The Agony of Watching Someone’s Slow Self-inflicted Suicide

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“It’s been a while since I could say / That I wasn’t addicted. It’s been a while Since I could say / That I loved myself as well.” — Staind, It’s Been Awhile

here is probably nothing more sad than watching someone you care about dying.

I am quite positive this is not news to most people. Given that cancer is so common — especially here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. — most of us have probably seen one or several of our friends and loved ones pass away from this awful disease.

My late, great mother succumbed to pancreatic cancer just over four years ago. So I’ve been witness to it first-hand. The experience is like a wild roller coaster ride of emotions. One minute you are up, next you’re down. One day you hear good news that your loved one is doing well and the next might be a “bad” day for the cancer patient.

But the disease I’m talking about losing someone to is a bit different than cancer. For one, it has an element of choice. We generally do not “choose” to have cancer, though one could say certain lifestyle choices might lead to developing it. There is tons of research and theories though I’m not sure there are any definitive answers on what causes the various kinds of cancer.

No, I’m talking about the slow-moving and ultimately fatal disease of alcohol addiction. The ever-presence of alcohol and its use in our world is an interesting study. The myths that movies and TV shows help spread that alcohol is a natural part of life, like breathing.

Not so interesting is seeing people in the grips of alcoholism (or alcohol use issues, or alcohol dependency, whatever you want to call it). For these people literally “need” to use/drink just as they need to breathe in order to live … such as it is. That is, f you can call it living when you are constantly using mind-altering substances to escape the stresses of real life.

Watching someone slowly drinking himself to the grave, one beer, or shot, or strong drink at a time really sucks. I know because I have been doing it for two years, give or take. I’m not asking for sympathy; I choose this and will continue to do so until further notice.

I know of a number of people who have died from drinking and understand it is quite painful (possibly similar to cancer) as one’s organs slowly shut down until death occurs. Knowing this adds to one’s pain when you are — like me — witness to someone who is slowly committing suicide one drink at a time. It’s a self-inflicted slow death. I always wonder if alcoholism is a actually a disease or is it more of a choice. I’ve heard arguments both ways.

I’ve been in a number of relationships with men who were heavy drinkers. Because of their alcohol dependency I stayed for so long until I eventually decided I’d had enough… at least until the next talkative, charming man came into my life (who also “loved” his beer a wee bit much) and swept me off my feet.

Everyone gets into relationship patterns and this is mine. You might say (since my family of origin has addiction issues and my upbringing was in a dysfunctional atmosphere) that I was basically raised to be codependent. So, since we tend to go with what we know, I gravitate towards men who have issues with drinking. Not always, because I have actually been with a few who could actually stop at one or two, and I’ve also been with a couple men who were recovering alcoholics/drug addicts at the time.

Unfortunately those who are using and even those in recovery sometimes tend to be controlling and I can’t deal with that in other people. Even though I realize that over the years I have been pretty controlling myself in that I tried to make someone quit drinking. Or slow down. Or to choose between me and the drinking. Ha!! Good luck with that, Karen!!!

Those with alcohol issues say how much they “love” doing it. Except that books on addictions and alcoholism will tell you these people don’t actually love drinking. They do so because it sets off chemical reactions in the brain which cause cravings and the “need” to imbibe alcoholic beverage.

It was during one of my relationships as a codependent and heavy-drinking man that I said “If a man prefers to hold a cold beer rather than a warm woman, there seems to definitely be a problem.” The man in question died earlier this year just before our state “shut down” due to the Covid-19 pandemic. His cause of death was listed as “heart attack,” which given his lifestyle is perfectly believable but I highly doubted it was the whole story.

Those in the know said “he was drinking an awful lot toward the end.” At the time I was with him I saw that coming so it wasn’t at all a surprise. Neither was the suicide over 20 years ago of another former boyfriend at all surprising to me. He too was a drunk with a bunch of drunks in his family, many of whom have passed away with cancer.

Watching someone drink themselves to death is agony. It is wrenching, heartbreaking, and makes one feel helpless. One has the roller coaster of emotions and keeps hoping recovery (quitting drinking) may happen. I just choose nowadays to not delude myself with false hopes. I know better now.

Because in some cases with alcohol addiction it is more likely that the person who is addicted is going to slide down that slippery slope into a booze-soaked grave. It could be a slow slide or a fast one. A self-inflicted slow suicide, the kind of which at least one of my former boyfriends has done. And as I’m afraid the man I’ve been with for about two years is heading that way.

