Holiday Spirits <—-pun intended

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I have so many different things to write about, I do not know where to begin.  One of the topics, I am not ready to delve into, so for now I will stick to the one I know best: dealing with alcoholics.  So, here is a special holiday edition of Thanksgiving updates on the three drunks in my life, who coincidentally ALL drink vodka…

  1. The ex-boyfriend. Thanksgiving was not as bad as I thought it would be.  I had one 45 minute breakdown.  I know it is not healthy, but I would occasionally “unblock” my ex-boyfriend’s Instagram page to see if he was okay.  It felt like the only last tiny connection I had to him.  When I went to check it on Thanksgiving, I realize that he made his page private.  I was already upset because this was always ‘our” holiday and it was the first one without him, but I felt like him doing that was unexpected.  Maybe he knew I was checking on him.  Maybe he met someone.  Maybe he wants privacy.  I feel so far away from him now.  In nine years, this is the longest I have gone without seeing or speaking to him.  But, I suppose that is what happens in a break up.  And I have to remind myself that I was the one who said I could not be in contact with him anymore.  I don’t know how to ever stop worrying if he is alright, but I know there is nothing I can do if he is not.
  2. The father. My dad was good on Thanksgiving, very well-behaved.  I actually took a selfie with him and at one point leaned up against him on the couch.  We took family pictures.  It was nice.  Friday, he was terrible…leaving mean voicemails and sending shitty text messages.  Saturday, my sister and I had already agreed to go to my parent’s house to help them with some things and he was totally fine again.  It is was like a sober-drunk-sober sandwich over the course of three days.  He is truly a Jekyll and Hyde. 
  3. The friend’s boyfriend. My good friend, practically my sister, is in a terrible and abusive relationship with an alcoholic.  She is 18 weeks pregnant and he just got his third DWI over the previous weekend.  I felt so badly for her- they were supposed to do the gender reveal for the baby on Thanksgiving.  But, I also do not understand why she stays with him.  I try not to think about it too much, because after 30+ years, I still do not understand why my mother has never left my dad.  Today, my friend’s boyfriend put his hands around her neck and pushed her against a wall.  He threatened her and then pushed her outside into the snow, refusing to let her back in.  My sister (her best friend) called her brother and he ran over to the apartment.  My friend’s boyfriend then assaulted him, was arrested and the brother is pressing charges, although my friend still will not.  I realized while all of this was going on, I was feeling such anxiety.  It is hard for me to be a good friend to her and support her while separating my own experiences and it brings back a lot of my own traumatic memories.  She is safe now and that is all that matters in the moment.

I am so thankful that I do not live with an alcoholic anymore.  My house is so calm and peaceful.  I feel such a sense of independence and freedom.  However, I also know that had my ex not gotten so sick and also cheated, I may not have ever left him.  That is a hard pill to swallow.  So, it makes me less judgmental of other women going through this.  I got an “out” and I took it and for that, I am so grateful.  I may not have shown strength throughout the bad parts of our relationship and I know I should have ended things with him years ago, but at least I put myself first when I got the chance.

Holidays can be so stressful and sad and sentimental.  I am trying to be positive, but I also know I need to allow myself to experience my emotions.  I have been through so much and I do not feel healed, but I know that I am in a much better place than I was a year ago, so if there is any silver lining, it is that.  But I am really tired of alcoholics…

20 years later

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Yesterday was my 39th birthday (how is that even possible?!?!).  It made me recollect one of my earlier birthdays…my 19th to be exact.  That was probably one of the worst birthdays- no, actual days- of my life.  Weeks prior, my father assaulted me and was arrested and the police issued a restraining order against him on my behalf to prevent him from coming near me or to the house.  His court date was set afterwards and coincidentally landed on my 19th birthday.  I was pressured by my mother and my father’s lawyer to drop the assault charges, which I did, and after going to court, my father was cleared and the restraining order was dropped.  After staying in a hotel by his job for several weeks, my father was allowed to come home.  I do not remember (or chose not to remember) the exact details of that day.  I remember walking into the courthouse with just my mom.  I can recollect speaking to my dad’s lawyer, but not having to actually speak to the judge.  Most of my memories of that day are fuzzy.  I can’t even really remember what happened when we arrived back home as a “family”.  Did my mom make my favorite vanilla cake with chocolate frosting and M&Ms?  Did my mom, sister and dad stand around the table singing “Happy Birthday” as I blew out the candles?  Did my mom sign my birthday card, “Love, Mom and Dad”?  I really don’t recall.  I just remember it REALLY SUCKING.  That is a juvenile way of describing it, but when I think about that day, that’s how I felt…it just sucked.  It was awkward and forced and I was conflicted and confused.  I loved my dad, but he physically attacked me and most of the time we all just acted like nothing happened.

