03 November 2010

Things That Are True - Lost Children

People who know me know I'm an alcoholic. It's not something I've ever tried to hide; it's not something I'm ashamed of. I had a problem, I took action: no shame. Last August, I celebrated seventeen years of sobriety.

Seventeen years. I need to think about that for a second.

In my entire life, there is nothing else I have done (except breathe) for seventeen straight years.

I was 22, and I could drink anyone I met under the table. I started most days with a glass of scotch. Good scotch - let it not be said that I was a cheap drunk. I thought I was all that and a bag of chips.

A Good Glass of Scotch
A Good Glass of Scotch by Ray Toth - from flickr

One day I took a good look around. I saw that the crowd I was hanging around with were all considerably older than me. I saw that while I was having a good time - a great time, to be honest - I wasn't really moving forward with my life, wasn't really accomplishing anything I could be proud of long-term. And I knew that alcohol was a factor - the factor - that was holding me back.

And I knew, without thinking about it too much, that I would not be able to simply cut down on the amount I was drinking. In love, in friendships, in life, I have always been all or nothing. Why would drinking be any different? I looked around, and I saw the future, and it was Not Good.

So one fine August day in 1992, I didn't have a glass of scotch for breakfast. After ten months of not drinking, I went to my first AA meeting, between sets at a Grateful Dead show in Seattle. (True story.) About a year after that, I went to my last AA meeting, unless you count the time a couple of years later that I talked an addict/alcoholic on the street in the downtown eastside out of attacking me by commiserating with him about how hard it is to stay sober. (Another true story. I was scared shitless but made a snap decision to treat him with dignity instead of fear, and the story had a happy ending.) (For me, anyway.)

I don't know what makes me a person who can't have just one drink and makes you a person who can. I've been sober much, much longer than I was ever drunk; so long that I don't even think about it anymore, it's just my life. And now I have a lot more money for shoes.

Ah, bonjour Monsieur Louboutin! Comment allez-vous?

So why am I thinking about it now?

I work from home, and the factory here in Vancouver that makes Chill Monkeys clothing is on the other side of the most tragic neighbourhood in the country. I've had to drive through it a few times this week. Not the first time, far from it, but it really affects me differently now that I'm a parent.

I see The Imp, and all his energy, and his optimism, his excitement about learning and trying new things, and all the electricity of potential that his little body is almost bursting with every minute.

And I know that all children start out with that kind of potential.

And somehow, some of them get lost along the way. It breaks my heart, shatters it into more pieces than I can count. I can't not see these broken people wandering through their tombstone-eyed existence on the streets of my city. I can't not see that they were once somebody's child full of potential. I can't forget that I was heading down a similar path at one time in my life, that I could have been one of them.

And I don't know why I can't drink, or why they can't stop harming themselves, and why you can.

And I live in mind-numbing terror that The Imp, my Imp, my beautiful joyous boy, will inherit something from me and become one of the Lost Children I see gathered along East Hastings Street.

And I don't know how to make sure that doesn't happen.

And the not knowing is killing me.


  1. Alexis, the best you can do is keep the conversation open and honest with the Imp. Be honest with him about your struggles when the time is right. Make sure he knows that he can talk to you about anything. Keeping lines open is the best way to make sure that he isn't one of those lost children.

  2. As the daughter of an alcoholic, and someone who has personally struggled with demons of my own, I can only tell you that you need to let him know about your past. Talk to him about it. Tell him how you drank and are an alcoholic. Let him know how bad it can get. (Not now necessarily, but as he gets older. And speak often. So it's matter of fact and common knowledge.)

    In my experience, the children of alcoholics tend to go to one extreme or the other. As a child, I got to see alcoholism with my own eyes. It scared me so deep and so bad that I was extremely careful when I approached drink. So careful that I've never really gone down that road at all and have rarely imbibed. From my reactions to other things, I can see that I could easily be an alcoholic too.

    I believe addiction is a genetic thing and because of that, I think it's vital that you keep on talking to the Imp. Maybe he doesn't have those genes, maybe he does. I think as long as he is aware that there's a risk of alcoholism in his genes, he can take his first drink with caution and awareness. Knowledge is power.

  3. If only there was an easy way to make sure that fate befell none of our children. I was watching the "It Gets Better" Cdn video this aft thinking how can I make sure my children know they can tell me anything/come to me about anything/be anything and I will still love them? I would hate to think they were scared to tell me that they were gay (or anything else). I want them to know I totally accept them however and whoever they are. That was my big fear/worry today and they're only four and seven. My only solution so far is talking to them about stuff and not being judgy (I hope) when they tell me things so that fear won't grow. If only there was a magic answer!

  4. I actually have a similar experience to Marilyn, only my father was a drug addict. Prescription and street drugs, sort of a hippie who never grew up. But really, it's the same thing. When I look at my childhood friends, also children of hippie drug users, we went one way or the other, but very few of us went down the middle. We either joined the party or shunned it.
    The good news for you is that you are not having the party now. I think there's also a big difference between living with an active addict and living with someone who is not an active addict. Partly because of the example, yes. But also partly because people who are in the throes of addiction are not the best parents. They don't always put their kids before their drinking / drugs / what-have-you. And I think that makes a big difference.

    There but for the grace of God go we all. It's true. We can't guarantee our kids will grow up to lead happy lives. But if we are present with them, stable for them, and make them a priority, we can give them a much better shot. The Imp's odds are pretty good.

  5. I DMed you on Twitter because I didn't want to reply publicly.

    But I will say that having lived with those ghost eyed children, those lost little souls, and seeing you with the Imp?

    I'd say odds are he will do just fine-and I absolutely agree with Gwen that open communication is the key to a good relationship with your older kids.