the november cocktail hour – sans cocktails

Thursday, November 30:  It’s time for our monthly cocktail hour again, but this time I’m afraid I can’t offer you any cocktails.  It will have to be a non-alcoholic gathering, as our family has now come face-to-face, in the most unpleasant way, with the full-blown realization that we have an alcoholic in our midst.  I’ll tell you more about it later, but for now, please come in and keep me company.  I could certainly use a listener, and I’d love the distraction of hearing what’s happening in other people’s lives.

I can offer you soda, hot tea or coffee, or even hot apple cider, since it’s getting cold now. We also have tap water, of course, with a twist of lemon or lime, or I can offer you La Croix grapefruit flavored sparkling water.  You all know I love my glass of wine, but I have to save that treat for when I’m outside the house.

“There’s not alcoholic in the world who wants to be told what to do. Alcoholics are sometimes described as egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. Or, to be cruder, a piece of shit that the universe revolves around.”
Anthony Kiedis, Scar Tissue

I hope November has been good to you. Have you read any good books, seen any good movies or performances, binge-watched any television series? Have you encountered any challenges or jumped any big hurdles? Have you welcomed any visitors? Have you wandered or journeyed; have you dreamed any dreams? Have you had any massages? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you embarked on any new endeavors?

Our month started out well enough.  My son’s girlfriend Maddy was still here and he was occupied with her, though he still hadn’t returned to work. I think they had worked out Maddy would pay for everything while here, as he had spent all his money in Australia.  He wasn’t working so had no income coming in.

I was trying to play catch-up with some free webinars offered by a friend of mine, Pooja, under her business name of Daring Daydreamers. I hadn’t been able to attend the live versions, so I was trying to catch up on the first two replays: “Vision Boarding for Success” and “Intentional Mind Mapping,” in preparation for the third one, “Communicating Your Vision with Ease” on Friday, November 3.   After attending this webinar live, I signed up for the two-hour “Business Planning Workshop” which was on the 16th.  Pooja had given all attendees a Business Planning Worksheet to complete prior to the webinar, which was fairly easy to do as I had started creating a business plan before I left for Japan.

I also set a goal for myself to write two draft chapters of my memoir each week, and except for Thanksgiving week, I did just that, although I must admit they are very rough drafts.

I saw a lot of movies this month, probably to make up for not seeing a single movie in the theater in October, and to escape the house.  I go often to Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax on Senior Wednesday for $5.50. I went to see the adorable movie Lucky, about a 90-year-old atheist who, after a sudden collapse in his home, has to accept that his good health may be declining and that his life may be coming to an end.  He’s a gruff but endearing character who gets up every morning and does a few yoga poses in his underwear, puts on one of the five identical plaid shirts he has in his closet, and goes out for a walk, smoking cigarettes along the way and encountering his fellow citizens in his small derelict town. He questions his neighbors’ beliefs and fine-tunes his own along the way.

Mike and I enjoyed a fun vegan taco dinner with our friends Karen and Michael on Saturday, the 4th.  This was the first time we’ve visited them in their new house and we had a great time. On Sunday afternoon, we went together to see The Florida Project, a depressing and hopeless story about poverty and generational problems in the shadow of the make-believe land of Disney World in Florida. It definitely gave us something to talk about, especially how the mother’s behavior in letting her daughter run rampant translated into a bratty spoiled child who didn’t have any likable qualities about her.

November 7 was Election Day and in Virginia, it was an important election as we were voting for a new Governor (Ralph Northam won!), Lieutenant Governor (Justin Fairfax), Attorney General (Mark Herring) and a new delegate for the 67th District (Karrie Delaney). It turned out to be a Democratic sweep, thank goodness, a clear message to Trump that Virginians want nothing to do with his brand of hatred.

After I voted I went to my tailor and asked her to take a picture of my “I Voted” sticker; it was recommended we put pictures on social media to remind others to vote.  It just so happened the picture showed her “Alterations” sign on the window, and I noted on my picture that I voted for “Alterations” in our current government.

Election Day – hoping for ALTERATIONS in our current government!

I found a picture on Pinterest, which I don’t often look at, of a meal that inspired me to make this meal of quinoa, black beans, roasted butternut squash, avocado, arugula & yellow tomatoes.  It was delicious!

my concoction: quinoa, black beans, roasted butternut squash, avocado & yellow tomatoes

On Wednesday, November 8, I went to see Victoria & Abdul, about the aging Queen Victoria and her unusual friendship with a young Indian clerk.  I always love Judy Dench, and she was her superb self in this movie. We’ve also recently watched the first season of the TV series, Victoria, about Queen Victoria’s early life.  Now we just need the middle part filled in.

On Thursday, November 9, I went to visit my father and his wife in Yorktown, but I stayed less than two hours.  I have a fraught relationship with my father and I haven’t seen him since I threw a birthday party for him in September of 2016.  At that party, his wife Shirley told me Dad wanted to cancel three weeks before the party, despite the fact that I did everything in my power to get everyone together for that party, even my sister in California who hates to fly and rarely travels.  Luckily, Shirley talked Dad out of cancelling or I would have been furious.  He told me at that party that he would never make the trip to northern Virginia again (about a 3 hour trip by car under the best of traffic), yet he continues to travel about 30 minutes south of here to visit his wife’s family. He’s also a Trump supporter and a racist, so I really can’t take much of him. I know he’s getting older and more frail, so I try to do my daughterly duty periodically.

