Counting down to lift-off

So, Rosie and I are leaving for a month. We leave in a few days. Ben is still drunk, claiming he’s detoxing himself slowly. I don’t see much evidence of a detox. He is glazed over, unshorn, and reeks of beer. His stomach is bloated – a sure sign he’s been abusing. He’s usually thin as a city fox. As soon as he drinks, his stomach inflates like one of Louis Armstrong’s cheeks.

I’m stressing, of course I am. If he isn’t sober by Monday, he’s in trouble, because the rehab centre he is visiting doesn’t offer detoxes. He has to be clean before he is admitted. I have little confidence that he is going to turn up, anyway. He’s already blown two appointments with them. Am I going to have to miss my four morning meetings to make sure he gets up there? Am I going to have to put that time in? Or do I leave it to him, and if he comes back, tell him he can’t come back?

The disappointments keep adding up. I can’t restrain my anger when I’m around him, either. I find myself telling him horrible things – harmful, undermining things. I tell him he’s a failure, an idiot and a waste of space. I slap him on the legs – twice – when Rosie and I come home and find him drunk and crashed out on the futon at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

Then I leave with Rosie, and meet a friend in the park. I apologise to Ben over the phone. As long as I am not actually looking at him – seeing that glazed over, red-faced, stupid expression – I can speak rationally to him. But if we are in the same room, I  feel revulsion… and guilt. I look at him and feel responsible.

He’s on the sofa right now. The tv is blaring as usual, and he is umming to himself in his sleep. He’s on Prozac, beta blockers, vitamin B and booze. He is permanently sweaty. I can’t bring myself to sit on certain parts of the futon. The smell is too off-putting.

So, it’s Saturday. A few more days and that’s it. If things go to plan, he’ll be gone by Monday. Much as I want him to go, I wonder what it will be like to be on my own with Rosie. Just the two of us from then on. The thought of it fills me with sudden and unexpected dread. I’m scared. Why?




Actually, it’s him… and me

A couple of days ago, I wrote that I might have been imagining Ben’s drinking. It’s safe to say that I probably was, here and there. But the truth is, he is drinking again.

Yesterday, he rang me sounding miserable. Apparently, he’d decided to come clean to the rehab centre and admit that he’d relapsed more than the two times he’d told them about. The programme is abstinence based, and the fact that he carried on lying for so long meant that he had broken their trust, so they had an ‘ending’ for him, and that was that.

He left the centre and drank much of the afternoon away. He has been drunk since then. But he has been telling me the truth about when and how much he is drinking. I see this as a positive step – for him, at least.

As for me, I’m back to zero. Rosie and I are leaving on Wednesday for a month. So, now I’m in panic mode. Am I really going to change the locks? Should I? He has to go. I don’t want him to stay here on his own. He is unreliable, incapable of doing anything for himself. Left to his own devices, he will drink himself into oblivion. He may even burn the flat down.

He has to go.

During sober moments, he has been looking for a residential alcohol rehab centre that will take him. If he had accepted this was the right option a month ago, we would have had a programme in place for him. But he left it right until the last minute. We now have two days left and he has nowhere to go. I can’t believe it. I deliberately didn’t organize it because it was up to him, but in the end, I am the one more put out by this than he is.

I am angry. So angry. At fate, at him, at the day rehab programme (because they did nothing to prepare him for this month besides convincing him he had to test his willpower).

We found one residential rehab centre that Ben liked, but they have no availability for another two weeks. Ben doesn’t have two weeks. If he carries on as he is doing, he will end up in hospital. I told him, whatever happens, he is not staying at the flat. If he wants to go to that rehab programme, then he will have to find somewhere else to stay in the interim. Otherwise, he will be a homeless, penniless alcoholic. He’ll have to squat with the other drunk in the pedestrian subway near the tube station.

It’s been more than a year now since he lurched onto this path. Rosie and I seem to be stumbling along behind him. But I’m tired of all this. It’s a road I have no interest in travelling any more.



It’s not him, it’s me

What if this is the truth. What if I’m the crazy one? I’ve written several posts alluding to my manic olfactory sense. I am now adept at differentiating complex odours, distilling the smell of alcohol from everything else. Vaseline Intensive Care lotion is particularly problematic, causing my shoulders to tense whenever I apply it.

I can scent an alcoholic from the other end of a tube carriage, and find myself getting off at the next stop to avoid being near him or her. Passing a pub is traumatic, as is speaking to anyone who has just had a drink. I’m beginning to think I’m suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The smell of beer makes me want to chuck.

But I can be duped, too. Recently, I discovered that I have been associating the smell of peanuts with the smell of beer – because Ben often consumed both together. There have been occasions where I have been convinced that he’s been drinking when, actually, I’ve been smelling peanuts.

Yes, peanuts. Now, that’s what I call crazy.

