The therapeutic act of writing

For years after Dad’s death, I would often dream of Dad. Unfortunately, most felt more like nightmares. The most common one was that he was alive, but I could never work out how? The memories of his burial would be clear as day in my mind, stood by his grave, throwing in a single red rose, the last single act of love, onto his coffin. And yet, in my dreams, he would be alive and well (well, not all the time).

There were a few dreams when he was nothing like the Dad I remembered. He lived contently in his flat, at Norfolk Park. It would always be clean. There would be no evidence of drink, and yet I would feel a pang of overwhelming guilt for not visiting him as often as I could.  The worst were when he was in drink; these dreams would leave me feeling exhausted, he would be in total denial. He would be a happy drunk and buying everyone drinks with money he didn’t have, or he could be downright nasty.  He had a vicious tongue and would often blame me for his drinking.

I would often awake, sweating, my heart rate would be racing, and for a split second or two, I would question if he was still alive and if the previous two years had all been a dream. Some mornings it would take me some time to compose myself and reassure myself that it was just a dream.

Dad passed over 16 years ago, but he’s still very present. All I have left is a shoebox filled with some of Dads belongings.

I still have his Passport,  issued in 1998. In his photo, he appears to be sporting a shiner. He has a look of a football hooligan. In the event of an emergency, he’d put his mother’s name and contact details, which at the time was when she was residing in Hayle, Cornwall.  I have no idea who the second person is; his name isn’t familiar. All I know is that he was male and lived at an address at Walkley, in Sheffield.

I still have his rent book; there are five stubs proof of payments made.  I can tell Dads writing because apart from his signature, he almost always wrote in capital letters. I’m surprised to notice that his last payment was made on 27th January, it’s in his handwriting, three months before he passed.

I once had a Birthday card. It was signed by Dad, I’d made a point of saving it, but I cannot find it. I have no idea where it lives. I hope someday that it will magically reveal itself – but for now, I console myself in the knowledge that he’d taken the time to write me one. The act alone means a lot.

I have a copy of his death certificate. We registered his death on 22nd March 2005, two days after he passed. It states his occupation as being a Licensee. It contains my name and contact details; I am mentioned because I am his Daughter and was present at his death.

The cause of death: Officially, the cause was Pneumonia. However, if he had not already had Decompose Alcoholic Liver Disease, he would have undoubtably survived the bout of Pneumonia. A stark reminder death is more likely to occur as an indirect consequence of drinking and not the act of drinking itself.

I have a letter from the council, a receipt for his burial and the deeds for exclusive rights for his burial spot, which expires and needs renewing after 30 years. At the end of the letter, there are the contact details of bereavement services available to me. I never took them up on the offer.

I don’t own a single picture of Dad and me together. The only pictures I have are of him drinking in a pub with friends or another family.  I have a couple of photos, but none are originals, only photocopies gratefully given to me by family following his death.

I have a copy of the Sheffield Star, dated 23rd March, Page 33, under the heading Family Notices. Dad’s name stands out at the top of the page, just under the heading ‘Deaths’ surrounded by other names of people I don’t know.

I have the documents appointing me as trustee of Dads financial affairs, dated 11th October 2004. Dad signs it, but his signature is barely eligible.

I have his old tan leather wallet that contains an out of date T Mobile top-up Card and a Gas and electricity payment cards. Inside his wallet, there is a small purse. It contains a single shopping receipt from Somerfield, dated 4th December 2004. He’d purchased some Rover biscuits, two lots of Kaliber (alcohol-free lager), two cheese pastries, a pack of six Yorkshire puddings, a pack of stewing steak, a six-pack of Double Decker’s, apples and bananas. On the back of the recipe is some more ineligible writing containing numbers, which must have meant something for him at the time. The alcohol-free lager is another reminder of his attempts to stay clean. If I smell his wallet for long enough, I can almost smell him again. I can still touch something that he frequently touched, a treasured possession.

I have a pair of Dads reading glasses, and they take pride and place in my office. They still manage to make me smile. They resemble the ones that Deirdre Barlow used to wear on Coronation Street. He’d acquired them off one of the other patients whilst in hospital. I tried suggesting that he give them back, but he’d been adamant the previous owner didn’t need them anymore.  To this day, I still don’t know where they came from?

And finally, I have a shoebox full of notebooks, each containing hundreds of works, written by myself, mostly in my darkest moments. I had wanted to turn them into a book for years, like an itch that wouldn’t go away. I think I was still angry; I didn’t want Dad’s death to be in vain. I didn’t want others to fall into the same trap he did. I wanted to share my story to remind people affected by a loved one’s addiction that it is ok to feel sad and that it’s perfectly natural to feel angry, frustrated, resentful and hurt.

Our writing doesn’t always have to make sense.

Sometimes it saddens me that I don’t have more mementoes to remember Dad by, but the sadness doesn’t last long because I have something more unique, and that’s the memories. Weirdly since attempting to write this book, I haven’t suffered from any of the nasty nightmare’s, which is a testament to the power of writing. Writing for me has turned out to be a form of therapy. It is a safe space where I can process all my conscious thoughts and all the hidden subconscious feelings and emotions that no longer plague my dreams.