After a tense conversation, I left his house and went to Richmond where I met Sarah and Alex at Joe’s Inn, where Sarah has worked as a bartender and waitress for nearly 10 years.  They were finishing up their drinks and Alex had to run off to meet someone, so we shortly left. Sarah and I went by ourselves to share a lovely dinner at Demi’s Mediterranean Kitchen.

On Saturday morning I went for a walk in Sarah’s neighborhood of Woodland Park while she took her dog for a slow walk.  The trees were beautiful in her neighborhood.  Then we had a delicious lunch at Chopt Salad at Willow Lawn.

trees in Woodland Park, Richmond
leaves in Woodland Park

I loved all the fallen leaves in Woodland Park.  I don’t know why it makes me so happy to shuffle through colorful fallen leaves in autumn.

colorful leaves on the road in Woodland Park

We celebrated our anniversary (29 years minus a handful of gap years) at Maple Avenue Restaurant in Vienna on Monday, November 13.  Earlier that day, my son’s girlfriend Maddy left to return to Australia.

This night, though fun while we were out, marked the end of innocence for our family. Little did we know this would be the beginning of a spiraling decline in our son’s life.

me at Maple Avenue Restaurant

At this point, still foolishly believing life was good, we enjoyed our dinner. I had an appetizer of crispy broccoli with panko breading, gold raisins, caraway, and yogurt herb sauce.  It was a little too heavily breaded and deep-fried for my taste; I was expecting a light dusting of bread crumbs. Mike’s appetizer of house spreads was much better: burrata, liver mousse, bacon jam, herb ricotta, currant jam, and crostinis.  For dinner, I somewhat enjoyed my Arctic Char Fillet with fresh herb spaetzle pasta, oregano, and smoky tomato sauce.  Again, Mike’s meal was better: pork confit steak with fingerlings, brown butter, sweet potato, eggplant caponata, and chimi churri.  I’m not generally a pork eater, but this dish was lean and flavorful and surprisingly good.

Finally, to top off our meal, we had fried apple pie with lavender honey, dulce de leche, and old-fashioned ice cream.  This time mine was better than Mike’s Lithuanian Honey Layer Cake with cinnamon, allspice and caramelized honey, and whipped sour cream.

I continued to take my 3-mile walks all over the place, but on this Thursday after our anniversary, on a walk around Lake Audubon, the trees were glowing.

around Lake Audubon in Reston

On Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving, I met my friend Leah in D.C. at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace for brunch and bottomless mimosas.  She lives in San Francisco but comes home to D.C. to visit her father each year around Thanksgiving. Leah got the most delicious Chopped Salad with Buttermilk-Jalapeno Dressing, Market Vegetables, and Popcorn Crawfish, while I enjoyed a small portion of 3 Cornmeal Crusted Chesapeake Oysters served over Andouille Sausage & Sweet Potato Hash.  It was a tiny meal but delicious.  No matter, I was mostly focused on the bottomless mimosas for $20. This Bottomless Mimosa Brunch is hosted every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm with Reggae tunes playing in the background.  We had a great time all around, catching up on our lives while also bemoaning the state of our government in the last year, with the despicable and greedy Republicans in charge.

We passed by Birch and Barley, which looked to be closed but I found out later is not.  I recognized it as the place where my CELTA class colleagues and students went to celebrate after our last day of class in October of 2015.

Mike and I went to Arena Stage to see the musical The Pajama Game on Saturday, November 18 after eating at Masala Art, our favorite Indian restaurant in D.C. Here’s the review in the Washington Post: Splashy ‘Pajama Game’ at Arena Stage Aims to Seduce with 1950s Style. It was fun, and some of the music was great, especially “Hernando’s Hideaway,” which I played on Spotify on the way home.

The Pajama Game was first produced in 1954, with catchy tunes and sexy dance numbers.  The musical’s themes revolve around protest and inequality in the workplace.

The Pajama Game at Arena Stage
Mike at Arena Stage

I finished reading three books this month: first, I finished Water from heaven: An American woman’s life as an Arab wife, by Anne Schreiber Thomas.  I met Anne and her husband when I lived in Oman and she and her husband lived in Abu Dhabi. The story tells of an American woman, Cindy Lou Davis, who met and married Mohammed Ali, a Muslim from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.  Anne knows Cindy Lou and she did a great job of capturing Arab culture in UAE, not too dissimilar from Oman’s.  I also finished Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull, which I really enjoyed.  Lastly, I read the bizarre book, The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris, by Leila Marouane.  I started reading this book because I planned to join a book group that is reading books from all the countries of the world in alphabetical order. The story actually takes place in Paris but it was chosen as an Algerian book, since the protagonist Mohamed Ben Mokhtar, who has Frenchified his name to Basile Tocquard, and his family are Algerian.  If you’re interested in reading my reviews of these books, you can probably find them by clicking on the title links above. 

On Sunday, November 19, Mike and I took a walk along the Fairfax Cross County Trail.  It was a beautiful crisp fall day, but I was feeling a little anxious about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Worried about our son’s drinking, I had counted the number of wine bottles, and was certain that two had gone missing.  I knew when Sarah and Alex came for the holiday, the wine would be flowing and I didn’t know how Adam would cope.

a glowing tree

On Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, I woke up to hear a tense discussion in the basement between my husband and son, and I found a note under my empty wine rack.  I had hidden all the wine bottles on Monday, but on Monday afternoon I had bought two more for the holidays and thought, He wouldn’t dare take these when they’re the last two. The note said, “Sorry for taking wine. I love you.  Thank you.”  Apparently he had drunk the two bottles over the night and was drunk first thing in the morning. A huge argument ensued with screaming and yelling.  Things got so nasty that I threatened to call the police.

