Sunday has become my day to write. I start at the beginning of my week trying to piece together a specific memory pool of my life and try to make enough sense of it to put it on paper. Most of the time, I have an idea of what it is I want to work on but inevitably the prose is too deep or too much for me to enunciate in a way that won’t be triggering to my audience. Last night I made the clear decision that I was going to finally write about something that made me laugh at myself. Levity in what is a very deep and sometimes dark collection of essays. The plan was to talk about a trip abroad that i took when I was a college student, but every time I came up with the opening paragraph I would instantly flash to a word in my head and be too distracted to start. Try as I may I can’t bring myself to write about that trip, but I promise its catalogued for a later chapter. So no levity today…today will be about; Time
Early on in my decision to stop drinking I couldn’t help but recognize how bored I was. I was gifted with time to reflect on my path ahead but more important bemuse the destruction I had left behind. Not now but soon I will tell all of my truth, the whole reason for me to quit drinking..but I’m not ready. In the mean time I will ask each of you to once again trust me with your precious time.
Back in July some time round about the 17th or so nearly a week after I started on this journey, I had a flash of me…once again losing my temper with my sweet boy. It wasn’t the first time in that week that I had a fleeting moment of clarity that revolved around my kid. After all, more than anyone in my life he was the one person that was left wondering what was wrong with me. Admittedly it had become routine for him to respond to a sharp tongue lashing from me with “maybe it’s time for a vodka” or “why are you so mad at me, are you out of wine?” This from an 8, 9 or 10 year old…to the person that was responsible for his health and well being, his life. I have had a lot of shame in the last decade that has revolved around plenty of mis-givings and bad decisons but in retrospect with nothing but clarity to torture me, my biggest regret is the reality that I hurt the feelings and neglected to place the most priceless gift ahead of all else. Keeping my sweet son in the shadow of liquor was a conscious decision fueled by greed and desire and the guilt of it stares me up and down and holds me responsible and I own it. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention what I put his other father through. Picking up the pieces of our brokem life on a daily basis also became the norm for him. Sheltering and sheilding our son behind closed doors from the bad guy. As a couple we both played a part in the cat and mouse game of a deteriorating marriage, I know not to take all of the responsibility but I won’t ignore the fact that he was forced to pay most of his attention on our boy and his own mental health. Our marriage naturally became second fiddle. Where else would he have focused his energy? It certainly wasn’t to “talk about last night” when he knew well enough that the converation would be wasted…because you see I had no memory of the night before. His battles were valient, I honor his efforts…I cannot expect him to forgive me so swiftly and I often sit back and whisper my apology without his knowing it because my shame is still raw but I’ll get there.
So time…as a young adult my Mom told me that the older you get the faster time moves but I placed no credence to the statement and find myself brandishing my fists at science angry that I can’t go backwards but mostly wishing for more of it. Time for me these last number of years has been fleeting. When I say I have very little memory of my day to day these last 8 or 10 years I mean it. I would rush through my day, 7 days a week just to get to 5 o’clock. If you recall from my very first blog entry, I was a “classy drunk” so unless it was a weekend with friends or family I never drank before the 5 o’clock whistle. I now know that I was what is referred to as a high functioning alcoholic. In a day I would 1. open my eyes 2. stave off nausea 3. pee 4. shower 5. dress 6. drink coffee 7. wake and dress my kid 8. Walk dogs 9. Catch my hungover reflection in a car window 10. Regret my hangover 11. forget about my feelings 12. see kid was where he needed to be 13. work 14. leave work 15. stop at store for dinner food 16. retrieve kid 17. start dinner 18…pour my first drink. Literally in that order every, single day. I was living in the Groundhog day movie. The part that I keep referring to in my minds eye that dawned on me about 7 days into my sobriety is this. Every waking moment of my day to day, be it a weekend day, a vacation day, in the hopital with another ailment, at a hospital with someone that had an ailment, in the car….every, single solitary moment of my life revolved around when I was going to pour my first drink. Anything in my path that got in the way of my first drink would be annihilated either with threat of anger, raw anger or absolute disregard and that included my son and his other dad. In the moment that I realized my pattern my world shifted a little bit more. It was that moment that I realized I was healing and not just myself and it has been the second most important step in my recovery. The gift of finally receiving that insight remains integral to my journey because you see…It helped lead me to the dissolution of guilt and pain. It afforded me the clarity to check my next move, and respond. It has gifted me the joy of seeing my sons concern when he would make a mistake or interrupt me wash away because my response would be one of patience and care. I am so grateful for time. I now have what I need to look my undoing and destruction in the eye, to say I know I wasn’t perfect but I’m working on it. To be graceful and proud. Time. I feel like I have lost so many moments to my disease, but time is now on my side.