I am two thirds into finishing the book, which has proved a lot harder than I first anticipated. Ironically, recalling memories of Dad has been easier than recalling the memories before my addiction evolved.  But thankfully, after a lot of anger, tears, self-doubt, and support from friends, loved ones, and my peers from my writing group, I finally managed to piece together a painful past into a jigsaw puzzle I can finally understand and come to terms with.

I don’t know where today’s blog has come from, and to be honest, I’m not sure what point it is I’m trying to make. But then again, writing doesn’t always have to make sense.  All I know is after sat writing for the past two hours, I feel at peace. I feel content. Writing is more than just pretty words. The act of writing is to share a part of your soul with the world, share part of yourself with someone other than yourself.

I might not write well every day, I might not write as much as I need to reach my imposed target, but as the saying goes, ‘You can always edit a bad page, you cannot edit a blank page’ Author unknown.

Honestly if anyone had said to my younger self  ‘Tracey you’ll be a writer some day” I would have laughed and told em to “Fuck off”. You don’t have to be published to be a writer, there is much more to writing than books.

Fordy’s top tip for anyone who is feeling low or unsure of how you are feeling is to write it out?

Start with the heading “how am I feeling?” and take it from there. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else, just as it makes sense to you, help yourself, try releasing your mental burden by writing it out.

Reyt, I’m off -and remember, try not to be afraid of who you truly are, be proud of your recovery and remember, if you would like to receive post as soon as they are written CLICK HERE – I promise i will NEVER send you any spam, i’m not into all that shit, I just like to write!

 

 

If you thought living with someone misusing substances is tough, spare a thought for those who have lost someone to substance abuse.

According to statistics, up to three people are adversely affected by one person’s substance misuse. But I know it is far more. It’s been over fifteen years since I lost my father to alcoholism, and it still affects me to this day.

It is especially hard when I hear about another person, someone I know who has passed either as a direct result of misusing substances or due to fragile mental health as a consequence of substance misuse.  Yesterday, i heard the sad news that someone else I met, who’d successfully completed rehab, who when the last time I’d seen him, he seemed so positive, but has now passed away.

That’s five people now this year who have died this year alone. After overcoming the shock, my thoughts and heart always go out to their families and the loved ones left behind. We cannot ever underestimate the trauma that the families and friends are still left with after a loved one has passed. Hence my motivation to write this blog.

Often it can feel like a double bereavement. 

It isn’t uncommon for families and loved ones to go through the grieving process whilst their loved one is still alive. I lived with the anticipation of death way before Dad finally passed. He wasn’t the Dad that I recognised; He’d changed so much it was hard to remember what he was like before. I’d grieved over lost hopes and expectations that he would never truly appreciate what it would be like to have a peaceful mind or get to see his grandkids grow into adults. The missed opportunities were endless. 

Coming to terms with the way someone died 

Somehow it can be easier to accept death when someone has passed after a long or fulfilled life. However, the stigma associated with addiction can make coming to terms with the circumstances of death even harder, than say losing a loved one to cancer or in a tragic accident. The additional fear of judgement can often leave families, loved ones feeling isolated, stigmatised or that somehow your situation is less valid than that of other bereaved people. 

I vividly remember being given the option by the GP who was preparing Dads death certificate whether or not I wanted the cause of death being pneumonia or alcohol. Given a choice, I wouldn’t have chosen either, but I had insisted on the latter. Whilst I didn’t want my Dad to become a statistic, I didn’t want his death caused by alcohol to be in vain. His death wasn’t a peaceful one, far from it, it was slow and painful. He endured both physical and mental torture, and as I have mentioned in previous blogs if he’d have had the chance to end his days differently or sooner i suspect he would have. 

Whilst there may be similarities, substance misuse impacts/affects both the users and families and loved ones differently. Addiction isn’t like treating a fracture, where the break can be located and fixed by a cast. Some families live with the uncertainly of never knowing how who or where the rupture took place, and if they did, they would have moved heaven and earth to help fix it. The feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming at times and is even harder to bear with so many unanswered questions. 

Fifteen years ago, there wasn’t as much support for families like me. Through writing this book, I have come across some excellent resources that I wanted to share with you, in the hope that if you know someone who has lost a loved one either directly or indirectly to substance misuse that you could guide them in the right direction (see below) 

In the mean time RIP to all those lost souls and to the loved ones left behind.

Love Fordy x

Remember, try not to be afraid of who you truly are, be proud of your recovery and remember, if you would like to subscribe to more posts, please go to https://www.shithappens.me.uk/contact/ and sign up for emails.

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Sources of support 

Adfam was founded in 1984 by the parent of a heroin addict who could not find the support they needed. Overt the past 34 years they have evolved from a small support group into the national infrastructure body working to improve life for families affected by drugs and alcohol use.

Bereavement Through Addiction Provides support groups, a helpline and an annual memorial service in Bristol.

Drugfam offers a telephone bereavement helpline and other sources of support

Survivors Of Bereavement by Suicide (formerly SOBS) Exists to meet the needs and break the isolation of those bereaved by the suicide of a close relative or friend National Helpline: 0844 561 6855, 9am to 9pm every day

Grandparents Plus is the national charity which champions the vital role of grandparents and the wider family in children’s lives – especially when they take on the caring role in difficult family circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of care for problematic substance misuse – Who decides?

Caring for Dad during the end stages of his Alcoholism has to be one of the most traumatic experiences I had ever done through, even my brush with addiction couldn’t have prepared me or my sister for this journey we were about to embark on.

