Today marks 12 years of sobriety. 12 years without a drink. 12 years without a hangover.
I am feeling….not ambivalent about it; I mean, I have been sober almost as long as I was drinking. I realize this is a big deal.
Right now, though, as I write this, I am feeling like I shouldn’t be celebrating anything. My mother-in-law is so unwell, so completely addled and helpless. Alzheimer’s is casting a vast, dark swath over nearly everything. This past year has been brutal. Marcia cannot live with any semblance of “independence” anymore. She can’t fix herself something to eat, she needs help getting dressed and undressed, half of what she says is gibberish. Up until about a week ago, she had been obsessively clawing at her ankles and calves. She has cellulitis and is in constant danger of getting staph infections. I have only just now been able to get her skin infections mostly cleared up, by being vigilant with the application of prescription ointment and making her wear diabetic socks (because they’re non-binding and don’t irritate her). And the incontinence issues are becoming more and more frequent. To add insult to injury, she won’t have anything to do with the bathtub, or with a shower. It’s now even a battle to get her to tolerate a sponge bath. She was lucid enough to tell me last night: “If you touch me again with that thing (the wash mitt), I am going to SCREAM.”
Next week, she moves into a memory care unit in an assisted living community. This is ahead of schedule. It’s ahead of schedule because we have reached a crisis point, and we really cannot have her in the house anymore. She is not safe. The family is all in agreement regarding this. We cannot be her caregivers anymore. The dynamic has to shift. I need to be her daughter-in-law again. Kevin needs to be her son. We need to care for her differently now.
I am exhausted and horrified and unspeakably sad. I want to acknowledge the importance of today, but I can’t even remember how to tell that particular story, because my story right now is about Alzheimer’s, not alcoholism. Marcia’s illness has completely eclipsed my own.
Here’s what I can tell you: I have not had a drink. I have not had even a desire to drink. There’s that. I understand, to the very core of my being, that a drink – or ten drinks – will make none of this better. That’s something. That’s something I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have the support and friendship of other alcoholics and addicts. 12 years of listening to them, hearing their stories and what they have been able to move THROUGH, not AROUND, while sober, is why I have this. There is no circumventing in recovery.
The next several days are going to be very painful. I’ve got to go through her things and decide what goes with her into assisted living, and what doesn’t. Clothing, pictures, knick-knacks. My job is to decide what is the most familiar and comfortable, which is riotously insane, given that what is “familiar and comfortable” to me is, because of the way I’m wired, total oblivion. I’ve learned to understand that you can’t live that way.
Everyone is telling me that once my mother-in-law is in assisted living, I’m going to “get my life back.”
I’m not even sure what that means anymore.
But today, anyway, I’m 12 years sober. Chronologically, 12 was the WORST. You couldn’t pay me to go back and live that year. Puberty, coupled with the extreme emotional duress of having been bullied on a near-daily basis. Maybe Sober Twelve will be better. All the discovery without all the angst. I hope so.