“Why oh why can’t you just fix me? When all I want’s to feel numb. But the medication is all done. Why oh why does God hate me? When all I wanna do is get high / And forget this so-called life.” — Theory of a Deadman, RX Medicate

o, why don’t you go to Al-Anon?” some people reading this might ask me. Good question. I actually went to my first Al-Anon meeting decades ago, at the tender age of 19. I had recently gotten out of one of the first (in a long string) of my relationships with a guy who had a drinking problem.

For many years I attended Al-Anon and also went to meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I needed to understand why people get so tangled up in alcohol consumption, to the exclusion of anything else, including their loved ones. I wanted to know why it is that alcohol is more important to some people than their loved ones are.

My best friend at the time — whose parents were both alcoholics — introduced me to Al-Anon and AA. From there I self-educated. I read the Big Book, The Twelve Steps and Traditions, and many other books on the subject. Towards further understanding of my relationship dynamics with these men (and other people in general) I also read Melody Beattie’s book about codependency, such as Codependent No More.

This self-education has continued for many, many years. As have my relationships with so-called binge drinkers, some of whom were either on other drugs at the time and some did various drugs in the past. I spent way too much time trying to shame, coerce, and beg a man to quit drinking (or smoking). So much so that I’m almost ashamed to admit it. Almost, I said.

Throughout the years I’ve learned that shaming, begging, threatening, etc., are not the ways to get an addict to quit. Al-Anon teaches us facts about addiction and people who have them. It also gives us coping mechanisms to both help reduce our own stress, as well as the pressure that comes from being with someone who is using (drinking and/or taking drugs).

Some people may ask, why don’t you just leave him? Short answer is, because I really like him. Oh, and I’m also codependent.

My recognition of this fact has let to my reading lots of books on codependency. One learns in these publications about detaching with love from a drinker, how to change codependent behavior patterns, how to draw boundaries on behaviors and treatment that one will and will not accept from people. I’ve tried to hard to change said patterns though sometimes fall short and get “hooked” into an addict’s snare. However, I’m happy that I recognize when that happens so I can do something crossed boundaries, for example.

In Al-Anon and also books about being a codependent we learn — among other things — to “live and let live” and “Let go and let God (as we understand Him).” The first of the Twelve Steps of recovery states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol. “ We learn that, in spite of what our addicted persons might tell us, that we are not the cause of their drinking. We also learn that we can’t force someone into quitting alcohol and/or drug use.

It is this last lesson that has me wringing my hands with anxiety over my male companion’s compulsive, close-knit relationship with beer. I don’t nag, beg, or make mean, hurtful comments about his drinking. None of those tactics work, and they just cause unnecessary stress and hard feelings. No one needs that so why beat yourself up to control the addict? It’s a pointless effort.

No, I just enjoy the good things with my guy. He is a basically a good, decent, hard-working man who just happens to be a daily drinker. He doesn’t abuse me nor try to control me, which again is a lot more than I can say for some of my past boyfriends. He’s drank for several decades and there’s no doubt in my mind that he is never going to quit until he’s in a casket. So I don’t even try. What will be, will be.

Like is the case with so many other people I know, alcohol is and always has been just a natural part of life for him. Like peanut butter and jelly, his life and alcohol were a pair that nobody could separate. It would be unnatural I guess. His mind is stuck in a deep groove of a record that plays constantly in his mind, “You need beer. You love beer. Keep drinking the beer” over and over and over.

Unfortunately he has essentially trained his grown children to be like him. Sometimes addicts beget more addicts unless someone steps in and changes the narrative. I live in a town where drinking (often to excess) is seen as perfectly natural and normal (and when I’m in a bar not drinking I am seen as “weird”). Therefore no doubt that people just think he’s “nice” guy who enjoys his drink but is not “a drunk” because he’s just like them.

A lot of people seem to believe alcoholics are those sitting on the streets downtown begging for money to buy wine. Or they think all people with alcohol dependency are like Nicholas Cage’s character Ben Sanderson in “Leaving Las Vegas.” In that movie (which very much saddened me) he has “hit rock bottom,” as in lost his job, his wife, his home. So Ben sets out for Vegas and proceeds to drink. And drink. And repeat, until the bitter end.

I could totally relate to evidently helpless, sad feelings of Ben’s hooker companion in that movie, Sara, who was played by Elizabeth Shue. Maybe I cried because I saw into my future and had the understanding that I might some day be in her shoes. Except for the hooker part, that is.

Yes, I long for a more loving relationship, which I deserve. But since I know that substances will always take top priority over anyone else, I go with what I have, which is for the most part enjoyable. Luckily after years of studying addictions and people with them (friends, relatives, boyfriends) I realize I don’t have to control him. Hell, there is no controlling an addict. I truly do not want to. I just want to make the best of what it is while it is.

