Hidden Addiction: Out of Nowhere
By Ned Wicker
Any time a person is admitted to the hospital it is a reason for concern. No medical situation is routine and sometimes the unexpected can throw an entire family for a loop.
“Sandy” had a problem with her colon, which required a hospital stay and a medical intervention, all of which was fairly routine, as procedures go, but nevertheless serious. She came in, had the procedure, but what happened after that came out of the blue. After being treated for the colon issue, she went into alcohol withdrawal. Her husband was in shock. They took her from the surgical ward to the intensive care unit. She was intubated and connected to a variety of IV units.
“I have never seen her drink,” he said. “I don’t understand how this could happen. I mean, she doesn’t drink. Even at a party, or out to dinner, she has an iced tea.”
The husband described a close, loving relationship. They spend a lot of time together, except for the morning hours, when he goes to work. He leaves the house at 6:30-7:00, but he’s home by 2:30-3:00. She works from home, spending those hours on the computer. On the surface there was nothing wrong and so when her alcohol dependence cropped up, hubby was completely baffled.
Learning of her withdrawal, the husband ran through the gambit of emotions, from the initial shock, to anger, to sadness. He was contemplative and philosophical, wanting to explore the issues both personally and as a couple.
A LOT to Learn!
“I have to learn what I can do to help her,” he said after a deep sigh. “I didn’t see this coming, so I really don’t know what to think right now, but I need to understand.
Her mother doesn’t know what to think, because she is like me, she had no idea this was going on. I am angry, not at her, but angry at myself, because I should have seen it. Somehow, I should have known.”
He is like so many other husbands and wives who wake up one day to discover that their spouse has the disease of alcoholism, in one form or another. His inclination was to beat himself up over it, or perhaps be angry with her for hiding her troubles. As the days wore on in the ICU, he began to formulate a plan of action and reached out to several community resources for support.
Al-anon is the first call
Al-Anon was one of the first calls he made and that turned out to be profitable, because he soon learned that he wasn’t alone, that there was hope and support. He also poured into the various web sites to learn about the disease.
“I have to know,” he explained. “I’m a mechanic and I have to know how things run. I pull them apart and put them back together again so I can understand everything. It helps because it’s taking some of the mystery out of her drinking. I’m beginning to piece things together.”
Figuring it out?
He spoke of their experiences over the last couple of years and pointed to a pair of precipitating events that may or may not be directly connected to her alcohol abuse. She had experienced profound loss and had undergone long, stressful challenges in her job. He thought through those events and began to see the picture in a clearer light.
“There’s a part of this that is mine and I don’t think she’s all alone in this,” he said. “When she is able, we’ll talk about it. This is about both of us. I just want to be supportive.”
She has a chance
As he was telling his story I was reminded of a man who had died in the hospital three years ago. He literally drank himself to death. Even though he was in the ICU, receiving expert care, there was nothing the medical staff could do to hang on to him. His body quit. But Sandy had a chance, a very good chance, to come through her medical issues and begin to reverse the damage.
“I’m just hoping that when she comes out of this, when they take the tube out of her and she’s able to talk to me, that she remembers what happened,” he said. “I hope she can deal with this. But she may not remember anything and just continue where she was. I just don’t want to go through this again.”
For the better part of a week, he stood by her bedside, only leaving for meals and an occasional break. She came off the vent and slowly began to regain consciousness and once medically stable was transferred to another facility for physical therapy.
The story goes on and we do not know the outcome of this chapter of her life, but we do know that she has a loving and supportive husband who is interested in understanding his wife.
Not a victim
He made the decision not to be a victim, although he was blindsided, but chose instead to be a part of the solution. His feelings of helplessness turned into feelings of compassion and energized him to take positive action.
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