I laughed at her because I was 16 and had never had a drop of alcohol in my life. I didn’t even a have a curfew at that point in time, despite having a driver’s license and a car because I was the epitome of a rule follower and my parents knew that I would never drink in high school. They were right. I didn’t even drink my first year away at college, not because of my grandma’s warning, just out of a sense of following the law.
But my grandma’s comment echoes in my ears now all these years later. My dad’s family is not especially large, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in addiction.
I have clear memories of times in my childhood where I didn’t see my dad after school for days, sometimes weeks on end. I don’t remember asking my mom where he was, but I later learned that he was out drinking at various bars around town. I remember the time our car smelled suspiciously like vomit after my parents were out late one Friday night. I remember the Saturday mornings where my dad had “migraines” and we had to stay quiet.
As an adult, I see the markings of alcohol, but as a child I never noticed. I guess that’s one of the great parts about the innocence of childhood.
Astoundingly, my father is actually the most in control of his drinking and probably the least in denial about his relationship with alcohol of anyone in his family. His brother entered AA a decade ago and if you ask his wife or my grandma, he’s a resounding success story. If you ask anyone who’s actually paying any attention, he’s worse than he was before he got his first chip.
My grandma speaks of him as though he is a beacon of hope. He was the first to admit he has a problem, the first to seek help. And that is commendable. But the reality is that he admitted his problem because his wife made him, got help and then went back to drinking secretly. In fact, drinking more heavily than ever, it seems.
The best we can understand, he drinks on his way home from work. He appears sober at his job, but in the evenings, on weekends, at holidays, he is obviously, severely drunk. He drives in this state, he goes to family events, and somehow, everyone pretends like he’s sober even when there is every indication otherwise.
There was the time he was belligerent about eating before everyone else and in the process broke a crock pot, cut his hand open and didn’t even notice, even though it required stitches and bled profusely on his floor. There was the time he drank an entire bottle of vodka between sundown and going to bed while camping with my dad and pretended as though it was his first slip up in a decade. When it happened at every future camping trip, it became clear that it wasn’t an accident and it wasn’t unusual. No one should be able to handle that much alcohol, especially after a decade “sober.”
And every weekend his children post pictures and statuses about drinking on their Facebook and I watch by, in horror, seeing them slowly transform into their father. Talking about blacking out, talking about their 3 day hangovers.
I feel like screaming from the top of my lungs, but like everyone else, I am not brave enough. I am not brave enough to say what everyone sees, what everyone knows. I’m not afraid to speak up, even though it might be the right thing to do. I know my uncle is going to end up hurting someone, and it’s terrible, but I hope he only hurts himself. He drives drunk, he operates heavy machinery drunk, he hunts drunk. There is no question that he is a danger. And yet, I feel as though I am silenced by his secret addiction as much as he is.
I know that the only way he will stop, the only way his children will stop, is when something catastrophic happens. And I fear that day because I know that I will look back and realize that we could’ve done something, we could’ve stopped this spiral. But we chose silence, because silence is easier than confronting demons, easier than spilling secrets.
Because we chose denial, even though the truth was screaming to be told.