A few years back I learned that one summer evening, many many years ago.. while my sisters were visiting our Grandma that my sister Lisa accidentally grabbed my grandmas ‘glass of water’ and quickly learned that it wasn’t water at all but vodka. Knowing what straight vodka tastes like I understand her reaction of quickly spitting it out in the sink to then be berated by Grandma Lucy for making the mistake of snatching and drinking from someone else’s glass. After hearing that story I immediately peppered my mom with questions, not knowing that Grandma liked to drink anything other than Sanka instant coffee early in the morning while listening to Wally Phillips on WGN. You see, I knew very little about anything that my Grandma did as my relationship with her was virtually non-existent. Born to first generation immigrants, Lucille Tomaso Hall was anything but soft to me. I felt her distrust and dislike for me at a very early age. She wasn’t overtly mean or abusive but the opposite; I felt ignored at every turn or noticed her favoring conversation with my sisters over me. For years I wondered whether or not there was a part of the story that I was missing. It wasn’t until round about 1992 long after she had passed that a close family friend told me she didn’t like me because she was sure that I would turn out to be like my dad ie; an abusive drunk that wasn’t worth the time. As an adolescent I carried that around for a good period of time, wondering why she wouldn’t have given me a chance to prove otherwise. Fast forward to present day, and I find myself reflecting once again on my “hereditary obligation” to alcoholism and wedging pieces together was no longer necessary, they slowly started to fit together perfectly. I wished for a long time that there would be a generational gap and that I would be spared. After all, I did everything I could in my power to fend off the ‘demons’ of alcoholism starting very early on. I attended Alateen every Wednesday night for a decade, went on retreats for children of alcoholics and even developed a fear of drinking convincing myself that it would at a minimum make me sick to my stomach. It wasn’t long however, that I became the good time Charlie that had a hollow leg and the cruel misfortune of never waking up with a hangover. Now after digging deeper I learned that I had alcoholism coming from both sides of my family. You can do the math, my paternal grandfather, my Dad and now seemingly my Maternal Grandmother as well. It was this information that sparked the questions in my mind: When does the time bomb start ticking and when if ever, will it go off.
It’s funny, for most of my life I felt a lifetime away from my Dad and Grandma and now I have more in common with both of them than I could have ever imagined. It’s both of them that I find myself turning to in my minds eye, asking for advice. Privately the same goes for my brother and my cousin both recovering alcoholics. My inner dialogue always includes them. I whisper to them all…reminding them subconsciously to not be disappointed in me, to give me another chance when a fleeting moment of clarity and sobriety passed without sticking and asking each of them for help and subsequently imagining their supportive responses of encouragement telling me that the time will come and that it’s okay…I’m not a failure.
For too long I let my demons push away my white flag? Take the wind out of my sail when I told myself to try again. My heart break and deception shut down my efforts by dragging me down that long and dark wormhole. It was the true reality I was faced with that I could and will lose everything that means the most to me and possibly prematurely. I looked God or source, spirit….the sky, dead in the eyes and I gave up and it was then that the flag raised. The breath and words of my closest ancestors stoke the fires of my recovery but this time I’m at the helm.
Whatever you need to recover from, do your damnedest to not let it win and take away your grace. You’ll get to the finish line even if you have to start over again every day. I now relate with my Grandma Lucy, my Dad, brother and cousin. I now know that some of the demons in their heads were the same ones that I had in mine. I can no longer wonder if looking too deep in my eyes would have given way to my grandmas truth, that she had something in common with my Dad and that her hatred for him pushed her away from me. I’m here to tell you that Forgiveness is a powerful spirit.
