It’s taken hours of staring at a blank screen before deciding what to write today. How can I tell you what I need to tell you? What small peek inside my life will explain what I’m going through? How do I pour out my guts on the table without dying? What will the neighbors think?
This is a difficult post, indeed.
Many of you may know that I take care of my mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, which, in itself, is plenty to keep a household hopping. It tests the resolve of the best of men, and I, sadly to say, am probably not the best of men. I try. I try to be the loving son, the good brother, devoted and caring, patient yet strong, sensitive to others’ needs, and for the most part, I thought I was succeeding.
But I haven’t been…I’ve been floundering.
You see, there is another disease in the midst that causes more problems than the Alzheimer’s ever could, at least at this point. It’s the sickness of addiction—or more precisely, alcoholism. Let’s not even call it that…let’s just call it alcohol misuse and abuse. But the point is, it has not been pretty.
I have a sister, a wonderful woman with a personality that sparkles more brightly than the mischievous gleam in her eyes. She’s funny, smart (but she doesn’t think so), beautiful (almost to a fault), and actually gets my jokes. Everybody loves Sis—when she’s not drinking.
When she drinks, she becomes someone completely different. She doesn’t think she’s funny, smart, beautiful, or that anybody loves her. She’s angry and destructive, both to herself and the world around her. Such is the lot of an addictive personality and the people who care about the addict/alcoholic.
It’s more maddening than the Alzheimer’s.
All Sis wanted to be was a housewife, like my mother. After a year in college, she met the man that would become her husband, and at nineteen, was married and began the happy life she envisioned. She and her husband enjoyed five years as a couple before deciding to have kids: first a boy, then two years later, a little girl. Life was perfect in the little pink house with the white picket fence.
Pour alcohol into the mix.
Now, I’ve done my fair share of partying, so when I write this, there is no judgement involved whatsoever. We were raised in the Mad Men era, where afternoon cocktails were par for the course. Darrin Stevens and Larry Tate drank and smoked on the job and we watched every minute of it. Ed McMahon came out with his own bartender’s guide (we had the book), and Johnny Carson would throw alcohol-related barbs at him every night in jest. Drinking was cool. Fun. We laughed about it.
My parents were young military who entertained a lot and that was the version of social networking back then. It was something they had to do to get ahead, which my father did. We kids learned a lot about alcohol—how to mix drinks, and more drinks, and more drinks. I think I memorized Ed’s book.
That was the purpose of alcohol, at least from where we stood, to get as plastered as one was able and still drive home. Yes, drinking and driving was commonplace back then, too. Friends did let friends drive drunk.
Alcohol destroyed my sister’s marriage. It was a universal solvent that dissolved everything it had the chance to soak. Her husband was a philanderer who would party with his friends, think he was single, stay out late, and truly neglect his wife.
Sis didn’t have the greatest self-esteem to begin with, and her husband’s maltreatment repeatedly fed into her doubts and insecurities. I begged her to get out of the marriage, but she held on, drinking more to feel better, yet never quite able to reach the point of becoming comfortably numb.
There is no such point for the alcoholic.
A few years ago, Holy Week was in full swing when I received a desperate call from my niece: “Uncle Mike, you have got to come pick up Mom; I can’t handle it anymore.”
“I can’t right now, sweetie, it’s the week before Easter and I have too many commitments. As soon as the holiday passes, I’ll be over.”
Niece couldn’t wait, and plopped her in my lap on Good Friday. She was a mess, and that year I prayed for a different resurrection.
“I didn’t come here to quit drinking; I came here to help with Mom,” she sloshed.
I let her think that, and actually, she was a blessing—in the beginning. She had no job, no money, no transportation, no friends, no party-buddies. Of course, she was miserable, which led her on the search to find those things…at least the party-buddies. Church, healthy living, recovery, self-analysis, responsible friends—all those things were foreign to her. She feared the unknown and resisted it with all her might.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)
Of course Sis’s life is worth living, but it needs a thorough check-up: x-rays, labwork, rehabilitation—the whole gamut. I’ve been trying to help her find those things while she continues to find the booze.
How does she get the alcohol? She dates, and latches on to the biggest losers who love that side of her. Of course, trouble usually isn’t far behind.
So I try to write. I try to read. I try to follow and comment and review and make light of things and put a little laughter back into my life. I used to be funny…I mean, split-a-gut funny. And I’m not just saying that. You’d shit your britches over some of the things I’d come up with…I know people who did.
But now my life is in constant interruption with scattered doses of sanity and joviality.
When I write, focused and preoccupied, it provides the perfect opportunity for Sis to dash off, sometimes for days at a time. This has become more and more frequent since her “relationship” started with the guy diagonally across the street.
So once again—oh, the constant once-agains—my life, my career, and my future go on hiatus for the sake of family. I barely sleep, my mind is always spinning with solutions to problems that no one wants to face (you know, except me), I’ve lost weight, broken out in hives all over my arms and legs, and take low-dose aspirin to prevent a heart attack. Lord knows, my heart is battered.
All this painful revelation to say that I didn’t get a chance to read the book, and I knew you wouldn’t believe that the dog ate my homework.
There is a reason that I choose to read the books that I do. And watch the movies that I watch. Now you know a little bit of that.
This post, believe it or not, is part of the Progressive Book Club. In this case, it tells the obstacles we writers face, things that throw a wrench into our plans, but eventually work their way into our stories. One day, I’ll write about it.
For a list of all the participants who probably read the book, click on the link below.
I’ll read Save the Cat!, but for now my priority is to Save the Writer!