The Bottle and the Damage Done

AAThere were times earlier in my life where I toyed with the idea of being a counselor of some sort. Maybe a high school counselor due to the lack of having a decent one when I was in school. Then later on the idea of more of a therapist seemed appealing. I think the idea originally stemmed from being told over the years that I’m someone folks feel they can talk to. People feel they can open up to me and I have the ability to shut my own opinions out and just listen without judgement. Offer up constructive advice. It’s not something I’ve ever tried to do; it’s just something that’s always been there. Amidst the senior year “what the f**k am I going to do with my life” boogie I had seriously thought about a career in social services. But, like most good intentions it went by the wayside. I found a career in renting VCRs, porn, and video games seemed like a much more noble money maker right out of high school than being an analytical shoulder to cry on. I still now and then feel like that could’ve been the right career path for me, but I’m good with where my life is now. Instead of having a fulfilling career I have a fulfilling private life. I think it’s a good trade off.

Over the last year I’ve learned that a career in social services, however noble, means nothing when the people needing the social service don’t want the help. Or worse yet, want the help but hit brick walls every turn they make to get to that help. I’m speaking first hand here regarding my mother-in-law. She’s been an alcoholic for over 30 years. She’s been through treatment before. Did time in a mental hospital back in the 80s, sorta got her s**t together, kept a steady job for 15 years, and became what you call a functioning alcoholic. Well three years ago she started to slip and went to work with alcohol in her system. She was fired after 15 years and so began the downward spiral. She lived off of what money she had saved. Her days were spent with a younger boyfriend that was not only an alcoholic himself but also a pill popper. He was on permanent disability(for his back, but I think there’s some mental disabilities going on as well), so my mother-in-law was the main source of money. She sold her trailer(yes, they live a trailer court) and moved into his domicile. Perfect pairing. Two shut-ins that like to chain smoke and drink all day.

Before I continue, I must say that despite my mother-in-laws foibles and general bad bad behavior over the years she did the best she could as a single mom raising her daughter, my wife. It wasn’t a Disney upbringing -and by today’s standards she would’ve been arrested for child endangerment for sure- but she did love her daughter(as well as her degenerate older sons.) And throughout my wife and I’s dating and married life she was always nice to me and especially her grandkids. When she wasn’t preoccupied with working overtime and getting drunk, she loved being with my kids. She had phases where there was effort made to connect. Three years ago she became disconnected.

A year ago St. Patrick’s Day as my mother-in-law was walking from a friend’s trailer to her own on a cold March Saturday evening she passed out in some bushes and remained in these bushes for nearly 12 hours. The Prince Charming whom she shared a sh*thole shack with never called the cops, never left his home to even look for her. It wasn’t until the morning when they searched for her did they find her unconscious in the trailer park foliage. She remained in critical care for a week due to hypothermia. Her BAC was still above the legal limit two days after she’d been admitted. Severe bruising all over her body, low potassium and low oxygen levels kept in her in a hospital bed for a week and a half. She then was moved to a rehab facility where she remained for close to a month. Her liver was extremely bloated, as was her entire body. Jaundice and yellow-eyed, we were told she wasn’t long for this world. Well, she had small gains each day. She could walk a little further, eat a little more, more movement in the physical therapy. My mother-in-law in all her hearty Irish stock had seemed to make a recovery. Not full, but better than death’s door where she stood by just a month prior. We got her setup in a small apartment in town that was walking distance to the grocery store(and unfortunately a liquor store.) She could have a nice, quiet life without the influence of trailer park folk and all that comes with that.

Unfortunately she could never quite shake that boyfriend of hers. He’d come over and pick her up and she’d stay over at his place for days at a time. She said she wasn’t drinking, and we had no reason not to believe her(she’s an alcoholic, we had every reason in the world not to believe her.) But, she’s an adult living on her own. She’ll do what she wants to do. She’s not an invalid. She can make her own choices. And despite doctors warnings back in March in that critical care bed that if she continued to drink she would be dead in 3 months, well, she began drinking again. How long has she been drinking? Hard to say, but I’m guessing much further back than we’d like to think.

