I have to admit this has been a hard week for me. And today's a tough day. My cousin Amy died last Wednesday, the first of my blood cousins to go (I lost a step-cousin, Amy's half-brother Joe, a boyhood friend, many years ago). She was one of the youngest of us. She was only 42.
She was the cousin of mine I knew least well. She had been an alcoholic most of her life—all her adult life, certainly, and through some part of her teens. Yet when I saw her only a little more than a month ago, at the funeral of our aunt, she was doing well—she looked healthy, attractive, relaxed—even happy. We talked for thirty or forty minutes in my aunt's kitchen, and I heard the latest update of her story. After an earlier false start at sobriety she'd fallen off the wagon, and then clawed her way back on again. She told me she'd been sober for a year, going to meetings every day, talking with her sponsor often. "I've really struggled with it," she said—I'm sure a monumental understatement.
Unfortunately she had also broken one of the cardinal admonitions of A.A.: never get involved in a new relationship in your first year sober. (Or your first three, was what I was told when I was at that stage.) She had met a man at the lake, in August, and he had come from the city where he lived to spend several weekends with her since then. When I saw her, she was just about to make her first commute to the Southwest to get together with him on his home turf. I heard nothing in her voice or manner to suggest she saw even a hint of trouble coming.
The relationship blew up in her face during that trip, somehow. Something to do with his ex-wife finding out. Not only did she get dumped, but he turned on her, cruelly, behaving in that incomprehensibly infantile, selfish, and self-indulgent fashion that for some reason certain people feel is a justifiable way to act in the context of relationships. She tried to escape, changed her cellphone number twice. Somehow, the guy simply couldn't find it within himself to act in a halfway civilized way, conduct himself with ordinary decency. No: too much to ask.
Newly sober, happier, healthier, full of hope, it only makes sense that people like Amy want to start fresh, get on with interrupted lives, find a partner. But the danger is huge, of course, because new relationships are volatile, the emotions raw, and new sobriety so very fragile. You just need some practice at it, some time to stabilize in a new way of being—crucially, you need some time sober to build up some resilience—to learn how to cope with setbacks without the aid and medication of your addictions.
I don't know how it happened, in the end. Amy tried for several weeks to endure the anguish of her latest loss, and she held on for a while. I don't know how the end came about...whether she started drinking again and just couldn't face either path that awaited her then (either sobriety again, from Day One, or drunkenness again, a new tumble into an all-too-familiar hole), or whether her ending was more premeditated and the first dose was the fatal one. I don't know if what she did was suicide, or just suicidal; intentional, or just expressive. At any rate, she took an overdose of pills and liquor, and landed in the hospital. Her kidneys failed. (I don't know the timeline.) She spent several days in a deep coma, kept alive on a respirator. Another cousin who saw her in intensive care said her appearance was "shocking." The doctors tested for brain activity, found nothing, and finally withdrew her from life support.
She's being buried today, in frozen ground, and I wish I could be there, to pay my respects. I know there are some of us who are viewing this as inevitable, perhaps partly as a comfort, and if that's a comfort to some then so be it. But I think it could have been different for her. I wish it had been. I wish she had never met that bastard who contributed to her final flameout; I wish she had been able to keep going, going to dull meetings, day upon day, establish herself in her sobriety for a second year, a third, a fourth before she had to face down such a deathly discouragement. I am very proud of her for her one brave year, and I sorely wish I could be there today, to help honor her courage, and her despair.
CODA: Thanks to everyone for the generous, kind, and sympathetic comments, and to those who shared their own experiences. I'll pass them along to Amy's brother, thence her immediate families.
After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slid over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket's horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self that must sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough. Ah! douce campagna of that thing!
Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart,
Green in the body, out of a petty phrase,
Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
The aureole above the humming house...
It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.
"The Well Dressed Man With a Beard"