Ebb and Flow

(If you can read this, I’ve listed you as a “friend.”  That’s fairly remarkable, as I’ll explain later.  I just had to write this and get it out of my system, so I can go back to making fun of stuff.)

Two e-mails I received last week were especially memorable.  The first was from my mom announcing that my cousin Sarah just had her second baby—a healthy, beautiful 8 lb 1 oz princess named Kendra Lee.  

In my parents’ vast photo stores, there’s a picture of a 12 year-old me holding an infant Sarah, a squirming, wailing infant Sarah at that.  She was an unusually happy baby, and we were tight.  I’m convinced my cousin George did something to make her cry.  He rolled that way.  He probably still does, bless him.  

Sarah was by far the cutest child in my extended family.  The sad joke is that “noses run in our family.”  My nose isn’t that horrible, but at age 12, my head was the size of Neptune.  Sarah was adorable, with big brown eyes and a mischievous smile.  Even when she was bratty, she could charm you into laughing and giving her your wallet.  

I was shocked to hear that Sarah had Kendra. Apparently, she’s grown up over the years.  It turns out that little Sarah-pooh is now 30, happily married, working, and already mother to the lovely young Taylor.  

I missed a lot of Sarah’s life, in large part because the Air Force moved my uncle to Wyoming, which I’m told is actually still in the continental United States.  It’s not easy to drop everything just to fly out west for a high school or college graduation, or for a wedding.  Or to visit my cousins’ new babies.  Yet my brother and my parents all managed to make it for these occasions, and we all live in the same time zone.  The other reason I was unable to be there for Sarah’s milestones is that I was very absorbed in my own life.  For this amazing decade of Sarah’s life—including her high school and college graduations and marriage to Jeremy (whom I’ve never met) and babies—my life basically consisted of working, sleeping, drinking, and imploding.  

How could I possibly fly out to Denver, rent a car, and drive up to Cheyenne, and still manage to knock-off my nightly liter of Evan Williams? The only way I made it through my grandmother’s funeral near the beginning of my bad decade was by holing up in a motel after each required family event, drinking gas station wine and popping Xanax like Pez.  What a relief it was to get home, where I could drink gin or whiskey again unimpeded.

My mom tried to keep me up to date on which cousin was married to which new family member, and who had which new baby.  I still haven’t met any of my cousins’ kids.  I couldn’t be bothered to climb out of my hell long enough to visit.  A few years ago, all three of my western cousins came down for my parents’ 40th anniversary party.  They brought their spouses and kids.  My brother was there, too—he planned the obligatory celebration, God bless him—and it was a magical family time.  

I alone didn’t attend.  This time, for a slightly better reason than my usual fear and apathy.  This time, I was in rehab.  I couldn’t bear the thought of missing my parents’ 40th Anniversary party, and yet I knew I couldn’t survive it.  I knew it would kill my parents if I made some excuse not to attend, but there was absolutely no way I could have made it down there.  Maybe, I thought, I have a problem.  Hmm.

My insurance covered one of the best rehab facilities in the South, and the people there worked miracles on me.  They treated my twin nemeses of depression and alcohol, and they helped me reconnect with people.  Toward the end of my decade, I’d basically fired all my friends and family.  I had no time for anybody else, and I had panic attacks if I left my house other than to work or visit the liquor store.    

Now, I can be around other people—friends, I think they’re called—and not be riddled with anxiety.  I can have (and actually remember!) conversations with these friends without drinking and dialing.  Best of all, I can be happy living, and not killing my soul every night.  

I could fill a book with the miserable adventures I had during my bad decade.  I choose not to dwell on them.  As a friend says, “The old me sleeps lightly.”  Too true.  It doesn’t bother me a bit if my friends or relatives drink—if you drink.  If it works for you, great.  It doesn’t work for me anymore.  I know I can’t “turn the wine back into water,” as the country song goes, and I’m cool with that.  Craig Ferguson, who’s been sober 16 years, says he’d love to have one beer.  “But it’s never just one.  It starts with one beer, then I wake up a week later in a Mexican jail, with a strange tattoo and a sore ass.”  Well, something like that.  

I’m alive and happy and relatively sane today.  June 6th will mark three years since the last time I tried to drink myself to death.  For those three years—even with all the bad things that have happened—I’m grateful.  

The other standout e-mail I got last week was from my friend, Jennifer.  She and I shared many adult beverages together in our time, but our friendship was never about that.  In her e-mail, she told me her mother died Friday from alcoholism.  Her mother just couldn’t quit.  She started to lose her sanity toward the end, then her body finally shut down.  Jennifer asked all of her friends to pray for her mother, who’d had such a rough life.  

You bet I will.

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12 Responses to “Ebb and Flow”

  1. I will too. alcoholism breaks my heart.

  2. ((((((hug))))))Will pray for your friend's mom.

  3. Tom, glad you are still around and that decade didn't end you. Keep going strong!

  4. Ouch. My best friend Sue lost her partner to alcohol. Cyndy just couldn't stop drinking, until it finally killed her. I'm so sorry about your friend's mom. And I'm sincerely impressed by what you've done. Three years, that's pretty awesome.

  5. I'm glad I know you. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I daresay congratulations are in order. Heck, I rarely see or hear from/keep in touch with much of my small family and I don't even drink! But, I am a chronic depressive and know that the drugs have dulled me in certain ways. Kudos to you for beating down your demons. Make that trip as soon as you can.

  7. I'm very sorry about your friend's mom. And I'm humbled by the struggles you've gone through. You are not the only one who can learn from the wisdom you've earned. 🙂 Like Ginger sis said… I'm glad I know you too.

  8. i share a love/hate relationship with alcohol. love, for the perhaps obvious reasons, and hate because i watched my favorite uncle be killed slowly by it for two years. he lost his battle last summer. people don't understand it can happen to anyone. he was a good man. but you are a brave man, too, for admitting that you couldn't handle things yourself, and admitting it early enough to get help. i am sure your family – even if they don't exactly understand – loves you just the same. they're lucky to still have you. jennifer's mother will be in my prayers as well.

  9. I am also glad I know you and that we are friends. Except for your insistence on sharing alligator and snake stories, I think you're a fantastic person. 🙂 And a strong one.

  10. Well done you. 3 years is amazing, I know how hard it is and how low you can get before you you decide to live again. It was courageous of you to decide to go to rehab. You hear so many stories in the British press of stars bouncing back and forward from rehab to oblivion – it begs the question; why did you go to rehab and why hasn't it worked for you?Thankgod it worked for you. Thankyou for your kind words yesterday again. I'm glad we've shared like this man. (Hey, you started the mushy crap ok?)

  11. hugs to you and thank you for sharing your story – so very brave. and i'm always glad to discover that someone views me as a friend! well done and good on ya!

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