There is also the small matter of my stressed out mind, always working several cycles per minute, now malfunctioning. Yesterday, I thought he’d been drinking because:

  • I heard him opening the shed door (I was listening from the toilet)
  • I heard him using the ladder (he used to hide beer and vodka on top of the shed roof)
  • He took a ridiculously long time to get home that evening.

At one point, I walked past the shed and thought I’d seen a plastic bag billowing off its roof. When I climbed the ladder to investigate, I found a metal dome. There was no plastic bag.

Later, I was looking outside the bedroom window, albeit without my glasses on, checking the roof of the neighbour’s extension to see whether Ben had hidden anything there, and felt sure I had spotted a can. When I put my glasses on, I found that the so-called can was actually a discarded broom head (no idea how that got there).

Both of these incidents suggest to me that I’m not a reliable witness in all this – that I’ve lost a page from the big book of sanity.

Do I tell my therapist? Do I tell Ben? The problem is, my instincts are generally correct. When I suspect he’s drinking, he usually is. So what if I make a few mistakes?

The broader question, however, is this: can I live like this forever? Will I ever stop second-guessing him? Will I ever trust him again?

I only have one answer for all those questions. NO.

If only it was always like this

Today, Ben and I took Rosie to the South Bank for the day. Ben has been dry for at least a week, and although my suspicions are on high alert, he has been fairly constant. Still, one week is no time at all in the broader scheme of things. I suspect all this good behaviour is a bit of smoke and mirrors – an effort to lull me into contentment.

You see, I’m taking Rosie and leaving the country for a month. We’re going on holiday. It will be a holiday in every sense – a break from work, London and (most of all) him. So now he’s decided to pull his finger out and put in some hard graft. That hard work is making a difference.

Still, I tell myself, I must be strong; I must not be fooled by this good behaviour. As soon as he sniffs a softening disposition, he’s liable to go down to the off-licence and help himself to a six-pack of Polish beer. Next thing I know, he’ll be caning it in the living room, and I’ll be back to zero.

So, no, he will not be coming with us on our holiday. Neither will he be staying here in the flat – an option he has tried, but failed, to secure. Last time Rosie and I left to see my family for a month (last year), Ben’s drinking went off the rails. Put it this way, we returned to the flat after a 5-hour flight to find poop on the toilet seat. How he managed to even collect us from the airport, I have no idea. In retrospect, I realise he was pissed when he came to get us.

So, this time, he’s going into residential rehab. He has no other choice. I’ve left him with no other choice. He’s in a day rehab programme right now, but I don’t trust him to stay clean while we’re away. I told him if he didn’t arrange something for that month, he would be out on the street. I told him this at our counselling session, which made it much more real for him.

And now, he’s investigating rehab options. He is preparing to go. He’s left it very late – we leave in less than two weeks – but at least he’s making an effort.

And today, he got up and joined Rosie and me on a day out on the South Bank. Rosie and I rode the Victorian carousel, she had ice cream, Ben helped her on the various climbing ropes and frames in the park. We ogled the buskers and searched for the Appearing Rooms fountain sculpture (it’s been removed – big disappointment). When we got home, Ben set the sprinkler up in the garden so Rosie could have a chance to run about in the water.

After that, we played Snap and Snakes and Ladders, and watched the end of Chris Packham‘s WaterworldsIt was a chilled out Sunday – our first real day out as a family without tension – without me looking over my shoulder every minute.

Actually, I lie. I had my eye on him the whole time – even when I was whirling around with Rosie on the carousel. It’s a reflex action now – the distrust.

But I think today was the first day I’ve gone without sniffing him out.


The truth will set you free

What a cliché, and yet, like so many clichés, there is a degree of truth to it – the truth can set you free. This is what I told Ben at the beginning of the week, after he had yet another relapse and went into withdrawal.

Last Saturday, I went into central London with Rosie to view the collection at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. We stared at models of mosquitoes, ancient masks used in Sri Lankan exorcisms, photographs taken with an electron microscope. It was an escape from the stultifying atmosphere of our flat.

When we returned home later that day, I found Ben busy cooking. His face was flushed, he looked exhausted, and he could not focus. I found a half-drunk beer in the cupboard above the stove. When I pointed it out to him, he claimed he had no idea where it had come from and that he wasn’t drinking.

The next day, I was out shopping with Rosie when he rang me to tell me he was in withdrawal again. ‘I drank too much yesterday,’ he said. I can’t say I was sympathetic. I can’t say I cared all that much about his symptoms. I was just relieved he had told me.

The next morning, he said he wouldn’t tell his rehab provider. I told him he needed to think hard about that and understand that every action has a consequence. I also said that everyone is trying to help him, but if he isn’t truthful, then it is impossible.

I don’t think anything I said really made a difference, but he did tell them something – a half-truth, I suppose, but at least it was part of the truth. It was enough, anyway, for everyone to start taking the residential option more seriously.

He is eating again, busy around the flat, and taking the initiative to search out residential options. I could say this is too little, too late, to use another cliché, but I know he is a slow burner – someone whose progress is always going to be incremental and riddled with setbacks.

