When I was ten, my kid sister caught me at it in the upstairs office.
“What’re you doin’?”
“Nothing! Go away!”
“What is that?”
“Nothing! Get out!”
“Oh, my god, are you reading… the dictionary?”
“Fuck off, and close the door!”
“I’m tellin’ Mom…”
I’m not sure if she reported me for that particular “fuck,” but oddly, she did mention the whole reading-the-dictionary thing at the table that night. Mom and Dad seemed benignly amused and a bit curious.
I was actually embarrassed. I assured them that the appeal wasn’t the plot.
And I tried to share the revelation: that words were so human; they had histories, families, secret lives, hidden meanings. And someone had thought to stick them all in one magic place, with their evolutions laid out like maps to travel? How bafflingly marvelous!
Ultimately, Mom and Dad seemed content that it wasn’t the worst thing for a kid to get up to.
It’s May, and a friend I haven’t seen for ages emails me out of the blue about an alcohol ink painting class she’s interested in. Do I want to go with her? My first thought is that it’s one of those paint & sip, wine & design numbers. I’m six months sober at this point (and someday I’ll unpack the fact that I quit drinking, after a lifetime in enthusiastic pursuit of intoxication, so I can donate my liver to my husband).
I tell her I’m not drinking, expecting that she’ll want to go with someone better suited. You know, someone fun.
My friend patiently advises that alcohol ink is actually the painting medium, and that there’s probably no cheese to go with the no wine, so we should plan on dinner before. She has her eye on a new place not far from the paint studio.
I spent way too much time on social media during the week between the holidays. I usually post about my writing and podcast, then turn it off, so anything more than a few minutes a week makes me feel gross. I probably only scrolled fb and IG for a grand total of an hour, but I still needed to take a hot shower, scrub my eyes with bleach and submerge my phone in Windex.
In case I’ve been unclear, I don’t enjoy social media. I think my dislike stems from my borderline-perverted curiosity about your messy, dysfunctional lives. I don’t want to see your family’s strained smiles wearing itchy sweaters in front of a dead evergreen adorned with LEDs and third-grade craft projects. Great – someone held Preston down long enough to comb his hair, and Bill really did a nice job sucking in his gut for the ten seconds until the timer on the phone camera ran down to zero. Precious. Send it to grandma. I want the truth, damn you!
Auld lang syne, I bought my first vehicle, a barest-of-bones black Mazda truck with a manual transmission. An acquaintance at work was moving, and needed to get rid of it, so he sold it to me for the low, low price of five hundred dollars. I didn’t care enough about it as a vehicle per se to even note the make.
I bought it so I could carry on my affair with John.
The most temporarily effective thing my wife and I tried to help us get along during my alcoholism was simple: Be nice. I describe this plan as temporarily effective because while it created moments of peace in our house more successfully than anything else we tried for the ten years of my active addiction, it ultimately didn’t work. So it was the most effective ineffective path we went down to fix our marriage.
Here are the details. Before we said anything to each other, we were to run it through this filter: Is it nice? Yep, we banked our marriage on the childhood mantra, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
It’s Christmas, and a stranger, not much older than me, comes to the door to ask for help.
I’m lucky, and I know it, especially at Christmas. It’s not just the presents, although there are always plenty of those. I live at the local nexus of two big families, and with Christmas comes the convergence. Aunts, uncles, cousins from multiple other towns and states all gather in what I won’t realize are small houses until much later. We’re nestled in, all together. Dad even takes a few hours off from work to be there.
Just because I no longer drink doesn’t mean I am free. This will be my fifth consecutive sober Christmas, and I still wear the chains I forged in my drinking life. They are lighter now. They no longer define me, nor do they prevent me from living the holiday season with a joyful heart. But I can still feel enough weight from the chains that confined me in addiction to serve as a reminder. I am reminded that alcohol is a diabolical poison not meant for human consumption. But I am also reminded of time lost and mistakes made in the indelible ink of holidays spent with a young family. The future is bright, but I’ll never be free of the weight of the mistakes of the past.
The ghosts are all around to remind me. The stockings hang from our fireplace as they have since each of our four children was born. Like our kids, they are ready and sparkling and full of promise. And I can’t help but remember the times my selfish drinking left the promises unfulfilled. The lights twinkle and the decorations adorn, and it all reminds me of both festive times and regrettable memories of my disease trumping the potential for peace and love. The chances are all around me this time of year. Chances to make new memories, but also chances to remember the past lest it be repeated.
This is a family week, if such a thing exists. In the United States, Thanksgiving marks time spent with, or at the very least thoughts about, family. Joyous times. Painful times. Sober thoughts. Intoxicated memories. Family is complicated. The grip they have on our emotions comes and goes, often in correlation to our geographical proximity. But make no mistake about it – on a week like this one, the family-o-meter is pegged in overdrive.
I recently challenged my friends in our SHOUT Sobriety program with this writing prompt: “Describe the stages of knowing that alcohol had no place in your life.” Sarah wrote the response to the prompt that follows. As we navigate the messiness of a week with family in the spotlight, I thought it particularly appropriate to share her experience. And yes…there is a bit of irony to featuring the lessons of a Canadian on U.S. Thanksgiving week (in my defense, she wrote it very close to Canadian Thanksgiving last month).
I can’t remember not knowing that alcohol was likely to be a danger in my life – that the number of alcoholics on both sides of my family tree meant I was at high risk. I was lectured to. from a young age, about this by my mother, the same person who insisted I have a glass of wine with dinner the day my first child was born. Because that drink was safe.
Grief is an amputation, but hope is an incurable hemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed.
Author’s Note: This is the very first piece I wrote for the Echoes of Recovery group, by way of introduction. The prompt was: How are you preparing for Thanksgiving?
I’m preparing by remembering.
I’m remembering the last hopeful Thanksgiving.
Two years ago, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my husband and I woke up in separate beds at four in the morning. Time to go. We slipped off our wedding rings. I stacked them on the bathroom counter and took a picture of them in the soft overhead light.