The words that grip me today are saturated with reality. They come from a place of experience. They come from a place of sadness. But they also come from a place of honesty. This piece of writing is not fiction and comes from deep within myself.
Disease is a long and winding road. I am an adult child of alcoholic parents. There have been reams written on the subject, some of it is familiar to me and some seems to be a foreign language from another planet. Each child that has grown up with the same label I have experiences their life in a completely different way. No two children live within the same defined constraints of alcoholism and no two children will ever see the disease in the same way. My brother and I grew up in the same house and I would put money on the fact that we would describe the experience from two completely different perspectives. This is the reality of disease – it will affect everyone in a unique way.
I was always an intuitive child and I knew from an early age that my parents did not drink the way most parents drank. Sure, life was fun, life was a party, but life also got swept under the rug and the hard times were diluted with an alternate reality that was sold in a bottle. My childhood was not a horrible experience, by any means. My parents were loving, affectionate and giving and our family knew how to care for and support each other and work hard for the things we got. But the demons always lurked in the corners. When life was good, it was great. But when life was difficult, my parents would retreat into the safety of the haze that alcohol created and the world outside of the four walls of our home failed to exist. They shared a blurred vision that perpetuated the colors of their elusive rainbow. Their co-dependency only fueled the fire of the disease and, as the years progressed, my father was the first to show the physical symptoms of its true profile. Alcohol is a serial killer.
His once athletic frame had become withered and yellowed and the spark in his eyes had faded. The buoyant man brimming with life was transformed into an aged man who, at times, seemed like a stranger. His personality slowly retreated into a dark corner and the vacant stare that remained only served as a reminder that the man we once knew had been abducted by the demons of his past. Watching my father suffer the prolonged and debilitating effects of the disease was horrific. Thankfully the memories I choose to keep are those of the energetic, exuberant man whom everyone loved.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of that serial killer lurking in the shadows. I enjoy a glass of wine. I appreciate a cold beer on a hot day. But that enjoyment is tarnished with thoughts of a possible genetic mutation that may alter my pleasure and turn it into something sinister. When I savor a red wine bursting with the aromas of blackberry and cinnamon, when I let it circle my taste buds with the pungent taste of earth and spice, there is an underlying sense of disquiet that the indulgence may have an ulterior motive. I can only take solace in the fact that wine, for me, is a pleasure and not an escape. I delight in its taste and my life is not affected by my enjoyment of its true character and nuance. It enhances my palate, it does not control my world.
True to the form of a demented psyche, the serial killer has now targeted my mother. It has stalked her, circling her and batting at her like a cat with a mouse. Seeing the recent change in my mom is more difficult because we have something to compare it to. That all-too-familiar haunting look in her eyes and the subtle changes in her personality bring the experience with my dad back to the forefront of my mind. We know what to expect and there is nothing we can do to change it. We are helpless to watch my mom teeter over the same rabbit hole that swallowed my father.
Thankfully my mom is much like my dad and has the spirit of a fighter. Deep inside she knows she is unwell, but her demeanor and her spunk tell a different story. Together, as a family, we will board the windows and latch the doors to fend off the evil perpetrator as long as we can. Serial killers may be tenacious, but this one has no idea what its up against. Blood is most definitely thicker than water and the life force that flows in our veins is stubborn. We will never give up without a good fight. Disease will never trump a child’s love for their parents.