Thursday 21 February 2019

'He had an obsession with alcohol and I had an obsession with trying to cure him'

Anne Morshead on life with an alcoholic

Anne Morshead has written 'Blind Drunk', which is a honest account of a woman's struggle to help a loved one with a serious drinking problem
Anne Morshead has written 'Blind Drunk', which is a honest account of a woman's struggle to help a loved one with a serious drinking problem

Lisa Jewell

Being the partner of an alcoholic means you're in a very lonely place. Anne Morshead led that life for many years, and felt that she was judged by the fact that she loved someone who had an all-consuming addiction.

"Outsiders could see the problem – my friends would say, 'Do you think he's drunk?' and I'd say, 'No, it's because he's upset that his mother is ill', or 'It's because he's got bad eyesight'," she says.

"I think people are judged by others – 'Is she so stupid that she doesn't realise what's going on?' And so families hide it and feel ashamed about asking for help.

"And then the isolation comes – I became very isolated, which didn't help my self-esteem. He had an obsession with alcohol and I had an obsession with him and trying to cure him. If someone asked me how I was, I told them how he was.

"I lost myself and I really turned into someone that I didn't recognise. That's what alcohol does – it doesn't just affect the person that's drinking but their family, their friends."

Anne has written a very honest and moving book called 'Blind Drunk', in which she shares her experience and also offers advice to others dealing with a loved one who has a drinking problem. Anne uses that word deliberately so that her book isn't focused just on those dealing with someone who is a diagnosed alcoholic.

"Where does heavy social drinking stop, and addiction start? Problem drinkers give you the signs and are very subtle in their manipulation in a relationship, as much as an outed alcoholic."

Anne is originally from the UK. She worked as a couple's counsellor, was married and at one stage was a co-owner in a gift shop.

When her marriage ended, she started travelling over to Ireland with a friend of hers, and in 2000, she decided to make the leap by moving to live full-time in Co Wicklow.

"I didn't have any dependents and so I could make the move. To me, Ireland just feels like home and I love it."

However, Anne says at the beginning, she still felt in holiday mode living here and was getting used to the subtle differences between Ireland and England.

And then she met Liam (his name has been changed in the book) in a local pub and an attraction grew.

Anne says that she now realises that her nature to be a caretaker and rescuer was part of the reason why she was drawn to Liam, who had had a tough life and was visually impaired.

"He had a miserable Irish childhood – Angela's Ashes – and his mother was very ill. I suppose he anxiously attached to me and I did listen to him, and maybe that's the counselling background. But who knows what makes someone click with someone else?

'He also gave me attention and he is a strong character – a man of few words but very capable of being succinct and also, he doesn't let me get away with stuff. I need somebody quite strong. He was emotionally dependent and strong at the same time."

Anne realised that Liam liked a drink but didn't fully understand the extent of it right away.

"I just thought to begin with that he drank more than I did, and I found I was drinking more than I really wanted to and more often than I wanted to. It was subtle, and possibly only when I wrote the book, did I realise how that developed.

"There wasn't a sudden moment when I realised he had a drink problem, but what became the bigger problem as we went on is that when I confronted him, he'd say he was sorry and he'd change and all that.

"I believed him and was encouraging but then the next moment, I'd be nagging him, criticising him and reproaching him. I became resentful and angry. And then when things finally came out in the open, he actually started to become deceitful and hide bottles, pretending it wasn't as bad as it was."

Looking back on it, Anne says she made some classic mistakes that loved ones of alcoholics do – checking for hidden bottles around the house and at the same time, becoming blind to the extent of the problem.

"I wouldn't believe my own eyes – he'd get in the car and I'd think, 'That was a quarter bottle of vodka he slipped into his pocket, wasn't it?' and then go, 'No, no, it wasn't.' Anyone who really wants to hide something gets good at it and the other person starts to think they're going mad. I was probably in denial too at times."

Liam went through stints in residential rehab but kept going back to drinking. In the meantime, Anne started to suffer from health problems.

"I didn't realise I was experiencing anxiety attacks – I thought they were palpitations and had an ECG only to find out they had been panic attacks.

"I'm lucky that I still have any friends left because I became a huge bore – only being able to talk about him and what he was doing.

"I've always had a great sense of joy in the natural world and that sense of contentment and hopefulness got taken away because everything shut down, narrowed down and got darker."

Anne had reached a tipping point, and felt she had no other choice but to leave the relationship and re-focus on herself.

During a phone call while she was away in the UK, she told Liam she had to detach herself.

"I heard myself saying, 'I don't want to see you or speak to you if you don't stop'. And I knew that I meant it then.

"I thought I had meant it all the other times but this time it just felt different. I knew he wasn't drunk so he could understand what I was saying. I told him I loved him, but I didn't want to live like this anymore."

Anne took that hard decision to detach from Liam, not knowing if it would make any difference to his drinking or whether he would spiral further into his addiction.

"I had to be prepared that that could happen. There was relief because I'd made a decision and knew that I meant it and that there was a path forward."

Later that morning, Anne learnt that bombings that had taken place in London. It was July 7, 2005.

"It made me think that I could have easily gone back to Liam – one of the reasons we cling to people and we stay in a situation is that we fear the loss of something.

"But actually it had made me sure I'd made the right decision because life is short and you have to stay in the present moment and appreciate the life you have."

Anne questions in her book whether her late father had a drinking problem. She shies away from calling him an alcoholic, for the same reason as she is hesitant to call anyone an alcoholic.

'I have no right to say that anyone's an alcoholic – if someone has a problem, they may deny it for a long time but only they know themselves that it's a problem.

"He certainly exhibited some of the symptoms, in hindsight. I wrote about it in the book because I have to consider the possibility that my father was an alcoholic, which means I was much more likely to get involved with Liam as I was familiar with that scenario in my family."

Anne is still in a relationship with a now sober Liam, and says she's in a much more contented place in life. However, she doesn't gloss over the fact that the relationship still needs work.

"How he got sober, I don't know. The fact that I had managed to detach from him, I don't think was a coincidence in his recovery. He might disagree but I know that it was a factor in him getting sober.

"He had to take responsibility for his life again. By carrying on trying to pick up the pieces and trying to help, I hadn't been helping at all and I was doing the absolute opposite – I was enabling him."

'Blind Drunk' is published by Balboa Press, a division of Hay House, and is available from Amazon.

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