Dear Hope Nation,
Yesterday, my mom would have been 91. Since she left this vale of tears more than 19 years ago, yesterday wasn’t emotionally difficult, but it did provide some time for thought and reflection. My mother was a dear woman, whose patience was definitely stretched beyond the breaking point by raising me. Unable to have biological children, my parents adopted my sister and me when we were both very young. They got a delightful young lady in Jennifer, and a run for their money in me, but that’s not what I was thinking about yesterday.
Instead, as on many days, I was thinking about addiction. My mom was a normal drinker for her time, the cocktail generation. She drank every day, just like I would, but that’s where any similarity ended. My mom would get home from work and, with my dad, have a martini. One. Not three. Not three plus a plug or two of the gin while making the martini. After dinner, they would each have a whiskey and water—blended Canadian for my mom and bottom-shelf scotch for my dad. For the rest of the evening, they would “freshen” their drinks with water and ice. By 8:30 or so, they were basically just drinking water that tasted bad. In my childhood, I can count on one hand the number of times I ever saw either of my parents drunk, and those times were weak tea compared to my last five years of drinking. My mom, when drunk, would slur her words a bit and get lost in the middle of an anecdote. I, when drunk, would black out, practically burn the house down, then pass out on a floor. My mom’s drunk was like my 7 pm every night.
Because I grew up seeing normal every night, I assumed I would eventually drink like that. It never happened, nor will it ever. I think I was identified from conception as a potential addict and alcoholic. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been drawn to anything that could get me out of myself. For example, when I was in seventh grade in 1971, we had a “drugs assembly,” where a kid in his 20’s talked about what drugs had been like for him—bad trips, man—but all I wanted to do was hear more about walls melting and time standing still. When the cops laid out a table of REAL DRUGS under glass, so we could identify them and stay away, my classmates stood back as if they might get infected. I got as close as I could, feeling like I was in a jewelry store, and admired the colors, the textures, the possibilities.
A year later, I was acting in a high school production of “Oliver,” and feeling pretty, pretty cool. After the last performance, I went to the cast party at Jack Edwards house and drank a bit more than my eight-grade body could stand. At least, I couldn’t stand, and ended up passed out in my own vomit on Jack’s front lawn. My father was called, and he dragged my dead weight into the back seat. The next morning, as I crawled through the first of a lifetime of King Hell hangovers, my mom asked me if I’d ever do that again. In the first of a lifetime of lies, I said, “No, of course not. I’ve learned my lesson.” As an alcoholic-to-be, my real answer was, “Yes, and as soon as my head stops throbbing and I don’t feel like throwing up. I. Have. Arrived.”
My mom never saw me get clean and sober, and that is one of my regrets in life. On the other hand, she didn’t live to see me in end-stage alcoholism, for which I’ve got even greater gratitude. Perhaps that is one of the secrets of a happy life, making sure your gratitude outweighs your regret.
You matter. I matter. We matter.