Slowly, we all calmed down and had a long talk, made up, cried and hugged.  Later in the morning, I invited Adam to walk with me, again on the same Cross County Trail.  We had such a wonderful day, talking about everything, about how difficult it was for him when in every social situation people are pressuring him to drink, and how he felt powerless.  He talked about wanting moderation, being able to have just one or two drinks, but how he couldn’t seem to stop once he started.  We talked about how it was important for him to go to AA so he wouldn’t have to go it alone, so he could have a community of people who also struggle with addiction. We could send him to rehab, I could drive him to AA, he could join some Meetup groups of people with similar interests so he didn’t feel so isolated. We talked about how he’d cope over Thanksgiving when people were drinking.  We loaded him up with Kombucha, so he could drink that while others were drinking wine.  He seemed receptive.  After our walk, we went to Mom’s Organic Market so he could pick out some healthy food (he’s very picky about the kind of food he’ll eat) and we shared some healthy bowls at the Naked Lunch Cafe.

See how much help I tried to offer?!  See how foolish, and how crazy, I was?

Trees on the CCT

On our way home, Adam told me how he’d like to make some suggestions to his boss to improve his business so his boss wouldn’t be so angry all the time.  It sounds like the business is growing and needs more employees, so I immediately thought of ZipRecruiter, an advertisement I hear every day on Modern Love: The Podcast. (Again, I’m so full of helpful ideas!)  I told Adam that I listen every day to Modern Love and they play the same two ads: ZipRecruiter and, about pee-proof underwear for women.  We laughed about those and then he was interested in hearing the podcast to hear the advertisements.  It just so happened the next podcast up on my list was this one: “Take My Son To Jail: Modern Love 72.”  The essay, read aloud on the podcast, was about a son who was diagnosed with various things over the years, from autism to schizophrenia, but nothing ever seemed right.  It turned out the son had told his mother at 18 that he wanted to be treated like an adult.  Then he went through a stretch of time where he lied about everything and then stole his mother’s car.  When the police in their small town called the mother, she told them to take him to jail, because he’d said he wanted to be treated like an adult and she was sick of all the lies and his behavior.  She did it lovingly.  Sadly, many years later, the son was found dead in his apartment at age 28 with no known cause of death.

We weren’t finished listening to the podcast when we pulled into our driveway, but Adam wanted to finish listening to it after we got in the house.  As I had just threatened to call the police this morning, maybe he could identify with it. I hoped that maybe he understood where I was coming from.

We hadn’t shared a day that wonderful in a long time. All seemed good.  And hopeful.

“I felt empty and sad for years, and for a long, long time, alcohol worked. I’d drink, and all the sadness would go away. Not only did the sadness go away, but I was fantastic. I was beautiful, funny, I had a great figure, and I could do math. But at some point, the booze stopped working. That’s when drinking started sucking. Every time I drank, I could feel pieces of me leaving. I continued to drink until there was nothing left. Just emptiness.”
Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be

a few colorful berries

But. Hope is fool’s folly when dealing with an addict. This is the dilemma. As his parents, we love him and want the best for him.  We want him to be happy and productive and responsible.  We want him to be a man. We are willing to do anything to help him.  And this is where the problem lies. WE CANNOT HELP HIM UNLESS HE WANTS TO HELP HIMSELF.  And though he SAYS he wants to help himself, he doesn’t actually take action to do it. This is where we want so desperately to believe, but we’re fools for doing so.  In our belief that we can fix him, we’re as insane as he is.

Before he left for Australia in mid-September, he was doing so well.  He was working, saving money, paying his debt, working solidly on a podcast which I thought was very well done. He was proud of himself for being clean for 70 days.  But once he got to Australia, he was pressured constantly to drink, and apparently he did drink, so much that he didn’t like how he was feeling and acting, so he quit cold turkey.  He said that weekend after he stopped was hell because everyone else was partying like their lives depended on it and he felt outside of things.

While in Australia, he lost his momentum on his podcast and spent all his money.  And then he brought Maddy home with him, and he promptly got sick and didn’t go back to work.  He and Maddy broke up and she left earlier than she originally planned.  Maybe their relationship was doomed because of the hopelessness of being on opposite sides of the world.  Maddy doesn’t want to leave Australia and he doesn’t want to leave the U.S.  He has no career and no direction and knows he needs to get his life together, but he just can’t seem to muster what it takes.

This is the nature of the addict.

“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

treetops and blue sky

Thanksgiving actually went pretty well.  Sarah and Alex arrived, they drank wine and Adam drank Kombucha.  We enjoyed chatting and we all watched several episodes of Fresh Off the Boat together, all bundled together under blankets on the couch in the basement. The next day, we worked together to prepare dinner, enjoyed our huge meal, and then played a rousing game of Malarky together.  It was great fun; I haven’t laughed so hard in ages.  But where all of us could laugh, make fun of ourselves, and relax, Adam seemed on edge, testy.  He always wants to win and takes it personally when he thinks he’s going to lose. He can be condescending and difficult to be around.

