What do we see on a day-to-day basis in our world? Is perception reality? How well do you know the people around you? How well do you know your family members? How much pain is hidden behind the smile of someone you see on a regular basis. Due to my own battles with cancer and the after-effects of chemotherapy, I know first-hand that it is possible to hide quite a bit of pain. Is it good and healthy to do that? Probably not. However, it can be done.
A colleague recently shared his personal story with me. I was captivated, and I felt that it was a story that needed to be shared. The author gave me permission to do that. To start off the new year, I am hosting a guest columnist for the first time. Many thanks to my team member and friend--Mark Howey.
Black and Blue Nights
I stand here shaking again, hands trembling, legs feeling like Jell-O. As I watch, you take a sip of your big shiny bottle of alcohol; already knowing what is about to happen. Whenever you drink this, it’s like our house becomes a giant boxing ring. Everything you touch is destroyed. I constantly ask you why you drink and the only reply I get is, “I do what I want”. Is that response supposed to be enough? Is that the only answer that I deserve? You put the bottle to your lips, cock your head back and allow the substance to slide down your throat; not caring that you’re destroying lives and tearing our family apart limb for limb. People never know what happens when the front door gets closed. They never see the scars that remain unseen or the secrets that the walls hold onto.
I flash back to a time when I was 9 years old. There you are, staggering and slurring your words. Eyes are blood shot red and your veins are popping out of your neck. Your once calm face is now filled with anger and evil. Your skin tone is no longer this pale white but rather a bright red. You’re the monster that lives in my nightmares. The monster that follows me from my dreams to my reality, the one I can’t seem to shake. I stand in the narrow hallway; tears rolling down my warm cheeks as I hear my mom scream again. I slowly peak my head around the corner not wanting you to see me. As I peak my head around, I see your fist soar through the air and land against her face. She lets out a scream that rattles my whole body. I can feel it in my toes, in my chest; I can feel it reflect in my eyes. Thoughts scramble all around my head now. I am terrified. I want to run to her; I want to run in the opposite direction. But my feet refuse to comply, and I stand still. My eyes get big, my mouth drops to the floor and my vision becomes blurry. My mom’s beautiful face is bloody and mangled. Blood drips from her nose and hits the floor. You don’t even stop when you hear Zach, Amanda and I screaming and crying our eyes out. The louder we cry, the faster the hits come so we cry silently; hoping that it will stop before it’s too late. Making eye contact with my mother is something I try to avoid. It makes my soul cry and makes my heart beat faster than it ever has. Her blue eyes carry so much pain in them. They hold shrines of memories I can’t seem to imagine. Ones I have shared, ones I haven’t.
After a while you’re passed out on the floor again, with your glossy bottle of alcohol next to you. Mom says she is ok, but I can see her tremble, I can hear her voice crack with each word. Her face is swollen, I want to reach out and touch it, run my fingers along the rigid bumps. I can’t even image the pain she is in. Her tears can barely squeeze out from her eyes. We know she won’t call the cops, so we don’t even suggest it. I don’t understand why she loves a monster that only cares about his liquor. I can’t see the reasons that she loves you. I guess family doesn’t mean anything. Keeping him here doesn’t only hurt her but it hurts everyone around him. He’s a great man when sober, but we don’t get to see that side of him very often. Honestly, I can’t really even remember times when his bottle wasn’t in his hands or close by. Everything I know about him revolves around liquid enclosed in glass. That bottle was his pride and joy.
He’s not alone. He isn’t the only one to give into the temptation of whiskey. A handful of my family members are alcoholics. Like him, they are the greatest people to be around when they’re sober but, totally different people when they’re drunk. I am very close to my family, just wish some of them didn’t have to drink every day. Didn’t have to guzzle like its water and inhale like it’s air. How did I learn the value of family when there was nobody around to show me?
Alcohol is an inviting substance when you’re feeling low. It offers you a friend when you feel alone, it holds out its hand and invites you to go along on a journey of denial when you need to escape; it even offers a peace of mind when you just need to fade away, below the radar. I sit here on the couch looking at the polished bottle, the object of so many people's affection. I get up and walk towards it slowly. I pick it up and shake it to see if there is anything in it. I hear a swooshing sound as the alcohol hits the side of the bottle. I unscrew the lid and slowly put it towards my nose. The smell is so strong my eyes burn, and I pull back from it. I hurry up and put the top on and set it down on the counter. I think to myself; wondering why somebody would pick this bottle over their own family; over me? I won’t crush my family by getting sucked into this habit. I will never pick up the deceptive bottle of alcohol or even a dull can of beer. I will never succumb to this temptation or pull anyone down alongside me. I witnessed many beatings my mom took. I’ve even took some beatings myself. I have bandaged too many bruises and memorized the inside of my closet. I have images that haunt me in my dreams. I lived in a nightmare just because somebody else didn’t care. My childhood revolved around choices that I never made. My name is Mark Eugene Howey JR and I will never become somebody’s nightmare. I will not let alcohol take my soul, my mind, nor my potential. I have the greater ability to learn from the mistakes of others. I have the strength to overcome the darkness that has been cast over my past. Keeping a sworn oath to myself and myself alone, will save lives; lives that I may not even know yet.