It’s hard going through things like the last two stories I shared. Really hard. Everyone goes through things like this at some point, at some level. Everyone experiences loss. Everyone experiences a tragedy of some kind, or what feels like a tragedy to them. It’s not some type of contest. The losses aren’t ranked- it all hurts. Everyone has a story, and everyone goes through hard things. It’s necessary. We wouldn’t know the good days if there weren’t bad days.
I wish I had known how to cope. I wish I had been willing to listen- been willing to let someone help me. I wish I hadn’t been so full of youthful arrogance. I wish I had been reasonable. Instead, I was trying once again to prove how “tough” I was.
From an addiction standpoint, this was only the beginning for me. I was certainly using alcohol and drugs as an escape, but I didn’t see it as a problem. It made sense. I was suffering from immense grief, and I was 21, 22 years old. People drink under both of those circumstances. They often drink too much. It felt like par for the course.
But I wasn’t drinking every night, maybe 3 or 4 times a week. The other nights I was still doing normal stuff- playing basketball, watching TV, playing video games, going to the movies. Normal. The types of things I had always enjoyed doing.
There were indications that I might be a problem drinker but no one was using the word “alcoholic” yet. By then end of it, I wouldn’t be doing any of those things that I liked to do. I would completely lose myself in alcohol. But I was a long way from that. I was 10 years from the bottom.
I was grieving. I was 22.
I wish I had known how to cope.
My coping strategy was to stuff it down. Use it as fuel. Unfortunately, it only fueled me in the wrong direction. It would reach the surface with regularity when I drank- reckless behavior; moments where I had no hope for a future; moments where the loss was too much to bear.
I wish I had understood that alcohol is a depressant. I wish I had understood that I was greatly complicating the situation by using alcohol to cope with the grieving process. It felt like alcohol and grief belonged together like peanut butter and jelly. In reality, they were like gasoline on a fire.
I understand now that you have to be careful with yourself when you are grieving. You can’t have expectations. You can’t expect to be all healed after a couple weeks, or 6 months, or a year. Time heals, but there is no ending to that statement. Time doesn’t make you whole. Give yourself time. Take it day-by-day. Hour-by-hour if you have to.
It’s a lot like recovery in that regard. Its day-by-day. Hour by hour if you have to. You are never going to be whole again. You’ll never be healed. You can’t wait 6 years and then assume that the addiction is gone. It’s there, you’ve just learned to live with it. Just like you learn to live with the absence of a loved one.
Another similarity, for me anyway, is the memory association. Picture a tug-of-war between good memories and bad ones.
When my brothers first died, all I could think about where the awful endings. The fights leading up to it. The last times I saw them. All the heartbreaking stuff. And I was obsessed with their absence. I was so obsessed with their absence, that I really paid no attention to the rest of my family. I paid no attention to all the people I still had in my life. I was consumed with what was missing.
You see where I am going with this?
When I first stopped drinking, I thought about all the things I would be missing- the parties, the nightlife, all my friends- basically my entire social life. I had thoughts like how would I ever talk to a woman without alcohol? I feared I would lose my personality. I was just consumed with all the things I was going to lose.
Over time, I started to realize all the things I was gaining. Day-by-day, hour-by-hour. The good memories were mounting a comeback in the tug-of-war game.
Little by little I would remember playing basketball with Josh or roughhousing with Jon, instead of something awful. I would spend more time with my living siblings (I still have 6 of them!) instead of pouring out liquor, slurring “rest in peace” while simultaneously not allowing anyone in my family to get any rest or peace, for fear of another lost family member.
Now, outside of a couple days a year, I rarely spend any time thinking about the deaths of my brothers. I rarely spend any time thinking about the “good” nights at the bars.
I don’t spend a ton of time on either subject these days but when I do it’s good memories of my brothers and all the things I have gotten back in my life without alcohol.
My obsessive behavior is something I’ve learned to recognize. It’s something I’ve learned to avoid, control or put to good use through things like exercise, gardening… and apparently blogging.
I have found ways to cope with the bad days. It takes a lot of “healthy escapes” to keep me occupied. There was a giant void in my life when I stopped drinking, just as there was a giant void when those guys passed away.
I wish I had known then how to cope, and how to fill those voids.
I am so grateful that I have learned. It took me a really long time- a really long time.
The last couple of years, we have had a cookout with family on February 18th, the day Jon died. Oddly, it has been warm enough to grill out and do things outside on that day. Maybe it’s good luck. Maybe it’s divine intervention. Maybe it’s Jon and Josh smiling down. Maybe it’s just global warming. At any rate, that was the worst day of the year for me for a long time, but recently we as a family have healed enough to start creating some good memories on that day. We have started to take the power back from that day. It reminds me of the ways I have created new traditions on holidays that were typically reserved for debauchery- St. Patrick’s Day, New Years Eve, my own birthday, etc.
Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time. Find some healthy escapes. Create new traditions. Create new memories.
Time Heals. Let it. Don’t pour salt in the wound.
“No matter how cold the winter, there’s a springtime ahead.” -Eddie Vedder