Tag Archives: addiction

A Garbage Bag of Bottles

I wrote a draft of this blog post last weekend, while sitting in an apartment in Lakewood, Ohio — the apartment my mom and my Uncle Tim rented. It was a beautiful two floor house with each floor divided into a separate living unit. The layout was surprisingly similar to the one Michelle and I had when we first moved to St. Louis nearly nine years ago. The place felt comfortable, and it felt natural to throw my coat over a chair and sit at the table to write, just like I did when I was starting as a freelance writer.

It was also the apartment my uncle’s corpse was found in, surrounded by empty vodka bottles, the carpet black with his own bloody vomit.

As Mom’s boyfriend, Bill, drove us back to his house from the plane, she told me what had happened. Uncle Tim had come home drunk again. “It’s like he’s two different people,” she said, “and I can’t stand the one that drinks.” She left to spend a few days with Bill, afraid of what she would say or do if she stayed and watched him drink again. By the time she came back, he was dead, face down on his bed. All of the empty bottles of alcohol around him filled a garbage bag by themselves.

Her voice was sad and a little shaken, but mostly she sounded resigned. This is an old story with our family. Uncle Tim once tried to commit suicide with pills while drunk. My Uncle Mike succeeded — the same Uncle Mike who encouraged me when I was very young to make art and follow my dreams. The same Uncle Mike who walked in on his father, my grandfather, after he had drunk himself to death. As my mom tells it, Grandpa picked up a bottle right after Grandma’s funeral, and proceeded to drink for the next two years until he was dead.

Bill’s a nice guy — I really like him, and I think he’s good for my mom. I haven’t seen my mom in years, and as we talked we fell back into old, comfortable rhythms. I’ve missed her, and she’s missed me. But she suggested quietly that I could stay at the apartment if I wanted, and I agreed. I needed some time alone, time to think things through, time to sweep my metaphorical bottles into a garbage bag.

Since I found out what happened last week, I’ve mostly just felt numb. I haven’t seen Uncle Tim in the flesh for 20 years, since I took a train with my mom to visit him in Colorado in 1992. He’s not a total stranger to me, but I have trouble calling his face to mind. I can’t say I feel a loss for something I barely had in my life. But I do remember all the phone calls from my mom over the past few years, all of the frustration and hurt and confusion of watching him drink himself to death. All of the lies about missed bills, all of the failed jobs, all of the fights with bosses and crushed fenders and empty bottles.

Really, I think I’m angry at him, at the men in my family, at the steady parade of death that comes one drink at a time. Three of the men in my family were plunged into depression, gripped by a dark mood that prompted them to kill themselves sip by sip. The Sweeney legacy: a garbage bag of bottles.

All that said, I’m generally at peace right now. I know I’m not them, not held in the same grip as they were. For all the darkness surrounding this, I think things will improve from here, for me and my mom. I certainly have the occasional moment when I’m not sure what to feel, when my mind is a little cloudy and I wonder what I’m really feeling. But all in all, I’m just relieved that my mom doesn’t have to go through any of this ever again.

Bag of Bottles

My Addiction

My Addiction

This past week has been pretty stressful. And I’ve talked quite a bit about the impact the past week has had. I’m not going to go into that again.

But since last Wednesday, I’ve been burning through books. Not even engaging or inspiring books, but pure comfort books. A lot of Sherlock Holmes, and a fair bit of some 70s era fantasy. And, for the first time in a while, all physical books.

On Sunday I called my mom. I’ve been trying to call her about once a month or so, and with everything going on I figured it was a good time to check in. She’s doing well, but my uncle isn’t. He’s three days sober again, and it seems like he drinks every time things get stressful in his life.

After that call, I spent several hours reading and writing to finish up my Holmes essays.

There’s a thread running through these points.

The more stressed or depressed I am, the more I go back to the iconic image of sitting on a couch with a mug of tea and reading a good book.1 It’s my coping mechanism, my escape. It is, in many ways, my addiction.

But I struggle with the use of the term. “Addiction” implies some sort of abnormal reliance on something, and from that perspective there’s very little I’m addicted to. I am terrified of and fascinated with addiction. I have seen what it has done to my friends and family, and I don’t ever want to go down that road. I don’t think that will ever happen, but it’s something that I often think about, something that sits in the back of my head. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to a game about blood addicts.

Many writers I know drink and are workaholics. I think this is largely because many writers I know are driven to write. There’s a sense of relief when you write, a purging of the soul. Time and again when I’m upset, I read to calm down, and then I’m compelled to write. In this case, it’s blog posts and ranty, unfocused emails to my other writer friends. It’s a desire to finish up my Holmes essays so that I can point to a part of my life and go “Yes, I have control over that.” It’s finding new ways to harvest this experience and spill it onto the page, spinning straw into gold.

And maybe that’s my addiction, my abnormal escapist activity. No matter what I do, I just can’t stop reading and writing. I’ve just been able to turn my addiction into a career.

  1. Given certain definitions of “good.” Considering some of the crap I enjoy reading from time to time, it might be more accurate to say “a book I enjoy.”