Worrying signs, recently, of a return to the dark days.
With Aspergers, there are always going to be difficult times, and perhaps more stresses and strains than you might find in an average relationship. But, a couple of years ago, Ethan’s Aspergers had taken us all to a really horrendous place. Ethan was drinking heavily as a way of escaping the depression and isolation he was feeling as a result of his Aspergers (as yet undiagnosed), I was too busy working to notice his struggles and only saw his drinking, his veering between aggression & (equally alarming) manic, heavy-handed ‘playfulness’ with the kids, his anger towards and detachment from me, and his seeming self-centredness.
It all ended pretty badly and dramatically – I won’t go into how. Our family was almost destroyed. But, amazingly, through gritty determination and a lot of forgiveness and understanding on both sides, we managed to start piecing our family back together again. Our relationship still hasn’t fully recovered from what happened but we we’re on our way. And without our lives unravelling as they did, Ethan would never have got his diagnosis.
But last week I discovered a half-drunk whisky bottle hidden in the filing cabinet. My first thought was ‘please, not again’. The same weekend, Ethan started being crazy and over-intense with the kids and freaking them out. The instantly-recognisable aggression of him craving a drink but not being able to have one because we were all in the way started rearing its head again too.
This time, I knew the signs. And I confronted him. Together we confronted the issues behind the need to drink. Ethan is going to start a course of counselling with a person who specialises in Aspergers and relationships (how we’re going to pay for it is another matter!).
Drinking, Aspergers and depression often come as a threesome. Like all of us, Ethan feels more confident when he’s had a drink, conversation flows more easily. It’s also a way to escape and unwind in a household that is constantly aggravating and overwhelming him (we’re a family of five with three young, loud, busy, messy kids – there are days when it is just too much for Ethan to bear). We had a long, painful conversation and we both confessed everything about how we’ve been feeling. We agreed that counselling for Ethan was a positive way forward (as was bringing his whisky bottle into the light and keeping it where both of us can see it - and monitor how quickly it’s going down!) We both re-committed ourselves to trying to make changes. And, overall, Ethan has tried really hard, particularly with the aggression.
But my heart did sink the very next day when, having given him the car keys and telling him where the car was parked after a school concert, he called me while I was trying to be light and jolly and chatty and breezy with the school mums, and said (you have to imagine an angry, aggressive, patronising tone here): ‘Will you just tell me exactly where you’ve parked the car, please?’ No matter that it was his inability to look properly that meant he couldn’t find the car (which, by the way, was a couple of yards away from where he was standing at the time of the phone call) he had to have someone to blame – and that someone was me. I was seething inside but had to try and hold it together for the mums I was with, as well as for Ava and Oliver who were already hot and cranky after school. At the time of being shouted at down the phone I was trying to carry three school bags, a clarinet and two lunch boxes, as well as cope with a screaming 3-year-old who didn’t want to walk and a whiney 8-year-old who wanted something to eat. Ethan was just strolling round a (small) car-park on a nice day with one well-behaved 5-year-old, trying to locate our car. I felt really, really badly done to.
I was just so angry that he dumps all his irritation, aggression and frustration onto me – even when the reason he’s irritated and frustrated is of his own making. In one sense, I shouldn’t have to put up with it. In another, if I don’t accept that sometimes I will be spoken to like this, we may as well give up now. Because however hard Ethan tries, he won’t always be able to keep up the act. Sometimes he will revert to auto-pilot.
And I can’t complain too loudly. The kitchen side that I said I’d tidy up so that our surroundings weren’t quite so chaotic, still hasn’t been done. And our bedroom is covered in clothes that I haven’t had time to put away. But I have booked him onto his first counselling session. I thought that was most important: for all our sakes.