The thing about having an alcoholic in your life is it’s like living through a war. I can’t speak to what it’s like to forgive someone entirely as they come out of the other side of recovery because the alcoholic in my life never got well. So instead you just ride it out and make your decisions as the landscape changes.
I sent a text a week or so ago because I hadn’t heard much. Which, when you’ve spent the better part of a decade waiting for a phone call is always somewhat ominous. You “expect” that phone call but you’re not prepared when it comes. Particularly when you spend that decade learning that the concept of “rock bottom” can be continuously redefined in ways you didn’t expect.
The alcoholic in my life died this weekend (that’s now two weeks ago). At 57. The funny thing about death is that it’s easiest for the person whose died. Death is mostly about the living.
I’ve visited at least 5 hospitals within a 45 minute drive. I’ve been to multiple psych wards. Helped deliver socks, and clothes and toiletries. Fielded angry phone calls. Mostly just tried to keep my distance from a troubled soul who could be a really toxic negative disaster of a person. But who had moments of kindness, when they stumbled briefly out of the fog of booze and mental illness.
Dealing with someone who was clinically depressed and emotionally unstable, who turned to alcohol for solace was one of the most negative experiences of my life. And the amazing part is that my exposure to this person was vastly more limited than other members of my family. It’s something that I reflect on in amazement.
It was my Mom who fielded the phone calls and the unannounced visits and the threats and the endless hostility-laden guilt trips and banged on the doors of various apartments to call all the ambulances, until she FINALLY had enough and stepped away. YEARS after most people would have barred that door.
So… in the last 5 years the instances were dramatically reduced as our entire family backed away to a safer distance. Ultimately in the last year or so, at my urging, even cutting off and blocking phone calls when the vitriol got intolerable, again.
It’s hard to constantly reopen the door to someone who you KNOW, will, at the drop of hat, and without the slightest provocation, attack you. Spew hate and blame and guilt and all other sorts of bullshit at you. Ironically because you’re part of the only good things left in their life. And they can’t stop the patterns of broken behavior, so they’re alone and looking for someone to blame.
So the feelings are a really mixed bag. They’re composed of sadness, regret, and a sort of resignation. When someone’s life never really seems to improve for any lasting duration you come to recognize death as the lasting peace that person couldn’t achieve in life. You get to stop worrying about their misery or the impending tragedy or what other sort of decisions you’ll have to make about how and if you choose to interact with the person and to what end. All of those variables go away.
Your concern shifts. Mainly to the people that the end of this person’s life affects most. My primary concern is my family and knowing this whole thing is a vastly different experience for each individual based on their complicated relationship with the person. The whole mess leaves me feeling sort of inadequate about how to best support everyone.
I have an unsent letter at home, written months ago. Oddly that would have been a final bolt on that door, for what I perceived was a temporary period just to get some relief and send a message that I wouldn’t tacitly approve some of the harassment that was still going on. Because I was the only one responding anymore. And I wasn’t going to be quietly complicit as an “informer” into the family that had stopped speaking to him.
But I decided to sit on it. And it turns out it didn’t matter. Because the last text I got was around my birthday. Three months ago.
And now, after some as of yet undetermined incident, he’s dead. The thing is, it doesn’t matter if it was alcohol related. Because it’s still the cause.
And I guess it’s disappointing that I was sitting around waiting for a response to my most recent text about 10 days ago before I sent a picture from my wedding. And I guess it’s good that I didn’t send the letter
But really neither of those things matter. Or, they only matter to me and I’m ok with it.
It’s sad to think that someone who was once, not a bad person, who was only kind of a mess, spiraled into this massive destructive force. When that person is supposed to be your parent, and not only do they not care for you (at least in the way that they were supposed to) but they rain destruction and pain onto the people you love most, it’s hard to separate them from the illnesses that ruined them. Because that monster wears the same face.
You can make the logical steps to identify alcoholism and depression and anger and the inability to process or communicate emotions as part of disease. But when that diagnosis wreaks havoc on your life for decades in the form of verbal abuse and violence and emotional terror and you end up witness to interaction that is so hateful it changes the way you view the entire world. It leaves a mark.
A person can love you and still do all of those things. Particularly if they’re broken.
So coming up with a fitting conclusion to that lifetime of crap is a little … complicated.
I guess in the last 24 hours I’ve decided I get it. I can separate the bullshit from the gesture of doing something to show respect for the end of a person’s life, but that’s not my decision. That’s up to my brothers. And just knowing how I feel, and how my experiences are skewed and may have a bit more of the good thrown in, I can see how, after all of that it’s hard to want to do something to show respect for someone who, yes, they loved you, but it’s a relief that they’re not here to poison your environment with negativity any more. And at the same time feel angry and disappointed that they didn’t stick around long enough to try to right any of that.
And making a decision about “honoring” the end of their life is yet ANOTHER unwanted decision heaped on you by a person who largely filled your life with grief.
So if I have any advice it’s to do what makes *you* feel better, because you, are who is left. And it’s you who gets to deal with this in whatever way feels easiest and most fitting.