By Darrah Le Montre
Growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent is a unique kind of rough. As a child, you love this person so intensely and are so dependent on them. Then there’s the inevitable fact that they are emotionally incapable of demonstrating their love in a way that will seep into your bones the way kids need it to. There’s a merry-go-round quality about the systems and functions and habits that occur in an alcoholic home. Soon enough, that merry-go-round becomes a hamster wheel and even after you’ve grown up and moved out, you still run races you’ll never win. And ache for a love deep down in the recesses of your being–in that unfillable void–that you’ll do anything to feel OK and thus you reach out for stuff: people, food, money, status, drugs, anything. Including more alcoholics to love you better.
When I was eighteen, I moved in with an alcoholic/addict who was verbally abusive and a perpetual cheat. He convinced me I was special and different and I was so desperate to get out of my house, that I shacked up with him and his mother in a two-bedroom apartment in Canoga Park. I was a drug addict and I had recently lost my virginity with him. I was vulnerable in a way that I’ve never been again. I also realized that my asexual tendencies at that time–which resulted from my home-life coupled with sexual orientation shame and simply being a late bloomer–could be quelled by alcohol. I’ve never had a problem with alcohol like I have with drugs, except that I have used it on several occasions as an emotional crutch.
My boyfriend was violent and angry and his family couldn’t stand him. I, on the other hand, was stupidly loyal.
He was the first alcoholic man, in a string of men and women, who would fill my dating diary.
After nearly fifteen years of dating, fucking and loving alcoholics, this is what I’ve come to know about the subject:
After attending a 12-step program for several years, my ex used to say that I had such a handle on the alcoholic mind that I knew how to “drive” an alcoholic. Not, like, drive them crazy… but I get how to maneuver the car and can even keep four wheels between two lines along those steep corners. If there’s a landslide, I remain calm.
If I had the choice to do it all again, I can’t say for certain if I would choose to date alcoholics the way I have. I know that while dating them and losing fights with them and being heartbroken by them, and in the midst of that hole dug so deep and so dark and filled with so much sorrow I would say “no.” But, once the light shines in, our memories cloud.
My gift is not in knowing how to understand or even “drive” an alcoholic. It’s in the fact that I’ve made peace with my love for people who, in their fallibility, and in their miraculous recovery, have taught me more than any other kind of person. They’ve taught me about judgment, about kindness, about generosity, about spirituality. They’ve taught me about transformation, meditation, prayer and about the tenacity of the human spirit, and ferocious devotion to getting better and staying alive.
So this is my odd love letter to the alcoholics that have touched my life. I love you. I hate you. I love you. XOXO
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Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and nudie blog SuicideGirls.