The more I write about Dad and his story, the more I research it, the more I realise the lack of end of life care or understanding for people with problematic substance misuse and their families is very limited and more needs to be done. Caring for Dad was counterintuitive, working in the treatment and recovery field accepting Dads alcoholism or his inability to break free from it went against everything I believed in.

There were rare lucid moments during Dads alcoholism when he seemed to understand the gravity of the impact alcohol was having on his health. There were numerous times after being released from the hospital that he resolved that he wouldn’t drink again. He tried non-alcoholic drinks, that didn’t last long, he tried sticking to drinking Lager, avoiding spirits or what he referred to then as being “the top shelf”, sadly his attempts didn’t last long.

He flatly refused even the suggestion of support groups, the mere thought of baring his soul in front of strangers was completely alien to him, after all, he was a “proud man and support groups were for whips” he would say. But his reluctance to accept help only fuelled his denial that he could “do this, sort this” on his own. Dads bloody-mindedness caused one of the biggest challenges not just for me and his family, but also for the professionals, who were responsible for his care.

We became acutely aware, particularly in the last 18 months of Dad’s life, that Dad had a serious physical dependency on alcohol as well as the psychological dependence, which made it more difficult to treat. But I was unaware that dads drinking had got to what’s (not) commonly known as End Stage Alcoholism. Looking back, I now realise that all the symptoms were there.

In the last 12 months, in particular, he started to experience many of the comorbidities that occur with end-stage alcoholism. He had been already diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver and as a result suffered regularly from Edema (Accumulation of fluid in the legs), Ascites – (Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen). Dad bruised easily and suffered from abnormal bleeding. He suffered terribly from Cellulitis which made his skin as thin as tissue paper and would frequently tear. He showed all the symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which develops due to a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. And despite all of this, Dad continued to drink.

He’d slipped into a coma, several times, he had severe memory impairment and was often confused. His refusal to work with medical staff because “He knew better or he knew what was best for him” was at times both exhausting and infuriating, but at the time what could be more frustrating was dealing with the staff.

During each hospital admittance, we would have to go through the rigmarole of trying to explain Dads alcoholism to staff who had never had the pleasure of meeting him before. I felt for the nursing staff who didn’t understand the sometimes-outrageous behaviours and actions of a man who was being detoxed of a substance that was slowing killing him, but who would refuse their attempts at caring.

I would often wonder if they would have been inclined to treat Dad differently if he was in being treated for cancer, I strongly suspect they would have.

I always felt reassured and a sense of relief when dad had been placed on a ward, where staff had, had the pleasure of caring for him before, who understood his case history and could work with his sheer bloody-mindedness. Christ, we were on first-name terms with some staff. But there were other times when I could sometime see the frustration and disdain in some of the staff’s eyes, who seemed to resent treating someone whose health conditions were in their eyes “self-inflicted”.

Dad, his symptoms would change daily, one minute he was picking up the next he was deteriorating and tracking down the ward doctor was near on impossible. I would try and read his notes at the bottom of the bed to see if I could make any sense of what they’d written but it was futile none of it made any sense it was just gobbledygook. Towards the end, Dad hardly drank, but it was too late the damage was done and deep down he knew it too.

“People with problematic substance use (PSU) meet hostility, suspicion and frustration from a range of care professionals regularly. It prevents service access and can lead to mutual suspicion and mistrust. Professionals need to counter stigma and stereotyping around people with PSU to regain this trust” (2019) Good Practice Guidance, S. Galvani, Dr S Wright, Dr G Witham 

Every time he was released from hospital his physical and mental health only seemed to be deteriorating further. We no longer wondered “would Dad Die” and started thinking “Not if, but when?”. Which makes me contemplate the question “Could Dad have been offered palliative care sooner?”

Dad had carers, but their primary role was to tend to his bedsores that had developed after spending prolonged time in the hospital after contracting MRSA. More often than not, it would be the carers who would make the call for the ambulance, at the protest of Dad, because all he wanted to do, was die at home and to be left alone. But he wasn’t allowed that right.

Everyone is entitled to refuse healthcare treatment, however, the one exception to this rule is if the health professionals in charge of your care think you cannot make an informed and voluntary decision then that right is taken away. In the last few months of Dads life I’d stopped going to the hospital immediately after he’d been admitted, I would find out which wards he’d been admitted to and email them a bio about Dads condition and what to expect once he became compos mentis, only then would I go visit him. After coming around the staff would be met with a tirade of anger and frustration from Dad because all he wanted to do was say at home and die, but staff just deemed him as being difficult.

On the morning of Dads last day, we were concerned we’d found him on the floor his breathing was very laboured, but compos mentis enough pleading not to be admitted again. My sister worked for the NHS district nursing team at the time, she’s called a colleague around for some advice. When she arrived, dad was still adamant that he didn’t want admitting to hospital, “I want to be at home wi me babbis” those were his exact words, so she made a call to his local GP. The GP arrived and it transpired that his laboured breathing was because he’d contracted pneumonia AND because he’d heard Dads wishes himself, Dad was finally allowed to stay at home.

Immediately the doctor arranged for a Marie Curie Nurse to come around, which surprised me because I thought that they were just called for the end of life cancer patients. The Marie Curie Nurse was amazing, I remember feeling guilty that Dad was being treated for end of life because of his alcoholism when she could have been treating someone from cancer. But she explained that their role was to free nursing care to people with all terminal illnesses as well as support for family and friends.

