A Relative’s Alcoholic Drinking Problem – A Memoir

Submitted by on Tuesday, May 20, 200811 Comments

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 in fuller force. 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.

In retrospect, her alcoholic drinking and my fear of it was distracting me from my own alcoholism.

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.]

10 Years Later

I would not get real help for my own drinking problem until about 10 years later. So that when my beloved relative was now in a nursing home for failing health and I went to see her, I told her of my joining a 12 Step program dealing with alcoholism. I’ll never forget what she said.

“So you had to go get help for my drinking? I’m so sorry about that.”

And just like always, she meant it. Her sad look of a contrite little girl on her wrinkled precious face that I loved more than anything told me she meant it. It was so sad and sweet at the same time; the forlorn look she had on her face and the confusion she was exhibiting about what A.A. was. All these years, she was so engrossed in her own demon battles that she never even noticed I had my own alcoholic demons to fight. I did quickly correct her perception by telling her it was for *my* own problem, but I don’t think she ever really understood.

I was like her for the most part. I would shut my door at night, lock it, and go to town with my drinking. I, too, like her, had a double life going on. It tells me I must have been successful, that she never knew the extent of my drinking. Sure she saw me drinking beers and vodka tonics, but I didn’t binge like she did, so when she would pass out, I was still getting my drunk on. :) And of course, when I’d finally moved out, I had the freedom to drink whenever and however I wanted, without her gaining any sort of knowledge about it.

My conclusion about our lives intertwining the way they did, manifesting the alcoholic helix that seemed to curse my generational line, I can finally draw several conclusions that have led me to peace.

Alcoholism or problem drinking is an illness. The person inflicted with that illness can NOT “just stop” [The AMA classifies it as a disease.] so it is not a matter of willpower.

What it took, for me, was a final five year staying drunk more or less every single night and an increasing evergrowing inability in contending with life on life’s terms. I hit the wall and I finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired. My poor relative never got to that point and some people don’t. [See here for how to help an alcoholic stop drinking.]

Because of my own battles with alcoholism, I was finally able to love my relative completely and wholly without even expecting her to stop drinking. Because I found a solution for my problem, it also helped me to find a solution for “life’s problem.” I am so grateful I did have a second chance at life because it got me to a place of accepting my beloved’s illness along with accepting her. I credit this acceptance with my Codependent recovery after I got sober – that I never could have understood UNTIL I got sober.

I wish you love, sanity, and peace.


Suggested Links :

Codependent Healing - Samsara's Compilation of Books for Codependent Healing



  • Elizabeth said:

    I remember reading a column a long time ago that really spoke to me. It was something along the lines of “My mother loved us. But she loved alcohol more.” Boy, is that a straight-on way to say something like that? It has always resonated with me.

    Alcohol and dependency issues are awful, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a problem my family has had painful experience with. I’ve recently read a book, “Alive!” that discusses how alcohol and drug issues could tear a family apart, but, in this case, did not. That was/is due to the love and forgiveness of family members toward the author, whose name is Eileen DeClemente. She’s written a courageous book and recounts all the details, sordid though they may be, of her consuming addiction. And FYI — she’s now struggling with alcohol-induced dementia.

  • samsara (author) said:

    Wow. Isn’t that something? That book sounds very worthwhile. I may have to pick it up. Because, for me, that’s what it’s about.

    Thanks! Oh and yes, “I loved alcohol more.” – you’re right. What a deeply telling statement.

  • jinhp said:

    Alcohol ???
    Sorry I’m not alcohol lover, I like more to drink a tea :)
    It’s more make we better Isn’t it??

  • asithi said:

    I always wonder if there might be some weakness of character in people that use drugs and alcohol as a means of escape. I think it is that pivotal first step that is fatal since these substances are so addictive.

    But then again, I would not understand since I have never felt that need to escape that badly before.

  • samsara (author) said:

    A lot of *earth* people think it’s some “weakness of character” so I appreciate your honesty here. :)

    But no. Unfortunately that is not the problem. If that were the problem, then people who had “good” solid strong moral characters [like I had] would not be prone.

    Let me explain it like this…

    It’s a physical compulsion. it starts like that. For example. Take a social drinker and an alcoholic and sit them side by side and give us both a drink.

    [Yes, me. I’ve had nothing to drink for over five years…morally I’m all set…I’ve made my amends, have been living in honesty and in truth…are kind to others, do volunteer work, have no demons haunting me, etc…]

    The social drinker though. Is CEO of a corporation that has several lawsuits. He’s been charged in the past with money laundering and RICO crimes. He cheats on his wife, hits his kids and kicks the family dog. He also has a gambling problem he hides from his wife; he’s a daytrader with a compulsion to have sex with hookers. I really do know “non-alcoholic”  people like this.

    Give us both a vodka tonic. Then make us sit there. I may start to exhibit some symptoms like shaking my foot or leg. I will start to feel jumpy inside. I will begin experiencing this feeling of *have to have more.* He’ll sit there and stare at me, wondering what’s wrong with me.The proctor gives us two more drinks. I drink mine pretending to be sociable about it…He drinks his, really not caring one way or the other…just wants the experience over so he can get his $100 and go gamble.I’ve had two and so has he…Our inhibitions start loosening. I ask for another before the time limit of an hour. He starts asking when is the experiment over. He is focused on his life AFTER this. I am focused on the drinks now.

    So it goes.

    This is the symptomology of an alcoholic. It’s a live physical compulsion that occurs after alcohol is introduced into the system. Social drinkers do not have this. Also, us alcoholics [even in recovery] do not get how you regular people can drink only half a drink. We laugh about it…NOT getting it. LoL

    I appreciate your comments EnoughisEnough and I appreciate your honesty Asithi. That was brave. Most earth people would never confess thinking that but we all know they do anyway. :)

  • rainer said:

    This is an amazing post, a little long to read but every sentence worth wile.

  • samsara (author) said:

    I don’t think memoirs or article sites are intended to be construed as “blog posts” so yes, I am free about being lengthy. Definitely not for the ones disinterested in the topic, for the uninitiated, or for the quck internet reader. :)

    But thanks for thinking every sentence worthy. I don’t think even I could make that claim. ;)

  • BK said:

    It is enlightening to read about your experience. Through your own experience, I am sure you would be in a better position to help people in the same situation. Thanks for sharing this so honestly.

  • Rick said:

    What a wonderful share. I just had to check out your site when you checked out mine and I am glad I did. You are an inspiration to me and I am sure so many others. Thank You.

  • samsara (author) said:

    Bk & Patricia – Thank you for visiting and for the compliments. They are well received. :)

    Rick, What a courageous man you must be to share your story. I was so happy to have found your site. To see someone recovering one day at a time and on the internet…being brave and discussing the new life so honestly… THAT is what inspires ME. THAT’s what keeps me just loving doing what I do, writing what I write and sharing the experience, strength, and hope.

    You are one powerfully inspiring man.

  • Ester's Daily Thoughts said:

    why some people have turn to somthing while we can always trun to God.. Hi visiting you from my entrecard.. Would like to xlink?

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