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Grapevine : December 2011
i t was Christmas Eve 1986. There I sat in my living room in front of the tree, very drunk. My wife was passed out cold on the floor. We were going to open presents but it didn’t work out that way. I sat there alone with the tree lights sparkling. That terrible emptiness came over me. That feeling I couldn’t shake no matter what. I made a vow that I never wanted to spend another drunk Christmas like that one. It wouldn’t be until Mother’s Day 1987 that I would attend my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, and out of the ruins start building a new life, one brick at a time. I was the kid growing up with the alcoholic parents and I was never going to drink. Holidays were sometimes battlefields, when the tur- key hit the floor. Shouting, violence, doors slamming, tires squealing. I was the kid who poured their booze down the sink so they wouldn’t drink (that only happened once!). They returned the favor some years later when they found my stash of marijuana that, in spite of my loud protests, went down the garbage disposal. As my parents’ alcoholism progressed through the years, Christ- mas changed. Christmas trees were at other people’s houses. The gifts never made it into the house if they were ever purchased at all. Sometimes they dropped us kids off at the movies on Christmas Eve, and we hoped they wouldn’t forget to pick us up. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. My story is not different from those of many chil- dren living with alcoholic parents. Nope, I was never going to drink and have that kind of Christmas. Of course I did drink, and I also used drugs. In my mind, drugs were much more high-class than booze. I mistakenly thought my youth gave me immunity from alcoholism. That Christmas in 1986 I was 33 years old and nearing another bottom. I tried to make up for those Christmases in the past. I bought the biggest tree I could get in the door. Sometimes Ihadtocutitdowntogetitinthe house. Big Christmas trees didn’t protect me from the progression of my alcoholism or that horrible despair and emptiness. I drank ev- ery day and on holidays, especially Christmas, extra supplies were pur- chased. My drinking was really over the top. The hangovers got worse and worse. Sometimes I had those three-day hangovers where I could hardly move. I thought my body would last longer! When I got sober I learned that I’d been HIV positive and had had hepatitis C for years. Drinking my- self into unconsciousness every night didn’t really help me with that. I was an alcoholic undercover narcotics of- ficer. I would have been hard-pressed to pass a drug test. I was paid to drink and buy drugs every day. I was a gay man married to a woman 14 December 2011 GRAPE_12-15.indd 14 10/28/11 2:23 PM