Three months ago I reported in a column that Dan, a farmer, reluctantly admitted his addiction to alcohol to his wife, Darla, and their two children, ages 11 and 8. Much has happened since then, which led me to write this update sooner than originally planned.
Moreover, I received valuable observations from other farmers dealing with lifelong alcoholism that need to be shared before more time passes. As usual, I have not used Dan and Darla’s real names or provided identifying information, but their story otherwise is accurate. Darla keeps me informed.
Dan entered an inpatient treatment program for 30 days in early January 2018 after a three-day drunk over the New Year’s weekend, when Darla demanded that he leave their home until he obtained inpatient treatment; she threatened divorce, otherwise.
Divorce could cost Dan the opportunity to farm, even though the couple are buying their farm from his parents. Dan’s parents are concerned about his ability to operate the farm. Darla’s income from her nursing administration job helps make the farm payments.
In my late-March column I raised the likelihood that Dan would relapse, because most alcoholics have to undergo treatment, legal reprimands and/or incarceration several times (three is average) before remaining abstinent permanently. Some people choose to remain habitual consumers of alcohol.
In late April, Darla asked Dan if he was regularly attending his three weekly support meetings, two of which were Alcoholics Anonymous; he answered, “Yes.” Dan saw his counselor every week, but it had been three weeks since Dan had invited Darla to a counseling session.
According to Darla, Dan said he had an advocate whom he could call at any time. Dan showed Darla his advocate’s phone number; Dan proclaimed that he had not needed to call him.
Several people wrote to me about their alarm concerning Dan after reading the March column. They said lying is part of alcoholism.
In late May, after finishing corn and bean planting, Dan called Darla to say he would arrive home late that evening because his AA meeting went longer than usual. He had to drive 50 miles each way to attend these meetings, so Darla thanked Dan for informing her and went to bed.
When Darla awoke that night around 2 a.m., she discovered Dan was not yet in bed with her. She became worried when she checked the garage and his truck wasn’t there.
Darla suspected “the worst.” As she was trying to figure out what to do while sitting in the kitchen, she saw headlights coming up the driveway and she heard the garage door open and close. She was relieved, but also suspicious.
It was obvious that Dan had been drinking when he staggered into the kitchen. He insisted he had taken a wrong turn home on the interstate, but his breath smelled like whiskey.
Darla demanded that Dan take a breathalyzer test, which he refused. Darla said he had destroyed four breathalyzers (I thought it was five) over the previous years, but Darla already knew her husband was drunk.
The next day, Saturday, when Dan awoke around noon, he insisted he hadn’t been drunk the previous night. Darla made Dan move out of the house because she knew better.
Two weeks later, and after Darla conferred with Dan’s counselor and his advocate, she allowed Dan to return to their home, but with stipulations that he leave if he ever became drunk again. The kids were also disgusted with their dad, but they acquiesced to Darla’s recommendation to give him another chance.
Darla had learned from Dan’s advocate that he and Dan kept in contact daily by email and that Dan had contacted him about his “slip” before he returned home that night. Dan’s advocate was not judgmental, but he also said Dan should have contacted him when he was contemplating drinking – not after.
Dan told Darla and his advocate that he wanted to celebrate the completion of spring planting. Dan thought that he deserved to celebrate and could handle a couple drinks, but he consumed more.
Darla said that Dan’s advocate, his counselor and Dan agreed that he and Darla should have celebrated together, and without alcohol. Dan said he realizes now that he is a lifelong alcoholic.
People who wrote to me after the March column suggested it’s unacceptable to label anyone as a lifelong alcoholic unless the person admits it. Because Dan told Darla, his counselor and his advocate that he is a lifelong alcoholic, is this Dan’s final step toward sobriety? He didn’t say he can’t drink ever again.
A recovering Midwest farmer said he had to accept that “my program must be my first priority, my family second and my businesses, next. I had to realize that even if I got the monkey (alcohol) off my back, the circus was still in town.”
This farmer has been sober for 26 years. Your thoughts?
Dr. Mike Rosmann is a psychologist and farmer in western Iowa. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org