The day after Thanksgiving was worse, with Adam staying mostly to himself and Alex working out. Sarah was her easy-going self.  I suggested we all go see Lady Bird together and everybody was up for it. I enjoyed it.  Sarah said it reflected perfectly the struggles of her generation.  I’m sure all my kids could relate to the mother-child struggles, with the mother pushing her child to be the best she could be.

But later, Adam sat in front of the TV, lost in his own thoughts, not talking to Alex or Sarah or any of us.  He was supposed to go to work Friday night, but called in sick.  He should have gone Saturday, but he didn’t then either.  Sarah and Alex left around 11:00 on Saturday, and Adam went back into his shell, seeming more depressed than ever.

“I was drawn to all the wrong things: I liked to drink, I was lazy, I didn’t have a god, politics, ideas, ideals. I was settled into nothingness; a kind of non-being, and I accepted it. I didn’t make for an interesting person. I didn’t want to be interesting, it was too hard. What I really wanted was only a soft, hazy space to live in, and to be left alone. On the other hand, when I got drunk I screamed, went crazy, got all out of hand. One kind of behavior didn’t fit the other. I didn’t care.”
Charles Bukowski, Women

On Sunday, Adam got up early and went to work.  He was at work from 7 in the morning till 7:30 at night.Mike and I went for a fun hike at Maryland Heights.  In the evening, we got a text that he was going to his friend’s house.  I know he needs to have friends, but I know these friends like to drink.  I was on edge all night.  He never came home until 9:30 Monday morning.  I didn’t know if he’d been drinking but I couldn’t help but suspect it.  He steered clear of me and later in the day, I found him sleeping the day away in the basement.  I asked if he’d been drinking last night and if he was going to an AA meeting we’d told him about on Monday evening.  He answered no to both and said not to bother him, he was napping.

fallen heroes

Later in the evening, I was determined that we talk to him together.  We went downstairs and told him we wanted to talk to him about going to AA.  Highly on edge, he said he wasn’t going and he didn’t want to talk about it. We insisted that we need to talk about it because our agreement was that he would start going to AA if he lived in our house.  Tempers escalated and things got ugly, ending with him pounding a hole in his door, another hole in the wall, breaking his computer, and picking up an ottoman and trying to throw it at a TV.  He said horrible things to us and was out of control. He told us he was more powerful than us and he became threatening.  I threatened to call the police.

When things escalated even more, the decibel level nearly explosive, I did just what I threatened.  I called the police, telling them we had a domestic situation.  Adam left the house and sat outside waiting for the police.  He wanted to tell his side of the story first, I guess.  It was a horrible night.  I told the police I wanted him out of the house. They told us we couldn’t just throw him out at that moment.  They told me there was nothing they could do unless he actually hurt us.  Wow, that might be too late, mightn’t it?  The officer was a good man, kind and sympathetic. He said, with all his experience over 20 years with this kind of situation, there is nothing we can do to help our son unless he wants to help himself.  He told us our options; we could go to the Sheriff’s Office and file eviction papers, post them on our house, and have him evicted in 30 days. We could file charges for property damages. He suggested we should wait till our tempers had calmed to continue our discussion.  Then he left the house.  I stood up, said I was done talking for the night, and went upstairs to bed, saying I had nothing more to say.  But.  I couldn’t sleep because I could hear Mike and Adam talking for two more hours, voices raised.

Later, Mike told me that in two hours of talking, our son said that when he came home from Hawaii, he spent two full weeks trying to detox by sleeping and spending a lot of time alone. He said Mike didn’t know how much he suffered because he was at work all the time (I was in Japan).  He said he really does want to change.

I won’t believe it until I see it.  I’m ready to file eviction papers at a moment’s notice, but I said I’d see how it goes over the next week.  I hate the thought of evicting him in the middle of winter, but I don’t know what else to do.  We have absolutely no control over him and I actually feel threatened in my house. 

“You’re walking down Fool’s Street, Laura used to say when he was drinking, and she had been right. He had known even then that she was right, but knowing had made no difference; he had simply laughed at her fears and gone on walking down it, till finally he had stumbled and fell. Then, for a long time, he stayed away, and if he had stayed away long enough he would have been all right; but one night he began walking down it again – and met the girl. It was inevitable that on Fool’s Street there should be women as well as wine.

He had walked down it many times in many different towns, and now he was walking down it once again in yet another town. Fool’s Street never changed, no matter where you went, and this one was no different from the others. The same skeletonic signs bled beer names in vacant windows; the same winos sat in doorways nursing muscatel; the same drunk tank awaited you when at last your reeling footsteps failed. And if the sky was darker than usual, it was only because of the rain which had begun falling early that morning and been falling steadily ever since.”
Robert F. Young, The Worlds of Robert F. Young

Difficult Valley Stream

On Tuesday night, we watched the DVR of Madam Secretary we had recorded on Sunday. In the show, President Dalton was upset because his son, a drug addict, had checked himself into rehab.  After an international incident in which the U.S., at the President’s insistence, tried to negotiate with Mexico to turn over an imprisoned drug lord to the U.S. to be prosecuted, Secretary McCord tells the President she’s sorry about his son.  He says the worst thing is that no matter how many times his son goes to rehab, and how often he gets clean, he’s always going to have that demon on his shoulder, threatening to send him spiraling again.

