Today’s Music (stealing a line from my handsome bud El Guapo…): Grace is Gone — the Las Vegas acoustic version by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. (This is not the light-hearted running-thoughts post I’d planned for today. Sometimes life takes you on a musical-detour; a place you didn’t plan to go, but needed to go nonetheless. This is one of those posts I needed to write.)
“Grace is Gone” makes me think of my grandmother. This year marked the tenth anniversary of her death, and last Sunday would have been her birthday. I don’t know how old she would have been; she became ageless to me the day she died.
I think it was losing her (having lost my grandfather just three weeks prior) that pushed me over the edge–my alcohol addiction tumbling faster and gaining momentum, like an avalanche, unable to stop for any in its path. Instead it swallowed me, as I was compelled to swallow it, over and over and over again — “excuse me please, one more drink” — wiping out loved ones and relationships in the process. I was so busy looking backward, at my pain, at the Grace I had lost, I never stopped to think of anyone else. They had lost their Grace too. They were watching their Grace slowly fade away in front of their eyes, growing ever more translucent, like the ghosts of my grandparents we silently mourned–did they even notice me?–as I began to lose myself in the bottle — “could you make it strong, cause I don’t need to think.“
I can’t name the precise moment I finally vanished. As Caroline Knapp writes in Drinking: A Love Story, alcoholism is an insidious becoming:
“Trying to describe the process of becoming an alcoholic is like trying to describe air. It’s too big and mysterious and pervasive to be defined. Alcohol is everywhere in your life, omnipresent, and you’re both aware and unaware of it almost all the time, all you know is you’d die without it, and there is no simple reason why this happens, no single moment, no physiological event that pushes a heavy drinker across a concrete line into alcoholism. It’s a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.”
And become, I did.
Slowly, gradually, insidiously, elusively…
Until fast forward eight years and I am going to visit my dying mother. My grace has long departed, there is not even a trace of it that lingers. I drink on the outbound plane. I had been trying a few months to stop. But I drank, heavily, that day.
A psychologist later told me, “You knew you were going to visit your mother. You knew she was dying. It’s understandable. It’s okay to mourn.”
“No,” I tell her, “I was just selfish. I knew no one would find out.”
She looked at me with pity, like she didn’t believe me. I never went back to her.
They did find out though. I was drunk by the time I got off the plane. We were early. I stopped at the bar for another drink, weepily telling the bartender my mom was dying. She kept my wineglass full and only charged me for one glass. I drank at least ten. Rapidly. I remember getting up and leaving a hundred-dollar bill on the counter. And that’s all I remember.
It was the one time my mother saw me totally obliterated, and angry, and belligerent, on a full-blown quest to kill my pain–almost killing myself in the process. That is a shame I live with daily. That is my cross to bear.
The hospice social worker visited the next day. I was hungover and kept excusing myself to the bathroom, my stomach poisoned from the night before. She said that maybe it had to happen that way. To my mom, “maybe you had to see how bad it was. Maybe you didn’t know, didn’t want to believe. Maybe this can bring you more strongly together.” The social worker’s name was Grace.
That visit was the last time I saw my mom alive.
She died two weeks later.
“She broke my heart, my Grace is gone.”
I would like to say that was the last time I ever drank. It wasn’t. But it was the next to last time I was ever drunk. Six weeks later, the pain was unbearable and the booze was plentiful. And yet, somehow I knew it would be the last time alcohol would willingly pass through my lips.
I had lost everything I most loved. She was gone. It was all gone. There was no way to hide from the pain anymore; there was nowhere I could go that it couldn’t follow. The pain is now a reminder that she, my grace, once lived here–and I welcome it, I cherish it. Where the pain lives inside me, that’s where she lives too. Pain and Grace, side by side. Death cannot break the bond between a mother and her daughter.
“I could never love again so much as I love you
Where you end where I begin is like a river going through.”
The pain reminds me why I drank.
Her grace reminds me why I will never drink again.
Each day I ascend, another painful step toward grace.
“One more drink, and I’ll be gone.”
My mother died March 21, 2011. My last drink was May 6, 2011.
I am gratefully 27+ months sober.
If you or someone you love needs help, please visit my Contact and Resources page.
Lyrics written by Dave Matthews.