I remember the day you passed just like it was yesterday; it’s imprinted into my mind. It was a gloomy Tuesday, and I randomly got pulled out of school by my parents. When I got in the car, they were crying and explained to me that my cousin was in a coma and that we needed to drive up to see her. I quickly packed a bag, and we were off.
When I got to the hospital, I was greeted by my aunt, uncle, and some family friends. I asked why she had been admitted and was told due to a brain aneurism, which was strange due to no past medical history. I was told that I needed to brace myself before I went into her room because she did not look like her normal self. I walked into the hospital room and saw her laying there with tubes in her nose and throat; she looked swollen and somewhat yellow with a hint of blue; I knew deep in my heart an aneurism wasn’t why she was there.
The second I saw my aunt collapse to the ground, I knew my cousin had passed. The next few hours were the worst of my life. We waited until everyone arrived, and we each got to say bye to her one by one. After our goodbyes, we all walked to the hospital lobby where I met my cousin’s daughter Savannah for the first time. Holding her was the strangest, most comforting connection I have ever had to another person. Here I was meeting her for the first time, while I just said goodbye to her mom for the last.
A week later, we had the funeral, ate dinners, received condolences, had flowers delivered, everything the typical “after grieving” process entails. I still could not believe that my perfectly healthy and happy cousin had passed due to a brain aneurism. Her passing seemed to bring my family together for a short period of time. I was in counseling so it really helped to be able to see my therapist each week and talk about her death and brainstorm ways for me to cope. I would try and talk to my aunt and uncle as much as possible, but the pain in their voices was unbearable. I coped by staying busy; doing theatre in high school kept me on my toes as well as AP classes and different school clubs. I had more than enough to keep me busy. I even coped by getting my first tattoo to honor my grandmother and cousin! I was doing anything I could to distract myself of the situation.
Amber’s death did not add up to me. A few months after she had passed, my mom and dad sat me down and explained that my cousin did not die from what my aunt and uncle told everyone. She had died of alcohol poisoning. “WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME? I COULD HAVE HELPED,” is all I kept thinking in my head. Did everyone in my family know except me? Is this why my cousin had pulled away from our family? I was filled with emotion and did not understand why my aunt and uncle would lie to everyone, especially their close family members. There would never have been any judgment, just compassion, but they obviously felt like there was a reason to lie.
Then, everything started to add up. Why WOULD they tell me or anyone in my family? My uncle was an active alcoholic, and the entire family knew, though everyone always stayed quiet about it, I found troubling once I got to high school. At holidays, birthdays, and parties, alcohol was always heavily involved. I didn’t notice any of this throughout my life because I was always the baby, and all the substance abuse was always very discreet. As I got into high school, I started noticing the drinking more and more and was aware of the level of alcohol that everyone would consume. I suddenly flashed back to all the alcohol, anger, fights and slurred words at our family gatherings and realized there was an underlying issue. My cousin grew up in a house where drinking was normalized and where the drinking age didn’t matter. I was informed that they were considered the “fun” aunt and uncle because whenever my sister would stay at their house there was drinking involved. I put myself in my cousin’s shoes, and I wonder how I would be after growing up in an alcoholic environment.
I was so angry that Amber had never reached out to me about her addiction. I felt regret that I did not call her as much, but she not call me either. The last few years before she died, she somewhat pulled away from our family, and I remembered times when all I wanted was for her to be with us. Little did I know she was battling an addiction that would soon kill her. I felt guilty for sneaking off and drinking at parties after she passed and would often find myself avoiding anything with alcohol. I felt so overwhelmed by so many different emotions.
I was told that she had been in and out of rehabs, inpatient and outpatient centers, and nothing stuck for her. ALCOHOLISM IS A TRULY HORRIFIC DISEASE. The night my cousin was rushed to the hospital, she put her month-old baby down for bed, went to the living room, and drank the hand sanitizer that was on their coffee table. Her addiction was so bad that she was DRINKING hand sanitizer. I’m not sure what disturbed me more: the fact that she drank hand sanitizer or the fact that she was so far gone. I had never been in such a horrible state that I was addicted to any substances or to the point that I would need to drink hand sanitizer. I think the hardest parts of staying resilient through her death was thinking of my cousin who would never meet her mom and the state she had to of been in to even consider drinking hand sanitizer.
I am now 23, finishing college and working for Alcohol Rehab Guide, hoping to spread awareness about this horrible disease. At first, I was not sure what my company did marketing for, but then was told it was for addiction centers. A few months in, I was moved to Alcohol Rehab Guide where I instantly connected to the entire site and was very intrigued by all the important information we offered. I couldn’t help but think of my cousin and wished she could have seen this site. I love coming to work because if I can at least help one person each day I know that I am making a difference. It has been 8 years since my cousin passed away, and the pain still lingers. Her daughter has grown into such a smart, beautiful child, and I wish everyday she could have had the chance to meet her mom. I encourage everyone who reads this to PLEASE GET THEM HELP If you know of someone struggling with alcohol abuse. It is not the easiest thing to do, but there are resources out there to save someone’s life. It is better to have someone you love mad at you for an intervention or throwing them in rehab than for them to end up dead. You never know what sip could be someone’s last.
I'm so grateful that Carly had the courage to write about her pain and how hard it is to be a family member of someone who has alcoholism with such candor. What a great blog post to come out the week of the Bell Let's Talk mental health initiative!! What can be learned from Carly's resilience is that literally anything that makes you feel better can improve your resilience! Carly did theater and different school clubs to keep busy and got a tattoo to stay connected to her Grandmother and her cousin. You can join clubs, take up a hobby, join a gym....anything that will create positive thoughts and experiences to counteract the hard stuff that you don't have control of! And people don't have to be with you physically for you to stay connected to them. Carly's tattoo helped her maintain her connection with her Grandmother and cousin. Staying connected or creating connections is a really important skill re: resilience. And people don't have to necessarily live close by. You could feel connected to Carly right now and she lives in Florida! Lots of times getting together and talking with people who share similar circumstances can help you to feel not alone with your issue. Millions of people around the world have been helped through Alcoholics Anonymous and the group for family members called Al-Anon. Carly works for https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/ now and that helps her to be resilient as well.
In her story, Carly also talks about the secrets and lies. That is really common in families where there is alcoholism. The underlying issue when there are secrets and lies is SHAME. That's why it's important to talk about your issues. So that you are not feeding the shame by keeping isolated and therefore validating the judgement that you assume will be there. Our society has now exploited the concept of positivity to make us think that having difficult feelings is 'bad' and just being funny and smart and happy is OK. That somehow we shouldn't talk about feelings if they are hard ones because then we aren't feeling 'positive'. All feelings are OK. That's part of the human condition. When you talk about what is real for you then you can inoculate it with the lack of judgement of close family and friends who are supporting you against the shame. That's not to say that some people won't judge. However, you won't be alone and you will have found your tribe of people who won't judge you......and there is always someone who won't judge you. You just won't find them sitting alone holding your secret...
Check out this TED talk from Susan David about positiveness becoming a new form of 'moral correctness'. She aptly tells her clients that don't want to feel the truth about their situation "You have dead people's goals" Lol