At the moment my friend called herself an alcoholic, I knew she was telling me the truth. She had let the Gennie out of the bottle and there was no putting it back.
“Do you have a problem with alcohol?” “No Sir, I have a problem without.”
An old joke. We laugh when we hear it. So much truth in it, which makes it so funny. When a mood-altering substance is no longer the problem but becomes the solution. Alcoholic what impact just one word can have. It took my breath away. It couldn’t be correct, although past events and incidents told me otherwise.
The time when she excused herself to use go to her bathroom, and she came back with a bloody nose. She had fallen into the bathtub when she had tried to pick up a washcloth. One minor accident of many. It wasn’t bad, just a cut on her nose where her glasses had stopped further injuries from happening. The bleeding stopped quickly, and we laughed at her clumsiness. All the times I had tucked her into her bed after another drinking session that had started out so innocently. So many harmless mishaps in all the years we knew each other added up. The number of hard liquor bottles she had in her cabinets. They were there, in case we wanted to make a drink out of the new cocktail book she had explained. I had given her the cocktail book for Christmas.
So many of my most treasured memories with her were associated with drinking -some were downright hysterical, others not so much, yet we still laughed.
“Do you think she is an alcoholic?” I had asked and my husband didn’t answer right away. “I am not sure, I never thought about it.”
What about me? My best friend had a drinking problem, and I didn’t notice? Or did I see it but had looked the other way? What kind of friend does this make me?
And what was I supposed to do?
The normal reaction is we try to change what we don’t like. She had to stop drinking. I would help, would become her savior, and would ultimately change her life for the better. I would cure her disease, end her addiction. Then we hold each other tight, hug, and walk into the sunset. Another fine ending for a fairytale dream.
Wake Up, Little Susie! Life doesn’t happen like that!
I didn’t know what to do. Back then I didn’t know much about alcoholism or addiction, but it seemed to be very common these days.
The drinking and driving had to stop. There was no way I would tolerate it. I would talk some sense into her and I already knew I would succeed. She didn’t start the day drinking; my friend didn’t need alcohol during her day at work, so she surely could wait another thirty minutes for her first drink and skip the trip to the liquor store.
She didn’t hurt me or anybody around her. She harmed herself, the same way she had done with food and her weight for so many years. One way or the other, we have to feed our demons -the substance might change, but the monsters stay the same until we face them.
I needed time to wrap my head around it. I had about eight hours before she would be back home.
Kurt was still sleeping when it was time for me to walk over to the kitchen as well.
My husband had just started the fire in the smokehouse, and soon the sausages we had made the day before would hang on the racks to get the smoky flavor they needed. Mondays were always busy, and we needed all the help we could get. A restaurant had called in an order for 400 boudin balls. It took forever to make them, but the customers loved them -and so did we. Every time we had to fulfill an order, we made at least 30 more and enjoyed them for dinner the same night.
Ben came over and helped us. He still didn’t roll the sausage balls in equal sizes, but by now, I had accepted his shortcomings. He pre-formed them, put them on a plate, and I finished them. It saved us time, and we got more done.
At lunchtime, I walked over to the house and found Kurt in MY office. He was checking out the back closets and the moment I saw him, going through all the things I wanted to ask him to stop. I had not even finished my thought when I realized he had every right to do whatever he wanted to do. I was the guest in his fiance’s house. He belonged here now; he lived here. What was hers would soon be his as well.
Why could I not wrap my head around it?
He asked me if I could turn on the computer; he wanted to look something up. If you can’t even turn on a computer, what business do you have using one, I wanted to say, but bit my tongue? He asked me to look up tools for him, I sat down and helped him find what he was looking for.
Kurt asked me about lunch, wanted to know if we would all eat together. He was friendly to me, he even seemed nervous at first. I am sure he felt awkward around us as well. I had never thought about it before. He was the ‘new kid’ on the block, and we hadn’t been very inviting.
