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.

Relapse

It’s happened again. I’ve lost count of the relapses. Today, I found an empty can in the bedroom closet. I know it wasn’t there when I left the flat earlier today with Rosie. When we got back (we’d gone to one of her friend’s birthday parties), Ben was looking shaky and slow. He was also lurking around the bedroom closet. A little searching and – surprise, surprise – I found a can.

Another can of Polish beer. I found another one, crushed with masking tape over the mouth, in the loft. There are bound to be many more. He buys the Polish stuff because it’s cheap. He has no money, though. He is in overdraft – just over 500 quid.

I told him to leave. I said this was it, and it was time for him to go. First he said, ok. Then he stood in front of the bookcase for a while looking forlorn. Eventually, he fell asleep on the sofa, moaning to himself. When he got up, I asked him what he was going to do.

‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

‘I mean, are you going to tell them?’

Ben doesn’t want to tell the rehab centre because he is afraid of being chucked out. He claims the programme is working a little. He has characterised this relapse as not very serious, but can’t pinpoint exactly when it began. I know it hasn’t just been yesterday and today, as he says. So, he is still lying to me, still only admitting what he needs to admit because it’s already out in the open. He won’t divulge anything. He never lets anyone see more than they can see out in the open.

He also told me it was my fault. Not in so many words, of course. He said he’d told me he was in trouble 5 years ago. I said I’m not a health professional and had advised him to go to the doctor. He said I should speak to anyone – anyone – about me and what I’m like. That I have everything to do with his depression and alcohol.

So, yes, I’ll admit that I’m not the easiest person to live with, that I can be awfully critical, and that I have the temper of a hippo. But I can’t and won’t take all the blame. Seems to me he doesn’t remember a few awful things he did to me – betraying my trust time and again. Seems to me he also doesn’t remember the months and years of neglect. He doesn’t seem to understand that my bitterness, anger and antagonism stem from all of these things.

But I’m through talking about any of this. We were never meant to be together. It was always so much hard work. It still is. And it just isn’t worth it.

 

A stash in the shed

Today he came home sober. Just like yesterday. But my sense of smell is out of control. I smell alcohol everywhere. Often, I feel like I’m going crazy. So, although everything about him appears sober, I keep asking him why he smells like that, because I can smell it – why can I smell it? What am I smelling? He doesn’t know either.

We’re both trapped in this cat and mouse charade. He seems genuinely puzzled. Then, out of the blue, I say, ‘What’s in the shed? I want to see it now.’ Panic darts across his cheeks. It is so quick, I am not sure it was even there.

Rosie is out of the tub and in her pyjamas. Ben hands me the shed key and carries her downstairs. Outside, I open first one, then another door. It’s the second door that reveals the beer, hidden behind a bucket.

When I ask him why it is there, he has a fool-proof response. ‘I don’t know how long it’s been there. I can’t remember. It’s old – it has to be. I’m not using any more.’

I know I’ve had a look in this shed at a least a couple of months ago, and there was nothing there. I also note that there is a plethora of little blue off-license bags in that shed – where there was only one before. The explanation can only be that he has been sneaking beers for weeks now. This is all it can mean. And yet, his denials are so convincing.

Is this the line I was talking about a few days ago? When do I stand by that line and make him face the consequences?

He is an expert liar.

I find myself attempting to find something positive in this incident.

  1. He willingly handed me the key, even though it is likely he knew what was in there (maybe he was hoping it wasn’t there).
  2. There was only one beer, and it had barely been drunk.

On the other hand, it is also likely that he brought that beer with him and had been sneaking a sip today, whenever he went downstairs to smoke.

My problem is that I can’t identify the line without incontrovertible evidence. Everything has been circumstantial up to now. That’s how he’s looking at it, no doubt. And so am I, because the alternative is too disabling.

 

Has he relapsed?

This is the question I ask myself daily.

Back-track to a month ago. We were scoping out day rehab programmes. The one in Brixton wasn’t right for Ben, so he opted for one in central London instead. They have been around for decades. The days are consistent and structured. The family counsellor is sympathetic and experienced.

Two days into his treatment and I’m almost positive he relapsed. He came home late from some freelance work that night. He smelled of beer, but he told me he’d been eating chips with vinegar – a familiar excuse. About a week later, he came home blitzed out of his mind. Again, after doing some freelance work. I told the rehab centre. He told the rehab centre. They kept him on. About two weeks later, he relapsed again. He had a gig in the southeast and came home at nearly 1am, having lost his phone and unable to stand up straight. His hand was bleeding. He wet the futon – AGAIN. This time, neither of us told the centre.