It is weird to think about that day.  Sometimes it feels like it never actually happened…like it was just a very realistic nightmare, yet it was one of the defining moments of my young adult life.  It is hard to believe that it was twenty years ago.  It is not something I dwell on often, but I do think about it every year on my birthday.

Which leaves me…?

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Lately I have been having a hard time with labels.  I know theoretically, people are not “supposed” to have labels, but when I was in 8th grade I was slapped with the label: “Child of an Alcoholic”.  This label became a part of who I was, how others saw me…it became a part of my identity.  However, in my case, this label was not a bad thing.  After I was given this label, I knew I wasn’t alone.  I was a part of a bigger group.  I could check out books in the library that could help me understand myself and my father better.  Once I got older, there were online groups I could join.  That label lead me to write this blog.  Over the years, I accepted and even embraced having the label “Child of an Alcoholic” or a COA (now a ACOA).  That label made me feel like a victim, but also gave me strength.  It made me feel like a survivor.  I never used being a COA as an excuse for my behavior or treatment of others, but it helped me analyze myself, my relationships, my family.

I have a lot of roles in my life that can be labeled: sister, friend, teacher.  Up until a year and a half or so ago, I would have added child of an alcoholic to that list.  I never really saw it as a bad thing, rather just a fundamental part of who I was.  It was one of those things that if I met another COA, we had an immediate bond.

Almost a year and a half ago, my father had a stroke.  After drinking every day for over 20 years, he stopped.  Just like that.  One day he was a drunk and the next day he wasn’t.  It sounds ridiculous and impossible.  It seems too easy.  He is not a perfect father now, but he is no longer belligerent or unpredictable.  He does not verbally abuse me through email, voice mail or in person.  I’m not afraid of him anymore.  Trust me, it is so much better, but it is also confusing.  If my father isn’t an alcoholic anymore, am I still a COA?  I talked to my therapist about it, knowing what her answer would be…of course I am.  Him changing now does not erase the two decades of abuse that I suffered through.  It doesn’t just magically repair all of the damage he did to me and to my family.  I guess I am just having a hard time reconciling the before and after of who I am if he’s no longer an alcoholic.  I know fundamentally I did not change, but things do feel different.  I suppose that is the dangerous part about having labels- what happens when they change?  I mean, at one point in my life I was a wife.  Then I got divorced and the next day I wasn’t one anymore.   But that situation seems different to me.  I guess the breakdown of my marriage happened over time and I knew it was coming.  My father becoming sober was so unexpected, it happened so fast.  And although I was a wife for several years, I was (am?) a COA for the majority of my life.

There has been a part of me throughout this past year and a half that has just been waiting…waiting for my dad to drink again, to have another stroke, or even to die.  And now that some time has passed, I’m beginning to trust that this is the new image of my family.  I guess that I am still figuring out with what to do with the old one…

Not listening.

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My father has been sober for over a year now, since his stroke last October.   This has made holidays and family occasions SO much better, now that there is no longer a real threat of him being drunk, violent and belligerent.  I never in a million years imagined my dad not drinking, so I never allowed myself to fantasize what it would even be like if that ever happened.  Even though it is obviously better, one thing I didn’t take into consideration was him having memory loss.  I have so many vivid, unbelievable memories of things he did while he was drunk over the past 20 years.  Whether it is from the stroke itself or just being wasted, he really does not remember doing the things he did.

Case and point…I grew up in a very big house, throughout which was an intercom system in each room.  The main intercom was in the kitchen, but you could press a button in any room and your voice would be projected throughout the entire house.  Unfortunately, one of the intercoms was located in my bedroom, as well as my sister’s bedroom next door to mine.  My father also had one in his office in the basement, which is where he would sit and drink all day long.  I have so many memories of being in my bedroom, doing my homework or talking to a friend on the phone and hearing the intercom click on with him yelling my mother’s name into it over and over or just being obnoxious.  Even worse, he would yell into it while we were sleeping…on school nights.  So even if we were able to get away from him physically when he was drunk, we could never escape his voice.  It was constant and it was horrible.  Even if the volume of the unit in my bedroom was turned all the way down, you could still hear it resonate throughout the house and there was no “off” button, so the volume would always be on, just very low.  It is truly one of the most vivid things I remember about my dad being drunk and acting like a lunatic.  I have blocked out so many memories from my childhood, but I could never forget that damn intercom system.  It was like a torture device when I was a teenager.

