Dealing with alcoholism: How a farm family is recovering 10 years later
Michael Rosmann updates the ongoing saga of a farm family dealing with alcoholism.
This ongoing saga of a farm family dealing with alcoholism began in Farm and Ranch Life articles in October 2013. This is the 12th report about Dan and Darla (not their real names) and their two children: a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son.
My relationship with the family began when Darla, a nurse supervisor with whom I was professionally acquainted, contacted me to ask for help. Dan farmed land the couple purchased from his parents at a price negotiated shortly after he and Darla married in 2005.
Since I last wrote about the family’s dealings with Dan’s battle with alcohol in December 2019, the couple has paid off their debt to his parents and they purchased another 80 acres. Dan has a part-time business selling corn and soybean seed and rents another 300 acres, bringing the farming operation to about 600 acres.
My role with the family has always been as a consultant who offered recommendations and not as a therapist. Although the family lives outside Iowa, we have been acquainted for many years.
When Darla revealed what had been a family secret to me in 2013, she said Dan liked beer and whiskey even before they met, but she didn’t become concerned about his occasional drunken episodes until they occurred nearly daily around 2012. When confronted by Darla, Dan sometimes abstained from alcohol for a few days and denied that he was inebriated even when his speech was slurred and she could smell liquor on his breath.
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Upon my recommendation, Darla purchased a breathalyzer to assess Dan’s inebriation, but he refused to blow into the device and said it didn’t work properly. He destroyed four breathalyzers over several years and refused to talk with me on the phone even though we were well acquainted.
Dan found reasons to not attend counseling, AA, or any other treatment. When he reluctantly talked with me over the phone, as per Darla’s worried requests, he diminished the seriousness of his drinking problem.
By 2016, Darla began to insist that Dan could not remain in the house when he was drunk, because he became verbally belligerent and couldn’t be trusted to safely drive the children to school activities and other appointments when Darla was at work.
Darla and the children began seeing a psychologist whom I knew would neither believe Dan’s promises to stop drinking nor become engaged in his games. Dan attended a few sessions. The counselor correctly surmised that Dan’s family background included persons who had misused alcohol and that Dan had struggled with anxiety issues and a strong need to please others.
Dan’s drinking became more episodic for the next couple years; he could avoid alcoholic substances for a few weeks, followed by a drunken binge. He experimented with “cutting back” and once abstained for almost six months. But when he drank, he frightened everyone in the household as he stumbled around and occasionally broke things, cursed, and fell asleep inappropriately, such as when invited visitors came to their home.
After a particularly embarrassing episode that resulted in a DUI charge, and without their mother’s foreknowledge — but following their psychologist’s urging — Dan’s daughter told him, “If you drink again, I’m living with Mom when you divorce, you decide.” Their son demanded, “If you consume alcohol again, don’t try to fool us. Dad, stop drinking and pray.” The children, Darla, and — most importantly — Dan, realized he had to make a life-long choice.
In 2017 Dan settled the DUI charge and entered a 30-day treatment program, followed by outpatient therapy sessions, sometimes including Darla. He acquired skills for dealing with anxiety in crowded situations.
Dan and I can now visit honestly about his alcohol use and discuss his need to please others; he is learning how to stand up for himself. Becoming a successful seed salesperson has helped him gain confidence in social situations.
Paying off his parents for the home farm has helped Dan and the entire family. The children are active in 4-H and sports. The family attends their Catholic church regularly.
Dan has become an admired person in his community, and most importantly, he has regained the trust of his wife and children. He has not consumed any alcoholic beverages for three and a half years.
When Dan is around others who consume wine or other adult beverages, he drinks soda or nonalcoholic beer. He knows there is still a chance that he could relapse and that dealing with alcoholism is a life-long challenge.
Dan is demonstrating that it is possible for people with addictions and other maladaptive behaviors to make behavioral changes that enable them to become optimally productive. Dan is blessed with a supportive and now wiser family; all of them enjoy their financial stability.
Dan now says Darla and their children are his best friends.
The author is a psychologist and farmer at Harlan, Iowa. He welcomes comments. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .