I remember walking on eggshells. I remember the fear of saying the wrong thing that may begin another spiral of nightly drinking.
I wore a wrinkled shirt to the hospital for a surgery I would have. I was scared but I said nothing. Because my oversized t-shirt that I would be taking off in less than the 5 minutes it would take us to get to the hospital, was wrinkled, I looked like a whore. She said so. I was self-centered. I was spoiled and selfish. Why would I choose, of all shirts, that one? Didn't I know that I looked like a whore? And what was wrong with my hair? Why didn't I curl it?
This was just one instance that remains in my memory. My female relative was an alcoholic and she loved me. She proved it often enough. I loved her too. But with the love I held for her, there was fear and misunderstanding. And with the love she had for me, there was the interference of alcoholism.
I thought if I could behave well, she would quit the drinking she often promised to quit.
One night, another typical night of close to being at the end of another attempt to stop, she called me a whore because I said "No thanks" to iced tea. Secretly calling my Mom to cry, my Mom tried soothing me and using phrases she had learned in recovery. The next morning, my relative apologized in the blanketed fashion she often did. Her memory never proved it could actually recall the hurtful words and actions she partook and, in my shame, I was never able to tell her. Until that morning.
That morning I finally told her. I told her of her actions the night before. I told her of how she usually behaved and the words she would typically use to characterize me. How she would get angry when I refused food or drink. How she would get angry when I was studying. How my mere existence seemed to drive her into a strange place. How I often would retire to my room once she started and didn't she see that?
I remember that morning almost as clear as I remember the hurtful memories of her drinking. I remember her looking at me and my feeling as if she was really absorbing what I was saying. I remember her, in instances, glancing out the window as I was talking almost as if she couldn't bear to listen anymore. Then she would look back at me and hold my eyes. During this conversation she asked questions about her behavior - but not too many. I think she did not really want to know the true ugliness and I obliged. I held back the more humiliating experiences because, at the time, I did have low self-esteem and felt there to be truth in some of the things she would say to me.
At the end of this conversation she said, in only few words, typical of her when she was embarrassed, "Well I need to stop that. "
The next night, I'd checked her liquor supply. She had none left, I reasoned, so if she does not go to the liquor store tonight, I'll be okay. She didn't go to the liquor store or drink that night. Or the next night. Or the next night. or even the next night. I remember, still, as happy as I was, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I remember walking on eggshells. I remember trying to help her as much as I could around the house. I showed her my A's. I shared with her my instructor's opinions on my papers. I spent time with her thinking if she was not lonely, she would not drink. We never argued so I never really had to worry about "making her mad." I remember taking the dog for rides happily, when she asked. I would go to the store for her. I would have gladly continued being at her beck and call but the other shoe dropping was still a pre-existing echo of the future.
The night she finally asked me to go to the liquor store for her, I remember thinking back to what I may have done to provoke her desire to drink. I remember even saying, "But I thought you were going to quit? I thought everything was going well?" She assured me it was but she just needed something after the day she'd had. So it started again.
Not long after, circumstances would have my moving out, when my own alcoholism began rearing its head. I chose to feed my own alcoholism because I'd not had any other tools to combat my feelings of low self-esteem, failure at getting my relative sober, failure at being a human being...One may think that after seeing what happened to my relative when she drank, that it would prohibit me. Well, I guess if one isn't prone to alcoholism that would have worked. But alcohol was effectively my only solution at the time.
And after being in recovery, now for a few years, from alcoholism as well as codependency, I realized it was effectively her only solution too. It was only in addressing my own alcoholism, that I was able to see hers for what it was. This does not mean I did not have a right to my feelings about the harm she caused me. This just means I am able to understand that I did not "cause" her alcoholism anymore than someone else "caused" mine.
And thanks to Al-Anon [a specific subset of Codependent recovery where we address ourselves as we relate to others' alcoholism] existing, friends and family members do not have to actually *be* alcoholic in order to understand someone else's alcoholism. There is actually a solution for people who are victimized by alcohol but not through their own drinking, but by someone else's. And this is good news.
This means you do not have to "turn alcoholic" in order to reap the benefits of recovery. This means you, too, can find the same peace, serenity, and best life that millions of recovering alcoholics, recovering al-anon's, and recovering codependent's have enjoyed. Whether it's through many of the subsets of codependent recovery geared toward friends or family who used alcohol [or drugs] - like Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon or Alateen, Nar-Anon - or straight to Codependents Anonymous, or even codependent literature, peace can be achieved.
However. If you are currently using alcohol as your solution, I will share with you what my A.A. sponsor first shared with me. "After a year of A.A., I'd like for you to get to Al-Anon." Then I did. The reason is because I needed to deal with my immediate problem first. I needed to get my own brain, mind, and spirit straightened out first, lest I go into Al-Anon backwards. [In effect, while I am on fire, going into another type of recovery to try to deal with the heat of someone else's own fire!]
This article was written in response to comments from my article: How to Help an Alcoholic Stop Drinking