Me and My Drunk Family

Sometimes I have wanted to drink to enter forbidden territory: to do things I normally wouldn’t do, and say things I normally wouldn’t say. This is a weird way of planning for your own chaos. “I wouldn’t actually, but if I got drunk I might and then it would be ‘cause I was drunk.”

Have you ever thought this way?

I can’t say I did this routinely when I drank, because I have never actually liked the feeling of being out of control. Sometimes I intentionally drank too much with my stepdaughters. It seemed the only way to connect without fear of their rejection, and the only way to make myself relatable to them across our very different family histories.

Lot of other times I fantasized about drinking to connect with others. Drinking is a “social lubricant” to be sure, but that’s not always just to get through hanging out with strangers or quasi-friends or co-workers. Honestly, those more distant relationships never troubled me too much.

But close relationships: that’s been another matter. Drinking just might, just might be the way to get feelings out that you have trouble expressing, or are scared to express, or even know you shouldn’t express but want to anyway. Parents, partners, friends, kids, siblings:

Could we drink and laugh and fight and hug and cry?

 Could we bond? Could we connect? Could we heal?

I know this is bullshit. Drinking to wrap a fuzzy glow around your relationships looks so great in the movies but in real life it is what I previously classified as “drama” and it is something you should run, not walk away from.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t think about what it is you’re trying to accomplish with the “drinking-so-we-can-talk” thing. Maybe it’s a way to express your deep need for connection with others without accepting all the risks that come with this. After all, if things go sideways, or you make yourself too vulnerable, you can laugh it off the next day. “Ha ha! We were sooo drunk, eh?” Or, “Sorry I said that, man. I was sooo drunk.”

But part of you meant it. Or meant some of it. If you can remember what you said anyway.

A lot of the particulars of Freudian psychology have always struck me as (again) bullshit, but as a “movement” it very successfully communicates the importance of taking your unconscious and subconscious impulses seriously. There’s an awful lot rolling around under our surfaces, isn’t there? And alcohol (or your drug of choice) is appealing in part, I think, because it appears to offer direct connections to the deepest parts of ourselves and others – places where we normally (and sometimes rightly) fear to tread.

For me all of those complex feelings are bound up in my family – my complex, blended family of ex-partners, new partners, broken friendships, and the insanity of five girls who ranged in age from nine to seventeen when we met. My family has (as I’m sure been the case for most of us) the greatest source of both joy and pain in my life.

When I think about my family I want to get drunk. Sometimes that is because I’m all empty-nest now and I miss the craziness, even though it was far from all good. Sometimes I want to get drunk because when it worked for bonding, it worked great. I want to get drunk with my kids. I want to get drunk with my husband. I want another Christmas with twenty people in the house and we had a blast and yes, we were all drunk.

Mostly being sober is pretty manageable but when I think about my family: Yeah. Liquor store. When I try to understand this, I think it is just reflex to want alcohol to cope with the sheer emotional investment I made in my family, and the pain of not always having that reciprocated, or even recognized.

And when things went sideways (which they did often) I felt like a failure. Not the perfect mum. Not the perfect step-mum. Not the person who could dispense wisdom, stay calm, and shepherd everyone in the right direction. I couldn’t control the outcomes. I couldn’t get it right. Those failures run deep. Like Freudian deep. And a little irrational part of still craves both alcohol, and its partner in crime: namely, the fantasy that I could create the Perfect Family.

Managing my family relationships without drinking is still something about the future that scares me. We are going to see my husband’s kids soon, and his first granddaughter. I’m anxious about that. Drinking would help. On the other hand, my kids are super proud of me for quitting, and my oldest daughter, also in recovery, is a great inspiration and motivation for me to stay sober.

In so many ways, my Drunk Family has been the devil I know, and it is still the greatest pull I feel back to wanting to drink. But part of this sobriety thing is having the faith that you can make those relationships over in new, more authentic ways, right? And honestly, so far it is going fine. I just need to have courage: the courage to be myself and let everyone in my family be themselves too, without trying to control the outcomes.


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