the moment. I really hope that your therapy helps you and your husband. Love, Grace

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