During my researching for the book, I am learning more and more. I recently came across a research project, which ran for two years between 2016/18, funded by the Big Lottery the research programme was the first of its kind to explore current practice and service experience from a range of perspectives around the end of life care offered to people with problematic substance use, and their families, friends and carers.

As part of the project, they interviewed the patient, health care professionals and their loved ones. They have created a brilliant website https://endoflifecaresubstanceuse.com/ which is AMAZING

As I listened to the family’s stories, I immediately felt I wasn’t alone the guilt and shame and the denial that comes with addiction Listen here 

Responsibility and recrimination / Powerlessness and anger / Guilt and self-blame Listen Here 

After my own experience and hearing other people’s stories I am more determined to advocate and champion the support and care needs, not just for the patience (who happens to have a substance misuse problem, but for their family, loved ones and carers.

I have come across some really helpful sources of support so I thought I would share them with you

BEAD is a great source of information and support for anyone bereaved through drug or alcohol use

Marie Curie has some helpful information for families caring for someone at the end of life due to substance misuse.

I truly believe that as well as the patient all families have the right to be heard, assessed individually, given appropriate training and information to allow them to support their loved one safely, to be able to plan with ongoing support and monitoring from healthcare professionals.

#Familysupport #FamiliesMatter

So watch this space

Remember, try not to be afraid of who you truly are, be proud of your recovery and remember, if you would like to subscribe to more posts, please go to https://www.shithappens.me.uk/contact/ and sign up, If you liked the post please share, if you don’t then do nothing and that’s ok too 

 

 

 

“Help me up, I’m going for a pint” – The dark side of Alcoholism

Asking someone to consider stopping using drink or drugs, can be like asking a child to give up their comfort blanket. Dealing with the tantrums and denial was exhausting.  Unfortunately, Dads comfort blanket ended up suffocating him.

“Help me up, I’m going for a pint” These were the words from a 55 years old man, who unbeknown to me and my sister that morning was riddled with pneumonia and only had hours to live.

That bloody comfort blanket that dad sought so much comfort from only ever caused him pain. There were the odd occasions when he acknowledged that the alcohol wasn’t good for him, but it didn’t last long before good old denial soon crept back, leading to him to

  • Not being able to walk without assistance.
  • He could no longer wear his false teeth because his gums had shrunk because his body was emaciated
  • He showed signs of Korsakoff’s syndrome
  • Fracturing his collarbone, a result of a drunken fall which had never properly healed.
  • Suffer from Delirium Tremens (DTs) also known as Wet Brain
  • He was reduced to wearing a nappy because he could no longer control his bowels.
  • He had developed Alcoholic Hepatitis, which could turn his skin bright yellow

I know that nobody likes being a Debbie Downer, but there is a harsh and dark side a real reality to alcoholism, that people rarely talk about. The reality is, that Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can also be felt in the family, it becomes a family problem that can destroy marriages and drive a wedge between some of the strongest families.

Support for families 

There were 7,551 deaths related to alcohol-specific causes registered in the UK in 2018, but I suspect there are a lot more.

I recall the morning that the GP came around to confirm dads death, which seemed bizarre considering that he’s stopped breathing over an hour before.  I was asked the question ‘The final cause death was due to pneumonia, do you want me to put that down or alcohol abuse?’ my reply was ‘Alcohol abuse’ although I didn’t want my dad to be another statistic, I also didn’t want his death to be in vain neither. Plus one less statistic would only serve to help to minimise the often unseen side of addiction, which is the impact on families.

The UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) study suggests that around 1.5 million people in the UK are significantly affected by a relative’s drug/Alcohol use whilst other studies have suggested this number is nearer to 8 million

All too often the focus is on the addicted loved one, which can cause families to lose sight of the real impact a loved one’s addiction is having on themselves. Families lives can be turned upside down in their attempt to help the addict, offering unconditional support at each setback when others have given up. Dads mates from the pub had stopped calling around long ago, his family lived in another city, leaving just me and my sister providing palliative care. During this time we supported each other and developed an even stronger bond, we had each others backs, we talked and negotiated about the best way we could not just help Dad but ensure we were ok too.

The lack of knowledge and support can leave family members feeling very vulnerable, therefore, families need support too. They don’t have the comfort blanket, like the addict. Families need help to recognise that they have support needs too, they need…

  • Help to understand addiction, to understand addiction isn’t a linear journey it is a journey of ups and downs, achievements and setbacks, stagnation and progress.
  • Help to develop their coping strategies, help strengthen their resilience, especially when it comes to setbacks.
  • Help from others, which can be found in support groups, face to face or online

If you have a loved one who is suffering from addiction and find that your life is being affected, please seek support (see below)

Love Fordy x

Try not to be afraid of who you truly are and remember, if you would like to subscribe to more post, please go to https://www.shithappens.me.uk/contact/ and sign up, If you liked the post please share, if you don’t then do nothing and that’s ok too.