Grandma, I did turn out like my Dad. I also turned out like you. That part of you that maybe you were ashamed of…the good news is I continue to give myself another chance to get it right and I will walk with no shame. Even through the daily reminders and hourly struggles I won’t let go of the wheel. I will always beg to get it right.
Nostalgia. These last few months have involved a lot of me retracing my steps, correcting my path. I’m surprised most days because I had no plan to dig deep into my oldest memories to regain my stride, instead planning all along to go only through the last decade or so, mark my path and revisit them at a later date like I’ve placed a book mark. Instead…I keep having flashes of my childhood and find myself clawing up from there. The stand outs that are particularly bright these last few weeks are memories of the times that I spent with my dad. Just he and I (drop a pin here “Bar”) and the first and likely the oldest, is me sitting on my dads lap while he was trimming my finger nails. I know that the television was on, and I know that he had a Pabst Blue Ribbon because I remember drinking from the can. My dad would do this thing when he would open his beer, something that no human born later than 1985 would recall, he would peel back the tab and he would drop it in his beer can. From there he would take a long guzzle but thats not what stands out. What stands out most is the intimate way that my dad was trimming my nails, and I have thought of it every moment in my adult life when ever I have trimmed either my nieces and nephews nails or later my sweet Jonahs nails. Propped on my dads lap he would bite my nails to trim them. One by one…carefully and methodically. I rememeber the sour smell of beer on his breath and a pipe with strawberry tobacco extinguishing in the ash tray. I remember goosebumps and falling asleep hot with summer sweat and thats where the memory ends. The only memory I have of me sitting on my dads lap (drop a pin here “Back of a Harley”) It must have been one of his days off, or before he went into his second shift job at Cat. Speaking of Caterpillar, my second place Dad memory is walking with him and a women…that I believe he worked with, through the streets of my hometown (drop a pin here “fence post”) my guess is from the VFW to the car because it cuts to me riding in the back seat, dropping her off at her apartment. I couldn’t tell you if it was all in one day but one must sumise that it was because it starts in daylight and ends at night. For some reason, I feel like it was around the forth of July and for some strange reason….I see her as Truvy, Dolly Partons character in Steel Magnolias and Tammy Fay Baker because of her sparkeling lip stick. Who was this women, what were we doing with her and why? She leaned over the back seat and looked at me and said “You want me to be your girlfriend?”
What do these memories have to do with me now? What could I ever decifer through those memories in relation to my current life situation? I have no idea. What I know is that they happened, and as fleeting as they are, they have molded me in some way. I find myself cocking my head to one side thinking about them, trying to make out faces in my minds eye and poof, done. My dad was not a bad man, he was a pained man, and he moved through his life always trying to make up for lost time and until later in his life never finishing what he started. I’m not a bad man I too am a pained man and the more I reflect on my life these last dozen or so years the more I find myself surprisingly more like my dad than not. Was he always trying to make a memory with me by asking me to tag along or was I just a bystandard too young to be a designated driver? (Drop a pin here “one hitter”). Am I a sequal to my dads life? Is my story another example of history repeating itself? Do I blame myself or do I blame the generations of drunks before me, for gifting me this empty disease? You’re lucky enough to be along for this ride. You’re lucky enough that you don’t have to try and answer my questions, they’re mine to decifer and yours to Muse.