Why has it taken us so long to face the fact our son is depressed and an alcoholic?  Sure, we’ve had our suspicions.  But I have tried to normalize it. I know depression runs in our family and all of us have grappled with it.  I remind myself how many young people drink, how much I used to drink when I was in my 20s.  But, then I never drank alone.  I was always able to get up and go to work.  Could I quit after two drinks?  I often didn’t, but could I have?

How many times have we deluded ourselves? I’ve lost count. I had a wonderful day with my son on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my sweet and brilliant son who was once so close to me.  Now, less than a week later, we are in dire straits. I never know when another bomb will drop; it’s like I’m living in a war zone.  He is depressed but refuses to seek help because he doesn’t trust doctors and he refuses to go on anti-depressants, yet he continues to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. He is isolated and lonely, but he won’t go to AA. He thinks he’s more powerful than we are and we can’t force him to do anything. And he’s right about that. If he won’t help himself, how on earth can we help him?

Plainly and simply, we can’t.

But we can’t let him drag us down into his abyss.  That I know.  I am considering options.  I am leaving open the eviction option.  I am considering leaving the house and going to stay somewhere else until he’s out of the house.  I am figuring out ways I can take care of myself and stop offering him help and solutions.  He doesn’t want our help anyway, and in fact resents our meddling.  I will work on myself, as I’m the only one who is any of my business.

“There are millions of people out there who live this way, and their hearts are breaking just like mine. It’s okay to say, “My kid is a drug addict or alcoholic, and I still love them and I’m still proud of them.” Hold your head up and have a cappuccino. Take a trip. Hang your Christmas lights and hide colored eggs. Cry, laugh, then take a nap. And when we all get to the end of the road, I’m going to write a story that’s so happy it’s going to make your liver explode. It’s going to be a great day.”
Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be

I grew up with a mother who was paranoid schizophrenic and who attempted suicide (and failed) too many times to count.  The first time, she walked in front of a neighbor’s VW van when I was 13 years old.  Another time she drove into a tree. She was in and out of mental hospitals, undergoing electroshock therapy, and she was constantly on cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs.  She was also an alcoholic.  I survived those years by detaching and I’ll have to survive this by detaching.  I love my son deeply, but I’m going to stand back for now. I have to, to keep from going crazy. Until he gets his life together, I need to keep distance between us. The whole environment is too toxic and too heartbreaking.

It may seem strange to be writing about anniversary celebrations, going to movies, reading books, meeting friends, and celebrating holidays in the midst of the hell we are going through.  But that is life, isn’t it?  We can choose to sit around wringing our hands in desperation, hoping that something good will come of all this or, alternatively, bracing ourselves for something horrible to happen. Or we can try to eke out moments of happiness in whatever ways we can in the midst of it all.  I’m going to try to do the latter, for my sanity, which I’m determined to preserve.  I did it when growing up with my mentally ill mother, so I’ll do it with my son as well.

We are at a stand-off now.  I haven’t laid eyes on our son since Monday night, and he lives in our basement.  Mike goes down once a day to check to see if he’s still alive.  I cannot forget our terrifying Monday night and I’m sure he is furious at us.  He probably feels hopeless, and that makes my heart break. But we feel hopeless too. Forgiveness will be slow in coming.

On Wednesday, November 29, I went again to Senior Wednesday to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  This may have been one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.  The characters were complex and grew and learned from their experiences.  It gave me a little hope for all of us.

Friday, December 1:  I went to an Al-Anon meeting today at an Episcopal Church I used to attend.  This group works on the 12 steps, one step each Friday at noon. Today, it so happened that they were working on Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. It helped me to listen to nearly 20 people share their struggles with the alcoholic or drug addicts in their lives. It helped me feel part of a community, that all is not hopeless, and that I need to focus on myself and to ask for help from a Higher Power.  One thing I learned in Al-Anon today is that I have to trust in my Higher Power, whatever that means to me, and then I have to let go and believe that my son has his own Higher Power who will take care of him.  They said to me: “Keep coming back.”  I’ve dropped into Al-Anon meetings in the past, but only periodically, when things were in crisis mode.  This time, I need to commit to going regularly, at least once a week, if not more.

Many people may be put off by my sharing of something so personal.  But I am a strong believer in deep sharing, rather than superficiality.  Looking at social media, one would think everyone’s lives are fine and glorious things. There is deep shame in society about talking about mental illness, depression and addiction.  But I believe if we don’t talk about it, and we continue to sweep it under the table, it will continue to infect our societies, generation after generation, ad infinitum.

One day, you might be able to read all about all of this in my memoir.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll tell me something about your November, your life, your experiences, whether exciting or challenging.  Anyway, I wish you all a fabulous December and a festive holiday season. 🙂

32 thoughts on “the november cocktail hour – sans cocktails

  1. Sorry to hear about the turmoil. My father was an alcoholic who succumbed to paranoid schizophrenia after he quit drinking. The drink was most likely drowning out the voices. So, I can relate to living in the chaos. I also lived with chronic depression for most of my life. After a long, long struggle and a lot of hard work, I’ve managed to claw my way out of it without pharmaceuticals. The thing about depression is that everyone is different. We all have different bottoms to hit, different lights to follow out of the darkness. A lot of advice that people gave me (Be positive! Look on the bright side!) just made it worse. That’s why I rarely give any advice other than to listen to your own inner voice, if you can hear it in the storm. Wishing you clarity and peace in this difficult time.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and your sharing. I’m sorry about your father and your personal struggles. And you’re right, that advice to “Be positive!” is never helpful. Believe me, the looming threat of paranoid schizophrenia has been a cloud over my entire life; I worried about whether I’d make it through my life without succumbing, and now I have to worry about my son. As for depression, everyone in my family has suffered from it at one time or another, and though I’ve never felt clinically depressed, I’ve had a general mild depression my whole life. I have to learn to stop giving advice or offering help where my son is concerned. This is my goal going forward: detach, let go, and work on myself. It’s really all I can do. Thank you again for your good wishes. 🙂

  2. I clicked the ‘like’ button not because I like what you and your family are going through, but because I like that you shared it. I think it’s important to share, and I was hanging on every word, hoping, like you, for some better resolution, though I know in my heart it’s much too complicated to resolve itself in a month. Life is not a sitcom.