Local support (Sheffield)

Sheffield FF-ACT a recently established online support group which run via Zoom every Wednesday evenings from 7 pm-8 pm. If you interested in attending, want links to the meeting or would like to know more about the group, please contact Mike Dixon on 07837446951

Family and Friends Recovery SheffieldFacebook page 

SHSC Support for families

There were some Alnon groups in Sheffield, although due to COVID, like many others are providing support online

SMART Family & Freinds 

Adfam Also has some great resources and sources of support

For information about Sheffield drug and alcohol services 

 

Life after caring – The void

 

Writing is my therapy, it’s my escape, a place to think, without interruption. Particularly lately what with the incessant negative news and views about society, COVID, BLM the economy, sometimes it’s easy to forget that amongst all these issues is that there are still millions of people who are afflicted by addiction, but that doesn’t make good news does it?

I was inspired this morning, I was pulling together a recovery story from a lady called Debbie. I was reminded that amongst all the negativity that there is so much magic taking place, that often goes unseen or doesn’t make the headline news, I also wrote this… Its called the Void

The Void

There’s a void, I’m not sure how to fill it

Especially now that you are no longer in it

I have dreamt of this moment and now that it’s here

I’ve changed my mind

“Come back Dad, there’s nothing to fear”

 

I have finally been released

From fight or flight mode

You’d think I’d be relieved

But I find I’m at a new crossroad

 

I feel numb inside

There is nothing left

I need to refuel

I need to move on from your death

 

Your life has ended

But mine still goes on

I can continue to mourn

Or I can learn to move on

 

I have chosen the latter

I know that’s what you would have wanted

I wish it was that easy

There are times I still feel haunted

 

In my dreams, I tried to reach you

But you couldn’t see

Locked in your addiction

You just couldn’t find the key

 

I still bear the scars

They will never go away

But I have learned how to cope

In my own way

 

My pledge in your death

Is to continue to fight

I will continue to write

 

I will speak up for others

Including, all the mums, dads, brothers and sisters

 

The void is still there

I don’t think it will ever go away

But I now have the strength and the courage

To make it through another day

Remember, try not to be afraid of who you truly are, be proud of your recovery and remember, if you would like to subscribe to more posts, please go to https://www.shithappens.me.uk/contact/ and sign up, If you liked the post please share, if you don’t then do nothing and that’s ok too 

 

 

Families & Friends of Addicts Coming Together

To stay or Walk away, that is the million-dollar question?

Families can often feel like bystanders watching in dismay as the addict’s actions and behaviours change, turning their loved ones into someone they barely recognise.

I can still hear my mother share how she felt in a film (Putting it into words) made by families sharing their experiences “I just wanted someone to come along, take her away and bring her back how she used to be”. But at that time the drugs had taken over my life and there was absolutely nothing my mother or loved ones could do. I was in complete denial about how my drug use had changed me. As far as I was concerned it was everyone and the world around me that had changed.

Years into my own recovery and without any warning I found the I was in the same position with my father that my mother had been in with me. I was that bystander, who felt powerless as alcohol had taken over his body and his mind turning him into someone I barely recognised.

Over the years I have seen families accessing support groups in search of answers or to try and work out what they can do to effect a “cure” and get their loved one back to normal. They hope for a quick fix, but sadly addiction can often be complex and hard to understand.

That’s why Family Support is vital

Families can be easily be distracted by the actions of the addict that they forget about themselves. They stop living their own lives and end up joining the addict on the merry-go-round of denial, anger, confusion, and blame.

  • Family support provides a space where families feel heard and listened to.
  • Family support can help lighten the burden of those feelings of stigma and shame that often families carry around, unseen to the trained eye.
  • Family Support offers an opportunity for families to learn and understand about addiction, which in itself is complex and cannot be taught overnight or just in a classroom.
  • Family support provides opportunities to be surrounded by others who understand, there may be similarities in the story’s shared, but everyone’s journey is unique to them.

Families should never give up hope for recovery for their loved one—for recovery can and does happen every day.  I feel privileged and proud to be a walking reminder and to be part of a movement in Sheffield (Sheffield Recovery Community) that highlights and demonstrates that there IS life after substance abuse.

But whilst they are sitting on the sidelines waiting for their loved one to embrace recovery, families need to start embracing their own needs

Family support offers an opportunity to learn more about what may be happening to the addict. It can help them to make sense of what drives and motivates addict’s behaviours and help them to develop new ways of coping, which can help reduce the feelings of helplessness.

I firmly believe that even if the families have made a choice to either stay or walk away, they still need support to come to terms with the feelings of loss and pain, they deserve to be recognised.

Families and friends of addicts used to have a voice in Sheffield. We once had a thriving community of peer-led family support groups, that eventually came together to form the Sheffield Families and Friends Alliance Group.

Unfortunately, due to funding cuts and shifting priorities the focus on families and those affected by a loved one’s addiction slowly melted away, it was like the volume had been turned down on their voices.

The more and more I write about my story, I feel the increasing need to turn the volume back up and champion the support needs of Families & Friends affected by addiction. I am proud to be part of a new support group that starts, next Wednesday, this is me doing my bit for the often unseen victims of addiction.

Love Fordy

The groups will run via Zoom every Wednesday evening from 7 pm-8 pm, starting on 17th June. If you interested in attending, want links to the meeting or would like to know more about the group, please contact Mike Dixon on 07837446951

Remember, try not to be afraid of who you truly are, be proud of your recovery and remember, if you would like to subscribe to more posts, please go to https://www.shithappens.me.uk/contact/ and sign up, If you liked the post please share, if you don’t then do nothing and that’s ok too 

 

 

 

 

 

You have heard about second-hand smoking, but have you heard of second hand-drinking?

