It’s been almost three years since I first wrote about Dan, a farmer in his early 40s, who didn’t want to admit his alcohol abuse. The Farm and Ranch Life article for the week of April 18, 2016 was the fifth and most recent in a series about Dan and his wife, Darla.
An update is warranted because this farm family is currently dealing more effectively than previously with Dan’s issues. As in earlier columns, the identities of Dan and Darla have been disguised, but not the issues they struggle with.
I thank the readers who have written me with sage advice for Dan and Darla, often from the perspective of “having been there.” I passed along many of your observations and recommendations to the couple without your personal information.
Background. Dan and Darla, now both in their 40s, are purchasing the farm where Dan grew up from his parents. Darla, a nursing supervisor, contributes part of her salary to payments for their farm and provides the family health insurance. Their children, a daughter and son, are currently 9 and 6 years old respectively.
Perhaps this ongoing saga should be entitled The Breathalyzer, for Dan destroyed four of the devices while proclaiming over the years that he didn’t have a drinking problem. He was charged with DUIs twice but seemed to be heading straight when I last wrote about his situation in April this year.
That reform lasted five weeks, Darla said. He became completely wasted when his parents, and Darla’s, came to their home to celebrate his 45th birthday on a Saturday evening in mid-May after their crops were planted. Dan started grilling steaks for everyone but passed out on the patio drunk; he remained there for several hours as he “slept it off.”
The intervention. Darla asked both sets of parents back for Sunday brunch and to carry out an intervention. The children stayed outside the house while the adults talked.
Dan started off with an apology, but his father cut him short. He had heard enough, he said. He had never witnessed Dan drinking excessively until the previous evening. Dan’s father had overcome an alcohol problem himself.
Dan’s father led the intervention with a statement about his own alcohol addiction and how Alcoholics Anonymous and professional counseling helped him and his wife. He explained that Dan would lose Darla through divorce, and probably also visitation with their children, ownership of at least half the farm Dan’s parents were selling to them, and most of his future if Dan didn’t turn his life around.
The scene at the kitchen table was somber as Dan’s father said the decision about his family’s future was in Dan’s hands.
Darla said her parents recounted their anguish as they listened to her cry on the phone about Dan and her worries that he would hurt their children or her during one of his drunken stupors. They wanted Dan to deal with underlying anxiety issues, and to learn assertiveness and anger management skills. They advised Darla to join Dan in counseling and to participate in a support group of her own.
The treatment. On Monday morning after the kids left for school, Dan called the substance abuse counselor he had chosen about a year ago and whom he had visited periodically. She referred the couple to a therapist she knew, a street-wise, experienced psychologist.
After their 2.5 hour joint intake interview, Darla felt understood and relieved. The psychologist explained that Dan couldn’t drink alcohol ever again and a new breathalyzer would prove his sobriety. The psychologist would teach Dan skills to speak up and manage disagreements without having to fortify himself with alcohol. Inpatient treatment would follow if these measures failed.
Dan began attending AA meetings, which the psychologist said would be a proving ground for Dan to practice what he was learning. Darla began attending Al-Anon meetings, in addition to the weekly conjoint meetings with their psychologist.
The follow-up. Four months have transpired since the couple began their treatment.
Dan contacted me several times lately to talk about things, as Darla has done for years. He hasn’t been defensive and seems honest. I suggested that he consider me an external consultant.
Darla is happier than I have observed her over the years of our periodic communications. Their children, whom I’ve never met, behave more comfortably than they have for several years, according to Darla. They freely give their father good-night hugs that they reluctantly gave when Dan was drinking.
Will these steps dealing with an alcohol problem last? Dan, Darla, and their closest loved ones, hope so. Me too, but I’m uncertain. Relapses requiring further treatment occur many times for some abusers of alcohol.
In closing, I wish to say that the advice from readers helped Dan and Darla to face what they needed to address. Thank you. Send me any further comments.
Dr. Mike is a psychologist and farmer near Harlan, Iowa who can be contacted at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.