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Horatio

There was an incident at home that prompts attention before hope appears. Horatio has been staying at my father’s house more days than not. This is good for two reasons; he isn’t allowed to drink there and it provides a way to watch his binges. When he disappears to his house for two days and comes back bleary eyed, we know what he was doing. Horatio isn’t as devious as he thinks. Or is it that he has determined we’re oblivious?

A couple of weeks ago he came strolling back to my father’s house after one of his two day vacations. Still drunk from the binge, he attempted to make breakfast for my father. Clearly he was intoxicated, but my father did not reprimand this behavior. Instead, he quietly ate the half burnt/half runny “scrambled eggs.”

I couldn’t understand his rationale for disregarding Horatio’s state of inebriation. After discussing it with him, the only explanation is that he was at a loss for words at that moment and didn’t know how to react. In hindsight, he knew he shouldn’t have tolerated what happened.

The next day, when Horatio sobered up, my father didn’t hold back in giving him a verbal lashing. I arrived home a few days later, at which time Horatio and I discussed the event. He didn’t deny any of his behavior because he had already been confronted about it. This allowed for an open and honest talk about alcohol.

At the end of the conversation, I made sure that the ground rules were reiterated. There would be absolutely no alcohol in my father’s house. This includes any alcohol in his blood. He will not be tolerated and will not be allowed to stay if his BAC is greater than 0.00. If this means he must sleep in his car outside of the house, then so be it.

At the end of the conversation, my siblings began showing up. The evening would be filled with fun loving childish games as our 7 year old nephew tugged on our arm to get us to play soccer and launch rockets high in to the sky.

The weekend continued this way with museums, kite flying and such. As we were all interacting I was noticing something that I hadn’t seen in a while. As I watched Horatio, I could see a little spark of fire in him. The light had been smothered by alcohol for the past decade, but it was flickering and gaining strength in front of my eyes. The more that Horatio let himself go and enjoyed being with people, the less he thought about his addiction.

It brought me hope that Horatio would one day overcome his lustful relationship with alcohol. It’s obvious that he enjoys being sober more than laying on his couch unconscious. There are many more relapses in his future. He is fighting something that is greater than him at this current time. It will be a remarkable day when he is able to harness and kindle that motivating factor that I have seen in so many of you that I follow. The entity that is defeating him will be overcome by his strength, igniting a lifelong abstinence from alcohol.

The buildup of anticipation and optimism crumbled in disappointment when I arrived home. My father laid down the events that occurred while I had been gone.

Horatio didn’t learn from the first two times that he neglected to show up for work, so he felt a third was necessary to drive it home. Consequently, he had been unemployed for the previous three weeks and has not been sighted for even longer. This meant that throughout the past few weeks he had been in an all-out brawl against his liver to destroy as much remaining functional tissue as possible.

I knew what I would find walking through the door to his house. The TV would be playing a movie at a volume that was way too loud for an incoherent audience member, the bathroom would stink like cigarettes, the refrigerator would be empty, save for a ketchup bottle, his pantry would look much the same, and Horatio would be passed out on the couch with a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka on the floor in front of him.

What would be the point in seeing this all too familiar scene? He’d be drunk, therefore there was no point in having a discussion that he wouldn’t recall having.

I went over there regardless of the sad sight that would be encountered. After letting myself in with the spare key, I could see that everything appeared as expected. I walked over to the unconscious body on the couch and gave him a sternal rub to judge his level of intoxication. Horatio’s head rose slightly and his eyelids retracted only enough to see a sliver of his pupils. He will not remember seeing me.

Picking up the half-empty 1.75 liter of vodka, I walked over to the kitchen sink. Turning the bottle upside down allowed some of the caustic vapors to reach my nose. The piercing smell sent my stomach churning in empathy for Horatio.

As the rest of the bottle drained I found a notecard and pen to write him a note. The note was rather long, but can be summarized in a few words. I explained my disappointment in his recent choices; that I know he is stronger than this; and that I love him no matter what. When the bottle finished draining I placed it on the counter with the notecard on top of it and left.

I recently sat down with Horatio after learning that his manager had to call my father due to an unplanned and unexpected absence from work. My father felt obligated to bring Horatio back to his home, which is an alcohol free house. He was then able to sober up and resume work without too many repercussions.

