Alcohol has always been a part of my life. I hate it. It’s associated with so many negative situations that the enjoyment I had living in California’s wine country and small appreciation of good wine enjoyed with the right food and people has left me.
As little kids we stayed with my grandparents weekends who got sopped on beer, then argued loudly all night. None of my cousins liked the late night discord and as adults 50+ years later we’ve barely talked about how awkward it was to be there with them yelling at each other. My dad’s oldest brother died as a result of his drinking before the age of 50, separated from his family, living alone above a bar in San Francisco. There’s a dispute in the family as to whether he killed himself or his liver killed him. Some of my cousins had problems with addiction to alcohol or drugs, problems that resulted in lifelong battles in and out of rehab facilities and jail. Those addictions were passed on to some of their kids, along with the disaster of another suicide as a result. Now those kids are having kids with unknown futures.
My dad is an alcoholic. He wouldn’t admit that. His problem started seriously when I was in high school. It seemed that alcohol was related to another behavior that was going on at the time, an affair he was having with a woman he’d met. There was a huge change in our relationship because his behaviors caused a loss of respect that I’d had for him until then, maybe a beginning of growing up for me and learning about the real world.
Mom and Dad reconciled and moved to the other side of the country, I went to college and friended a woman who was intelligent, funny, independent and had two wonderful kids. I babysat and she helped me with typing class papers. She was good to me, trusted me with her kids, I learned a lot from her. But she was addicted. That addiction kept her from being the mom she needed to be to her kids. And her bad judgement when she was high or drunk meant that she would betray her real friends in order to please the ones supplying the drugs, alcohol or sex. I had let her stay at my place after her boyfriend beat the crap out of her one night so she could be safe and protected. The next day she went out, came in really late after I’d gone to bed, drunk and stoned, with him, and had sex on my couch in my apartment. I was 21 and having always been a “nice girl” said nothing the next day. She moved back in with him and shortly after I moved across the country to live with my family to continue college.
I’d never really had a boyfriend, I was a geek. But now, in a rural area someone was interested in me. He drank some, but not a lot. After many years of dating we got married (my fault entirely). He still went out with his friends weekend nights and they drank, to get drunk. He was too young and immature to be married. The first time he came home drunk after being away hours and I asked him about it and he got mad he threw a work boot at my head. I told him he had one more chance, but not a third. The second time he came home drunk after a night out with his buddies and I asked him why he’d done it, he pushed me against a wall and his hand was around my neck. I told him to let me go, to take his hands off me. I started planning my way out of the relationship. It was a difficult breakup, and it involved threats and his drinking, causing him to be irrational.
I worked at a job where I supervised a few people. I was a pushover, easy going, generous. There were two people who worked doing inventory in the warehouses that frequently were stoned or drunk. They made my job difficult by putting me in the position of having to deal with their being late, not showing up at the appointed places when scheduled, not completing work, asking for leeway. I was finally able to learn to be more firm with them before moving on to another job, but their frequent issues with addiction made it difficult to work with them.
I know I sound like a teetotaler but I’m not. I love a really cold beer, especially right after the first time I’ve mowed the yard in the Spring. There’s nothing that tastes so good. I really enjoyed Canyon Road’s wine, especially their white which was crisp and a little sweet. I love a Zin, and Merlot, and I take great pride in converting a few Southerners over to great wines of California, instead of Mad Dog 20/20 or Scuppernong. I like a white zin with crab, sourdough french bread and avocado while sitting around talking. Those were things I enjoyed on occasion, like the Uva Bar at Downtown Disney where I can have a Lady Godiva Chocolate Martini with my Cousin Kelli. But…
After sharing the lovely wines of California with my husband Mike, and several years of special event once in a while drinks, he started drinking more often. This wasn’t something he’d done when we were getting to know each other or in the first years of our marriage. It was about thirteen years or so, and there were a lot of pressures on both of us. His mom had dementia, my mom was a quadriplegic, he hated his job, he had a full time business in addition to his full time job, I was on medical disability, he rarely saw his kids. He started gradually drinking, but it increased in amount and frequency. I’m not a nag, really I’m not, and I let it go for a long, long time, because he’s not mean, he doesn’t yell, he’s just a little more free with his real opinion, he’s annoying, he needs to be watched over and a designated driver. But I was irritated, sometimes a lot. On nights he drank I couldn’t take my meds since one of us had to be able to drive to his mom’s in case she, or his sister who was staying with her, needed help, which happened often. It didn’t get mentioned until 2004 when an event happened that was devastating for me.
