If you love an alcoholic, you know the pain of watching your loved one continue their downward spiral as you try desperately to do anything and everything to help them. And what do you do when the treatment professional you’ve consulted tells you that you must “detach with love” in order to help your loved one help themselves?
In her guest post, Louise Lee shares what it’s like to love her brother, who was also an alcoholic.
Louise is 42 and lives in East Sussex, England, where she runs her own gardening and cleaning business. She is married to Garry and has three children.
When her Mum, Margaret Searle, published her book – Detach with Love – which described how the family had attempted to try to help their alcoholic son (her brother), she felt that there were still some issues unresolved. The book written from a mother’s perspective did not – could not – cover the emotions that a sibling felt and so she decided to write some of her thoughts down to share with others.
For more details about the book, please visit the website – www.detachwith love.co.uk
What is Love? by Louise Lee
Love comes in many forms. For me the love I have for my children is all consuming and unchallenged and can be different to the love of a soul mate, an adored animal and of course the unrivalled love of a secure family. Sometimes that love can be put to the test and sometimes we don’t tell the people in our lives how much we love them and how important they are to us.
Why don’t we tell them? Possibly we think they already know, maybe because we feel we have all the time in the world to tell them when in fact time has a habit of catching up with us.
This story is not about the love I have for my husband, my children or my family, but the love I have for my brother David. A love that I discovered was unable to save him and a love that was unable to compete with his own first love – alcohol.
I have many memories of the seven years my brother appeared to be more in love with drink than life and the seven years my family and I battled with his addiction and in fact became addicted to the addiction ourselves.
There were times I was so scared about what was happening and fearful about how it would all end up that I wished it would rush to its conclusion but these thoughts were quickly replaced with feelings of tremendous guilt. How could I allow them to even enter my head for a second?
Dave was a binge drinker on a grand scale. He would keep going, building up the intake and then when it was no longer available for whatever reason he tended to have violent fits. The first time, when in our (and our doctors) ignorance we thought all we had to do was withdraw access to alcohol he ended up in intensive care for several weeks and that was an experience that was to shape our response to his drinking for all time.
But I digress. This story is about love and I want to tell you about the time it was severely put to the test in a way I never dreamed could happen.
It was at the height of my brother’s addiction and my mum and I had a frantic call from Dave. He begged us to take some vodka to him at his home. By now all his means of obtaining alcohol had been cut off and he was desperate. He must have been because he was a very private alcoholic who would not openly discuss his problem with his family and would drink in secret – hidden in a room away from his us all.
My mum and I climbed into the car full of fear which was a feeling I was getting to know all too well and believe me, it never got any easier. It was a fear that grows uncontrollably and manifests itself in the pit of your stomach. It was mixed with a cocktail of anger and frustration at the lack of control but always the feeling of uncertainty and fear.
There was silence in the car as we drove the 8 miles to his flat. Both of us were trapped in a game we knew we were unlikely to win, not knowing what we would find and planning how we were going to play the next scene – how we were going to help my brother by not being part of allowing him to remain a drunk. The words of his addiction counsellor ringing in our ears – “you must let go…..” So many times my parents had tried to fix his addiction, and for months sometimes a year he was sober until his undying love of alcohol won over and he started on his downward spiral again.
We stopped en-route and bought a bottle of vodka though we knew it felt wrong. Our love for him made us buy the very thing that was going to help him continue with his addiction, and we knew was the very worst thing we could do.
Now I am going to ask you a question. Is that love? Is watching someone close to you endure the pain and suffering and torture of the craving and doing something about it love? To some maybe not, but to us it was, and my brother was suffering.
We entered his flat and found him a sad, desperate figure, unshaven and slumped in a chair. He took the alcohol mixed it with orange and went into the bathroom to glug it down. It took him minutes, When he came out he sat next to me and he wanted more.
Our mum tried to explain to him that he couldn’t, we wouldn’t give him more, we just couldn’t do it to him. Our objective had been to give him enough to try to steady him – see off the shaking and fits. She phoned the doctor at the clinic where he had received treatment but he was useless. There was nothing it seemed anyone could or would do to help. Mum told him what David had just drunk and all the doctor could say was if he drinks any more alcohol he would die. He reminded her that we must let go. We must let him “reach rock bottom”. I held my brother’s hand I told him I loved him. He said, “Lou I love you to,” but he still loved drink more his need was so great.
I told him that by asking me to give him more alcohol I was as good as holding a gun to his head and firing it, because the end would be the same. He begged us. He begged us with all the strength he could muster and all we could do was tell him no.
There was no other help we could give him, the pressure to give in was becoming intolerable and we had to leave. As my Mum and I slowly made our way out, both of us crying, my brother was begging like a small child. The two of us were detaching ourselves with love.
This was the last time I ever saw my brother alive.
Though I was able to tell him I loved him it was only at the end. I wish I had said it many times before. Now eight years on I still feel an overwhelming love for him, but it stays within me. I am not able to let it go. Is this a pity I feel for me or is it for the loss of my brother? Is it for the fact that my once whole family circle and the love we have that binds us is forever broken, never to be whole again?