Not only do I dislike feeling like I’m being controlled, I’m pretty sure most addicts don’t want to be controlled either (does anyone?) And as I said earlier, who needs that stress? I ‘d rather just live and let live and just want to enjoy the good times. If bad times come, I will detach. I’ve tried to leave but end up back with him, as is often seen in codependents. Who knows; I might leave him again. Not for another man this time but for my own peace of mind.

Or maybe not. This man and I have a lot of good times. It just so happens that all of those good times are always accompanied by booze, no exceptions. And some days he drinks so much that I am absolutely amazed he seems coherent. He can carry out his duties, cooks, washes dishes, and seems perfectly. I’ve only once seen him stumble and don’t ever recall him really slurring.

Maybe this make him a “functional drunk” that I’ve read a lot about. He bears no resemblance to Ben Sanderson in “Leaving Las Vegas”. My male friend has his own house on the lake, he works, takes care of his house, and is a great cook. Most of the time he’s a pleasant companion. Which again is more than I can say for some previous boyfriends.

Though he’s mostly nice to be around, he does sometimes rant and rave about tings we see on the news (one such ranting topic is all the “unrest” we’ve had in the world this summer involving rioting, protests and calls for social justice). Then there’s when he forgets things he told me the day before, or that I told him in the past day or two.

Then he repeats stuff he’s told me several times. This makes me wonder if he’s in the beginning stages of alcohol-related dementia. Being with him reminds me of being in an endless unchanging loop. Such as in “Groundhog Day” or even “50 First Dates.”

Besides all these rationalizations to justify (mostly to myself) staying with him, there’s also my perception that maybe this is all I have to look forward to in my so-called middle age, Even though intellectually I know I deserve to be a man’s priority. I just know that isn’t going to happen before I do a bit of hard work on improving myself. Because I’m so good at being a drunk’s girlfriend and I like having a man at my side. Having a boyfriend used to validate me as a person for many, many years. Yes, I know: It’s sad. But true.

In the almost 20 years since my divorce, I’d like to say that I no longer need a man to “prove” I’m worthy/good/lovable/attractive. Because I know somewhere deep inside that I am a decent, caring, helping person … one who just may be too helpful. I’ve tried too much over the years to pry an addict away from his addiction and I’m tired. I keep saying I don’t need this type of life, nor do I need a relationship.

But do I believe it? I might be kidding myself. Those habits of seeking adoration and validation from males were instilled in me a long, long time ago …. About the time I was learning from my family of origin to be codependent, to cater to the addict’s needs and wants to the exclusion of meeting and voicing my own needs, which went unheard and unmet. And so it goes. The pattern continues.

Luckily I’m neither married to nor living with this man. I’m pretty certain that cohabitation isn’t in the cards and this is just fine with me. Thankfully our lives are not deeply enmeshed and entangled in the sense that he “is my everything” (as is often the case in codependent relationships).

We are not joined at the hip, so to speak. I let him “do him” and I get to “do me,” as in we feel free to have separate lives apart from each other. I have my friends and hobbies that don’t involve him. I also have a wonderful son and daughter-in-law who bring me much joy and might one day bring me grandkids. Maybe.

I got to this stage of acceptance over all the years of self-educating about alcohol dependency. No way in hell do I want to live with another addict. I prefer my own house with my cats; it’s my refuge and my peace and quiet. Plus it’s free of men who drink too much who I might have to “take care of”, which is a good thing because sometimes due to my various mental health issues it’s all I can do to take care of myself.

Even so, I still am afraid that my guy and I are together “til death do us part” because our relationship works just fine as it is set up: being together and living apart. At our ages it’s just a question of who will go first. So I stay with him, essentially choosing the agony that comes with watching someone slip away, little by little, committing slow suicide via a beer can.

It is what it is.

“We watched him drink his pain away a little at a time …. Until the night he ut that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger …” — Allison Kraus and Brad Paisley, Whiskey Lullaby

Note: even though I have not chosen to attend Al-Anon in my advancing age, like a frequently did as a much younger codependent. Nevertheless I highly recommend the program to others who may be living with an alcoholic/drug addict. I advise going to open meetings of AA. Plus, there are tons of web sites and books available to anyone who chooses to self-educate on this topic.

And if you believe you might be caught in a trap of addiction, you’ve made the first step, that is recognizing and (hopefully) admitting it. I urge you to seek help, get answers. Not only for your own sake but also for the sake and peace of mind of those who love you. Trust me on this.

References: “Codependent No More” and “One Day At a Time” by Melody Beattie; The Big Book of AA; Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps and Traditions; et. al.

Experienced professional writer/freelancer and former newspaper reporter-turned-online writer/blogger. Thinker. “Old soul”, young hippie, empath.

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