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Bill Worthington About 1,513 words First Serial Rights © 1992 William O. Worthington
Shakespeare once wrote, "To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." Though I learned this passage from the pages of Shakespeare's Hamlet, I found greater meaning of its words from a medallion I earned for remaining sober. Alcoholics Anonymous gave me the medallion, which I treasured as a reminder of my struggle, and how much I wanted to remain true to myself during each long day of sobriety. It was two years ago when I decided to quit drinking. Nothing much was happening at the time; I was just trying to get rid of blood clots in my legs. Because of the blood clots, my legs and feet had swollen to the point where I couldn't wear my boots. The doctors told me the blood clots were forming because I had cirrhosis of the liver. Along with the blood clots, my drinking was also having a profound effect on my kidneys. They gave me medication, and warned me that eventually the liver would no longer be able to process any medication. In layman's terms, it wouldn't work for long, and then I'd be on my own. Therefore, if I wanted to live longer than six months, I had to quit drinking. Until then, I'd been telling everyone to love me for myself or get lost. Even when my wife, Ann, and our three children got me to meet with them and an alcoholic specialist, I defiantly stood my ground. Without another word, I watched in disbelief as they said good-bye, and left me alone. Learning how long I had to live made me realize that the family was right; I was an alcoholic. After leaving the hospital, I went back to the empty house I'd created. Sitting there alone, my mind wandered to 3
the day my wife packed her bags and walked out the door. With tearful eyes, she explained how she couldn't take my drinking and the constant need for others to love me, regardless of how insensitive I was to them. At the time, I didn't think she knew what she was talking about. Even when the children told me they wouldn't see me again until I was completely sober, I thought they didn't know what they were doing or saying. Now, I'm not saying no one cared anymore; on the contrary, they did. Ann made special visits to the hospital to see how I was and even told the children what had happened. Those who believed in God said their prayers, while the others sat in silent vigil for any hopeful word. With nothing else to fill my time, I sat looking at the mementos we'd collected; and realized, for the first time, how wrong this was. When I was younger, I thought I'd retire in fairly good health and with a loving wife at my side. At regular intervals, my children would come to visit me with the grandchildren. Instead, I became medically retired at 48 because of emphysema. I could accept this, but once retired, I began to drink more heavily, which alienated me from my wife and children. At 50 years of age, I had a wife considering divorce and my children refusing to come visit. It took my children, for what seemed an eternity, to give me just four grandchildren, and now I couldn't see them. I was really nervous when I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. As perspiration beaded on my forehead, I stood up to tell others, for the first time, that I was an alcoholic. When I finally sat down, I felt lighter; and for once, I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. 4
With that light, I remembered back when I was younger and the children were growing up. During those days, we'd go camping with my father in the mountains of Idaho. I watched, with immense joy, when the evening came and as my father sat around the campfire with my children, who listened with great interest to stories about the family. With each camp out, I longed for the day when I could tell my grandchildren the same stories, and add some of my own. As it had been for my father, it wasn't until my retirement that my children and I could coordinate our vacations. Unlike my father, however, when I retired I was an alcoholic and no longer cared to enjoy what I wanted when I was younger. I didn't even want the grandchildren around me for an hour without their parents near by. When I was younger, I threatened my children by telling them “When you have children, I'll watch them, spoil them rotten, and then send them home." That way, I'd have my revenge for all the misery I'd endured. When the opportunity arose, it no longer mattered. As each day of sobriety passed, my wife and I got closer together. It wouldn't ever be like it was before we separated, but it was good to have her with me. Finally, despite the children's cautious warnings to be careful, she agreed to come back home. After all the pain I'd caused, I never understood why she came back. There were times during my bouts of the dry drunks, when I felt it was pity, but through my saner periods of recovery, I felt she still had some love for me. As for the children, I couldn't really blame them for 5
being so concerned, since I'd been an alcoholic through all the years I’d raised them. Through recovery, I learned alcoholism isn't something you just get, like a cold. It can start when you least expect it. For me, it started because of shyness and the need to gain confidence. Though I eventually stopped needing it for the original reason, I found new ones to add to it. When trying to verbalize my problems, I would mention the new ones; but the original reasons were still there, just hidden under the surface. As the years went by, additional signs cropped up, signaling my transition from a potential to a definite alcoholic. I didn't just ignore each sign on purpose, each transition was slow and deceptive, and that's the trap. After a year of sobriety, I asked the children to come with their mother and me to the mountains. I wanted to make peace with them, and fulfill my old desire to tell stories to my grandchildren around the campfire before I died. After they told me they couldn't come for the summer I didn't try to push it. They needed time to realize that I was going to remain sober and that I wanted to try and heal all the harm I'd inflicted on them. Ann wanted to tell them about my failing health, but I told her I didn't want them to know. I wasn't at death's door yet, and I figured I wouldn't be there for several more years. I told her, “Next year, they'll come next year.” I was right! They came; everyone of them. The only one missing was me. You see; I died from cirrhosis of the liver just six months earlier. Because I'd waited too long, the medication I was taking stopped working, and the liver literally stopped functioning. While I lay in the hospital, the 6
pain became so overwhelming that I prayed for relief. Deep inside I was hoping for a cure, but that wasn't to be. Through all the pain and hurt I'd caused during my years as an alcoholic, my family was again required to endure a bit more. Quietly and soberly, they had to arrange my funeral and attend it. I wish there was something I could have done for my wife, since she had to endure the pain of starting over. For Ann, however, the hardest part wasn't starting over, but watching the legacy I left behind. Because of my influence, my youngest son is now an alcoholic, and she knows that the cycle of pain has started again. With the grandchildren around the campfire, I watch my oldest tell the stories I longed to tell. Occasionally, his mother reminds him of something he forgot, and a smile crosses my lips. Then I hear stories about me, and the happy times our family had. The camp out when my two boys thought a squirrel was a bear clawing on our camper, only because I told them man-eating bears roamed the area. The chili I'd cook, and how happy everyone was to have an ice cold creek next to our campsite that they could drink from. It's true, I'd given them pain, more pain than any family deserved, but I also gave them joy. When the stories were over, I watched my family sit quietly around the campfire, feeling their loss again.
The End 7
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