Today he travelled to Bury St Edmunds to view a potential residential rehab site. It took him about four hours to get there, and then half-way through their meeting, he was told that there was no availability until 13 August.

Rosie and I leave at the beginning of August. Ben needs to be admitted somewhere before we leave. Today, my therapist suggested I think very hard about safeguarding my holiday, ensuring that Ben doesn’t just walk out of rehab and back into the flat while we’re away.

So, now I’m thinking, will he give up his keys? Because I don’t want to have to change the locks.


Lies, lies, lies

Ben Spencer – Apples and Lies

No I’m just digging in the sand, last to empathise, with your lies, lies, lies… True, they all go rotten in time.

Lately, every time Ben opens his mouth, I hear the lyrics to this songBen with his yellow eyes and beer-tinted breath. If I challenge him, he says it’s cigarettes. He pushes his face right up to my nose (because I’ve taken to sniffing him out like a bloodhound). He pushes his face up against my nose as if he has nothing to hide.

I was searching for a CD just now and found an empty beer can wedged under the sideboard… behind his keyboard. I got that distinct whiff while I was rooting through the CD rack, so I looked underneath the cupboard and there it was. It’s like an Easter Egg hunt in here.

I didn’t ask him about it. I tried, but he was out of it, face closed and unmoving. What’s the point, anyway? He’d just say what he always says: “I don’t know where that came from. It must have been there for a while. I can’t remember.”

The truth is, he probably can’t remember. He’s so far gone now, a shadow of a man, a light wind passing through a deserted alleyway. Sooner or later, the coins will be pressed onto his eyes, the stitch into his lips.

Our counselling session didn’t lead anywhere, really. I said my peace, they said they would talk about it… and nothing happened.

They’re waiting for him to own up to his drinking, to be honest with them and himself. He is incapable of that honesty. I expect he can’t bear to hear it himself. He can’t bear to look at what he has been doing – the lies scabbing one on top of the other.

Alcoholics are expert liars because they believe what they say. They will sit there, beer in hand, and tell you that someone else must have put it there, and when that doesn’t work, that they can’t remember how it got there.

He is downstairs, right now, smoking. He isn’t just smoking, that much is obvious.

Does he want recovery? This is the question I ask him. He says yes, of course he does. But he isn’t trying – not at all. He is taking the piss. Still, his mother is willing to pay for private rehab, and I have convinced him to consider it. I gave him an ultimatum. I’m going away for a month with Rosie. If he doesn’t go into residential rehab while I’m away, he’ll have to put up with having his mother here, watching over him. This alternative is so unpalatable to him that he is willing to take her money and go into full-time treatment.

I don’t believe it will make much of a difference. Well, maybe it will in the short-term, but it all depends on how much work they manage to do on his mind. Regardless of what he makes of it, it’s my way of getting him out of our home. It’s a first step towards my freedom. Maybe it’s a step towards his as well.

If he chooses to take it.

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The Great Gatsby

His prose is like sunlight. Even the most horrible sentiments have the lustre of wet pearls. Reading the book, it is almost impossible not to fall in love with Jay Gatsby. He is the perfect, self-made man – right down to the narrative he gives his own life. But what strikes me about Gatsby, in the context of my own sorry life and the narrative that my husband’s alcoholism has given it, is how he stands outside, apart from everything.

He throws parties that he observes from his polished staircase. He distances himself from the corruption of his business practices. And he stands aloof from the drunken disorder that fills his home week after week.

Fitzgerald’s descriptions of Gatsby’s parties are precise and uncomfortably accurate:

“Oh, she’s all right now. When she’s had five or six cocktails she always starts screaming like that. I tell her she ought to leave it alone.”

“We heard you yelling, so I said to Doc Civet here: ‘There’s somebody that needs your help, Doc.'”

“She’s much obliged, I’m sure,” said another friend, without gratitude, “but you got her dress all wet when you stuck her head in the pool.”

“Anything I hate is to get my head stuck in a pool,” mumbled Miss Baedeker. “They almost drowned me once over in New Jersey.”

“Then you ought to leave it alone,” countered Doctor Civet.

“Speak for yourself!” cried Miss Baedeker violently. “Your hand shakes. I wouldn’t let you operate on me!”

There are many similar moments in the novel – mindless prattle, car crashes and drunken afternoons that bloom with bad temper. Fitzgerald casts these scenes initially with humour, then increasingly with tension and portent. Drink is the province of the feckless. Sobriety the choice of the wise.

But it is a lonely place. Set apart by his sober disposition, his nostalgia for a love that cannot compete with the memory of it, Gatsby ultimately finds himself abandoned by the hundreds who once tumbled freely into his home and helped themselves to his generosity. His loneliness follows him from life into death.

And I suppose this is what weights itself most in my mind – this abiding loneliness. It is the province of the alcoholic’s family. And the narrative we build around ourselves seals us from the gaze of judgement, and within the tyranny of the alcoholic’s addiction.