Since Horatio started his most recent job, he has developed a new cycle of drinking to fit this lifestyle. He has been able (as much as possible) to remain sober during the week in order to meet his work obligations. However, when Friday arrives he is resolved of these responsibilities, which allows him to drown himself in alcohol until a state of incoherence is achieved and maintained. This goes on until Monday morning when he is supposed to be present at work. It appears that when he has the golden opportunity to spend Friday evening until Sunday evening absolutely smashed, he is unable to fight this temptation despite his desire to remain abstinent from alcohol.

This of course was what he was doing during most of the weekends that he didn’t have to show up at my father’s house for family events. This led to his second extended weekend of drinking in which his work was kind enough to call my father again to see if Horatio was okay.

Coming home for the holidays, I am eager to talk to Horatio. There is a sense of disappointment due to the increase in frequency of his binges as of late; however, there is also a feeling of optimism. If Horatio maintains his job for more than 6 weeks, then he will be able to take advantage of the health insurance benefits.

With insurance he will be able to resume sessions with his psychologist. Therapy has had a positive impact on him in the past. With a psychologist, he is able to bring up emotions and issues that he is unable to divulge in a normal sober setting. Acting as his therapist is not a role that I am able to fill because of the position that I already play in his life. Horatio needs to be able to talk to someone that he feels is non-judgmental and of neutral feelings regarding his history.

Health insurance will also allow him to restart his medication regime of disulfiram (Anabuse) and naltrexone. These medications are by no means silver bullets in ridding the body/mind of the intense desire to self medicate with alcohol, but they do help to cut the edge.

I hope that the upcoming discussion with him is as positive as I am optimistic about it.

Horatio’s work called my father when he did not show up to work a couple of weeks ago. This was then followed a week later by another call from his manager regarding the same subject, except this time he had missed both Monday and Tuesday (I’m reminded of the scene in Office Space in which the consultants inquire about him missing days of work, and he responds, “well I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob”).

After receiving the call, my father went over to Horatio’s house and found him completely drunk with an empty 1.75 liter of Smirnoff Vodka in his kitchen. My father asked Horatio to come with him back to his house where it is an alcohol free home. This would allow him to sober up and resume working (I disagree with my father forcing Horatio to come back to his house because this is a form of enabling as well as the fact that it must be my brother’s own motivation to stay in an alcohol free home). From what I heard, there was a lot of resistance to get him to leave his house, but he finally came with my father.

These two occurrences are very disappointing and demonstrate a new pattern of Horatio’s drinking cycle. It appears that he is able to maintain his sobriety during the weekdays in which he must show up at work (sober or not), however, when it comes to the weekend, he is unable to control the temptation to get obliviated with a large bottle of vodka.

A simple solution for him to avoid these severe alcohol binges would be to temporarily move to my Father’s house over the weekend when he is most vulnerable to his weaknesses. Unfortunately, this is not something that he will be too agreeable with, but I hope that he will at least listen and contemplate the idea.

For some reason, I am looking forward to getting home and having a discussion with Horatio. I shall update you after I sit down with him and discuss the current situation. Your ideas and suggestions are much appreciated, feel free to leave a comment or send an email.

It is coming up on 2 months since I last wrote about my alcoholic brother, Horatio. He has had some great success at abstinence along with some unfortunate bouts of relapse. Every relapse is just as hard, if not harder than the last on him.

When Horatio and I sat down and talked 2 months ago, together we decided on two large areas. The first being that he will give me 30 consecutive days of abstinence. We discussed that this is a mountain of a task and that I would not expect him to be able to accomplish this without relapsing at least a handful of times. I emphasized that I did not care if he relapsed, only that he was honest with me when he did so that we could start over from day 1 again. He has still not given me 30 consecutive days, but I look forward to when I can congratulate him on a job well done.

The second order that we agreed on was that he would put all areas of his life aside until he was sober for at least 30 days. This meant that he could not look for a job, he could not look for a girlfriend, and he could not work on other areas of his life that were not directly related to remaining sober. If he wanted to exercise or go to AA meetings or relax with family and friends, then that was perfectly acceptable, so long as it was sober activities. Unfortunately, he has not succeeded in this area either. He had been actively looking for a job and was hired 10 days ago.

This concerns me for many reasons. The primary reason is that Horatio does not have good coping skills. This is what leads him to pick up the bottle in the first place. An individual with poor coping skills will have a much greater likelihood of succumbing to relapse. He has already disclosed to me that over the very first weekend after his first 3 days of work that he had a relapse. Fortunately he was able to sober up before Monday morning and still has the job as far as I know. I assume that it is only a matter of time before they find out his dirty habit.

