How sobriety helped me improve relationships with my family

By Laura McWilliams, Industry Health

In the spring of 2016, about 2 months into my sobriety, my grandfather (91) fell at the rehabilitation center that he was in. He was in there because of a fall in the first place, and was on blood thinners for some reason and was given blood unthinners ( thickeners?) after the second fall which resulted in a clot in his brain. Onto the helicopter, off to harborview. Our whole family rushed down there to be with him. My family had a core group of 10, my grandparents, their three kids, one spouse, three grand kids, one great grandchild. We learned upon arriving that surgery wasn’t an option and that he was going to be taken off of life support. We were going to have to let him go. We spent the whole day and night all together in his private room, before and after the breathing tubes being removed. We talked and ate, laughed and cried, shared stories, told him stories, played games, sang, explored. We were all there together until about 11:30 pm when my siblings and I decided to head home. I drove us home, about a 2 hour drive, back to the island. 

It was only in retrospect that the full impact of my ability to participate fully in that evening hit me. I can’t even imagine how differently it would have gone for me if i wasn’t sober. I would have been anxious, wondering when we could head home, not fully present with my grandfather and the rest of my family. The fact that I get to have that memory to take with me for the rest of my life is a treasure. And only the first of many. 

I definitely lucked out with my family in terms of quitting drinking- my father had a spectacular exit from alcohol over a decade ago and since then, drinking has never been included as a big part of family gatherings or holidays. There was, and is, the occasional bottle of wine or a beer at dinner, but it’s never the main event. My quitting drinking went entirely unnoticed. My increased engagement in family activities and relationships and celebration planning did not.

I felt for the first time like a worthy, adult member of the family. I had the time and mental space available to offer, I always had energy and felt good, which helped in dealing with family. I didn’t mind driving down to the island and then back the same night, which made it easier to visit- not having to sleep over every time. I could take my time, I could play with my niece, I could buy presents and groceries. It was a massive shift for me. Anyone who has quit drinking understands how very, very much more time you have sober; I finally had the time available to give to building and sustaining relationships with these people, rather than just suffering through the parties and leaving as soon as I could to go home and drink. 

My new year's resolution this year was not quit drinking, or don’t be such a drunk, or cut back on the wine, or lose weight. It was: Every Holiday, Every Time. It’s  November now and I am happy to say that I have been successful in this- I have shown up cheerful, prepared, and engaged to celebrate every single holiday. Not all of them have been with family, some with friends, some on my own, but I gave each one the attention and foresight that I wanted to. So many years I have regretted not celebrating, not buying someone the present that I wanted, going to a bar instead of a family party. I have wanted to plan the family parties but have forgotten, or gotten to overwhelmed by the level of communication necessary to do so. I have watched the months, years fly by without me. I am so lucky to be able to say that I don’t live that way anymore. It’s not always easy, it’s sometimes super annoying, but I am there, carving pumpkins, dying easter eggs, baking birthday cakes. Just like i always wanted. 

Stop to think:

How big of a role does alcohol play in your family gatherings? If it is a large role, do you think that affects your family's communication and relationships?

Do you think that your relationships with your family members has improved since you quit drinking? Or if you are still drinking- can you see ways that your sobriety would improve these relations?

One of the main things that I gained from sobriety was time, and I choose to use a bunch of this time being a more active member of my family, both close and extended. I feel that this has enriched my life and I enjoy being a part of my unit. Do you want to participate in your family in ways that you can't? What changes could you make in order to enter the role you wish you had?

Laura McwilliamsComment