Monday, May 01, 2006


I can honestly recall when I figured out what it was. Though not old enough to understand, I knew it was there. There was something about it that just wasn't right. It was just an element of life for some yet for others, overpowering. Some have a love or adoration for it while others have an addiction.

It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me angry. It makes me sad.

I can remember the first time I saw him drunk. I remember the way he stumbled and raised his voice at inappropriate times. I remember the way some people tried to run to his rescue while the rest simply turned away. He thought he was fine, as always. We sat through Christmas dinner, trying to say and do the right things. Like any beast, it was better to appease it than cause a stir. Some family members remember this day as a "bad day" and some probably don't remember it at all. For me, it's the day I started tracking what would be the deterioration of a man, an alcoholic, my uncle. My mother's brother. My grandmother's son.

The hardest part of looking back at that time is knowing it didn't have to be. He was friendly, smart and fun. He was the exciting uncle with the nice car that everyone wanted to hang out with. Successful in his field of work and financially comfortable, he had it all. He had the support of a family, the love of a woman and the energy of youth. But it wasn't enough. He lacked self confidence and the ability to make a decision; the pressure too much, the expectations too high.

The bottle was never a stranger to him but the progression from acquaintance to friend to confidant to lover and finally, to obsession was a fast-moving affair. Once a means of escape became a means of survival. Ironically, it will also be the means to an end. It pains me to watch. I can only imagine it to be like watching the sinking of Titanic. What once was a beautiful vessel full of hope and possibility gradually disappearing into the cold sea of despair, piece by piece. It's what happens when the vessel is unprepared for a change in course. He has no way to cope, no way to rally his crew. They just stand by, in inconsolable panic or hopeless shock.

It is always the bystander that suffers most. The infuriation boils in me when I see what this has done to his mother. Her eternal hope is no match for his need. He has taken her money, her time and her heart over and over again to feed this monster. It is pain no one should have to endure. This is what I hate about it, what I hate about him. I want to scream at him and ask questions and get through to him but I know it's futile. He cannot comprehend my feelings. My goal is not his. I want to protect my grandmother. I want her to have a real, present son. He wants his next drink. It's that simple, even though it's not.

This is also the part I will never completely understand. I'll never know the power of that need. I'll never know the point at which a person must be when the only alternative is to constantly drink yourself into obliteration. How does it begin? What goes through your mind? Is it weakness? Is it pressure? Does it happen in a moment or does in sneak in? And what does that moment feel like?

And, my God, why can't you pull yourself out of it? Why, when everyone around you is so willing to throw out the lifelines, do you turn away? I cannot grasp this, no matter how I try.

So I watch. Unable to help and often, unwilling, I simply do what I can to bolster the others, still so hopeful and entwined. I nod my head, as all good sounding boards do. With them I will cross fingers and say prayers, all the while knowing that I'm really doing it for them. My hope is not lost, just redirected.

Maybe it's because I feel the same about them as they do about him. They'll hold out his lifeline, I'll hold out theirs. Maybe it's because they haven't accepted it. Maybe they never will. Essentially, though, I know the reason for my choice. I know why I cannot remain as steadfast and hopeful as they do. Any opportunity I had to form the foundation of those optimistic bonds and unbreakable lifelines was lost on Christmas day, many years ago.


Sister Buckle said...

I was just thinking yesterday how those with big problems, who know they have big problems, are often arrogant about it, or even protective of the thing which may actually kill them.

It's horrible. It's like they're saying "I know I've got this problem - it's MINE!"

It's so sad and exhausting to be around. I've felt like that before - saying "Stand up for yourself!" and even "Don't disrespect ME by hurting yourself when you know I care!"

I seriously don't know how to deal with it.

justrun said...

You're right, I've seen people get ridiculously defensive. Just another form of denial, I suppose. The only way they claim it is to claim they can handle it. I'll never understand.

Bre said...

I remember running and hiding from my uncle tom when it was time for him to leave. If I was off playing or doing something else, I wouldn't have to hug him goodbye. He smelled like cheap liquor and sweat. His words were never clear and his eyes always drooped. He scared me as a child for reasons I didn't understand, and he scares me now as an adult because I know what the alcohol can drive him to.

awful, isn't it?

Runner Girl FL said...

I understand and sympathize with this more than you will ever know. I'm sorry your family is going through this too.

justacoolcat said...

Alcoholism affects every single family in this country. Coming from a large Irish family, I had several uncles like this.

The lost potential combined with the constant betrayl can really tear a family apart.

Sizzle said...

you could have been describing my dad in that post.

GirlGoyle said...

Great post! Well written. I had a friend who during college discovered alcohol as a remedy to existance. I could not fathom what could push you to that point. It's but a band aid as the issue doesn't dissappear. I guess no one can help them but themselves and it's terribly sad.

justrun said...

Bre- It is awful. The feelings are always there.

RGF- Thanks. I know there are no families untouched by addiction. It's a sad fact.

Coolcat- Very true. It can seem like such a mystery, too.

Sizzle- I think, unfortunately, that these things are not unique to alcoholics, but rather to alcoholism itself. And addiction, for that matter.

GG- A remedy to existence is an insightful way to describe it, and really, it's right on.

Thank you all for your comments. There was some hesitation on my part in putting this out into the world but I know my situation is not unique and in some way I don't completely understand, it's reassuring to have it out.
Thanks, again.