In our most recent discussion I reiterated that I was uncomfortable with him having a job when he still has not given me 30 days of abstinence. Rather than hassling him about this, we discussed ways to help him cope with stress and made sure that he knew I would always pick up the phone if he was thinking about having a drink. I hope that he has the strength to do so.

Thirty days ago, I sat down with Horatio and discussed with him my thoughts on working together to overcome the disease that he may very well die from, alcoholism.  This was not the first time that we had sat down like this, although this may be the first day that he remembers us doing this.  In fact, I was over at his house two days before this particular discussion. 

On the previous day, it was about 8:00pm when I knocked on the wooden door of his town house.  There wasn’t a response, no sound of him trying to clean up empty liquor bottles, no sound of him stumbling to hide.  Before I headed over there, my father handed me the key to his house.  This had become the usual situation due to the lack of response from within the house after knocking on the door, which was happening at that very moment.  Although Horatio would be inside, he would either be passed out, or unwilling to open the door. It’s understandable why he wouldn’t want to open the door for me, the sight of him in a state of drunkeness would make him feel shameful.  Even though I do not portray a look of disappointment, I can not change how he feels about himself when somebody looks upon him after he has been drinking. 

So I slid the key into the lock and entered his home.  I called out for him, hoping that at least if he hears a familiar voice that he wouldn’t think somebody had broken in to his house.  I could not find him anywhere.  There wasn’t a sign of him on the main floor where the living room and kitchen are, nor was he to be found in the basement.  I was also not finding any empty bottles, which made me curious.  When I went upstairs, I found him sprawled out diagnolly across his bed, as if he barely made it there before passing out.  Understanding that he was still drunk, I went back downstairs, for I knew that starting any conversation with a person with a BAC above 0.00% was hopeless.  In his kitchen, I was amazed at how empty his cupboards were.  A lonely package of pasta and a can of chicken soup.  The refrigerator was just as bare, some ketchup in the door and a 1 liter bottle of Smirnoff vodka chilling in the freezer.  I had a fleeting thought of immaturity to empty the bottle and refill it with water so that when he drinks it he would sober up.  Realizing that I am not twelve years old any more, I instead emptied the bottle and left him a note saying that I was hoping we’d be able to talk.

It’s two days later and I am knocking on his door again.  This time it’s 10 in the morning, but I still hear nothing from within.  As was becoming the custom, I pulled out the key and opened the front door for myself.  Once in, without realizing it, I headed to his refrigerator to check for liquor.  To my surprise, it was empty.  I then began to meander toward his living room, where a movie was playing quite loudly.  As I entered the room, I could see him laying on the couch in front of the television.  He was asleep.  There weren’t any bottles in his immediate vicinity.  I could see a couple of new scabs that appeared to be more than a few days old.  One above his left eyebrow that was 3cm by 1cm in size and the other just below his right cheek bone was 2cm by 1cm.  Scabs and scars had become a normal sight to see on his face since he had been drinking heavily over the past year or more.

I woke him up and he came to a groggy aroused state.  He was surprised to see his brother, despite me leaving a note asking him to get in touch with me.  It was apparent that he had not tried too hard on that.  The conversation started out with normal bullshit, I suppose he was hoping that I wouldn’t notice that he had been on an alcohol binge.  When I asked him about the scars on his face, he described being in bicycle accident on a trail in the nearby park.  I’m not able to determine when he’s lying to me, so I take everything he says with a grain of salt.  Besides, If I call him out on something minuscule so early in our conversation, he’d just become defensive throughout the rest of our encounter.

I’m not particularly fond of beating it around the bush, especially when there’s a looming black cloud of a topic that needs to be discussed.  I open things up by explaining that my father, siblings, and I are not stupid.  We know that he is in a perpetual cycle of drinking to the point of passing out, then waking and starting the cycle again.  I also try to emphasize that we don’t like being lied to (holding back my thoughts on how he acquired the new scars on his face).  After a rough start to the conversation I tried to explain to him that we all love him.  Everybody wants to help, but nobody knows what they can do for him.  We are an Irish family of independent people that refuse to accept a hand from others.  Along with that, we don’t know when to give help either, and in this particular situation, we are lost in knowing what type of support Horatio needs to get better.