I needed to tell my husband about it. “Before I left this morning, I put tape on the bottom of the closet door and at the dresser drawers,” my knight-in-shining-armor informed me, and I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I had taken our jewelry out of the dresser drawer, had put the jewelry box in the truck first thing in the morning myself.
Goodness, neither one of us trusted him. We were paranoid, which probably was normal after everything we had just lived through. Would we distrust everybody in our future?
The tape was still in its place when we got back. Nobody had snooped through our things. We had been paranoid for no reason. I sat down on the bed and sighed with relief.
It was almost time for dinner. I finished cooking, set the table, and soon the four of us sat around the kitchen table and we discussed the events of the day. Afterward, we played RummyKub for a while, a game we loved to play and soon we snorted with laughter and built teams. Female vs Male, we won by a mile.
My friend got a journal out, and she started to write down things we needed to have before we moved. We played the game and when we had time, we listed things that came to our minds. “Coffe maker, mugs, tennis racket, footlocker,” we cracked up laughing, had tears in our eyes. It brought back so many memories, and we shared our recollections with Kurt.
Six years earlier, we had invited my friend’s niece to a summer camp, not just ‘a’ camp, but a very nice high-class camp a couple of hours away. We split the cost and planned to visit her together on the weekends when parents and family could visit. Her niece would stay five weeks in cabins at a lake with other girls her age. The camp had an outstanding reputation (no surprise by how much it cost) and provided a variety of activities and sports games. Tennis and rowing, crossbow shooting and archery, writing classes, and even a theater and singing group were available. My friend’s sister was struggling health-wise and needed time alone, and so we took over and had the time of our lives planning everything until we got the list of things the kid had to have.
A footlocker, clothes for church, hiking and all the sports activities, tennis racket, and tennis balls, name tags in everything she wore. Bathing suit, swim shoes, a rope, a certain amount of towels and washcloths, shorts and shirts were mandatory, so were special shoes like rain boots. Rain jacket, a cardigan for walks and for church, even the amount of undergarments we had to pack was specified. We cringed when we added it all up and started shopping. We made a list, asked friends, neighbors, and spouses if they wanted to chip in. Night after night we studied the two pages of essentials we still needed to buy, were joined first by one friend, then by a handful. We got it done, and in the end, we send the kid off with everything she needed to not stand out.
“Why did you do it?” Kurt asked, and neither one of us answered right away. “Because we could,” my husband said, and we nodded.
We can’t take it with us, one of his favorite phrases these days, when he thinks I am too frugal. I am very careful with money ever since that time, and think twice -or three times- before I spend it on something I consider a waste.
Life changes you and not all of it is bad.
Alcoholism did not come up that night. It was bonding time, and we had succeeded. We all went to bed with a smile, had enjoyed each other’s company. We had opened up and felt good about it.
Kurt would be my friend’s husband soon, and it was time for me us to welcome him into our lives.
I postponed the talk about drinking and driving. There would be enough time to bring it up soon.
As for my friend calling herself an alcoholic. I knew she would tell me about it when we had time alone. I had questions and wanted to offer my help IF she decided it was time to deal with it. I would ask brutal questions and already knew she would answer the same way. The fact that she used the word alcoholic showed me she was aware of the problem, had tried to stop drinking and had failed, probably more than once.
We had never pushed each other or tried to change each other. She had never questioned me, I had never questioned her or her decisions. Friendship is love, love is acceptance.
She was an adult. All I could do was offer my support and be there when she needed me. It’s not my job to make everybody a better person. As much as we hope for other people to change for us, it’s a losing battle not worth fighting. Either you stay and you accept, or you don’t accept and you leave. There is no happiness in between.
I felt slightly relieved as well. No more pretending that I didn’t notice the empty bottles. No more pity drinking for me, so she didn’t have to drink alone. When I wanted a glass of wine in the future, I would have one. If not, I would say “No” and not feel guilty about not joining her.
We all went to bed in a good mood. It had been a good day; we had made progress.
Calm seas, calm winds, the silence before the storm?