Tomorrow is day 150 of sobriety. I want to make it past 150 days. On day 150, I will be going out of town for a beloved cousin’s wedding. I am ridiculously happy for her. She is in her mid-thirties and before her soon-to-be husband, I don’t know if she even dated anyone. At least not seriously enough to bring them around for family functions. While she’s never openly talked about it, I am quite sure that she has battled depression for most of her life.
It was a wasted opportunity, our entire youth, that we never discussed depression despite us both privately living with it.
My cousin is related to me through my mother’s side of the family. This is the side that I inherited my soul’s thirst for alcohol from. My mother’s parents were both alcoholics and I am quite certain that 2 of her brothers are as well. Then there’s all of the offspring from these siblings – a lot of my cousins are clearly candidates for AA. But we don’t talk about any of that.We just love each other an awful lot, without question, and we laugh and party hard. This side of the family is very openly loving and takes the concept of family very seriously. The problem for me this weekend is that no one, that I know of, calls themselves an alcoholic. That’s a dirty word along with recovery. We say fuck, shit and cunt in normal conversation, but we do not say alcoholism.
I think I’m the only one who doesn’t drink. There’s the cousin who’s a quiet drunk, but his wife is a 35 year old teenager who causes a scene whenever she drinks – so there’s that to look forward to (a wedding and a gong show!). And there’s the uncle who has an enormous heart of gold, but only for white people. As he drinks, his racist remarks get louder and louder (aka more and more embarrassing).
Then there’s the cousin who’s 20 years older than me. My worst Christmas memory features her and it makes me incredibly sad whenever I remember the scene I walked in on, Christmas Eve, 20 years ago.
That year, my mother’s father died on December 23rd. My mom was not up for our usual tradition of bringing gifts over to my adult cousin’s house, for her 2 young daughters. My mother has always held a special place in her heart for those 2 girls – their mother (my cousin, my mom’s niece) was never any sort of mother to them. To be frank, she was a horrible person to those little girls. That’s a story for another time, but it gives you an idea why my mom started our little tradition of taking loads of gifts over, every Christmas Eve.
But of course, that year mom wasn’t up for it, having lost her father just the day before. My boyfriend and I offered to be Santa, taking the pressure off my mom. I was young though, and quite naive at 16.
When we pulled up the driveway, it looked as though they weren’t home. The house was dark, but the side door was open, so we knocked and let ourselves in when we heard a garbled “come on in.” The door opened into the kitchen where my cousin was in the dark, drinking with 4 large men sitting around the table. She was sitting on one of their laps, with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
She was surprised to see me and somehow slurred my name. Her 2 young daughters (probably 6 and 4 at the time) came running from the living room with big hugs and what looked like relief that it wasn’t another one of their mom’s drinking buddies. I’ll never shake that uneasy feeling I had seeing those men at the table with my beautiful, promiscuous, damaged-by-life cousin. The men looked at us with impatience throughout our visit. We no doubt interrupted the beginning of something debauched.
We stayed long enough for the kids to open their gifts, their mom fawning over my boyfriend the whole time. Between repeated “you’re so cute”, she was telling him that if he ever hurt me she would kill him. And not a joking, ha-ha I’ll kill ya’ tee-hee, but a hard look in the eye and I will have you killed.
As we left, my cousin hugged me to thank me for the gifts. She started crying hard, telling me she missed our grandfather. I couldn’t blame her. When she was a child, he protected her many times from her abusive, alcoholic father. The abuse stopped when she was a teenager. Her father started the car in the garage after an ugly fight with my aunt. He locked all the doors and purposefully killed himself while his wife and two daughters cried in the house.
This is the family I come from. I come by alcoholism naturally. For some members of the family alcoholism and drug abuse was born from the need to escape a wretched reality. For some of us, it’s something you’re simply born with. That’s me. Tomorrow night I’ll be side stepping all of the family triggers that I used to use as an excuse to drink. Tomorrow there are no excuses and I will make it past 150 days.