It could have been worse...

It could have been worse.

It was New Year’s Eve. My family and I were gathered around a bonfire in my mother’s backyard, celebrating the imminent calendar change as well as my fast approaching 25th birthday. Even though it was a joyous occasion and the youngest members of our family were safe with us, there was an underlying tension in the air. There was tension while we were taking care of my cousin’s children for the evening because she was incapable of doing so herself.

My cousin Susan is an alcoholic. She isn’t just the kind that drinks every night to combat self-diagnosed insomnia; Susan goes on benders. She is the kind that does not care about herself or others, no matter the relation. The kind that has been to detox and rehabilitation centers numerous times. The kind that only cares about hurting herself.

Two days after Christmas, we started to see signs. We were opening presents together for the first time in fourteen years. Well, almost all of us. Two people were missing: Susan’s mother, my aunt Catherine, who was still in rehab for alcoholism, and our grandmother who doesn’t particularly care for clusters of people. As we were opening presents with the kids—Anna and Joseph, Susan’s eight-year-old daughter and four year old son—we started to notice that Susan was a bit more animated than usual and her pupils were the size of quarters. Searching for a splash of liquor, she would occasionally take a sip from someone else’s drink. We knew something was off, but none of us wanted to ruin the night for the kids, who have both seen and heard more than any adult ever should. We figured she started drinking again because her boyfriend recently cut ties with her. They had been “dating” for eight months although, he explained from the beginning that he did not want kids and was not going to stop drinking around her. At least we could pin down a reason.

The next day Susan told us, “I don’t want company.”

Her excuses went along the lines of being tired, sad, and wanting to be alone with her kids. History has shown that this is a red flag. Janie, Susan’s older sister, has been the one to help her through detox and take care of Anna and Joseph during those times. We asked her to call Susan and check to see how she was really doing. Whatever Susan said, Janie believed her, and there was a collective sigh of relief.

December 30th: Two days until my twenty-fifth birthday. I reserved a table for eight at our favorite Irish pub and paid $80 deposit for a table to witness a live Celtic band that night. Naomi, one of my childhood friends whom drove down for the festivities, arrived around 9pm that night. At 10pm, my mother and Aunt Cindy arrived at the meeting point – Janie’s house - with news that Susan and Aunt Catherine had locked themselves in a hotel room, were drinking like fish, and waiting to die. All the while, Anna and Joseph were with them, playing in the background; hopefully not knowing what was happening. At least Joseph is too young to understand or remember any of the events that transpired. At least Susan thought about their safety and decided to stay in a 5-star hotel during the New Year’s holiday and charged it to our grandmother’s credit card.

December 31st: Janie, Naomi, Janie’s friend Chandra, and I drove to the resort where Susan, her children, and mother were staying. Naomi and I took the kids to Olive Garden while my mother, Aunt Cindy, Janie, and Chandra staged the intervention with Susan. All the while, my second childhood friend Charlize drove down for the festivities was waiting at Janies’s house.

It could have been worse.

At least Susan didn’t succeed in trying to end her life that night. At least she decided that she wanted, needed, and was going to accept help.

Later that night as we all sat around the bonfire and there was a moment of gratitude towards the universe. We were drinking champagne, telling the kids every story they wanted to hear, and counting down till midnight. Thank God we had the kids for New Year’s and they weren’t with their addicted and abusive mother. Thank God we had help from real people, whom we all got to call friends in the end. Thank God we all had each other, because the day would have not worked out as well with less hands on deck. 

This was not how I pictured spending my birthday, but it could have been worse.

16 Days Sober

16 days sober

 

It was a hot summer in south Florida, my family and myself joined together for the first time in years to attend this family festival called the Sunflower Fest. There was cotton candy, little trinkets dedicated to sunflowers, as well as a maze that trapped the humidity and sunrays that created a heavy wet blanket.

 

The beginning of the trip was amazing. We took group pictures in wood carve outs that framed our faces. The last time I remember enjoying such actives as a group I was nine; if memory serves me correct that was the last trip we all gathered as an almost real family.

 

In most card games there is at least one wild card that can change the luck in a person’s hand – just like in a family. You are dealt with a certain spread when you enter the world, and either your good to go, or you’re shit outta luck.

 

Everyone has their own coping mechanism that can bring them peace, and then there are times these actions can result into constant rationalizations that become detrimental. Most families will admit that they have at least one wild card in their deck. Whether this person has one or multiple additions or vices and how deep the people bury themselves is the mystery. Most of the members of my family have an addiction in way shape or another, but we still have our wild card.

 

In the span of 12 years, everyone now and then we would receive updates on certain family members that had “relapsed”.  I never fully understood what it really meant when this member ‘fell off the wagon’. As a child, I always thought there was a literal wagon that they were ridding, and just made a simple wrong turn and fell off. When it kept happening more and more, it seemed strange that this loved one would keep making the same mistake. As I got older the statements turned into,  ‘Well she just has a problem with drinking’. In my translation that meant, she didn’t eat enough before drinking, or she drank to help her fall asleep, or they would have a ‘few too many’ and felt whoosy afterwards.

 

I was introduced to how fragile my family was after the vacation amongst the sunflowers. What only a few of us knew, was that they had only been sober for 16 days.

 

This phrase became a mantra for our wild card, “16 days sober”. She was dealt the same hand everyone else was representing this family, but she used the cards to her advantage for her addiction. Admitting and facing the addiction are two different things. Admitting to yourself that there’s a problem is one thing; for the family to admit that they’re not perfect as a unit is another.

 

We all drank and smoked around her. I personally was just legal and on vacation so I had my fair share of liquid libations. Only two members didn’t drink, and yet none of us thought to ask why. Maybe everyone else knew but me – protecting the youngest in the family is still very important for some reason -; but is they did and they still drank around a freshly sober person, regardless if their blood or not, that’s still fucked up in my book.

