The Grief of Alcoholism


I read this article yesterday from the New Yorker. David Sedaris writes about his zany, funny mother who was overtaken by alcoholism in her later years. She was the organizing factor in their family. But as the children left, she became more organized around the clink of ice in a glass. I was struck by the deep grief that poured out of his story.

He keeps asking why none of them ever said anything or did anything about her alcoholism. The disease stole her life long before her early death stilled her heart. But they were paralyzed to help her. Of course, in reality, she has to want to help herself, but often people help themselves when their loved ones confront them about the pain their addiction causes for others. Sedaris spends hours watching the show “Intervention”. I imagine he has his letter to his mother written indelibly in his mind. Instead, she slipped slowly to the grave.

Alanon has a book about the grief caused by alcoholism. People often think the alcoholic is only hurting himself or herself, but the family is impacted dramatically. Even if the drinker is more of a functional alcoholic, the loss is immense. There is the loss of time where the addict is not himself because of drinking. There is the loss of relationship because you are never sure how much any conversation is impacted. Is this what they really mean? Will they even remember it? There is the loss of presence as the alcoholic gives more and more time to the bottle. The list of losses is endless, and its victims are far-reaching.

Sedaris is haunted by the inaction of everyone in his family to stop the slow, painful loss of his beautiful, lively mother. He describes his confusion as he hears the clinking ice in her glass behind her slurred words. He can’t bring himself to say anything but he is enamored with those families who made the effort to intervene. “At least they did something” echoes loudly.

19 Comments on “The Grief of Alcoholism

  1. I read that piece too. Very sad. She sounded like a remarkable person

  2. I read this article as well, and it certainly strikes a chord. My father was an alcoholic, and at the beginning or my relationship with my husband, it was so hard for me to believe when he said he loved me, because the only time Dad ever said that was when he was drunk…

    Yes, it is hard on the whole family, and there can be much to grieve. Thank goodness for AA and Alanon!

  3. Pingback: Reactions: Overcoming Patterns | Midlife Moments

  4. Didn’t read the piece, but I’m an avid follower of David (seeing him at TPAC this month!) and have listened to his books for years. I love that he brings this issue to the surface. I would have loved to hang out with Sharon Sedaris. Thanks for posting, Yogini Sharon 🙂

  5. I started a blog about change recently with my sobriety being a main topic of thought. Not wanting to cause my children grief was definitely a motivating factor…it’s one of those things that can sneak up in you but unless you nip it in the butt it can follow you around a lot longer…I owe a lot of my recovery to my wonderful wife who realized I needed to quite drinking, so she did first! Pretty amazing if her…great post!

    • Congratulations on your sobriety. Writing has helped me a great deal in mine. I have talked to my alcoholic family member but he’s emphatically told me sobriety will never happen. And with the denial of the rest of my family and their enabling I’m pretty sure it won’t. He is the grand baby wreaking havoc while everyone bows to his desires so as not to set him off. I’m just so grateful I didn’t have to live my entire life like that. Good luck to you. I’ll check out your blog.

      • Yes sometimes the best you can do is live by example. Change can only really happen from within. Keep on writing!

  6. Thank you for sharing. This was sad but enlightening on the horrors of alcholism.

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