I miss my dad. I hear his voice all the time but don’t hear him giving me advice, you know…from one cleaned up drunk to another trying to clean up. I want to be able to drive down and sit next to him with a pack of cigarettes and a couple pitchers of iced tea and ask him how long this battle lasts. I want him to tell me that it will hurt but that the gift is at the end of the journey. I want him to tell me that he’s proud of me and when I hit my stride or some daunting anniversary I want him to tell me that he told me so and that he never doubted that I would get there. I want him to tell me that his mistakes were bigger than any I have ever made and that I still have a silver lining. I miss my Dad. I miss him more now than when he died. I miss him more now than when my sweet son was born. I tell myself that was him that opened the clouds and showed me the light of the sun through the trees the day I carried the anchor and chain to the side of lake….5 days before my day 1. 🧡🧡🧡
Darkness. Dread. Confusion. Sadness. Anticipation. Nausea. Pain. Confusion. For the last several years those words up there are the enduring vocabulary words that stand out the most in my blurred memory. It’s not hard to imagine actually. I would bet that every adult, hold one or two would admit that they have had mornings consumed with the same emotions. And the questions… “How did I get in my bed?”, “What did I say last night?”, “Did I hide the bottles?”, “How did I get home?”, “Did I hurt someone?” …I don’t need to think hard, they’re on total recall & Deeply engrained in my mind. Those are the same questions that I asked myself and the same feelings I’ve had about myself 98% of my mornings these last 8 years or more. It wasn’t always that way. I also remember a time when I didn’t have as strong of a conscience. A time in my mid to late twenties when all of those words were okay while sewing my oats and all. Was it then that the neural connections of addiction set in? Was it then that the trigger was pulled back? I made a lot of things okay back then. Nothing was in vain, everything was a “stepping stone” to the full life experience and selfish wasn’t a word in my vocabulary.
As kids, my sisters and I lived an adventure. Aside from moving multiple times, our Mom did her damndest to provide a stable home and food on the table with $7 a week. By all accounts the early part of my childhood was fairly traditional. Mom and Dad, two girls and a boy, two half brothers, dogs, pancakes, a backyard and sprinkler…Christmas tree blah, blah, blah. There did come a point however that my memory kicked in. I can still close my eyes and taste the air in that living room…smell the cigarettes and hear the hiss of the television and before long, what was warm and comfy became scary and epic. I will never forget the fights between my parents…loud and passionate fights. Mom in night gown Dad with a slur and bulging eyes. There was one particular fight that holds special meaning to me you see, it was when I learned the phrase “Cocksucker”. I had to be 6 maybe 7 at the most and after work one summer afternoon my dad was supposed to take me for a haircut. Not soon after his deadline came and went he finally arrived but alas it was too late. He had one chore to do out of the many that he ignored and when he didn’t show, my mom was fit to be tied. She read him up one side and down the other and eventually ended up walking away screaming that sweet moniker that has endured. I think back all the time and wonder if thats when the trigger was cocked. Destiny had already been written and the memory serves as a place holder, a reference for me to compare to, presently. Replaced were the dreams of getting a pet rooster for my birthday by smoking cigarettes and drinking beer in the basement at age 8 while watching Donahue. You see, like any kid I learned early to model myself after what I saw. No shame to my mom or dad at this stage in my life but when smart doctor people say “Kids see everything” they mean it. Presently, I can recall a handful of times that Duane and I have fought in front of Jonah and on more occasions than I can count we fought behind closed doors and I was the slurry, bug eyed drunk and it started in my house when our boy was much younger then memories of my parents. Smart Doctor people also say that life repeats itself and if that’s the case I rhetorically ask, what have I done? Did I pull back a trigger for my son? Did I set in motion the inevitable ticking of the alcohol binging, belligerent time bomb for him? Time will tell, but in the mean time I’m starting from scratch. I’m going to talk about who I am and what I am with my son. I won’t let him stand behind the curtains to hear hateful, drunk criticisms from me or disappointment filled defense from his other dad. I will do what I can to reset, to un-cock the trigger for Jonah. What lies beneath in your mind? I hope my recollection and memories help you unpack your demons so that you can look at the horizon and feel hope.
