And the tables turn

(c) Stik

So, well, I’m still here even though it’s a new year and I wrote that ultra depressing post as 2013 petered into 2014. I had some lovely concerned comments from many of you – for which I’m very grateful.

I don’t know what it is about the ends of years that gets me so teary eyed and damned despondent. Maybe I feel like I’m still in the same place, treading the same black water – and it stinks. Continue reading

“A prinses livd in a casl”

a Prinses livd in a casl and she wus tow [two]

and she didnt wunt a bad mum

Rosie brought this “story” home one day. She had drawn a portrait of a girl under a bright yellow sun, and on its reverse were these words. At first, I was proud of her for working out the sentence phonetically – proud, that is, until I got to the end and read the bit about a ‘bad mum’.

Then I was sad, and a little worried. What if they use this as evidence against me? I asked myself, imagining a scene in which Social Services take Rosie away from me on the strength of this, her first attempt at English composition.

Well, we’ve all read the horror stories, haven’t we? The one about the family whose child was taken into care because the parents didn’t feed them junk food (ok, so I read that one in the Metro on the tube – hardly a reliable news source). Still, there are other disturbing stories. Either there is too much intervention or none at all. Social Services appear incapable of treading the middle way, meaning that most people would rather give them a wide berth than approach them for help.

Anyway, this post isn’t about Social Services, although I am meeting the community nurse this week to complete a common application form for Rosie, which will complete her referral to the children and young people’s mental health services.

Typically, this has come a bit late. I have found a number of methods to keep Rosie calm, and her behaviour has improved a bit. We have even had a few mornings where she has successfully managed to dress herself without going into paroxysms of rage and grief.

How did we do it? Through talking about it. We had quite a few abysmal mornings, in which Rosie wept and screamed on the street, in front of our neighbours and commuters. I can still see the tears rolling fatly down her cheeks, and me at the end of my rope, ready to walk away…. sometimes doing just that.

But the last few days, we have had a few quiet successes. You see, some time last week or the week before, I sat Rosie down and explained that her underpants were always going to be a bit uncomfortable. “It’s not going to change,” I said, “so we have to find a way to think about it differently.”

I suggested she distract herself by singing a song while dressing, or by looking at some illustrations in one of her books.

She does this now. She accepts that it isn’t going to change and that she just has to get on with it. “I can’t help it,” she says, but she tries nonetheless. Sometimes she succeeds. This makes her so happy, she skips up the pavement to the bus stop. It makes me happy, too.

We are also using the marble jars – we’ve filled two now, and she has won time with mummy baking gingerbread and time with daddy painting a rocketship. We’ve now moved on to a star chart. Lots of praise, lots of positive reinforcement. I’m trying to see whether helping her believe in herself will help her triumph over this mental block.

I don’t know how long any of this will last for. I am willing to take whatever comes my way, right now, and improvise something new, as and when necessary.

As for being a “bad mum”, I asked Rosie whether she was thinking of me when she wrote her story. Of course she said she wasn’t. “Ok,” I said. “If you say so.”

“I do,” says Rosie. And for a moment, I almost believe her.

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.

 

Depression

This is the root of his alcoholism: depression. Ben is clinically depressed and on Prozac. But the Prozac hasn’t had a chance to work, because of the amounts of alcohol he’s necking. He’s adding a negative to a positive and ending up with zero.

As every specialist will tell you, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. And alcohol is a depressant, so if you’re depressed and you drink, you’re just feeding your depression. One of the best ways to counter depression is with physical exercise. But Ben has gone from being an energetic, fit man to an idle, exhausted one.

He slouches around in the alcoholic’s costume: shapeless, stained sweater, ragged jogging trousers, ill-fitting jacket with deep pockets (deep enough to hide a can or small bottle), scuffed trainers. His feet are bone white. He is always cold.

I see them everywhere now. Shuffling about in their drunks’ uniform, some wearing dark glasses and knitted tuques.

One of them regularly begs in the pedestrian subway by my local tube station. His nose is a ravaged potato, his face red and ruined.

At my unkindest moments, I’ve told Ben he might as well join the pedestrian subway guy, because that’s where he’s sure to end up the way he’s going. He’s not far off now. He’s lucky I haven’t thrown him out, because that’s exactly where he would be, sitting on a broken bit of cardboard, nursing a tall can, holding out a dirty palm or paper cup…

This is the thing that stops me from sending him packing: the thought of walking by him one day with Rosie. What would she say? Would she recognise him? Would he her? How would we explain it to her? Would she ever forgive me?