Fastforward to this past week….my sister and I and our boyfriends were all at my parents’ house for Christmas and I called out something to my sister who was in another room.  My dad nonchalantly mentioned I should use the intercom system, but he wasn’t sure if it even worked anymore.  Then he said something like, “I don’t remember ever using it anyway”.  I literally just stood and stared at him open-mouthed.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  My sister came in the room and I said to her, “dad says he never used to use the intercom”.  We both looked at each other for like ten seconds and then started hysterically laughing.  My dad truly didn’t understand what was so funny.  On the drive back home and in the days since, it has REALLY bothered me.  I mentioned it to my boyfriend and tried to explain why it was upsetting me so much.  How could my father forget something he did day in and day out for years? It is so hard to make someone who didn’t experience it understand.  I am not 100% sure why it is bothering me so much that he said that.  Maybe it’s the whole “forgive but don’t forget” concept?  Not to sound like a baby, but it’s not fair…it’s not fair that he got to act the way he did and do the damage he inflicted on all of us that affected our lives in so many ways that we still have to live with and then he just gets to forget.  I want my dad to be sober, but I also want him to be sorry.  He has never apologized for things he did or tried to atone for them because he doesn’t remember them.  But that’s not fair!!  My mom told me that she will sometimes tell him things he did throughout the past two decades when he was drunk every day and he looks at her like she is crazy…like how could she invent these horrible things??!!  I know he used to black out a lot (like the time he head butted me in the face and then told the police that I attacked HIM), but I can’t believe he would forget something that he did every day, like using the intercom.  It blows my mind.  I can’t stop thinking about him saying that.

Not a happy ending…

I thought I would give my dad a break from my blog and focus on another family member. I have a very small family and really only one cousin who I am close with. She is exactly 9 months older than me. She is adopted, but she may as well be blood related. Even though she has always lived halfway across the country from me, we have always had a tight bond.

She had a very rough childhood…mostly brought on by herself. I am going to refer to her as “M.” so I don’t just keep saying “she”. While growing up, M. was very rebellious. She got into drugs and alcohol at a young age, was promiscuous, cut school, etc. Basically any way that she could act out, she did. My aunt and uncle ended up divorcing and M. went to live with my uncle (my aunt, who is my mother’s sister, is also an alcoholic…run in the family much?? lol). My cousin became incorrigible and my uncle eventually gave her up as a ward of the state. M. was placed in foster care as a teenager and her bad behavior and substance abuse continued. To make a very, very long story short…my cousin got pregnant in her 20s and she finally made amends with her parents and cleaned up her act. She went to AA and threw herself into a sober lifestyle as a parent with gusto. A few years later, she had another baby (different dad) and she developed a nurturing relationship with her birth mother. It seemed like her crazy past was behind her. In her 30s, she married a very nice guy who treated her two children like his own and the two of them eventually had a baby together.

M. and I had a long-running joke that I was going to write her biography. We figured her story was crazier (and more true) than that guy James Frey’s was and could be inspiring to other young woman who are struggling to find out who they are. I was so proud of my cousin and how far she had come. She was a wife and a great mom, had a good job and owned a home. She had it all.

And then, unexpectedly, she called me a couple of months ago to tell me she was unhappy and leaving her husband. I was not entirely surprised and even though I was sad for them, I supported her decision. He is a great guy and if she didn’t love him anymore, they both deserved a chance to meet someone else. I learned the hard way how hard it is to be in an unhappy marriage and I didn’t want that for her. She seemed really okay about it and I wasn’t too worried.