Last night around 5pm my wife got a call from her mom. She asked her if she was in town. My wife said no, that she was home. She asked her daughter to come get her from her apartment and take her somewhere. She needed help. She said she was worse off than what she was before her nap in the March air last year. A pint and a half of vodka a day. Probably a six-pack of beer as well. My wife told her she would be over to pick her up. I called the Bowen Center, which is a facility for people with mental disorders and substance abuse problems. They said they don’t treat alcohol addiction. I was given names and numbers for places out of town. Hour, two hours, three hours away. But not here. She needed to be dry and detoxed before they’d see her. In desperation my wife took her mom to the ER. They were very kind and brought her in. She was extremely dehydrated, very low on potassium, and bloated in her abdominal region(her liver, I’m sure.) They kept her there until midnight and decided to release her. My wife took her mom to the Bowen Center at 1am to be evaluated for possible enrollment. They decided she just wasn’t a candidate for their facility. Now, if she were suicidal, then maybe. I was always under the impression that drug addiction WAS a mental disorder. Anyways, so at 3am my wife took her mom back to her apartment to wait until today when we could figure out where to take her. This has been a long time coming. When does someone figure out they’ve had enough? Well, for most addicts they die before they figure that out. But something happened in the last couple days to her mom. Something changed and she reached out for help. My wife told her mom months ago that when she needed help to call her and she’d come get her. She finally called for help, and my wife came and got her.

Where do we go now? Still trying to figure that out. That’s where the whole therapy/counselor thing came from. The system, at least around here, seems to be flawed. Unless you can afford to fly your loved one to a facility 3 states away and have $10,000 a month to drop on accommodations you’re at the mercy of the health system. Sure, there’s always AA. But that only works if you have the willpower. Willpower went with the job and feeling of self worth. I think if there were people out there to talk to…I mean really talk to, that she could have a chance. Addiction treatment out here seems very cookie cutter and generic. No options outside the box. There is a place we’re going to look into this morning. They might give us some hope. We’ll see.

I think if I had a chance to go back, I might give the whole counselor thing a shot. Porn is easily accessible. Help, sadly, is not.

serenity prayer

6 thoughts on “The Bottle and the Damage Done

  1. Wow, John and Paige! I hope your mother in law does get the help she needs! That breaks my heart to hear that Bowen Center wouldn’t take her when she so obviously needs and wants help. You’re right, the system is majorly flawed. There needs to be more and better access to mental healthcare. Unfortunately the stigma is still thick. It’s better than it was, but still there enough to get in the way of people getting help… It’s frustrating and sad. A helpless feeling. It would be great if you did become a counselor or therapist. I think that people in general and specifically would probably greatly benefit from it.
    This post makes me almost want to reach out to my own alcoholic and estranged mother. But she is too toxic and I’m afraid that if I did, she would suck my soul dry and ruin my life like she has to other members of my family. Sad, but true. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing by not being in her life, but I can definitely say that my life is better for it. Hers will always be the same… People have tried to help her countless times, but she refuses to help herself and she just uses people.
    It sounds like Paige’s mom is trying to get help, and that’s a good sign! I hope the best for her…


    1. Thank you Jessica. Coming from someone within the healthcare industry that only sadly confirms my suspicions. If only the industry was run by people like you, then I think things would change for the better. Sadly, it’s a corporate machine just like everything else in this country.

      As far as your mom, there’s nothing you can do unless she WANTS the help. Like you said, you’d only suffer along with her. I know as a good soul and a caregiver yourself you want to help. You shouldn’t feel like you should be doing more. If she truly wants the help she will have to ask. Paige’s mom hit her rock bottom(you’d think that would’ve been nearly a year ago) and she’s ready to fix what’s left to fix. We’ll do what we can to find her the help.

      You worry about you. You seem genuinely happy now, so keep on keeping on. If your mom reaches out, go from there.


      1. Damn, man… You really should be a counselor! You seem to have a real gift to say the right thing- what people need to hear. You sure you don’t want to devote your days and nights to studying social work?? 😉 The benefits would outweigh the costs, eventually.
        If at some point she does want help, she can ask, but she’ll have to be awfully convincing. Trust issues with that one… And like you said, I AM truly happy right now. I’m trying to keep it that way! 🙂
        Good luck to you both!


      2. Maybe social work will be my second calling. Let me get through the teenage years first. If I have any empathy left after that I’ll look into it. For now I’m happy to give an ear and shoulder when needed, on a not so professional level.

        Thanks Jessica.


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