On my second date with my now boyfriend he told me he was an addict. It was a straight forward conversation where, now, almost two years later he admits to me that it was the most scared he had ever been. I was naturally inquisitive but gentle, knowing that no matter what my world had changed just by this admission. Like I said, that was two years ago, and I won’t get into the juicy details of his indiscretions because this post is not about him, rather his equally addicted older brother that we now live with. Maybe this was kismet that I learn first hand how living with an addict feels like, the consistent disappointment when you smell liquor on their breathe, the endless frustration with trying to help and running out of options, the feeling you have when anything important goes missing; even though you don’t want to believe it, 90% of the time they’ve taken it.
Michael from every story I had heard previous to meeting him had everything going for him. The 2nd born in a pack of 4 brothers he was the most like my boyfriends mother and had absorbed her infinite love of cooking and being in the kitchen. At 17 he dropped out of high school to pursue cooking full time and with a lot of hard work and effort he received his GED and went on to culinary school. Afterwards he started working his way up in some of the Valleys best restaurants. At 26 he had a son who was the spitting image of him and his dedication to providing for his new family fueled him even harder. But after a while his girlfriend left him, taking the baby with her. I’m skipping some details here but all you need to know is a few DUI’s and some jail time later Michael found himself at the bottom working his way back up. When I met him he was unemployed living in a run down apartment complex in South Scottsdale. We would pick him up for the weekend when his son would come over to visit and then drop him back off accordingly. My boyfriends parents, having already dealt with my boyfriends addiction now had less energy and the disease that my boyfriends father had just been diagnosed with, ALS, had started taking it’s toll. After being evicted the choice was obvious, Michael would have to come live with us.
At first, when Michael came to live with us in my boyfriends ailing parents house I was for it, happy that under the watchful eye of the 4 (at the time 5 of us) we could make sure he wasn’t just drinking all night and sleeping all day, it was fool proof. And that’s when I learned my first thing about addicts; you could have a team of 10 people watching them but if they want to drink or do drugs they will. Michael was no exception. While everyone was sleeping he would drink bottles of malt liquor and cheap vodka passing out at various times in the day even with someone sitting right next to him. As the holidays crept upon us his drinking got worse, not better and his parents had, had enough.
Flash forward to the New Year. Michael voluntarily stepped up and went to a rehab facility in South Dakota where my boyfriends parents have some family. There was no intervention, just a stipulation that he had to detox and stay for the full amount of time (30 days) and then they would buy him a ticket home so he could find work and move out. He was anxious, scared even, and my boyfriends mother worried that he might make a last ditch attempt not to go. So my boyfriend offered to take him and we all heaped praise and pride upon him that he was taking the steps necessary to get his life right.
That was in January, and in February he returned looking better. The visible liver spots and bruises had disappeared and his skin, which had been yellow and pale had lifted. It was the first time I really met Michael, or at least a version of him as a recovering alcoholic instead of a active alcoholic. He found a job in the ritzy part of North Scottsdale as a line cook and seemingly liked it. He was even sleeping in his own bed (as opposed to the floor) and seemed withdrawn but better. But this was real life, not the show Intervention and Michael’s sordid past started to catch up with him. He was let go from his job at Scottsdale Quarter due to a mishap he had at one of their sister restaurants. So the drinking started again.
For those who don’t know much about addiction or relapse let me explain that, for the most part, relapse is normal. For those who don’t attend meetings, seek professional help, or have sober living homes and support it is almost inevitable. Michael was no exception. Yet, it was different, instead of openly passing out on the floor we’d find missing beer bottles, watered down alcohol, and cigarettes. But our suspicions stayed just that and when Michael was hired on at a second job, this time closer to home and a lot less intimidating, we were hopeful. Yet, the subtle drinking continued and a few weeks later that job was gone too. So Michael tried again, maybe because he was mostly sober or maybe because he just wanted to give it one last go, but he did, getting hired at a local neighborhood hotspot that was just down the road. Because he had no car, and couldn’t drive himself due to having a suspended license my boyfriends mother would drop him off every afternoon and my boyfriend and I would alternate between picking him up. This went on for 9 weeks without incident, a new all time high for him while living with us. He was saving money, looking great, and we even supported him having a beer or two on the weekends to show how far he’d come. But then excuses after excuses started to accumulate. “The busy’s seasons over they called me off work”, changed to “I was suspended with pay”, and then to “I was suspended”, and finally what we’d been dreading to hear “I was fired”. This coupled with my boyfriends father disease turning a huge corner for the worst angered me. How could he succumb to his addiction when there were literally people dying right underneath him?! How could someone with so much love and support from their family disregard our faith and him and let the alcohol win? How could he let all our hopes for him just fly away when he had so much to live for?! Why would he do that to his parents, his brothers, his son? Why was he wasting space if he just wanted to kill himself anyway?
It’s been 6 weeks since I first started having those feeling and I wish I could say that things have started to get better. Michael still has no job and doesn’t look as if he’s looking for one. For me, life living with an addict has brought all the range of emotions that most family members go through. I won’t lie, sometimes I feel nothing but contempt and disgust for him when in my heart I know that he’s just as sick as someone with cancer. It’s treatable, even curable, but sometimes it’s not. When I read the news of Cory Monteith’s death, even after his stint in rehab I felt the pain his family must have felt. The sadness, and the blame,the guilt and shame, but even some of the relief that people feel when surrounded by addicts because even though they are gone the constant worry you have is already been met. The emotion that I think is most prevalent is the one of hopelessness and despair when you realize that you can’t fix them, only they can fix them… or they could die, it’s their choice.