The constant worrying
What most of us who are living with, or are close to someone who is addicted have in common is the constant worrying.
The worrying certainly was one of the most difficult things of living with an alcoholic for me. The sense of powerlessness, the not knowing.What is he up to, what will happen next? Will there be another episode of heavy drinking? Will he be aggressive or will he have passed out? Even wondering whether he is still alive and sometimes secretly wishing that he wasn’t, so the constant worry could stop. There were so many questions that remained unanswered and it was exhausting.
I met him when I was on a short holiday in the UK with the intention to do some writing. After having settled in a Bed & Breakfast, I went for a walk on the beach and then to a local pub for a bite and a drink. That is where I met him. We immediately got on. It was so easy to talk to him, we were so clearly on the same wavelength. We were both in our early 40’s and I was a very independent woman. I had travelled the world and thought I had seen it all. We fell in love and I decided to stay for a month. In that month I got all the signs, but I didn’t hear any bells ringing. There were moments of joy and moments he just left me alone and came back completely drunk, ignoring me.
He admitted he was an alcoholic.
But he admitted that he was an alcoholic. I had read somewhere that this was the first step to recovery and thought that it was a great sign. All my saviour instincts kicked in. I was going to be his Florence Nightingale. Little did I know. Half a year later he came to live with me in the Netherlands. He arrived with a small sports bag that wasn’t even full, it contained all his belongings. A twelve year roller coaster ride followed.
Those first few years were extremely intense. I didn’t know anything about alcoholism and was impressed that he talked to me about it. One day he would acknowledge his problem, the next day he would say there was no problem. I became totally consumed by the situation. As an artist I was working from home and my income was enough to take care of all the financial obligations, but also of him. He was a teacher and soon found an agency who discovered how good he was. He was able to conduct many free lance, intense, high level, English courses to businessmen. He was loved and praised but I soon learned that the weekends would be unpredictable.
I remember that feeling in my stomach, that knot that I could not seem to get rid off. The uncertainty about what would happen. Unable to plan anything, as I could not count on him. The many promises that I kept believing and that were broken. He would have days where he was fine. He would not drink. We went out for nice walks in the forest, we laughed a lot and had political discussions about how we would put the world to rights. Back home we cooked a nice meal which we ate in front of the television, watching an interesting documentary or some stand up comedy. Those days made me so happy and made me love him so much. I loved his intelligence and wittiness. The next day he could simply go out to buy some cigarettes and not come home, without an explanation, without a clear reason. When I phoned him he would pick up and hang up on me. When I phoned him again, he picked up and hang up again. After that he switched off his phone. I couldn’t understand why. There was no reason for him to do this, but I knew he was drinking and the worrying was intense.
There were also hopeful signs. In the twelve years we were together there were many times he quit drinking. Sometimes only one or two months. A few times six months and once nine months. I have to add that I do know a number of recovered alcoholics who have stayed clean, and never relapsed, even for 20 years or more. So one man’s experience doesn’t need to be that of someone else. But if I’m honest, in my case, even during times of sobriety, that nagging, worrying voice in the back of my head was always there. Will he ring, will he come back home, will he be tempted? It often did go wrong, like that time he got a standing ovation from the managers of a bank for his excellent teaching and was then given an expensive bottle of whisky as a gift.
How not to worry so much
By now most people know the effects stress can have on our bodies. The constant worrying creates stress and this is something we should try to avoid. Although I’m perfectly well aware that when you find yourself in the situation of living with an alcoholic it’s hard not to be stressed, but if you find yourself worrying when ‘your Alcoholic‘ is not home, there are some things you can try to stop that worrying. Below just a few suggestions:
Be conscious of your worries. It will help if you actually sit down 10 minutes a day and just have a conversation with yourself. Try to feel the fear and be aware of what you are worried about. Then, after the 10 minutes have elapsed, you can promise yourself not to worry anymore. You might even use something to jog your memory to not worry. Perhaps an object in your house that you use daily, so every time you see the object you are reminded to be aware of your worrying. As if you look at it as an outsider. This will help to let the worry go.
A good social network is also very important. There are many social groups these days on Facebook, such as Partners of Alcoholics, or the non-religious group for wives-husbands-partners of alcoholics, to name but a few, where you can just talk about your problem and feelings and where people ‘listen’ without judging. This support can be a great help.
Try and relax. There are many relaxation techniques that can help, but simply being aware of your breathing can already do wonders. If you notice you are breathing at the top of your lungs you can try to bring the breathing down. As if you are breathing from your belly. Sometimes it helps to breathe in for three counts and breathe out for four or five counts. Read a good book or go out for a walk can do wonders as well.
You also might want to cut down on caffeine as this can make you more nervous which won’t do the constant worrying any good.
My name is Renate van Nijen. I am a Dutch born, artist and writer living in Southern Spain. On my website, www.renatevannijen.com you can find more information about my books, including about Cheers, the hidden voices of alcoholism, and my art. If you are affected by the drinking of a loved one please feel free to subscribe to my blog and you will get instant access to two chapters from Cheers! I will also upload one chapter of my book every month!