So was it the depression or the alcoholism that came first? Hard to say. Both run in his family. His mother is depressive. She has also been alcohol dependent. What I do know is that his alcoholism is fuelling his depression. He’s coasting down into a dark and oily well. Before we know it, he’ll be there with pedestrian subway guy – in spirit (see what I did there?) if not in body.

If we’re lucky, the treatment they offer him will address his depression – unlock the root of his anxiety and help him find healthy coping mechanisms. I’m waiting for Monday, and that elusive rehab assessment. But Monday feels like a whole continent away right now. And the end of next week, a whole world.

Step 3 – Keep your alcohol key worker in the loop

Whenever there is an incident, tell your key worker. You don’t know what your partner is telling her or him, so it’s up to you to clarify the vagaries. It’s also a way of logging a deterioration in your partner’s condition, providing further evidence and justification for their treatment to be expedited.

Again, it all depends on the key worker you’re allocated. Some are more responsive than others. If you’re not happy with the one you’ve got, request a different one – if there is another one. This is the problem. NHS drug and alcohol services are notoriously short-staffed so it’s quite possible there is only one key worker, in which case, you’re stuck.

As I said earlier, we were lucky the first time around. Ben’s key worker, Bianca, was   diligent. So, if Ben was going into frequent withdrawal, I let her know. When Ben got arrested and charged for drink driving, I told her. By that point, she had already sorted out psychological counselling (to begin to address his deep depression) and residential detox for him, as well as an aftercare programme designed to ensure he didn’t go back to drinking.

It was all achieved swiftly and in close consultation with me. It was a positive first experience.

Sadly, Ben relapsed within three weeks of leaving detox. Bianca retired about a week after Ben came out of detox. We lost our advocate. We were back to zero again.

Step 2 – Build a relationship with your alcohol key worker

The key worker is key. This is what I learnt from nearly a year of engagement with our local drug and alcohol service. Your key worker is your advocate. If she or he is not behind you, actively engaging not just the alcoholic, but you, the carer, then things can fall apart rapidly (more on this in a later post).

The first thing I did when Ben was admitted to the service was ring them to speak to the person who assessed him. Ben had given him permission to share any information with me – a boon, as this has allowed me to keep tabs on how his treatment has been progressing (or not). It has also allowed me to intervene when necessary. When I phoned the first time, I asked about their methodology. I wanted to know what we could expect from the service, projected timelines for treatment, types of treatment, etc. And they told me.

Ben and I were lucky at the beginning. His first alcohol nurse/key worker – Bianca –  was passionate about getting him healthy again. Both she and Safar, the alcohol worker who assessed Ben, were very concerned about him. Ben was thin, quivering and completely devoid of self-confidence (sadly, nothing has changed).

Bianca made a point of speaking to me and keeping me informed of Ben’s case. Whenever I phoned, she gave me as much time as I needed to vent or ask the questions I needed to. She breathalysed him every time he went in to see her and reported his readings to me each time we spoke. From the beginning, she said he needed to be sent into detox. She was – rightly – extremely concerned for his health and she wasted no time in getting him prepared for treatment.

One day, she found he was over the limit when he drove in to the clinic, and confiscated his keys. Ben rang me at work to tell me that the car was at the hospital where the alcohol service is based. He said he thought the reading was wrong, but Bianca had taken his keys anyway. He sounded genuinely puzzled – but this was just another manifestation of his delusional mindset.

When I went in to collect the keys, Bianca took time out to speak to me. She wanted to know how much I knew about his drinking (not all that much, as it turned out). At the time, Ben used to keep his cases of beer in a padlocked shed outside. Only he had the key to the shed. He never let me go in there – and perhaps I didn’t want to. Anyway, it was she who insisted that I demand the key to the shed as a symbol of his commitment to being honest with me from that point forward. She also suggested I hold on to the car keys. I followed her advice and it worked.

When I asked Ben to show me the shed and insisted he be honest with me from that point forward, he agreed – and he stuck by that… well, sometimes. I also took the car keys, although even then, I was stupid enough to believe him when he claimed he didn’t drink during the day time, and that he rarely drank and drove (“and certainly never with Rosie”). He was still taking care of Rosie at that point. So, I guess I was suffering from my own delusional mindset.

That would soon crack and peel away, like paint on a bathroom ceiling. But it would take a few more weeks before I finally accepted how serious his condition really was.