Just remember that phrase; It may never be clear. The truth is there simply isn’t a rule book or a list of directions out there for anyone to follow when they’ve chosen and in some cases been forced to become sober. The only clarity you may have is that this time, may very well be your last chance to get clean. Like any addict, I always felt like I had the upper hand in my addiction. I absolutely knew how to play the game. Well I thought I knew how to play the game. It’s a mix of sad and funny to think back on my drunken days. I was never going to be my dad, a painfully broken drunk that scared his kids and had stinky feet. Turns out I may have been worse. At least my dad played it straight. He was exactly the drunk he showed his kids and his wife. He never hid his drunken rages and certainly never stowed himself away in a spare bedroom or one of his kids beds to “innocently drift off”. He carried that guilt the rest of his life but Gary showed each of his colors to us. Proud as a peacock, God rest his soul. I on the other hand…I created a character. A make believe cast member in a make believe 1950’s TV show. We all have swords to fall on, mine will be losing time. Losing precious experiences and clouding priceless memories with my son and bruised husband. I have managed in a very small period of time to almost completely alienate the dream that I had for myself. For better or for worse…it’s my story, my non-fiction. And sharing it with you is my gift. I hope in some small way I can help you see through your shadows.
I was a classy drunk. I drank white wine with fish and poultry, when I was alone I drank it straight from the bottle…classy for sure. Red wine was my best friend for several years, she and I had plenty of laughs together. It just so happened that she was weak sauce and eventually what started as two glasses in a matter of about a year became three bottles a night. But I was classy. Vodka martinis had a certain allure…”filthy dirty” was how I ordered them. “Three ice cubes and three olives please, blue cheese if you’ve got them”. Beer was reserved for football games, camp fires and garage parties and only the best German beer for me, you see I was classy. Behind closed doors what you didn’t see was that if I started with a glass of wine at a party or a restaurant, I finished with a bottle of wine at home behind closed doors. If I started with a martini, I finished with a bottle of cheap grape vodka in the basement…and hid the remnants deep in the cushions of the couch. Classy. Every night before 5pm, I would finish “taking my tylenol” which consisted of a bottle of wine or two glasses of water (code for straight vodka) which was just enough to take the pain away. If I had some extra unexpected time before the husband got home, I would literally stand in the back office window, staring at the garage waiting for it to open while drinking without looking at the bottle or the glass. The more I could swallow before he arrived, the better. I would always manage to get dinner ready and have the house all shiny and clean you see, thats what sober people do they clean and keep things tidy, drunks are slobs and slovenly. Candles were lit, Food was on the table and eaten in short order, the sooner we could eat the better to cover up the smell on my breath. Bedtime for my son was always my looking glass moment. One of many times in my day to day that my conscience caught up with me. In retrospect it was never so hard that I stopped, just hard enough to remind me how big of a piece of shit I was. You see, the drink always followed me into the bathroom for my boys shower time. While he was safely showering away, I was taking the time to “drink in private” on the other side of the shower curtain. Anything I could do to keep the glass of wine or booze out of sight from my husband. It was after the shower that the heavy, hidden guzzles would sink in which was always the perfect time to usher my sweet boy to bed. That way if I passed out it wasn’t because of the booze, it was because I was warm and cozy with my sweet guy. Here’s something shitty, I devised a plan early on just how I wouldn’t let my kid smell my drunk breath. I would tuck him in making sure he was facing the wall and then I would prop myself up in just a way so that once again…my drunk breath wasn’t going in his face. It occured to me later that the main reason I always had a fan going in his room wasn’t to keep him cool or to provide him with white noise it was because doing so would blow my drunk breath away from him. More on my drunken “patterns” later. Inevitably I would in fact fall asleep. Over time, my husband stopped waking me and let me sleep. It was better for him to let me sleep in there that way, my snoring wouldn’t wake him and he could get a good nights sleep. What I regret most about that pattern are a few things. 1. In the last 6 years, my son never got the real Dadda at bedtime. I always imagined I was that parent that read Superman stories and talked till my boy would drift off and I’m now left to wonder how many times I drifted off snoring, leaving him to fear me or wonder why I wouldn’t wake up when he tried to stir me. 2. Though it takes a team to create co-dependant behavior and my husband is responsible for himself…how far did I push him away to make it okay with him that falling asleep (passing out) with our son, was a better alternative than waking me and asking me to bed. 3. How did I manage to make dinner DRUNK every night without serving something charred or raw? Drunks will do everything in their power to keep up appearances and NOT give themselves away. Noone is the exception. See you in the morning.