I understand now

My life has been peppered with alcoholics in my inner circle. 

My Grandfathers were both alcoholics,  my parents bore the brunt of their behaviour. My Dad kicked his Father out of our home when I was a young child due to his drunkeness. He beat my Dad when he was young and I’ve always marvelled at my Dad’s kindness for taking his Dad into our home. It was short lived as my brother giggled at Grandpa listing to one side and my Grandpa turned his fury on my brother. Dad threw him out.  I heard Grandpa died on the streets of Montreal, alone. I felt sad that he was abandoned, I understand now. 

My parents rarely drank, a glass of wine or baby duck for special occasions. We had a liquor cabinet though the bottles were static throughout my childhood. My Dad chose another addiction, gambling effectively robbing all of us of any security. The breadth and impact of this not fully understood until after his death. He was manipulative, a common trait in all addictions and only when his health rendered his ability ineffective did my Mother find strength. I was angry at the time not understanding her coldness when he needed her most. I understand now. 

My Mom’s brother, was an alcoholic. He was my favourite as a child, I was so excited when he came to visit. He regaled me with stories and I basked in the glow. He went out that night and I waited for him. He arrived and my 8 year old self without a frame of reference missed the clues that my Mom understood immediately. He started yelling at the tv as a politician had a different opinion. I laughed and was yelled at for my mirth. I didn’t understand. The next day he left, never to return to our home. 

 Many years later I would track him down in Burnaby by contacting the police, hospitals. He was found in the ICU in Burnaby dying from the effects of alcohol. My Grandma after years of enabling was content to have him die alone without a visit. I didn’t understand at the time and voiced my opinion about her callousness and my Mother’s indifference. I’m not certain what changed their minds at the time, but we  flew down, saw him in hospital, went to his roach infested environment and retrieved his requested items. His skin was yellow, stomach distended. My smart, funny, brilliant Uncle died a few days later. His burial attended only by his son, left to finalize the tattered remains of his life.  I can only imagine from the lens of today how many people he hurt.  I understand now.

I never had an interest in drinking, though I dabbled before I was legal. After, rarely. I felt the family history was against me and so I abstained. How funny to tell people I wasn’t interested in a drink as I sipped water or pop. It was comical watching everyone get drunk while I remained stone sober.  I watched them thinking they were funny and kidding no one as they stumbled and tried to articulate their thoughts.

I hired a caregiver to care for my special needs child. She was to watch both my children at a time when my child was quite volatile and unpredictable. My girls asked me later that night about hangovers, a word not in their vocabulary. They had been told to be quiet and care for themselves while she lay on the couch sleeping off her choices from the night before. I fired her the next day and encouraged her to get help. 

I met a man years later after my marriage ended. He would go missing in action for days and weeks at a time. I’d call like a crazy person obsessed, my calls unanswered. I thought I wasn’t good enough. He would return with fantastic ideas and plans and we would pick up where we left until the cycle repeated itself again. He never wanted me to see his place. A few years passed I pushed the point, and finally I saw it and knew why. By this time I was hooked and not wanting to be considered only caring about money I stayed. More time passed and I hadn’t heard from him for a long time so worried, I drove to his home and discovered boxes and boxes of liquor, all consumed. He woke, told me he was a drunk, despicable and hated himself. I wanted to help so I stayed, read books on the subject and wasted many more years of my life swept up by the vortex of his sad life.  His sisters helped me as I journeyed, untangling me from the toxicity that was him, still I stayed believing he would change. Eventually, a catastrophic event occurred not related to him that had me look at my life and the people in my sphere. I let him go, moved on and found and embraced the light just beyond.  I understand now.

I married into a wonderful family and enjoyed my new family until years later a text message appeared, crazy and cruel. I responded that likely this wasn’t intended for me.  The response was, it had landed where planned and so began the string of cruel messages in the middle of the night, during the day, relentless. She was an alcoholic, everyone knew, everyone but me. I was expected to ignore and forgive. “It wasn’t really her, it was the liquor.”I couldn’t help but think that there was a sigh of relief that her target had shifted and for a time they were spared.  I blocked, deleted messages and still spent precious holidays in her company, keeping the peace, stamping down my own feelings.  Her sorries like confessions to a priest were expected to absolve all the bad behaviour, they never did as they lacked substance and resolve to change. AA wasn’t an option as like many before her and those that will come after, she believes she has no problem. She isn’t my first drunk, though she will be my last. I understand now.

Much has been written on the subject.

From Psychology Today….

“Then came the idea that addiction is a disease: a medical illness like tuberculosis, diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease. That meant that people with addictions weren’t bad, they were sick. In an instant this changed everything. Public perceptions were less judgmental. People were less critical of themselves. Of course, it wasn’t welcome to hear that you had a disease, but it was better than being seen as immoral and self-centered. So, the disease concept was embraced by virtually everyone. With all its benefits, it’s no wonder this idea continues to attract powerful, emotional support.
“Widespread enthusiasm for the disease model, however, has led to willingness to overlook the facts. Addiction has very little in common with diseases. It is a group of behaviors, not an illness on its own. It cannot be explained by any disease process. Perhaps worst of all, calling addiction a “disease” interferes with exploring or accepting new understandings of the nature of addiction.”
Less has been written on the wake of disaster to the people it affects and yet for every alcoholic or drug addict there are many more people who have been hurt, from broken relationships, broken childhoods, or death. The cost to society infinite. 

I’ve spoken to many people on the subject and invariably their stories add to the rich mosaic of experience. It does seem as though everyone has an example, anxious to share their pain, though little practical advice on tackling the issue, how to spend the holidays denying oneself to keep the peace. How to endure and remain joyful. 

Lessons come into our lives, we must get them right or they reappear again taking on a different form.  From the lens of today I have clarity. I feel sad that my Grandpa died alone, though understand now he effectively destroyed every relationship he had, choosing a bottle over people.  I feel sad for my Dad’s lost childhood, youth and life. I wonder now who might he have been, how different his life and my life might have been. It is an exponential, generational loss that has no end, unless our choices change, unless we say no more.  I no longer feel upset that my Mom and Grandma chose to not attend my Uncles funeral, that they never said goodbye one final time. I understand that their life with him was a long series of goodbyes and when he was too ill to be manipulative, they were set free. I understand my Mom’s decision with my Dad,  though still wish for something different. I walked away or rather ran using training for a marathon as a way to heal from my toxic relationship and gained strength to move forward. I realize now that I enabled with my silence, my lack of questions and my endless forgiveness. I wonder about his children and family at times, their pain and sadness much greater, their options limited, they are tied by family. I have no tolerance, no empathy, and will keep secrets no longer. I have healed, I understand now. 

 My last drunk is just that, the final chapter in a very long book, at times boring in its repetitiveness, insightful though final.