So back in the day second-hand smoking really changed public opinion and paved the way for legislation to make bars and public places smoke-free. There was some resistance, I resisted it myself particularly when us smokers weren’t allowed to smoke in say pubs or in shopping centers.

When the impact of second-hand smoke was explained, people started to make the link that someone else’s smoking was the reason for their asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, heart disease, or lung cancer. 

 As this understanding grew, more people gained the information and the confidence they needed to take a stand against a person’s cigarette smoke. The awareness enabled people to think about doing what they needed to do to protect and repair their own health, regardless of whether the smoker stopped smoking.

So, let’s apply the second-hand smoking analogy to drinking

From personal experience one of the major second-hand impact of dads drinking for me was

Living in constant fight-or-flight stress response, which was repeatedly triggered, never knowing whether I would find dad dead, or injured as a consequence of falls.

Or all the arguments with other family members and friends about dad’s alcohol consumption and his behaviour and my inability to walk away.

The emotional abuse caused by his manipulative behaviour, like the time he told me he had cancer by way of justifying his drinking, which was a lie.

Or trying to manage his mental health, such as dealing with late-night calls that he was going to kill himself.

Feeling constantly defeated and exhausted by dad’s inability to see how he was slowly killing himself and having to stand by and watch him commit slow suicide.

15 years on, I have come along way, I have been able to heal from a lot of the consequences of second-hand drinking. Some people might say OR think “trace its time to move on” but I can’t, I feel so passionately for those who are still suffering in silence and who are often overlooked because all the attention is focused on the addict.

I feel grateful that there is more and more research being done into second-hand drinking and the effects. A study in 2015 found that an estimated 53 million adults — or nearly 1 in 5 — said they had experienced at least one harm attributable to someone else’s drinking in the past year. NOW that’s a lot of people!

It’s a relief to hear researches are starting to recognise what I and others affected by a loved one’s addiction have been saying for years.

So when I hear quotes from the likes of Sir Ian Gilmore, the chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance and the director of the Liverpool Centre for Alcohol Research, saying “There is undoubtedly harm from second-hand smoke, but the range and magnitude of harms are likely to be even greater from alcohol.” I finally feel heard.

So to summarise – Second-hand drinking can be defined as the negative effects people experience by being around those who drink alcohol excessively.

And just like second-hand smoking were people were able to think about doing what they needed to do to protect and repair their own health, regardless of whether the smoker stopped smoking. If you are a family member or friend and you believe you are affected by second-hand drinking you too can take steps to repair your own health regardless of whether the drinker stops drinking.

Based on my own personal experience there are a number of things I would advise you to do  

Seek out support there are so many sources of support available, mainly online and telephone at the moment due to COVID

Family & Friends Recovery – Sheffield  

Sheffield Recovery Community 

Al-Anon 

Talk and talk some more, start working on accepting that you ARE affected by second-hand drinking and that second-hand drinking is an actual thing.

Educate yourself, even since dad passed, I have continued to educate myself and others about the often-unseen impact addiction has not just on the addict, but the impact on their loved ones. Adfam is a good source 

There are some GREAT books out there such as

If you loved me you would stop

Codependent no more

Work on your boundaries, and when I say boundaries, I’m not just referring to physical boundaries, there are material, emotional, mental, spiritual boundaries

And on a final note, If you are a dependant drinker and you think that your drinking is just harming you, then I would say to you…

“Think again”

Remember, try not to be afraid of who you truly are, be proud of your recovery and remember, if you would like to subscribe to more posts, please go to https://www.shithappens.me.uk/contact/ and sign up, If you liked the post please share, if you don’t then do nothing and that’s ok too 

 

Boundaries aren’t just an enforcement tactic but a form of self care

I don’t ever recall the word boundary being mentioned much growing up, my interpretation of a boundary looked like rules. Rules that had consequences if tested or broken – and trust me I broke many. 

People misunderstand the purpose of boundaries; more often than not they are perceived as being a tactic or an enforcement tool in an attempt to manage another person’s behaviour or actions. And whilst setting and enforcing boundaries can do that to a certain extent, boundaries are only ever effective as the person enforcing them.

‘Why are boundaries are always seen or used as the last resort in an attempt to manage difficult behaviour or actions?’

I would advocate or even argue that we need to start looking at boundaries differently, in the first instance let us start referring to boundaries as an act of self-care. Using boundaries to help us build and restore our physical or emotional wellbeing. Especially, before we even attempt to apply them to others especially if you are using them to change someone else’s behaviour or actions.

I see this it all the time, particularly around families of addicts. Often the family’s attempts at establishing, enforcing, and maintaining boundaries almost always fail at the first hurdle, mainly because they are trying to enforce and manage boundaries at their weakest point.

“Life is hard enough being the person who has to think about, or even consider boundaries especially when it’s not your behaviour that’s the problem, let alone enforce them.”

Often addicts on the receiving of boundaries will go to great lengths and will do anything and everything they can to resist your efforts; they will argue, blame, ignore, manipulate, threaten, or physically hurt us.

“Trust me there is nothing worse than an addict who doesn’t get their way.”

