I like liquor - its taste and its effects - and that is just the reason why I never drink it. ~Thomas Jackson
Some of you who have followed my blog for awhile may have the suspicion that someone in my family had a drinking problem. Twern't me! It has taken me awhile to work up the nerve to talk of this in a forum anyone in the world can read, but it is the time to speak of it; not to do so would be like ignoring an elephant standing in the living room. Drinking --and recovery from it --consumed much of our lives and our marriage, but also gave us lives worth living.
James was not a drinker when we met and he didn't drink a lot at first; on the rare occasions he did, he was a happy drinker and we had a lot of fun. The fun didn't last; by the time our youngest was a year old, James had become a problem drinker. He drank 3 or 4 times a week and his personality degenerated into something ugly. Eventually the alcoholism affected him in such a way, he wasn't even pleasant when he was sober. Things might have gone better, though, for me and the family if I hadn't been so uptight and went with the flow, instead of screaming in my mind, "Noooo!!..this is not the way it is supposed to beeee..!!" Not knowing any better, I became part of the problem.
I am not going to tell drinking stories, because they are his stories, except one because this one has become part of the family lore. Actually a lot of stories are in the family lore but I am only going to relate this one now.
We had planned a camping trip to New Mexico; West Texas is hot and dry in the summer and I was ready for the cool of the mountains. I had everything ready to go the night before our departure, but James had a late night drinking. It was very rare that he would drink in the mornings; that would only happen when he didn't get to sleep off his drunk properly. That night when he said we should hit the road early, I took him at his word and woke everyone up at daybreak; I am always taking people at their word and that gets me into sooo much trouble! James hadn't had enough sleep and he was still inebriated when I got him up. We all piled in the car and he told me to drive, and right away he pulled a bottle out from under the seat. He said, with a grin, that he needed a drink to help him sober up-- hair of the dog that bit him, so to speak. Sigh. I was mighty disappointed, but encouraged when he told me that we could stop for breakfast at 8. I knew that if I could get a meal into him, he would stop drinking, and all would not be lost. The only place on that lonely country highway where we could get a meal was in Clayton NM, and I timed it so that we crossed the New Mexico line at 8 AM, and started looking for a restaurant in Clayton. He laughed at me and informed me that it wasn't 8; we crossed into another time zone at the New Mexico line--it was only 7 AM. He was happy because he had pulled a good one on me--he loved teasing me about that over the years. I drove on. When I had a drunk in the car, I tended to drive like a maniac. People think I still drive like a maniac today, but I learned how to do it in West Texas on those long straight roads with a drunk in the car. I wanted out of the car as soon as possible, so I didn't let any grass grow under the wheels. The sad thing is that one of the kids would be apt to say, "Uh, Mama, there's a curve coming up." They must have had the sense they were catapulting down the highway to their doom! By the time we got to campground, James wasn't feeling so good which meant he was quiet the rest of the weekend, which served him right by my reckoning. ;o) The kids had a good time exploring and fishing and I sat at the picnic table with stating at a sketchbook, wondering how I was going to get out of the mess I was in. That was nothing new, I always spent a lot of time wondering how to get out of the mess I was in. I did find help but not in any way I envisioned.
I want to talk about recovery now--his and mine. I start attending a 12 Step Program for families of alcoholics--a program I still attend today, because it changed my life and probably saved it. I can't begin to tell you the difference Al-Anon has made. I am no longer a scared introvert hiding at home stuffing all the pain and anger. I have friends, I am a friend, I am happy. The members of the groups loved me until I could love myself and gave me tools to use to process the anger, pain, fear, guilt and shame, and to get through the hard times. When I was in school, having to give an oral book report would make me sick for days prior, but now I speak in front of groups sharing my story. I give back what was given me. I am bolder, more confident, and can recognize and use the gifts God gave me. I have developed the skill of having fun. I love to laugh and have fun.
James entered recovery 4 years after I did when he went to treatment and began to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. His life was changed and he loved AA for the rest of his life. After he got sick, he couldn't get out to meetings, so he held them in our home for awhile. He was still outgoing and attracted people to him. I swear, we'd be in the grocery store waiting in line at the check out and strangers would approach him to chat with him. And his favorite topic was AA. He'd ride his wheel chair to Walmart and be gone for couple of hours. When I'd check on him, he'd be talking to someone. Someone he knew or a stranger he struck up a conversation with, and always the topic would turn to AA.
Towards the last of his life we spent a lot of time in the ER and the hospital and James shared his AA story with everyone he met there. In variably, when a nurse was doing an intake on him, he/she always asked "Do you drink alcohol?" It didn't matter if he was nearly unconscious, James snapped to at that question and said, "I haven't had the need to drink alcohol for 23 years." That always made me smile.
All I can say is that I am grateful.