I was caring for his mom the week of Christmas because everyone else was away and he was working, so she was staying at our home. I’d wanted to be in CA to spend Christmas with my family that year as we hadn’t been there in over 10 years and thought we’d agreed on that plan, until he told me one afternoon in late Nov. that he and his sister had decided we’d do Thanksgiving at her house and Christmas Eve at ours, and his mom would be with us that week since she and his other sister would be out of town until Christmas Eve. So every day that week I was with his mom from about 6am til after 11pm, trying to keep her busy inside, answering the same questions a million times, trying to get things ready for Christmas, not feeling well, getting dinner ready each evening while making her comfortable about not going home. It meant constant talking about the same thing all day, all day, all day, all day… He would come home at 6:30 at night, eat dinner with us and then go to the room that was the study to work on his other job which required lots of his time spent. And he would drink. A lot. It left me alone taking care of his mom, their mom, for hours into the night with no break. My mind wanted rest, wanted to be in California with my family, felt guilty that I wasn’t there with my parents, was angry at the ongoing excuse for every holiday that “it might be Mrs. Gregson’s last year so ‘we’ should be with her”. I was angry with all of it. I knew she wasn’t responsible for the situation, but as the week went on things got worse. She wanted to go home, I was more tired and sick, there was still “Christmas” stuff to do that was impossible with her there. That night when I went in to the study late to tell him I was getting her ready for bed, things just weren’t right, I can’t explain it all.
The morning of Christmas Eve Eve (always a special day between my sister and me) I told him I had a lot to do to get ready for the next night, Christmas Eve, and I’d be gone all day. I couldn’t be there with him and his mom, He could take care of his mom and I left the house for the day. I prayed a lot. I had no one to talk to. No one. I felt alone, angry, betrayed, devastated. I had the utmost respect for him, no doubt that he was the one person who had always told me everything, told me the truth, had high standards because he required that from others. He had been my best friend, the person I talked to about everything. I gave up parts of my life for him. I set my own family aside for him. He didn’t protect my back, he didn’t stand up for me. He didn’t apologize. It wasn’t the first time, wouldn’t be the last. I was a jerk. I was so stupid.
God granted me an angel that night. A dear sweet girl called and asked if she could bring pizza and come for dinner. I said please, she came and carried the conversation for all of us, including his mom. I invited her for Christmas Eve. All the people there made it easy to just go on and we did, and I buried it all, for weeks, then months. Until Hurricane Katrina.
He loves the weather, The Weather Channel is on almost all the time and he’ll watch extraordinary weather events for hours. Hurricane Katrina, 2005. Monday night. He’s in the study, drinking a lot and working on setting up the new computer he’s just bought because it’s faster and has more of everything he needed for the sign business. I’m seeing the hurricane reports. The low is really, really low. I know he wants to see this so go to tell him. As soon as I get to the door I know I don’t want go further. Stuff is just not right when he drinks a lot.
Alcohol is something I hate. When I’ve visited my parents in the last few years I know my dad is drinking again. The bottles are piled in the recycling. The glasses sit around the rooms. I know when I call in the late evening by the sound of his voice. He emails that he’s broken his ankle when he went into the kitchen to make coffee and slipped on a rug; that he fell going to the bathroom in the middle of the night; that he tripped in the hall. Lies. He ignores my mom when she says she needs to go to bed and keeps on talking, entertaining, even though she’s tired and can’t lay down until he gets her to bed. He’s not gentle in his handling of her while he gets her positioned or changes her clothing, he’s loud, he bullies and baits.
My best friend I’ve known since I was 13. She drank then and she drinks now. She doesn’t remember the times when she lived with us in high school that I’d clean her and the bed and the floor up so mom didn’t know she’d come in drunk. Now when we talk sometimes late at night on the phone I know she won’t remember what we talked about. We have conversations that are difficult because there’s no logic to them. She and my husband are alike in that respect. They are both hard to talk to because there’s no reasonableness to their thoughts. So it’s best to just agree and let them say what they want and forget real intellectual stimulation. I didn’t want to live like this. I don’t understand it, or why they like it.
And I don’t sleep at night. I won’t go to bed with the alcohol. I hate the smell that comes from the breath and the skin. I hate the smell the next day from the sour stomach. I hate alcohol. Hate it.
I talked to him twice, and twice he dumped the stuff and quit. But it was for me because he was mad about it. It wasn’t done for him. The last time he started again I didn’t say anything. It had all been said. He has to decide for himself. I do too.
A few weeks ago I lost the one person who understood. He was an alcoholic. He was in a dementia caregiver support group I had started going to in 2005 when I was helping care for my husband’s mom. Several years ago he had invited me to coffee then said that he felt that he had to share with me that he went to AA, and that he’d regretted all the years he had not been totally involved as a husband and father. He said that someone in my life was an alcoholic, and he felt that AA may help me deal with it. I told him what I’ve written here. How did he know? I’d never said a thing. When he passed a couple weeks ago few people knew that he’d been in AA, few do still. They don’t know that he’d call me often and talk about how much our support group and AA had helped him overcome his addiction, care for his wife and deal with her death. They don’t know that he’d call concerned about them, worried about how they were handling their stresses. He had told me the day before he died that he still felt I should go to AA meetings, he felt they would help me cope. It’s because of him I know one can have some control over addiction with hard work and motivation.
I hate alcohol. I hate the power people allow it to have in their lives. I hate the distance it causes in relationships. I hate the decisions I’ve had to make, the situations I’ve been put in, the decisions still to come.