I remember walking on eggshells. I remember the fear of saying the wrong thing that may begin another spiral of nightly drinking.
I wore a wrinkled shirt to the hospital for a surgery I would have. I was scared but I said nothing. Because my oversized t-shirt that I would be taking off in less than the 5 minutes it would take us to get to the hospital, was wrinkled, I looked like a whore. She said so. I was self-centered. I was spoiled and selfish. Why would I choose, of all shirts, that one? Didn’t I know that I looked like a whore? And what was wrong with my hair? Why didn’t I curl it?
This was just one instance that remains in my memory. My female relative was an alcoholic and she loved me. She proved it often enough. I loved her too. But with the love I held for her, there was fear and misunderstanding. And with the love she had for me, there was the interference of alcoholism.
I thought if I could behave well, she would quit the drinking she often promised to quit.
One night, another typical night of close to being at the end of another attempt to stop, she called me a whore because I said “No thanks” to iced tea. Secretly calling my Mom to cry, my Mom tried soothing me and using phrases she had learned in recovery. The next morning, my relative apologized in the blanketed fashion she often did. Her memory never proved it could actually recall the hurtful words and actions she partook and, in my shame, I was never able to tell her. Until that morning.
That morning I finally told her. I told her of her actions the night before. I told her of how she usually behaved and the words she would typically use to characterize me. How she would get angry when I refused food or drink. How she would get angry when I was studying. How my mere existence seemed to drive her into a strange place. How I often would retire to my room once she started and didn’t she see that?
I remember that morning almost as clear as I remember the hurtful memories of her drinking. I remember her looking at me and my feeling as if she was really absorbing what I was saying. I remember her, in instances, glancing out the window as I was talking almost as if she couldn’t bear to listen anymore. Then she would look back at me and hold my eyes. During this conversation she asked questions about her behavior – but not too many. I think she did not really want to know the true ugliness and I obliged. I held back the more humiliating experiences because, at the time, I did have low self-esteem and felt there to be truth in some of the things she would say to me.
At the end of this conversation she said, in only few words, typical of her when she was embarrassed, “Well I need to stop that. ”
The next night, I’d checked her liquor supply. She had none left, I reasoned, so if she does not go to the liquor store tonight, I’ll be okay. She didn’t go to the liquor store or drink that night. Or the next night. Or the next night. or even the next night. I remember, still, as happy as I was, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I remember walking on eggshells. I remember trying to help her as much as I could around the house. I showed her my A’s. I shared with her my instructor’s opinions on my papers. I spent time with her thinking if she was not lonely, she would not drink. We never argued so I never really had to worry about “making her mad.” I remember taking the dog for rides happily, when she asked. I would go to the store for her. I would have gladly continued being at her beck and call but the other shoe dropping was still a pre-existing echo of the future.
The night she finally asked me to go to the liquor store for her, I remember thinking back to what I may have done to provoke her desire to drink. I remember even saying, “But I thought you were going to quit? I thought everything was going well?” She assured me it was but she just needed something after the day she’d had. So it started again.
Not long after, circumstances would have my moving out, when my own alcoholism began rearing its head. I chose to feed my own alcoholism because I’d not had any other tools to combat my feelings of low self-esteem, failure at getting my relative sober, failure at being a human being…One may think that after seeing what happened to my relative when she drank, that it would prohibit me. Well, I guess if one isn’t prone to alcoholism that would have worked. But alcohol was effectively my only solution at the time.
And after being in recovery, now for a few years, from alcoholism as well as codependency, I realized it was effectively her only solution too. It was only in addressing my own alcoholism, that I was able to see hers for what it was. This does not mean I did not have a right to my feelings about the harm she caused me. This just means I am able to understand that I did not “cause” her alcoholism anymore than someone else “caused” mine.
And thanks to Al-Anon [a specific subset of Codependent recovery where we address ourselves as we relate to others’ alcoholism] existing, friends and family members do not have to actually *be* alcoholic in order to understand someone else’s alcoholism. There is actually a solution for people who are victimized by alcohol but not through their own drinking, but by someone else’s. And this is good news.
This means you do not have to “turn alcoholic” in order to reap the benefits of recovery. This means you, too, can find the same peace, serenity, and best life that millions of recovering alcoholics, recovering al-anon’s, and recovering codependent’s have enjoyed. Whether it’s through many of the subsets of codependent recovery geared toward friends or family who used alcohol [or drugs] – like Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon or Alateen, Nar-Anon – or straight to Codependents Anonymous, or even codependent literature, peace can be achieved.
However. If you are currently using alcohol as your solution, I will share with you what my A.A. sponsor first shared with me. “After a year of A.A., I’d like for you to get to Al-Anon.” Then I did. The reason is because I needed to deal with my immediate problem first. I needed to get my own brain, mind, and spirit straightened out first, lest I go into Al-Anon backwards. [In effect, while I am on fire, going into another type of recovery to try to deal with the heat of someone else’s own fire!]
Adapted from my original article, “A Relatives Alcoholic Drinking – A Memoir” at my Newsvine column and was written in response to comments from my Newsvine article: How to Help an Alcoholic Stop Drinking although that same article originated at Living within Samsara entitled Help an Alcoholic to Stop Drinking .
10 Years Later
The above was happening around 1991. I would not get real help for my own drinking problem until about 10 years later. So that when my beloved relative was now in a nursing home for failing health and I went to see her, I told her of my joining a 12 Step program dealing with alcoholism. I’ll never forget what she said.
“So you had to go get help for my drinking? I’m so sorry about that.” It was so precious; the forlorn look she had on her face and the confusion she was exhibiting about what A.A. was. All these years, she was so engrossed in her own demon battles that she never even noticed I had my own alcoholic demons to fight. I did quickly correct her perception by telling her it was for *mY* own problem, but I don’t think she ever really understood.
I was like her for the most part. I would shut my door at night, lock it, and go to town with my drinking. I, too, like her, had a double life going on. It tells me I must have been successful, that she never knew the extent of my drinking. Sure she saw me drinking beers and vodka tonics, but I didn’t binge like she did, so when she would pass out, I was still getting my drunk on. :) And of course, when I’d finally moved out, I had the freedom to drink whenever and however I wanted, without her gaining any sort of knowledge about it.
My conclusion about our lives intertwining the way they did, manifesting the alcoholic helix that seemed to curse my generational line, I can finally draw several conclusions that have led me to peace.
Alcoholism or problem drinking is an illness. The person inflicted with that illness can NOT “just stop” [The AMA classifies it as a disease.] so it is not a matter of willpower.
What it took, for me, was a final five year staying drunk more or less every single night and an increasing evergrowing inability in contending with life on life’s terms. I hit the wall and I finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired. My poor relative never got to that point and some people don’t. [See here for how to help an alcoholic stop drinking.]
Because of my own battles with alcoholism, I was finally able to love my relative completely and wholly without even expecting her to stop drinking. Because I found a solution for my problem, it also helped me to find a solution for “life’s problem.” I am so grateful I did have a second chance at life because it got me to a place of accepting my beloved’s illness along with accepting her. I credit this acceptance with my Codependent recovery after I got sober – that I never could have understood UNTIL I got sober.
I wish you love, sanity, and peace.
Suggested Links :
- Al-Anon and Alateen Family Services Website
- Al-Anon Recovery Books from my Bookstore [New and Used]
- Codependent Articles at Living within Samsara
- Recovery Articles at Living within Samsara
- Codependent Recovery Books from my Bookstore [New and Used]
- My Autobiography – My Recovery Story