I guess the obvious question is, why didn’t I take Rosie and go. Why am I still here? He claims he isn’t drinking, yet I keep smelling alcohol on him. It is a madness with me now – I smell alcohol on everything, all the time. I am hyper-sensitive to the odour in lotions, deodorants, mouthwash, aftershave – everything. His antiperspirant spray is strong and scrambles my olfactory sense so I can’t tell what I’m smelling. When I come home from work, I find him so out of it, I don’t know what to think. As always, he tells me he is just tired and needs to sleep. The mad thing is, there is no smell.

Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, I guess. But, I have to ask myself, what is my line. What is the line? When is enough, enough?

He is lying on the sofa, moaning to himself. He does this often. He also talks to himself. He says it’s a comfort mechanism. I don’t know whether it’s the Prozac (he’s on 40mg now). I don’t know whether he’s abusing his meds. My instinct tells me there is something he isn’t telling me. My instinct is telling me he’s lying.

Surely that is the line?

Rehab day programme

The funding panel made its decision on Ben’s application for residential rehab yesterday. In their infinite wisdom, they have chosen to refer Ben to a non-residential, structured day programme.

This means that Ben will be returning home every evening from whichever centre. And every evening I will be wondering whether he has relapsed, what state he will return in, and whether I will finally lose my mind and kill him. The one thing I know is that I can never – never – see him with that glass-eyed, pissed expression again.

Ben is in shock when he receives the news (he had been travelling for more than two hours to an appointment that he was told was at one end of the borough only to find out it was at the other end, and then, once he got there, unnecessary), and I thank myself for being a paranoid control-freak, arranging for my friend to be with him.

I spend the whole tube journey back from work screaming ‘NOOOOOOOO’ over and over again in my head. It is a high-pitched, crackling scream that crushes every rational thought in my mind. I want to cry, but there are no tears. I am in public, after all.

Apparently, the panel based their decision on the notion that Ben has enough family support to warrant a day programme. Family support? That’s me – effectively a single mother and breadwinner with no extended family to rely on. A woman on the edge of breakdown.

I kick myself many times – in the ribs and in the head – for being so damn efficient at  intervening in Ben’s case with all and sundry. I should have thrown him out. It seems that I am being punished for being compassionate.

But I can’t do this. I know I can’t do this any more. I have reached the end of my reserves.

I want a copy of the panel’s report so I can rebut it – so I can tear its logic into nano particles. I am writing to my MP, to my cabinet minister, calling on our local service-users’ advocacy group – anyone who will listen. But first, I need to speak to Hanife.

So, yet another work day is blown to bits. It is 7:33AM and my head is already throbbing.

Assessing his rehab needs

Ben is out of hospital. He came out last Friday evening, groggy and irritable. I spent the whole weekend plus the last few days in a state of acute anxiety.

I watched Ben every time he went outside for a cigarette, and refused to let him go anywhere without a chaperone. On Monday, he had his community care assessment – his assessment for rehab – at our local NHS drug and alcohol service.

This was our make-or-break appointment. It was our opportunity to work with the community care assessor, Hanife, to build a case supporting Ben’s request for rehab. His case would then go before a funding panel which would approve or reject Ben’s application.

From the beginning, it was clear that Hanife was on our side. She had already been in regular contact with me. She tried to get the hospital to postpone Ben’s discharge to Monday, advised me on how to keep Ben busy post-detox, warned me it was(is) a dangerous time – where the likelihood of relapse is very high.

Hanife’s default position was that Ben needed residential rehab. We talked about why Ben felt he needed rehab, what his motivation was, what his objectives were. The complexities of his illness and treatment were unpacked. There was the urgent need to address his depression, anxiety and severe sleep deprivation. He needed space to explore his broken family relationships, and the time to rebuild his confidence and self-esteem.

There were questions about Ben’s ‘human capital‘ and ‘social capital‘ – government speak – all of which only reminded us that the funding panel’s decision to approve or not approve Ben’s application was governed entirely by financial concerns.  But Hanife seemed positive and ready to do battle with the panel in order to get what we needed. We felt we were in good hands.

The assessment took just over two hours. We came out feeling hopeful. Ben seemed less anxious. Nevertheless, I had set up a rota to cover the days when I couldn’t be at home with Ben. One of my friends came up from South London to spend the day with him on Tuesday. Another travelled from Cambridge to be with him yesterday, despite Ben’s protestations. ‘A bit unnecessary,’ he kept saying, acquiescing only to humour me.

We were preparing ourselves for a decision, which was due either this or next Wednesday. When it came, it unhinged us all.