Alcohol

Denise wrote a post on alcoholism at BlogHer. I love her, but dammit I hate when she plants worms in my brain that won't go away.

I don't remember at time where I didn't know alcoholism. It goes back before my earliest memories. My father is an alcoholic (on the wagon??? maybe??? I think??? Who knows? sigh). The man my mother left him for (well, it's more complicated than that but I'm not ready to go there yet so I'm not - in many ways, it's not my story to tell) was an alcoholic. The man she dated after him, the man I considered to be my stepfather, was an alcoholic. At the time they met, and for many years, he was a recovering alcoholic. But, as it often happens, it didn't last.

Due to alcoholism I lost my stepfather years before cancer killed him.

Due to alcoholism I lost my childhood.

I left home for the first time at the age of 14. My stepfather had started drinking months before that. I couldn't take the fighting anymore. I couldn't take the living on edge and tiptoeing around. I couldn't take the rants. The being called down. Being told I was useless. I lived with my sister for a month or two. My oldest brother would come by every day and drive me to school. It was never discussed (as is the way with my family) but I think it was his way of taking care of me. I have no idea how I used to get home from school. Maybe I walked? But every day like clockwork he'd be there to drive me to school in the morning. If nothing else it saved us from having to put in a bus route change with my school and answer a bunch of questions we didn't want to answer. No one in my school knew about it until my final year of high school when I let it slip to the guidance counsellor (I believe he was questioning if I could handle being 1200 kms away from my home...).

I went home for two months. Then at the end of the school year year I lived with my other sister at the other end of the province for 2 months. On weekends "home" I stayed with the sister I had stayed with during the school year. At the end of the summer I went home. Things were pretty good. For awhile. Then the following summer, shortly after the end of the school year, he hit the bottle again. Hard. And he got behind the wheel of a car.

This wasn't totally unusual behaviour. But this day he drove through a stop sign and hit someone. No one was hurt. His car was totalled. But he could have killed someone - other than himself. That was it for me. It was bad enough that he felt he had the right to say shit about my mother. It was bad enough he said shit TO my mother. It was bad enough that he called me down to the lowest at every opportunity he could (even though, up to that point, I was by most accounts a damned good kid). But we had gone through this before. And we had stayed. In a sense we were volunteering to bear the brunt of his abuse. But the day that he threatened an "innocent" I knew I had lost him and there was no going back.

The next day, while he was out, I sat my mother down and had one of the hardest conversations I think I've ever had. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done. I told her that I could not live like this. I told her he could have killed someone.

I told her I was leaving.

And this time I wasn't coming back.

I went to my room.

I packed a bag.

Five minutes later my friend picked me up. I spent two days at her house and then moved in with my sister.

I was 16.

Three weeks later my mother left as well. She also moved in with my sister. We were there for almost three month before we got our own place. I'm sure the delay was part due to shock, part healing, part not being quite ready to move on.

Little by little my stepfather wormed his way back in to our new life. It pissed me off to no end. My mother had given up everything she had worked for when she left him. She didn't just leave him. She left her home. She left a house that she was making mortgage payments on and that one day she would own.

She left her dream and what she had worked her ass off her whole life for.

He was clean for a bit. Then it started reaching my ears that he was drinking again. He would only come over and stay when he was sober. He was having it both ways. He had the house that my mother gave up (and he later lost and killed her credit) and then he had her on his sober days. He didn't have me. Oh he tried. He tried to step back into the stepfather role. But it was no use. He had already had his second chance. He had lost me forever the day he ran that stop sign.

My mother and I ended up having a fight one night. I tried to leave. She wouldn't let me. I gave her the ultimatum. It was him or me. This time she chose me. And she chose herself.

I still saw him occasionally at "family" events. I had to pick him up to take him to my sisters wedding. He was drunk. Vodka. I could smell it. Anyone who thinks that vodka doesn't smell is fooling themselves. It smells.

That was one of the last times I saw him. It may have been the last. I don't remember speaking to him after that except on the rare occasions he'd be at my sisters place and answer the phone. My stepfather exposed my sister's sons to alcoholism on a regular basis. I hated him for that.

In my final year of university he died. Lung cancer. He had always been a chronic smoker. My mother and my sisters were the ones that took care of him. It was my mother who spent the last days at the hospital with him. She loved him. She never stopped loving him. And the day that she called me to tell me he had died was the day that my guilt started. Because I had issued her the ultimatum. I know, it was her choice. And when she choose me she choose herself as well. I know this. Trust me I know this more than I could ever put into words. She knows this too. But she still loved him.

He had been dead to me for years. But I grieved when he died. Not for him but for my mother. I didn't attend the funeral. We couldn't afford for me to go home. Even if I had...it never would have been for me. Or for the man in that coffin. That man - he wasn't my stepfather. The alcohol had killed the man that was my stepfather about 10 years earlier and I had long ago done my mourning for him. The funeral was for a man I didn't know.

Alcoholism killed my family. And it still haunts us. My former brother-in-law is an alcoholic. He's exposed my niece and nephew to its evils years after we did our best to shield them from it. If I were a larger woman (physically) I swear I'd hunt him down and give him the beating of his life (trust me, my sister would be there cheering me on if not elbowing me out of the way to do it herself).

Children are the victims of alcoholism. I know because I was one. But I'm also a survivor of it. I lived through it. I got out of it.

Do I drink? Yes. Am I a responsible drinker? Most of the time. I went through a period where I binged often. It decreased significantly after my stepfather died. I guess you could say it was a wake up call. Because what I was doing to myself at that point was damn near as bad as anything he ever did to me.

The day my mother called me and told me he was dead I was nursing a hell of a hangover. I usually had about two of those a week. My drinking cut down significantly after that. I'm a small person. The amount of alcohol I used to be able to drink and still walk sickens me just to think of. Have I binged since then? Yes. I have. And any time I have I've woken up deeply regretting it.

Do I still drink? Yes. I'll have wine with dinner. Or a cocktail watching a movie at home. Or margaritas on a sunny day. I'd like to think that I've developed a "healthy" relationship with alcohol. I'm respectful of my limits and I know fairly well how it affects me (except draught beer...sometimes I can have two and be fine and other times I'll have two and have a hangover like I've had a keg...I haven't figured that one out yet).

I know that alcohol has power. It has lots of power. It doesn't just have the power to make me ill.

It has the power to ruin my entire fucking life.

I'm determined not to let it. And for me, that's not avoiding it. For me it's learning to be responsible about it. It's an up and down road, with twists and turns and bumps. I don't have a perfect track record. And I'm aware there will be nights were I go past my limit and it will kick my ass. And trust me, I'm very freaking aware that when bad things happen my first instinct is to reach for a glass to numb myself.

Alcohol may still win the occasional battle.

But I will win the fucking war.