Below is just a selection of some of the most common characteristics of addicts that families are up against

  • Frequent lies
  • Ignoring your boundaries
  • Manipulating you to get what they want
  • They don’t consider other people’s feelings or needs
  • Feelings of entitlement
  • They rarely apologize and if they do, it’s shallow, coerced, or worse – fake
  • They will blame others and don’t take responsibility for their actions
  • They will overreact
  • Make unreasonable demands
  • Have temper tantrums or fits of rage when they don’t get what they want

In a nutshell, their actions can create so much stress, anxiety, pain, which can affect your health, your ability to work, and your overall general wellbeing.

People often find themselves becoming co-dependent focusing more on how someone else can meet our needs rather than focusing on how to take care of ourselves.

And this is dangerous territory, its dangerous because quite often many family members or loved ones of addicts don’t seem to recognise just how bad their lives have been affected until it’s too late. They have been so consumed with fixing the addict and putting the needs of the addict first, that many are left feeling disorientated, disillusioned, and frustrated, with little or no energy left.

By establishing boundaries for ourselves we have a better fighting chance to start enforcing those boundaries that involve other people. This is particularly important when you are dealing with some of the above characteristics previously mentioned.

3 Points to consider 

  1. The starting point for anyone living or dealing with an addicted loved one is first learning to accept that sometimes “nothing we do or say can or will prevent people from acting a certain way.” This can often be the hardest pill to swallow especially when someone has been stuck in rescue mode for a long time.
  2. The second point is learned to accept that what we can do is learn to set clear boundaries for ourselves, to take care of ourselves, protect ourselves, at least that way at we can and give ourselves a fighting chance to feel stronger and more empowered to take on anything that is thrown at us.
  3. Thirdly, when setting boundaries, it is vital to recognise your feelings and learn to differentiate yourself from the other person.

Benefits of personal boundaries 

  • When we set boundaries, we’re less angry and resentful because our needs are getting met
  • Boundaries help us make our expectations clear, so others know what to expect from us and how we want to be treated.
  • Boundaries are the foundation of happy, healthy relationships with others
  • More importantly, boundaries are the foundation of a happy and healthy relationship with our selves.

Remember the purpose of setting your own personal boundaries is to let someone know you are not okay with their behaviour and the person who is one the other end of your boundary may still react. I know this all too well from personal experience.

When you are setting healthy boundaries, you are coming from a place of self-care and you find yourself in a better position to be able to acknowledge the other person’s reaction as opposed to trying to fix it.

I have come across this great No BS Guide to Protecting Your Emotional Space as a starting point to help start you off.

And my final WORD remember this is about YOU not them

I was recently asked to go on BBC Radio Sheffield to advise a lady called Louise whose life had been affected by her husband’s addiction to opiates you can click here to listen in (be warned its 20 mins long)

When tough love is no longer an option – Understanding End of Stage Alcoholism

I find it hard sometimes working in the recovery field, in one breath I am promoting recovery and that it is possible, but in the other breath, I know that this isn’t always the case.

I use the Prochaska and DiClementi’s cycle of change a lot in my work (see diagram below) it is a great tool to help people identify where they are at in their addiction. For a couple of years, dad went around the cycle like a fucking Catherine wheel, with every relapse brought hope, an opportunity for change, but it never lasted long.

After about 18th months into dad’s alcoholism, his cycle started to go anti-clockwise, I hadn’t heard about End Stage Alcoholism, none of the medical staff mentioned it (Or maybe they did and we were too stressed to take it all in) this cycle takes the addict and the family on a very different journey.

I have come up with a new cycle to help people understand the End Stage Of Addiction

1. Denial – Dad knew he wasn’t well, but it was never the alcohol, he would try to minimise the levels of drinking from the doctors, even though his deteriorating health, failing liver was because of his drinking. He had been told on numerous times that “If he continued to drink he would die” but the fact he was still breathing was evidence that anything the doctors said was a lie, only enforcing his rational that drinking wasn’t the real problem – I recall the time as if it was yesterday when dad took a sip of his Jack Daniels and coke refusing to take paracetamol on the grounds that it was bad for his liver, the level of denial was insane.

5. Body Failing– His liver was no longer functioning, he had no appetite, he started losing control of his bowels, His belly would bloat making him look pregnant, his skin turned yellow looking like Homer Simpson, his skin was also getting thinner and bruised more easily. And despite all of this “it wasn’t the drink”

4. Deaths Door – Hospitalised again, with what seemed a never-ending cycle of health problems, enforced detox to treat his alcohol-related health conditions. Following the detox, his mind would be clear free of the alcohol toxins and he would swing between apologetic or angry that he was back in the hospital.

3. Recovery – Dads back, sometimes he would have a newfound sense of determination, this time would be different, he would go Alcohol-Free, or stick to a beer, promising to stay away from the top shelf.

2. Complacency – I’m feeling loads better, I’ll have just one, it won’t be the same, I’ll stay away from the spirits and stick to cans of beer. But it never last, before long he would be back on the spirits and the cycle would start all over again.

1. Denial – back to square one

When tough love is no longer an option

Unlike say an opioid overdose death that can happen in a matter of minutes, dying from end-stage alcoholism is usually slow, painful and undignified. We had done our mourning for the person he was before the drinking had taken ahold. Tough love wasn’t an option for us now, some of the health conditions, side affects of his drinking could not be ignored.  Enabling and caring was the only option. We talked a lot with dad, about what he wanted, he didn’t want to be sent back to the hospital, he was as sick of the cycle as much as we were, he had accepted defeat and wanted to die at home, unfortunately this didn’t happen overnight.