The conversation then led to determining what had been successful in the past for him in remaining abstinent, even for the briefest of periods.  Horatio describes AA meetings that have become his support group along with his friends at church who have gone through similar troubles.  Digging deeper in to the effectiveness of these groups for him, it seems that he has not been utilizing them anyway.  When I asked Horatio if he had any tokens from recent AA meetings, he made an excuse about how he didn’t pick them up the last few times he went.  Again, it’s a constant balance of what to believe from his mouth and knowing when to call him out on lies.

A large part of my visits with him are to gauge his motivation to take serious action against his disease.  Horatio is an optimistic individual and I know that his motivation on a 1 to 10 scale (1 being not motivated at all and 10 being extraordinarily motivated) is always skewed.  At this time he states it is a 9, which is relatively promising.  Another factor that I use to gauge his motivation to change is his reaction to the topic of going to rehab.  I never try to force it on him; I merely try to see if he is willing to give it a try.  On this occasion he describes that he was looking in to it.  The hang up is that his insurance would not pay for it (that’s no surprise) and that he hasn’t been working in the past 6 months, which means he does not have the money to pay out of pocket.  I do not push the subject any more than that, because I know that when he is ready and is tired of the repetitive cycle of relapsing, he will finally be motivated to do what it takes to try rehab.

Since he is not ready for rehab yet, I change the conversation to what he should focus on in order to have the best hope of remaining clean.  I placed a huge emphasis on forgetting his concerns in his life (finding a job, getting a girlfriend, etc.) and using all of his energy to overcome the primary problem that is causing the other dominos in his life to topple.  He tells me that multiple people are trying to get a hold of him for a job, but he has not responded.  Horatio thinks that if he can stop drinking for a few days, then he will be able to get a job and continue to be sober.  Unfortunately, it does not happen that easily.  The reason that he has not been able to hold a job and will continue to be unable to maintain a job is due to his inability to suppress the urge to get black out drunk.

Thus, with some negotiation we were able to reach an agreement.  We decided that he would give me 30 days of not working on anything except for remaining abstinent, one day at a time.  He agreed that he would not concern himself with finding a job, getting insurance, starting new relationships, or anything else that causes him negative stress.  However, during this time he is encouraged to exercise, eat healthy and stay as long as he wants at my father’s house, which is an alcohol free zone.

After discussing this, he looked me in the eyes and gave me the strongest hand shake that I had ever felt from him.  I know that in his heart he did not want to let me down.  It is his strong desire to not disappoint people that eats away at him when he relapses.  Thus, before departing his house, I remind him that nobody will feel that way about him if he stumbles again.  We only care that he is strong enough to pick himself up again and we can start the count over.

With that said, I leave his house hoping that he remains as strong as his handshake.

We get a drink with friends and delve into the atmosphere of jokes and sharing stories only to forget the concerns of the day that brought us there.   It’s so intoxicating that you forget why there was a heavy weight on your shoulders throughout the day.  That weight was discarded along with your jacket as you entered the establishment, and a smile drew across your face when you saw your friend across the bar.  As you see the reciprocal smile run across your friends face, you feel validated, thus encouraging the relaxing environment.

At what point do we stop going to the bar as often, and decide to enjoy the evening sharing smiles with a loved one.  This smile is not alcohol induced, but might as well be.  Testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, serotonin and many other hormones are dictating this smile and influence us in more ways than we consciously realize.  Even if we don’t realize the innate influences that drive this, one can not deny that it is a much healthier smile than the one that is surrounded by alcohol.

Whether having a drink with close friends in a bar or sharing a sober smile with a person you deeply care about, there is a line that is not crossed, such as a case when an individual decides to drink alone.  It is not just the act of drinking alone, but often that individual will have the motivation to drink to the point of passing out.  What separates the alcoholic from the non-alcoholic?  What drives that person to drink to the point of oblivion?

Horatio (my alcoholic brother) tells me that it is a ‘click’ that goes off in his head, and he can not control himself once it has occurred.  Nothing that he has tried (exercising, relationships, smoking) will turn this drive off once it ‘clicks.’  If he is driving by a liquor store, he can not just keep driving and forget about it.  He must go in and get something, and from the bottles I’ve seen lying around his house, that something ranges from 1 to 1.75 liters of Smirnoff Vodka.

I can not understand this ‘click’ that he describes to me.  I feel I’d be able to better help him if I knew more about it.  If anybody has anything to add to this, please comment.  I enjoy any suggestions you may have as well.

Thank you.

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