Content Warning: frank discussion of alcoholism and recovery, with family details
I am third in a direct father-to-son line of alcoholics. Not people who “drank too much,” but alcoholics of the “hopeless variety” –those whom alcohol affected in a crazy way, who never took a “normal” drink in their lives. My father hit bottom when he was thirty-two, soon after the birth of his fifth child when I was two years old. I have no memories of his drinking, but I suppose my older siblings might. I do have many vivid memories of attending AA meetings with him from an early age. My dad never met his own father.
Grandpa Norris died when my father was ten days old. At that time they lived in East Los Angeles. While my grandmother was still recovering from childbirth my grandfather was partying in the little town of Mojave. This was 1932, before Las Vegas was a thing. I am told that in those days Mojave, about one hundred miles north of LA, was the place to go to play cards. Norris got lucky and won big. He was drunk when his car crashed, killing him and his passenger, who happened to be his brother’s wife. This is what I recall being told growing up. My father believed that his tires had been slit in revenge for winning at cards, but however you slice it, the circumstances of his death are compromising. My grandmother never forgave him.
My dad was a “periodic drunk,” which means he was mostly sober, but occasionally, perhaps every ninety days or so, he would go on a binge. During these binges he would lose all control, black out, and come to after about three days. He told me the last time it happened he came out of a blackout while on the road to Susanville, where he and my mother lived some years before, many miles from the town of Woodland where we lived at the time. He had no idea what day it was or why on earth he would be making that drive. He pulled over, found a pay phone and called my mother. The last thing he remembered was partying on Friday night. It was now Monday, and the local high school had been calling the house to find out why he had not shown up to teach his classes. It was a very sobering situation. He sought out the local fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and began his recovery. He had thirty-five years of sobriety when he passed away of lung cancer at the age of sixty-six.
Despite having grown up surrounded by sober alcoholics and receiving education and warnings about the danger of inheriting the malady, I developed a drinking problem of my own. It was apparent even at fourteen that I didn’t process alcohol in a normal way. I partied a lot in high school, and by the time I was nineteen I went to AA myself to get sober. I will be writing a lot about my experiences in future posts, but for now let’s just say that I was given an ultimatum by my then girlfriend and future ex-wife that I had to choose her or the “cult” of AA. I chose her and drank for another four years. Eventually I hit bottom at twenty-three and have been sober ever since.