Alcoholism, Family and the Miracle of Change
I can remember the song “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” by John Denver playing in the background and my mother wiping tears from her eyes.
As a child, I didn’t understand why she was crying. In truth, I thought the song was silly, kind of like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” That John Denver song was as much a part of my childhood as “Jingle Bells.” I couldn’t get why my mom would play it if it made her cry, but I guessed that she must have liked it a lot.
As I got older, the true meaning behind that song unveiled itself to me and I realized my mom listened to it so much because she related to the message in the lyrics. It wasn’t a silly Christmas song, but rather a sad one that resonated not only with my mom’s family, but with hundreds of thousands of other families.
My grandfather began drinking around the age of twelve, right after his mother passed away.-Raychelle Lohmann
Mom grew up with an alcoholic father. So I can only imagine what each Christmas was like for her and her six siblings. My grandfather began drinking around the age of twelve, right after his mother passed away. Soon afterwards he dropped out of school and began a relationship with a bottle that lasted most of his life. To be honest, I really didn’t know him growing up, even though he lived close to us. My memories consist of him being so drunk that he had lost touch with reality. I can recall him crying in his drunken slumber or teaching me a colorful vocabulary that my mother said I must not repeat because it wasn’t nice. Regardless, it didn’t matter because grandfather always had doughnuts on hand and with each visit I’d get a treat… and that’s the extent of my childhood relationship with him.
I guess I thought that he’d never change and that the bottle would always be a part of his life – until one day something just short of a miracle happened.
I remember it like it was yesterday: I was a senior in high school, my father was deployed to the Middle East and I had to assume responsibilities of helping my mother. One of those responsibilities ended up changing two lives drastically. You see, my grandfather had received a court order to attend Alcoholics Anonymous for public intoxication. It wasn’t the first time he’d been in trouble and I doubted it would be the last. Unfortunately, for my teenage self, my mother was unable to take him to his court-appointed intake session, so the burdensome task was left to me.
I can assure you that as a teen, this was not a pleasurable experience. To top it off, since my grandfather dropped out of school at a young age, he was illiterate. So to make matters worse, not only did I have to read all of the questions to him, I had to write down his responses! Seventy years of memories is a lot for someone to have to re-visit, especially if they are painful ones that were mostly spent in a drunken state. One-by-one I read the questions and wrote his responses. I really wasn’t focused on what I was asking, or his answers. To be honest, my goal was to just get the whole thing over with and go about my own business.
The questions seemed to go on forever. About half-way through I lifted my head and noticed that my grandfather had a stream of tears making a path down his withered face. At first I sat unaffected watching because I really didn’t know this strange man sitting across from me. You see, he had chosen a relationship with a bottle instead of with his family. But as he broke down and cried my heart softened and I saw a glimpse of my grandfather. These weren’t the drunken tears that I had seen before; nope, they were different, they were his. He was crying.
These weren’t the drunken tears that I had seen before; nope, they were different, they were his. He was crying.-Raychelle Lohmann
The questions delved deeply into his life and into his relationships. They took well over an hour to complete, and we were probably slower than most because I was scribing all of his answers. With a new appreciation of my grandfather starting to stir, I was privileged to witness a true miracle unveil itself in front of me. There were no sparkling stars or pixie dust scattering, but make no mistake – it happened. That day I watched my grandfather transform into a different person.
Maybe it happened because he was sitting across the table from a granddaughter walking through his troubled life history; maybe he had to face the painful things that he’d never spoken of before; or maybe it was something else beyond my 18–year-old comprehension. To this day, I can’t tell you exactly what happened. I remember the feeling and emotion that filled the room; whatever happened didn’t only affect my grandfather, it also affected me.
The Miracle of Change
That day my grandfather made the decision to stop drinking after 59 years! I watched him as he woke up and realized that he didn’t want to live his life drunk anymore. So at the age of 70 he stopped. Now as a counselor, I realize how that took a tremendous amount of courage, strength, and willpower. I mean, how do you drink most of your life and then stop? I can only imagine the withdrawal that his body went through in his effort to get sober, but amazingly he did it. This experience left and continues to leave an everlasting mark on my life. In truth, the experience I shared with my grandfather has played a significant part in my desire to become a counselor.
To this day, I cringe when people say, “It’s too late to change.” It’s never too late to change. It’s never too late for a miracle to happen. I really can’t explain how change happens – sure there are counseling theories and models that break it into steps – but sometimes it just happens. Humans are amazing and have the power to transform their lives.
If you have a substance abuse problem, please know that you too can experience your own miracle, if you believe. And isn’t that what the holiday season is all about? Believing. -Raychelle Lohmann
If you have a substance abuse problem, please know that you too can experience your own miracle, if you believe. And isn’t that what the holiday season is all about? Believing. You don’t have to continue living a life that you barely remember from one day to the next. There are people who love you and want to get to know you. If you are the family member of an alcoholic, hold onto faith. Change can happen. Don’t stop reaching out to your loved one. Who knows, one day he or she may just reach back.
I don’t hear that song, “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” anymore these days, even though it still holds a childhood memory. My grandfather passed away 14 years ago, and he lived his last nine years as a sober adult. If he were with us today, Christmas Eve would mark his 96th birthday. Each Christmas, I think about him and the change he made. When Recovery.org asked for a holiday success story, I knew exactly the one that I would write about. The one that affected me so dearly and shaped me into the person that I am today. Thank you grandfather for teaching me to never give up hope and that it’s never too late to change.
If you have experienced the miracle of change, please share your story in the comments section below. Wishing each of you and yours a very happy holiday. ~ Raychelle
Image Source: istock