    I think your going to Al-Anon is the best idea you could have given all of this. Your husband should probably go too, but that’s his to decide. I haven’t lived with anything remotely like you have, so there’s no advice here. But there is support. And hope. And hugs. Lots of hugs.

    1. Hi Dawn, Thank you so much for your kind words and thanks for reading. Thank you for hoping there might be some resolution by month end; of course, I hope every day there will be some resolution. Sometimes things seem okay, and for a time I think we’re out of the water, but I really cannot allow myself to think like that. Over the weekend, my son has been back at work again, which gives me a glimmer of hope, but I am no longer going to hang my happiness on his success. I want him to succeed, I want him to be happy, but it’s ultimately up to him what he makes of his life. He will likely fall back again, especially if he continues to refuse to go to AA or to seek help. Al-Anon will definitely help me; I feel better already just having written and shared (writing has always been an outlet for me), and attended one meeting, and started reading the Al-Anon materials. I now look forward to the next meeting, and to that much-needed community. The meetings give me hope that I can at least restore some level of sanity to myself. By the way, my husband works so he went on Saturday to his Al-Anon meeting. I go during the week, since I don’t work. We will probably continue to go separately because we need to work on our issues alone, rather than as partners.

      Your hugs mean so much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  3. I’ll take hot tea – preferably herbal, but whatever you have will be fine. I just finished reading “The Other Einstein”, which prompted me to get “In Albert’s Shadow” – only available in hardcover, no e-book. I found reading a paper book more difficult, without the backlight to add contrast to the type, the need to use a bookmark – all of those old-fashioned things. Not that I’m spoiled, or anything.
    I’ve been mostly streaming TV shows, a lot of Acorn and BritBox programs because there’s very little on US TV that interests me. Seriously considering cutting the cord, since I discovered I can watch the PBS Newshour of the day from 6:00 p.m. on on the Roku PBS channel. I like being able to access what I want to watch when I want to, rather than on someone else’s schedule.
    l’m sorry to hear of your problems with Adam. I will join you in your hope that he will find his way sooner rather than later, because you are right – you can’t control it. Hugs to you.

    1. We have herbal tea, Carol, so I can offer you many different flavors. “The Other Einstein” sounds interesting, as does the other book; I’ve added them both to my Goodreads list. So many books to read and so little time! I know what you mean about reading paper books; as I get older and my eyes get weaker, I find it increasingly difficult to read unless the type is large and dark. I also like reading on the Kindle for the backlight. I’d love to hear about the shows you’re watching. I’ve never even heard of Acorn or Britbox, but I do love many foreign TV shows, especially the Danish ones such as Borgen, Rita, and Dicte. We’ve also been watching the Australian A Place to Call Home. I do love some American shows such as Longmire and Madam Secretary. We also DVR a lot of shows and watch them on our own time, fast forwarding through commercials. Maybe cutting the cord might be a good idea.

      Thanks for the good wishes, Carol. As you know, we’ve been struggling with these problems for a long time; it seems they just got worse. I cannot let him drag me down into his abyss, and I need to stop offering help unless he sincerely asks for it and wants to do something to help himself. Thank you for the hugs. xxx

      1. I am watching A Place to Call Home too, through Acorn via Amazon. Acorn and Britbox are both streaming channels available on their own or through Amazon video. I use the Roku streaming stick, but my internet can be iffy, so sometimes it’s an exercise in frustration. I have Rita on my watch list. I watched all of Longmire on Netflix and watched Madame Secretary for the first two or three seasons. I like being able to watch multiple episodes in a row. Last night I started watching Ken Burns’ series on The Roosevelts and am reading the book Loving Eleanor – most of my books come from BookBub cheap choices.

      2. Isn’t Regina driving you crazy in A Place to Call Home? She’s so evil!!! Thanks for telling me about Acorn and Britbox. How’s the Ken Burns series on The Roosevelts? We’re also watching his Vietnam series, slowly but surely. Thanks for sharing, Carol. Enjoy your holiday preparations. 🙂

      3. Regina is one of those you love to hate. The Roosevelt’s is good, interesting, but I’m aKen Burns fan. I found his Vietnam series very interesting, so much we’re never told.

      4. That’s for sure about Regina. I can’t wait till she gets her comeuppance, which I’m sure she will, but not until she’s tried to wreak more havoc. We haven’t yet finished the Vietnam series, but we have it all taped and are watching it very slowly. It’s really fascinating and also disheartening to understand the depth of how much the American people were lied to by the government.

      5. How far into A Place to Call Home are you? Your feelings about Vietnam reflect mine when I watched it and I’d tell myself I wasn’t going to watch anymore but the next night I was back to see the next episode.

