Twice Charleston has banned alcohol, from 1892-1907 and from 1920-1933. Banning addictive substances doesn’t work; alcohol is as prevalent today as ever. The death toll from alcohol includes accidents, suicides, strokes, heart attacks, organ failure, homicide, drowning and many other forms of death that aren’t labeled as alcoholism; let alone alcohol-induced dementia, diabetes and other debilitating issues. This being Alcohol Awareness Month, the following story captures yet another face of this disease.
Einstein said that men marry women hoping they won’t change and women marry men hoping they can change them. Change is inevitable and when we add the dynamic of children to the mix, life gets complex quickly. While our children are learning to be children we are learning to be parents and we muddle through as best we can. But add in addiction and things get volatile.
Born in 1966, Glenn graduated with a bachelor in business administration and obtained a commercial contractor’s license. With his father’s help, he and his brother opened a cell tower construction business in the early 90s. In ’99 he married Beverly and they welcomed their daughter Abby in 2001 and son Jeff in 2004. Glenn built a house on the Wando River and life was good. “We were 'social drinkers, just drinking on holidays and weekends,' Glenn said. “We didn’t always have arguments or issues when we drank, but looking back I can see that every time we had an issue alcohol was involved.”
“The ’07 housing crisis took a big toll on my business. We had to sell off assets and by late 2010 we had to sell our dream home and rent a house in town. Growing up wealthy Beverly had no concept of money and couldn’t understand what was happening. It was especially hard on her. Our drinking escalated to where we were drinking every day and fighting all the time. A doctor prescribed her drugs to help curb the drinking but soon she was taking the drugs and drinking more than ever. She became irrational and despondent. One Mother’s Day we rushed her to the hospital where they found she had a .42 blood alcohol level – deadly for most people. I realized we had a problem, so I went to a short treatment program. I joined AA and have been sober since, but Beverly kept drinking.”
It wasn’t long before Beverly was off to a long-term rehab, the first of many to come. Soon she was drunk again and causing all manner of chaos. In 2013, Glenn and Beverly divorced with the court awarding Glenn full custody of the children.
Since the divorce she has had four arrests for DUI which her family’s attorneys resolved with minimal consequences. Her parents keep her in brand new cars and keep buying her condos in various towns, but to no avail. Once she drank so much she temporarily lost sight in one eye and could hardly walk because of malnourishment. The Family Court placed strong conditions on visitation, but alcoholism is far stronger than even the maternal bond.
“Court orders are fine, but I don’t want to have to be cop and judge all the time,” Glenn said. “She gets into drunken rages and embarrasses the children in public and in front of their friends. She becomes delusional and thinks people have hacked into her bank account or have cameras hidden in her house. The children constantly have to 'rescue' her from ridiculous situations. Once she was found passed out in a snowstorm. Another day she showed up to Verizon so drunk the employees wouldn’t let her drive home. Another time they found her unconscious on the kitchen floor in a puddle of urine. In 2018 it got so bad a friend sat down with them to make sure they knew she probably wouldn’t be around much longer. The children knew it, but it needed to be discussed. When the phone rang we wondered if someone was calling to say she had died. That alone brings all kinds of difficult questions about how to handle a funeral and what to do if she becomes an invalid.”
“Last year she made plans with the children for prom weekend, but then got drunk and ruined the whole weekend. Late last summer she rebounded and seemed to be sober about seven months. Then last weekend she again had plans for prom but got drunk and repeated the performance. I am told that she has stayed drunk. Each time it gets worse and we wonder if this will be the last time," Glenn said.
“When someone gets cancer, you don’t have space in the fridge for all the potato salad everyone brings. But with addiction you get isolated. You get so caught up in the drama that the reality of the situation crushes you. It gets so bad you hope perhaps they can find some peace in death and then you feel terrible that you are wishing death on someone you love. Were it not for the men and women who have walked alongside me in AA, I have no idea what I would have done. They taught me that this is a disease and we are dealing with two different people. Sometimes you try to appease the person when you should be drawing boundaries. Other times you get angry and want to go too far the other direction. I have learned that you can hate the sin without hating the sinner," Glenn said.
“People wonder why after seven years I still regularly go to meetings. I have found that if I want to stay sober I must submit to a program that works and where I get support. We never accomplish anything meaningful without the help of other people. People think it’s a lack of discipline or a choice, but it isn’t. Every day I am getting better or losing ground and with addiction backslides happen fast. So if I focus each day on being a better person, I have happiness in my life no matter what happens around me. It is harder for the children to practice tough love, so I work hard to make sure they know that in no way is her disease their fault," Glenn said.
Seventeen-year-old Abby, heading to college this fall, shares: “I used to always be mad, but now I don’t get mad or upset with her because I know that I am dealing with someone different when she is drinking. Dad being in AA has helped so much – he explains how this isn’t really our mom and how she really does love us. I worry about losing her, but now she moved close to her sister and I don’t feel the pressure to have to protect her. It isn’t my job anyway. As for tough love, when I have to be firm with her I know that I would rather have her angry for the short term than lose her for the rest of my life. I get bad anxiety because of it, but I know God has a plan and I know things that are helpful to other kids with alcoholic parents. So I help others whenever I can.”
Fourteen-year-old Jeff shares: “When she is drinking she blames everyone else for her problems. She has a huge attitude and says things she would never say sober. It seems like she will say anything she can think of that is threatening or hurtful. No matter what is going on she finds something negative to say or do and she is constantly wanting to make a scene or start a fight. This isn’t really who my mom is, but I have gotten way too familiar with this other person. I really want to fix things and I try so hard but there is nothing I can say or do that helps. I feel like I am trying to be the parent and fix her messes, but I can’t be everywhere all the time. I am scared that my sister and I could turn out that way. When she is sober we have the best relationship and she is the sweetest person ever. This isn’t who she wants to be and when she says she wants to be sober she really means it. I have friends with alcoholic parents and I explain stuff that Dad explains to me, so I can at least help sometimes. I don’t know – it always gets worse no matter what I do.”
My hope is all have a safe Easter holiday that brings an opportunity to show love to those close to you.