“Even when I took the drugs I realized that this just wasn’t fun anymore. The drugs had become a part of my routine. Something to wake me up. Something to help me sleep. Something to calm my nerves. There was a time when I was able to wake up, go to sleep, and have fun without a pill or a line to help me function. These days it felt like I might have a nervous breakdown if I didn’t have them.”
– Cherie Currie
I have never been addicted to a drug such as cocaine or heroin, however I do have addictions. I am addicted to nicotine, but even more so to the act and ritual of smoking. I can not compare the need for crystal meth to my need of nicotine as I don’t know how it feels to need meth. I can not compare trying to quit smoking to what it takes to quit drinking as I have never been an alcoholic. So I’m not going to talk about those things.
What I do know is what it is like to grow up loving an alcoholic. How much your intoxicated loved one’s actions can impact another’s life. How their words can slice like a blade or their actions can endanger the lives of everyone around them. How their addiction is not only their issue but the whole families. How useless you feel watching your loved one lose themselves in their addiction, in their need to feel normal. The fear you have when they go out, taking their car keys and disappearing; the fear not only for their wellbeing, but for everyone else who’s out and about: people you don’t even know. The uncertainty of whether they will be home tonight, or if they will get in trouble with the law. Or the nightmare of getting that phone call in the middle of the night telling you that they will never walk through the front door again.
My uncle was an alcoholic and had been for longer than I’ve been alive. My family for the most part has always been a fairly tight-knit group. I would be visiting my grandparents at least two days a week for as long as I could remember, and many times it was closer to four days a week. With my uncle’s health and drinking he was unable to hold a solid job and ended up living with his parents, my grandparents. Despite my uncle’s drinking and ignorant remarks I adored him and wanted to spend endless hours with him as a small child. That was before I really understood why he was like he was and when he would make an effort to control his outbursts in front of me. When all I saw was his humour, playfulness, woodworking skills and his musical talent. I was probably around seven when I started seeing how nasty his addiction made him. I started to hear his racist comments and see his ‘grown-up’ temper tantrums. I would witness how mean, controlling, manipulative and abusive he could be towards my grandparents. It had seemed to me that the only time he could be nice was when he was just playing around. Looking back a couple instances stand out to me, some are good but most are bad and it hurts me to think that these are the memories I have to remember him by.
I remember when I was still a toddler and my uncle was trying to teach me to play the guitar and I was not getting it. I remember how he told me that I have no hope, Im a lost cause and I shouldn’t bother trying to learn a musical instrument, ever. It hurt, but I never consciously dwelled on it until I tried to learn an instrument later on in my childhood.
I remember through out my childhood my uncle and I would laugh and sing along to old rock music while he taught me how to play pool. As a kid this was my favourite thing to do with him, as we never argued over it and became something that even to this day I love doing. In a way I also thank him for my love of math for that reason as he would explain to me how successfully playing pool was nothing more then the use of trigonometry when aiming. Playing pool was when I started realising how smart he really was, as he’d explain why it would work and talk about formulas as though it was something you learned as a small child. Which contradicted the comments about how he was dumb and useless, seeing as he was a high school drop out.
I was eight when he flipped out on my granddad for leaving an empty jar in the cupboard. He was in my granddad’s face yelling, calling him nasty demeaning names and had grabbed him. I remember crying and yelling at my uncle, telling him that his behaviour was unacceptable and that he should learn some respect. I remember calling him a monster and thinking that I didn’t recognise him anymore, that I couldn’t love someone like that.
I remember growing up I used to beg him constantly to bring his guitar out and play something for us. How he’d refuse a couple times telling me he had nothing new to play before he would agree and bring his guitar down to the living room and play a couple songs.
I remember when I first found out my uncle was really sick. How drunk and upset he was when he turned around and told me not to get used to him being around. How my granddad would out live him even if my granddad passed away in a couple years time.
I remember when I was in grade seven band and was trying to learn the clarinet and all the hours we spent practicing. How when I would get something right we’d play it, me on my clarinet and him on his guitar. That same year him trying to help me understand how to play the guitar when I was taking lessons. Teaching me how to tune my guitar, all of which would dwindle to me watching him play and sing something due to my insistence.
During Christmas or any holiday dinner I remember the debates our family would get in. Or the comments made that would hurt my uncle. I remember the hurt in his eyes. I remember how clumsy he is (I’m just as clumsy, sober) and would sometimes spill his wine. If anything embarrassed him or didn’t go his way he would hastily excuse himself and hide in his room for a couple hours. I learnt earlier this year that all he wanted was my granddad’s approval, for his dad to be proud of him. How he never saw it, because he saw himself as failure.
I remember when I was sixteen and we had my grandma’s wake at the house. How my uncle made himself scarce after he greeted everyone. How later on he came back downstairs, drunk and crying, carrying his guitar. How he sat down beside my granddad and started playing his guitar, how sad his voice was while he sung hallelujah. How he started crying, successfully bringing us all to tears, when he started to play the song he wrote for his mom. How his voice cracked when he hit the chorus. How he blushed and apologized for screwing the songs up and excused himself. How I wanted to run after him but I couldn’t.
How he took to taking care of my granddad after my grandma’s passing, how hard it was on him. How sick he looked, how drained he was. How he had to get a friend to help manage the day to day tasks. To help answer my granddad, who at this point had a bad case of Alzheimer’s, when he asked where my grandma was. I remember how broken he looked.
I remember how when I was eighteen he secluded himself when my grandad passed away. How mad he was that he outlived his father, that that wasn’t supposed to be the order it went, my grandad was healthy and he wasn’t. How lonely he was when he was on his own for the first time in decades.
I remember when I was nineteen and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. How he tried to quit smoking and drinking, but couldn’t. I remember when he admitted he had a problem shortly afterwards.
Then shortly after having undergone surgery to remove his lung cancer he started to feel weak, dizzy and disorientated. How he tried to drive to the hospital, but ended up hitting a pole by a bridge. How he’d been sober that day and a week later ended up in a coma. How dehydrated he was, how big of a toll his sickness had taken on his body. How up and down his vitals were before he passed away.
I can’t count how many different stories I have heard about my uncle driving under the influence and the accidents he’s been in, thankfully no one got hurt in any (besides him once or twice.)
It’s heartbreaking to think only one of these memories he was sober for, and it’s also the saddest. How many years I had thought I had detested him, that he was a monster. How what made him a monster in my eyes was his escape from the monster he thought he was. How many years he lived believing he was worthless and didn’t want to live that reality. How this ‘monster’ was really just a boy who was lost and broken in a mans body.
I don’t think there was anything I could have done for my uncle, by the point I was born. I don’t think there was much any of us could do, he had it cemented in his head that he was a failure n everyone’s eyes regardless of their words or actions. Nor did he want the help, or accept anything we say.
An addict can’t be helped unless they want to change. That’s not to say they won’t ever want to change or you can’t help them see why change is good and possible. Everyone, even addicts, need love and validation. Sometimes love and validation that they are worth something, that there is something better for them besides their addiction. Sometimes it takes seeing that to get it through to them sometimes they need to see what it’s like without it to help make the change. But there is always hope for everyone and help available, it may take a couple tries for recovery to successful though. Addiction is a life long struggle and is not easy to beat. A recovering addict shouldn’t be alone, they need the support and love of their sober loved ones, whether it’s their first attempt at sobriety or twentieth.
Stay Loud. Stay Proud. Stay Sober Lovies,