      6. We’re somewhere in the middle of Season 4 on A Place to Call Home. I think we still have a way to go. We enjoy it a lot, but I really do despise Regina!! I do love the Vietnam series. It is fascinating and enlightening. 🙂

  4. So sorry it’s come to this, Cathy. My heart aches for you. I think it’s a good thing that you’re going to the AA meetings. As you say, it puts you in contact with people who’ve shared these problems and maybe gives you some understanding and hope. I don’t think you should give up on him, Cathy, but I understand your need to preserve your own sanity. You had a rough ride when you were younger, and it’s not all been smooth sailing since. There’s no way it’s going to be easy for Adam to get back on track. Life can be very cruel. I wish I had some answers for you, hon. I’ll come back and chat later. You’ve taken the wind out of my sails at the moment. Hugs, sweetheart. I wish I could give you a good cuddle.

    1. Thanks so much, Jo. The Al-Anon meetings will be a help; I’m certain of that. I already look forward to the next one. I won’t give up on him, but neither will I hang my hopes on him; nor will I let him pull me down into his abyss. When he shows a clear desire to help himself, I’ll be more than happy to help, if he asks for my help. I can no longer meddle in his life; as well-intentioned as I think I’m being, it only messes up things more. But I also cannot allow him to threaten me in my own house. I survived my suicidal mother and her craziness, and I feel certain I’ll survive this, one way or another.

      I’m so sorry to take the wind out of your sails, Jo. I hope I didn’t depress you too much. It helps me to share, just as writing and journaling over the years has helped me maintain some degree of sanity. A good cuddle would be good. One of these days, Jo. Thanks for your love and kindness. xx

  5. Oh Cathy, I felt so sad for you reading this. I feel sad for Adam too and hope he can find it in himself to begin the healing process. I don’t do prayer, but I’m certainly sending warm thoughts to you all as you face this challenge.

    As for my November, i’m way behind with my summary post because we just got back this afternoon from a lovely week in Amsterdam. News on that later too.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words and your warm thoughts, Anabel. I’m not a very religious person either, and I don’t really pray, in the way that I was taught to do so as a child, but in Al-Anon, I need to commit to turning things over to a “Higher Power,” whatever I deem that to be. For me, it might be nature, wandering in the world, contemplative walking, and the Buddhist practice of “letting go.”

      I always enjoy reading your summary posts for the month, so I’ll look forward to yours whenever you get time to write it! Now Amsterdam, that sounds fantastic. Can’t wait to hear about that!! 🙂

  6. Dear Cathy, I appreciate your honesty in this post. As a mother I can feel your heartache and your frustration at your inability to help Adam. I hope he finds a way to help himself. We are sometimes our worst enemies. You and Mike need some support and I believe going to AA meetings is a great idea.
    Wish I lived closer… Much love, Rosie

    1. Thank you so much, Rosie. I wish you lived closer too! I actually thought about leaving the house and driving across country to stay with my sister for the holidays after that police incident. But I need to stick it out, and learn to live within this situation, going to Al-Anon and taking care of myself. I have a lot of goals, as you know, and I need to focus on those, and on my dreams. My son must decide if he truly wants to change and if he wants to help himself. We’ve done everything we can, and if he sincerely asks for help (rehab or counseling) we’ll be happy to help. As for money, forget it. That is the one carrot we have left remaining that we have total control over.

  7. Cathy, I’m so sorry to hear about your family’s struggles! Your courage and honesty are amazing. One of my stepsons suffers from depression and anxiety which he self-medicated for some years; he finally got on some helpful real meds and has been able to move forward. I’m glad to see you are taking the steps you need to care for yourself and do what you can for Adam. Best wishes to all of you on this difficult path!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words, Kathleen. I wish my son would get on some kind of anti-depressants or other meds, but I can’t force him to even see a psychologist, much less take medications. Neither can I force him to go to AA, which I think would be helpful. I just have to let him solve it, or not, whatever is his choice, but let him know we’re here to help, if he asks for our help and is willing to take it. Working every day on detachment and taking care of myself. Thank you so much for your good wishes. 🙂

  8. First, I’m sorry to hear that you, like so many others, are struggling with a loved one’s addiction. I’ve been there, all too often, and I don’t think I’m out of that woods by any means. Currently it involves my son, who’s around the age of yours. I am not comfortable with making my life so public but want you to know that so much of what you write rings true, and is heartbreaking. Having worked very closely with people with schizophrenia, I understand how damaging it must be to grow up with a schizophrenic parent.
    Some of your photos are particularly poignant, relating to what’s happening: Fallen heroes especially – it’s a gorgeous photo, but when seen in this context, more moving still. I think you’re doing Art Therapy! Also the Glowing Tree and Difficult Valley Stream are great photos, and very moving in this context.
    Your final paragraphs are telling. I agree of course, people do not talk about mental illness and addiction enough. I know I have to add myself to the wrong side of that equation, but people close to me have suffered horribly after TMI went public, and as a social worker, I wasn’t supposed to give out personal information so I keep a lower profile than some. The way social media paint skewed pictures of people’s lives is a sickness we need to be aware of. I applaud your desire to continue celebrating life’s ordinary pleasures – and write about them – in the midst of the hard times. It’s a fine, fine line you walk, as I’m sure you’re aware. It’s so hard to remove yourself in certain ways, and remain loving and available in other ways.
    I hope you all muddle through December without too much heartbreak! The holidays are a b***h! Take care, Cathy!