Here are some of the  comorbidities that dad suffered 

Cirrhosis of the liver caused others near-fatal side effects

Korsakoff syndrome -is a neurological condition found in end-stage alcoholics. It develops due to a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency (although this wasn’t diagnosed, dad definitely displayed many of the symptoms) 

Malnutrition – his body was preventing him to absorb the nutrients it needed

Hepatic Coma was given days to live, he survived but then contracted MRSA, resulting in bedsores which required new dressing every day.

Ascites – where fluid accumulates in the stomach

Jaundice – a resulting from Liver Disease

Esophageal varices -coughing blood

Peripheral edema – a build-up of fluid causing swelling in his legsWernicke-

We resigned ourselves and essentially started providing palliative and end of life care the best we could between us. But this was hard, it went against everything I believed in, I felt like an accomplice assisting dad to slowly kill himself which was the last thing any of his loved ones wanted for him.

Caring for someone who is at end-stage alcoholism can be traumatic, often the addict is so out of it they are often unaware of the severity of their condition, but the carers are.

It’s at this point that the carers of someone who is at end stage, need support, not well-meaning advice or ideas about how to get your loved one into recovery, it has gone way past that, the bottom line is that unfortunately, not everyone recovers from addiction.

Try not to be afraid of who you truly are and remember, if you would like to subscribe to more posts, please go to https://www.shithappens.me.uk/contact/ and sign up, If you liked the post please share, if you don’t then do nothing and that’s ok too.

 

 

My name is Tracey and I was an enabler

Enabling is therapeutic jargon or tough love which is often heard in support groups is a way of describing some forms of helping as being destructive, for example, some might say that any act that helps an alcoholic continue to drink prevents the alcoholic from suffering the true consequences of their actions, or make it easier for an alcoholic to continue drinking.

I was advised that I shouldn’t enable, because by enabling dad I wasn’t allowing him to face the full-blown consequence of his actions.

Yeh, I could have said, “I love you dad, but you are on your own?” Or “When you are ready to see the errors of your ways, I’ll be there”

But Surely there are varying differing degrees of enabling?

Trust me dad suffered many consequences as a result of drinking and there were some consequences I simply couldn’t ignore or walk away from, for example

Relationships – Loss of relationships and friendships, because of dads drinking, he had lost many – had we walked away he would have had no-one, well, anyone who genuinely cared about his own best interest.

Physical health – Dad had many injures resulting from a fall where he fractured his shoulder, it was a very nasty condition he didn’t have the capacity and the pain gave him more reason to drink.

Advocating  – Now one else would! I understood him, he was unable to articulate what he wanted, well not without offending or swearing at someone – a blind, deaf person is entitled to have assistance in communicating, how was dad different

I have often questions if we prolonged the inevitable? He could have died sooner, had we not intervened? I guess I will never know?

As humans it is our instinct to want to help others, we don’t do well-seeing anyone in pain, that is of course if you are a psychopath. We are all players in a game of relational transactions – hundreds of them a day. Either initiating or engaging in transactions for which there is always a payoff or loss. There were many times I questioned myself, christ I didn’t need someone else questioning me I needed someone to hear me

Advising someone to walk away is counter-intuitive and not always helpful. I do get it, it is vital that the person caring gets support for themselves, but sometimes advising them to walk away is impossible, so surely there is a compromise to be had?

I can look back on my addiction and god forbid if my mother, loved ones had turned their back on me. Even when I was acting like the devil incarnate one minute and walking around thinking I was John the Baptist the next. They didn’t walk, they didn’t know what they were doing, whether or not it was for the best, but thank goodness they never gave up hope and never gave up trying.

I would often wonder, had dad had cancer would the words of advice had been the same? Addiction in the eye of so many is seen as something self-inflicted, a selfish condition that cares about the one person, the user. But when I reflect on my addiction I didn’t set out to become addicted – no addict does!

I was fortunate to recognise that my recovery had to come from me and me alone, so with this personal knowledge and understand reasoned that I needed to afford dad the same. I knew no amount of coercion, manipulation, shame or blame would help dad, it would’ve been all wasted energy… and my words would have fallen on deaf ears.

Now I am not denying that there were many times that I felt like walking away, there were limits to what I would, could do in terms of support, but I always lived with a glimmer of hope, that maybe, just maybe that combined they might have some sort of impact.

Some would have said, my helping/enabling was filling a void within myself, to make myself feel better – I would argue, so what?

In my case enabler or not, I was able to negotiate some boundaries that helped us both. It wasn’t easy, it never is, watching someone you love commit slow suicide is heartbreaking, its frustrating, cancer, addiction there is no difference everyone has a right to decide what not just what’s best for the addict, but what’s best for themselves.

In the end, the biggest consequence as a result of his addiction was death. But I can live with myself knowing that I did what was right for ME

If you are affected by a loved one’s addiction, regardless of the substance or relationship, please know this.

You are not alone

There is no right or wrong

Caring for someone addicted is all trial and error

Negotiate boundaries that work for you and your family

Make time for you

And remember there are 1000’s just like you questioning themselves

You are not alone

Try not to be afraid of who you truly are and remember, if you would like to subscribe to more posts, please go to https://www.shithappens.me.uk/contact/ and sign up, If you liked the post please share, if you don’t then do nothing and that’s ok too.

Love Fordy x