When I am asked this question, I think back to the place I was when I was in my mess. I was hiding my addiction, literally. I was going through a 30-pack of Rolling Rock so quickly that I’d start pulling the full cans forward in the box in the fridge. This way, my unassuming husband wouldn’t know I’d already crushed ⅓ of the pack by Monday night that we’d bought together Sunday afternoon. I’d bury the empties under the big cardboard pieces in the recycle bin so he couldn’t see evidence of my solo day drinking. In the evenings, I’d tell him I was going to go to work to put together fitness classes for my clients but would meet up with friends at a bar instead, often staying out until 2 a.m. On more than one occasion, while I was out “working”, my husband would text me to ask if I would be home in time to get our young kids up and fed and out the door for school. This was the more obvious evidence of my struggle.
The emotional struggle was harder to identify. I can tell you I was more angry more often, had a very short temper, and often preferred to isolate myself away from my family because it was easier to avoid fights that way. Since I’m a natural extrovert and a total people person, I’d get so lonely hiding out and would eventually emerge from my isolation. I tried to be a better person without the alcohol, but eventually I’d get stressed over the relationships with my husband and kids that I needed the numbing effect. I felt I was a better person when I drank. I wasn’t so stressed. I was more fun.
I always had a hard time regulating, fearful I’d lose my buzz and therefore chose to drink more and more to make sure I wouldn’t. It was then that I would get angry. I was a jealous drunk and took most of my frustrations out on my husband. While I never hit him, I threw things and screamed. I scared my kids. I scared my husband when I would tear off in my car. He’d beg me to stay, trying to hold me as he tried to talk me down, but I would rip away from him and be gone. I’d come back tearful to a worried yet exhausted spouse. I’d cry and apologize and admonish myself as a piece of shit. In the days that followed a big blow up, I’d ask my husband to help me control my drinking a bit. I’d suggest ways he could attempt to keep me in line, curb my drinking a bit. He would reluctantly agree. I am sure it was hard for him in that place.
I would rip away from him and tear off in my car…
My story isn’t universal but it does contain some clues you can look for when you find yourself asking “Does my loved one need help?”.
- Withdrawal. Going away to eat, drink, take pills, have sex. Essentially hiding the behavior for fear of being found out and for even bigger fear that it means the substance of choice will be taken away and/or they will be forced to change the habit. Withdrawal can also be for the purpose of isolation, not wanting to be around anyone, even those your loved one used to really enjoy spending time with.
- Extreme mood swings. Without getting into the purely chemical piece of abuse and addiction, the emotional torment caused by someone abusing a substance ranges from guilt and shame to elation and invincibility and a whole bunch of emotions in between. You may come into contact with your loved one at any point along this roller coaster. You may notice sharp changes in short periods of time, often caused by a seemingly insignificant trigger. Getting irate at the drop of a hat, for example, or crying over something he/she normally wouldn’t be all that bothered by.
- Hiding. Taking the trash out frequently (especially if, prior to this point in time he/she was never one to volunteer for that chore), scrambling if you ask to see his/her room or ride in his/her vehicle, keeping his/her phone locked or always keeping it with him/her, even when they use the bathroom.
While all of this may seem overwhelming, keep in mind that you are never alone. There are groups for support for you, the supporter! If you’d like additional help or resources, please connect with me. Or you can take a peek at some resources for recovery by clicking here.