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts and good wishes, Lynn. I often wonder if I should be sharing so openly, but I know I have some close blogging friends who I can trust and not that many people read my blog, so I feel okay with sharing. I can always make it private if someone has a problem with it. None of my children read my blog, and neither does my family, although they could if they wanted to. They’ve just never expressed that much interest in my life. Maybe it will all come back to haunt me one day. However, I am working on a memoir and if I’m ever going to publish it, it will have to be honest, otherwise what is the point of writing it? Even though I can change names, people will know who I’m talking about. This is the problem with memoir and sharing one’s life. I do admit my culpability in this, as I have my own demons which I’m sure contribute to this situation. As we know with addiction, it’s a family problem, with me trying to fix things with my son, and him getting angry with me for meddling, and then my husband trying to keep the peace between my son and me, and him being the ultimate enabler. It’s all so complicated. And you’re right about it being a fine line. When I called the police, I was feeling victimized and very angry, and I don’t want to be put into that situation again. I do have options and will use them if necessary, although I really don’t want to have to. All I can do, I realize, is to focus on myself and my behavior and my boundaries and my happiness. I’m trying each day to step back, turn it over to a Higher Power, and live my life. Thanks so much, once again, Lynn. 🙂 And I think you’re right; I think subconsciously I was doing Art Therapy!

  9. Oh Cathy, how sad for you and your family, and for Adam too. The important thing is that you are there for him and doing all you can, even if that means removing yourself from his situation. And, as you say, you still need to live your own life and do normal things. Best wishes to you.

    1. Thanks so much, Carol. I’m trying to stay detached, and to love him from afar, giving him space to work things out on his own, or not. I have been driving myself crazy trying to fix him, and he’s not mine to fix. Thanks for your good wishes. 🙂

  10. I read your post in its entirety, and it is clear that you need to be strong and make sure you take care of yourself. I can see that on this point you’ve found your hard-earned wisdom.

    My father was very close to drinking himself to death after my mother died. He was 59, then. My younger brother, 18 the time and the only of us siblings still living at home, gave an ultimatum. He’d simply move away if the drinking didn’t stop immediately. It’s marvellous how he managed, for the doctor my father went to didn’t have the guts to tell my father what he needed to hear – to stop drinking altogether and at once. My brother did have the guts, however, and after a rough time my father stopped drinking and never touched alcohol again. He had fifteen years of creative life after that. He was a writer, and he continued writing and publishing – books, articles and a musical. I always admired my brother for what he did.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post, Ellington. I’m trying hard to detach and take care of myself; one thing I learned within the wisdom of Al-Anon Family Groups is that my son has his own Higher Power, and it isn’t me! He has to make the decisions to work out his life on his own; I honestly cannot make him do it, and neither can anyone else.

      That being said, what your younger brother did was very brave. He was truly taking care of himself and drawing the boundaries as to what he would tolerate from your father. I think it’s so great that your father cared enough, both about your brother and himself, to stop drinking. And then to think he was able to find that creative side of himself and live a productive life. I love hearing a story like this; it gives me hope. That being said, I dare not hope too much; I’ve had my hopes dashed too many times. Right now, I’m trying my best to simply take one day at a time.

      Thanks so much for sharing your personal story. It means a lot to me. xx

  11. Somehow I missed this post Cathy. Your reference in the December post sent me looking for the reference to “the alcoholic in the family”. What can I say? Nothing that you haven’t said yourself. Everyone’s journey living with an alcoholic is different, and whether Adam is an alcoholic or simply using alcohol to deal with his other problems is hard to say. Is one the cause of the other? The fact that he has tried to stop drinking is positive in that he is obviously aware that he has problems. The fact he is not accepting help for his depression suggests he doesn’t yet understand what makes him feel the way he does. I feel for you. It is a difficult situation, but at least you have Mike to share it with. Al-Anon helped me to be strong, to put myself first, to stop enabling. I’d leave AA leaflets around the house, but he never went. I got on with my life. It wasn’t easy by any means. The sickness spreads to every member of the family and in my case I eventually realised that I could not carry on with the life I had so made the heart-breaking decision to leave. And yes, I called out the police. And yes they weren’t particularly useful, but it did initiate the end. I’m glad you are sharing this Cathy, so many people undergo these problems and have no idea what to do or where to go. I didn’t.

    On another level – I love your trees in this post. A symbol of strength and renewal. One day at a time. My thoughts are with you and I send you a big hug ((( )))

    1. Thanks for your reply to this post, Jude. I’m sorry for my belated reply, but we were traveling until late Sunday and I just am getting settled back in. You’re right in that it’s not clear if he’s an alcoholic, an addict, or just using to deal with emotional problems. Either way, I think it’s all tied up together. The problem is that he refuses to get any help because he doesn’t believe in pharmaceuticals for mental health issues; nor does he see any value in psychotherapy. As for calling the police, even though they were unable to help, I think it helped in that it helped me establish a clear and visible boundary, and he knows now I have the option to evict him at any time. I know it felt good for me to be able to draw that very clear line in the sand. All of that being said, I must give him credit right now for actually going to work when he’s supposed to; as a matter of fact we hardly see him at all even though he lives in the basement. We’re just trying hard to let go, give him his space, and hope that he wants to get his life together as much as we want him to. I have to give up on the idea that I know what’s best for him. He has to figure that out on his own.

      Thanks so much for your sharing, Jude, and for your hugs. Hugs right back to you. xx

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