But THEN, VERY unexpectedly, I stopped hearing from her. Calls went unanswered and she deleted her Facebook account. I finally reached out to her best friend who dropped a bombshell on me. Apparently, M. started having an affair several months back with a guy that has a very bad reputation in their town. He supposedly sold drugs and my cousin started getting back into doing them with him. By the time I found out all the details of what was going on, M. had left her husband and children and home, was fired from her job, was living at a hotel with this guy and was shooting meth. I have no idea how she slipped into a landslide so severe after being sober for over a decade. I am devastated to say the least. Almost all of my attempts to reach out to her have gone unanswered. It is very frustrating, considering I live over 1,100 miles away. I feel so helpless. Thank god her best friend is keeping me updated. So all I know now is that my cousin was arrested over the weekend with her boyfriend, was bailed out by a “friend” and refuses to go to rehab unless he goes with her.

I am so heartbroken. When M. was younger, she made so many bad decisions. The stakes are so much higher now- she has three children (one of whom isn’t even 2 years old yet) and she hasn’t seen them in weeks. I never, ever thought she would do this. Her two older children are staying with M.’s biological mother and the baby is still with her husband. As of right now, I don’t know where my cousin is. I am sad and angry and worried and sick over it. I know that drug addiction is an illness, but I can’t help feeling like she made a choice this time.

M. was supposed to be a success story. My biography about her was supposed to have a happy ending. Now I don’t know what is going to happen…

You can’t spell families without “lies”

The other day I jokingly said something to my mom about writing an online blog about my dad and she completely freaked out. I explained that it was anonymous, but that didn’t make a difference. She said I should not tell people things about us. So, I told her I wouldn’t (see…lies come easily in our family!)

When things started getting really bad with my dad’s drinking, there was an unspoken rule that my sister and I were not supposed to tell anyone what was going on. I am still not sure of my mother’s reasons, whether she was ashamed or just in denial. The lies were not always about my dad, but were oftentimes to my dad. As many children of alcoholics know, the less ammo you give them, the better off you are. To this day, we still constantly tell him “white lies” about the stupidest and most trivial things (again proving that abnormal things become very normal in an alcoholic family).

What my mother could not prevent was the neighbors calling the police. This started to become a regular thing by the time I was graduating from high school. My mom is so amazing as a mother, but she is a classic “battered wife.” During the summer, when my father would start screaming, she would run around their huge house closing all the windows so the neighbors would not hear him. My mother is friendly to everyone she meets and many of the neighbors really liked her and were genuinely concerned for her safety. I don’t blame them for calling the police- my dad sounded like a freaking lunatic and the more she tried to calm him down, the louder he got.

A few times, the calls were coming from inside the house (duh). My younger sister would call 911 and wait long enough for a dispatcher to answer and then would hang up. I have to give the cops in my hometown credit…within minutes, two or three officers would pull into the driveway. One time, my dad was so drunk, he mocked my mother saying he was going to call the cops and pretended to call 911…but he actually did (I actually think that is hilarious) and sure enough three police officers were at our house minutes later.

Here’s the thing. If a woman is being abused, but lies and tells the police that everything is fine when they come to the house, there isn’t anything they can really do. They would check out the house and talk to my dad while my mom reassured them everything was fine. My sister and I would sit at the top of the stairs watching and wondering how my dad never got in trouble. We didn’t understand why my mom protected him. As much as I adore my mother (we talk every day and see each other most weekends), I do have some resentment towards her that she didn’t get herself and my sister and me out of that situation.

When I was 18, my father was threatening my sister in her bedroom. I was (and still am) very protective of my sister, who was 15 at the time. I stood in between them and told him to leave her alone. He promptly leaned back and headbutted me in the face. That may have been the only time my mother called 911, though I am still not sure if it was her or my sister. Ironically, the cops had already been to the house once that day on a noise complaint from an anonymous neighbor. This time, my dad was arrested for assault. I think I have blocked a lot of that day out of my mind because I hardly remember going to the police station to do the paperwork. The result was a list of charges against him that were automatically filed by the police. They probably had a big donut celebration afterwards that they finally had a reason to arrest him. I am sure it must have been frustrating for them to come to our house and know that a woman and two teenage girls were being abused by a drunk asshole and not being able to do anything about it.

I will save the rest of that fun story for another blog, but I will say that afterwards my mother begged my sister and me not to tell my grandparents or any other family members about what happened. Of course, secrets like that have a way of coming out and eventually everyone close to our family knew about it. I am happy to say that these days my mother is much more honest with other people about my father and his alcoholism, and more importantly, she is honest with herself. And if I still tell “white lies” here and there, I guess I can just blame it on the alcohol 😉