My family was having dinner on a Monday night when my phone rang. It was my best friend Shelly’s dad.
Shelly was in the hospital. She was struggling through a treacherous alcohol detox. Her skin and eyes were a deep yellow. She was severely bloated, weak, confused and barely able to speak.
Her doctor said if she’d had one more drink, she may have died.
Throughout my life, alcoholism has reared its ugly head.
First, it was my father. Drinking drowned his memories of Vietnam. But the alcohol made him angry and physically abusive. My mom, brother and I lived in fear because the smallest things – the wrong sound, wrong word, wrong look – set him off. On his bad days, I hid under my bed. One night, after my mom had enough, she changed the house locks to keep him out and protect us. My father walked away and never came back. I was 11. A pain that never goes away.
Later, my stepdad. He struggled with alcoholism up into his 60’s. After many years trying different programs and therapies, I’m relieved to say he’s nine-years-sober and a strong positive presence in my life.
Today, it’s my friend of 40 years battling the bottle.
For some alcoholics, drinking is all they think about. They plan their day around each drink, building it into their work and social schedules.
Shelly started drinking more over the last five years to be social, self-medicate depression and avoid arguing with her husband. But, when she was drinking, the fighting was worse.
We knew she drank but didn’t realize it’d become an all day, every day habit. We didn’t realize her favorite tall tumbler was always full of straight vodka.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I hadn’t seen much of her. I knew something was wrong when, months later, I saw her thick, wavy hair had become thin and frail. Her face was swollen and her behavior was reclusive, withdrawn, confined to the garage or a small bedroom alone.
Shelly had never held any interest in a job, but her family and I all encouraged her to find ways to live a fuller, happier life. We felt she’d benefit from work, hobbies or community service – something to give her a sense of purpose outside being a stay-at-home mom. But she resisted change.
While bittersweet, my stepdad and his experiences, failures and struggles are now helping my friend. An avid counselor with Alcoholics Anonymous, he’s helping many in his community get clean. Shelly is letting him visit; she’s receptive to his ideas, and he seems to be getting through to her on the seriousness of her situation.
But his words are just advice. She must want to get help. She must take the first steps.
Shelly says she’s committed to quitting because she wants to be there for her two teenage sons. Through tears, she says she wants to live to see her sons get married, to hold their future children and be the grandma they deserve.
The road to sobriety and finding a new normal won’t be easy. For her…her husband…her sons. Her doctor says her liver and her body should recover – if she never has another drink. But even after 25 days of detox she is still yellow, swollen, weak. Her thoughts dazed.
My stepdad said what helped him quit was he stopped thinking about staying sober forever. He’d tell himself, “Today, I’m not going to drink.”
Sometimes, it was “I’m not going to drink right now,” or “I won’t take THAT drink.”
He went day by day.
Hour by hour.
Minute by minute.
I pray that my friend she can break the cycle of self-destructive behavior and redirect her path to one with a bright, sober future. That she returns to the person we all know she is inside.
Editor’s note: The Employee Assistance Program offers free counseling and other services to those struggling with addiction. Information is available to DLA employees and their household members at www.MagellanAscend.com or 866-580-9046 24/7/365 days a year.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline is a confidential, free, 24/7/365, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889. Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you.