 

The day our wild card left, we were in the kitchen. She was finally telling me that she was ‘16 days sober’ face to face, gave me small pieces to her story of how that came to be. Somehow I still didn’t see the weight of these words on her heart. I didn’t see the monster clinging on her back, playing with her hair and rewarding her with a pat on the head.

 

She was gone for 6 days.

 

What Dependency took from Me

I feel there is a fine line between understanding and appreciating. It’s impossible to appreciate what we don’t understand. Until you have actually wxalked the mile; there is no way of truly knowing what someone is going through. There are so many people that suffer from addiction; they’ve created this voice that validates their harmful desires.

 

The voice that beacons for the user to make their world better with another hit, another sip, another shot, another roll of the dice. Their inner monster that gives them permission or reassures them they need this to keep living, that they are nothing and that maybe they even deserve to be treated in such a manner. These voices that take over and leaves the host an empty vessel.

 

I am not a prisoner of addition, it still hurts the survivors  

 

Alcoholism stole my mother’s independence

 

She still raised me to be the amazing woman I am; but all the nights of hard work studying with me for hours, working on science projects the night before they are due, also came nights that she didn’t remember. Nights were she would punish me for things I didn’t understand. Nights where she would argue over how the dishes should be placed in the washer, how things were moved in the house when nothing changed, or over how I would work too hard or be too happy. How I am too serious and I was never going to find a man because of this. Mornings where she wouldn’t wake up; to take me to school, to cook food, run errands, or even just spend time with me. Times where I never understood her condition, until I realized it was difficult to truly connect with her only after two glasses of wine.

 

One night watching her be so flustered about losing the day the previous night and how she was out of rum and she needed to go to the store but was running out of time. I did my best as her daughter to help in the situation, and suggested to her that maybe she just doesn’t go to the liquor store tonight, and run her other errands she didn’t get to that day – because of her sleepless night from the previous day. Watching her face turn red and her eyes dilate, she looked at me and yelled “Do you need milk?!” I said, “Actually I do, you and I both know my asthma medications kills some of the calcium in my body. But yes mom, rum is just as important as milk.” Of course she had to go get rum, there was no other option. Rum was her way of facing the day.  

 

Alcoholism stole my aunt’s life

 

She was one of the most open hearted, warm, understanding, and loving ladies I knew. She raised two beautiful girls and had a loving marriage. The family was in denial and blind to the demon on her back, flossing its teeth with her hair. Scratching her back with approval and growing stronger with each glass of wine she tossed back. The demon caressing her face with love and understanding for every mini bottle she would stash in her purse. Sighing with an angry gratitude while the whisky burned the lining of her throat.

 

After a sudden divorce things turned, dark. Living in hotel rooms rationalizing that she could drink while on ‘vacation’. The family would get periodic calls saying ‘S---- fell again’ or ‘She feel, but this time its worse’ or ‘Her daughter isn’t staying with her this Christmas because now she gets nasty when she drinks’ or ‘ She’s going to another rehab center this week, maybe this time it will stick’ This demon we didn’t acknowledge till it was too late.

 

Addiction stole my cousins’ lives

 

Alcoholism took my cousins mother. The twelve-year struggle of watching their mother fall apart and slowly crumble into the puddle of misery that she became. Wearing down the powerful, knowledgeable, dependable woman that they knew growing up. Instead she became this unknown block of ash in the family.

 

From watching their mother suffer from this, they each went their separate ways. One not as productive, the other was overly productive. Each of them developed different struggles; one chose education and work, the other choose an unstable relationship with two children while growing a habit for liquid courage in all shapes and forms. One little girl was somehow taught that she could do anything. That she was beautiful and any man would be lucky to have her. Somehow the other little girl lost that message. With this came anther generation of demons to fulfill their harmful desires.

 

Alcoholism stole my father’s faith

 

My father’s father died from organ failure from years of over indulging. From this abandonment, my father grew a fear of over indulging of any kind from then on. My father grew afraid of anyone that had more than one drink on any night for any reason. With this fear, he would become angry in any amount of over enthusiasm over anything if he did not deem it worthy. He lost trust in people, and trust in himself.

 

The last time we had dinner together, I was just about to go off for college. At the end of the evening he declared that he had something very important he wanted to share with me. He expressed that he was afraid that his daughter was going to become an alcoholic like his father and her mother. He wasn’t worried about me going to a college that had a 88% undergraduate dropout rate, no worries were shared about me getting raped, or going into debt. In a sense, I guess it was nice, maybe he has complete faith in me and no worries of failure. He worries that involved failure were on another level. But his faith was so shaken that he begged his daughter to be cautious about over indulging.

 

Addiction stole my innocence

 

My grandmothers’ children were raised in a house with overwhelming anger and addiction, and from that each one of those daughters created their own lives and vices once they had their own house and family. Though we all grew up in different houses in different eras, it was normal to have more than one ‘night cap’ for most evenings as collective. Some of us realized the difference in the rest of the world, and others embraced the darkness and chose to feed the growing demon.

 

Because addiction runs heavily in both of my bloodlines, I am essentially cursed from the start. Any friendship will be tarnished from fear of me making friends with an addict, or the fact that I may become one myself simply from upbringing. Any intimate relationship I have will be tainted from lack of trust and my personal levels of self-control. It’s overwhelming to be compared to Bree Van de Kamp from season one from my family but in reality, I’m viewed as functioning drunk in season two.

 

 Addition is an internal irritation that cannot be tamed with daily life, hugs, comfort, or love. It is a sickness that destroys the host, and leaves loved ones in shambles.