The first memory of alcoholism was when I was around four. My Uncle James who lived with my grandmother had passed out on the kitchen floor and because of his size she couldn't get him up. She was preparing for some kind of family dinner and there he was in the middle of the kitchen floor.
My grandmother was a true un-treated Al-Anon nothing phased her. She ask me to fetch a stack of news papers from the back porch. Then she promptly covered him up and we continued to cook stepping over him as if this is what everyone does.
I loved my Uncle James he was a three war veteran and the kindest person when he wasn't drinking. He had a lot of physical ailments from the wars not to mention emotional problems so he got a big check at the first of the month from the government this helped my grandmother get by. He was my favorite uncle because he told me stories and actually talked to me like I was an adult.
He was what I would call now a binge drinker. He would sometimes go six months sober start working with a family friend who owned house painting business and then we would have a family event and the drinking would begin again. The days before the event my grandmother would be especially relieved that he wasn't drinking and she could count on him to help her get things ready. Without fail he would leave the house the morning of and come back just as things were underway completely trashed and would stay that way for months.
I remember one party in particular where he showed up with a present for me. A little cross necklace he picked me up and put me in his lap. I could smell the booze and it felt weird my grandmother was furious and won't let me accept the gift. She then made him go to his apartment next door.
I remember sometimes my grandmother would pretend that someone important was coming over if he had passed out on the couch or something. She would grab him by his hair and shake his whole head. She would yell "so and so will be here any minute" He was unconscious and never moved.
My grandmother was his biggest enabler. She let him live in a small apartment on the first floor of her house. They had a door between them and when he was sober the door was open and when he wasn't it was bolted from her side. She had to keep her food hidden around the house in case he got drunk and started cooking. When he got started he would stop until there was nothing left.
My grandmother would drag everyone into the drama. She would get the help of my other uncle during the binges. He was a long time deputy sheriff in our town and his fellow officers would call him when they found my uncle passed out in bars or sometimes in alleyways where he had been robbed after he got that check. My uncle would by-pass the system and deliver him home to sleep it off.
Overall it was better for us when my grandmother knew where he was my mother would get less calls and there was overall less drama. I know there was AA back then but I don't think my family knew about that. We were more the type to rely on Jesus and keep our family problems to ourselves.
After my mother died my aunt moved my grandmother and uncle to the town I live in now. I came here because I was alone and thought having them here would be a safety net. I knew I couldn't live with them because I couldn't deal with their drama. They didn't live together anymore so I stayed with my uncle for a month until he hocked some of my stuff to get money for booze. Nothing changes.
I was there about a month and moved out after he stole my stuff. Shortly after that he destroyed the house after a cooking spree where he passed out and left a pot on the stove. He was fine but the house was un livable. My aunt moved him back in with my grandmother and my grandmother put a deadbolt on the bedroom where she hid her food.
We never really spoke after that. The weather here wasn't great for his health and he ended up in a VA hospital in Arizona where they were treating veterans with emphysema. My aunt said he seemed at peace out there not having to live up to any one's expectations. Everyone wanted him to succeed he was so lovable when sober and had such potential.
I started this post thinking I would write about why I didn't see my own husbands alcoholism. I do think that I thought all alcoholics were like my uncle. I didn't know that there was functioning alcoholics. I thought my husband and his Irish Catholic family just like to have fun.
I realize now that the drama of alcoholism was there from the very beginning for me and I know the heartbreak my grandmother felt seeing someone you love someone with such potential throw it all away.
My ex husband has gone on to create a new life for himself and I don't know if he is still drinking or not but I can now wish him well. I am happy that he has already had a better life than my uncle did. I am grateful that AA and Al-Anon are more mainstream today and that families don't have to just live with their secrets.