[Trigger warning: depression, alcohol, drunk driving, death, murder, motor vehicle accident.]
I have always heard about the stages of grief. I had to look them up to remember what they were:
When I looked these up, I found a more descriptive model with 7 stages and was drawn to elaborate on how I have been feeling this past week:
- Shock and denial: oh my gosh. I can’t believe this happened. No, that can’t be true. There’s no way that story is about them.
- Pain and guilt: I cannot imagine what she is going through. My heart is hurting for their family. I have probably gotten behind the wheel when I shouldn’t have. I could have done this to someone.
- Anger and bargaining: I am so f*****g angry at the person who did this. I hate alcohol! I am never drinking again. I am throwing away every drop in my house. I am angry that so many of the #dontdrinkanddrive posts on Instagram are ads for alcohol. I am angry that many others are people who survived and say they are lucky to be alive. You are lucky. My friend’s husband and child aren’t. I am angry at the people I know, including myself, who have driven after drinking, who regularly drive after drinking, who say, “I’m okay to drive!” I am angry at alcohol.
- Depression: This is too much. 2020 has been the worst year and it keeps getting worse. What’s the point? Where’s that meteor?
- The upward turn
- Reconstruction and working through
- Acceptance and hope
I haven’t felt the last three yet. I’ve bounced around between the others. Grief isn’t linear, as they say, and it certainly hasn’t been for me.
Last Sunday, after I found out that the horrific news story I read was in fact about people I knew, I said to my husband “I want to dump out all of the alcohol in the house.” He said back, “Do it. If that will help, do it. We don’t need it in the house.” I went to the fridge and looked at the two bottles of wine in there. My first thought was disappointment that I would not get to taste those drinks. My next thought was that I can drink at home and not go anywhere and be fine. I also thought about how some of the alcohol in my house had been given to me as a gift and I would feel bad for throwing away a gift. Lastly I thought, “What if friends or family come over and want to have a drink?”
I talked to my therapist last Tuesday and I told her about the accident, and I told her about what I did on Sunday, and that all of the alcohol was still sitting in my house, untouched. I told her about why I didn’t throw it all away. She asked me who those thoughts were for. Were they for me? No. Almost every thought I had was about other people, their feelings or what they would think of me.
I told her that I wanted to write this and I wanted to publish it for people to see, but that I was afraid of being called a hypocrite. I was afraid of people lashing out. I was afraid of people thinking I was upset with them, or that people would think that I thought less of them.
My therapist suggested that I write this, and that I write this with the intention of publishing it. She is not the first. I have shared with friends and acquaintances that there are topics I want to write about that I am afraid will receive backlash, that will provoke conflict. They have told me to “Just do it!” Even if I never hit that “publish” button… put those words on the screen as if I was going to. So here I am.
My therapist also suggested I read a book. I haven’t yet. Tuesday night after we talked I just sat on my phone looking at articles about the accident. Staring at pictures of the mangled wreckage. Glaring at the photo of the drunk driver, who looks devastated in the picture of him in the hospital room where he was arraigned. Yes, glaring, because I am so angry at him. I am so angry at alcohol. I am so angry at this disease.
There’s video footage of the accident, but I won’t watch it. I can’t say I never will. It reminds me of when I heard about the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery and I accidentally came across the footage of his death. It didn’t look the way I had imagined it in my mind. My mind had changed it to protect me from the evil that it was. Seeing it made it so f*****g real. It was disturbing and heartbreaking. And I know that’s what will happen if I watch the footage of the accident. I’m not ready for that, yet. That’s the denial stage. “That car isn’t really theirs. They weren’t really in that car. The man who hit them didn’t walk away with his life.”
Thoughts keep coming to my mind as I write this. “Why does this bother you so much? This didn’t happen to you. Stop being so upset about it. Stop talking about it. You weren’t close to them anymore. You hardly knew them anymore. People are going to think you’re being dramatic or want attention.” I had the same thoughts when I heard about the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. “I’m a priveleged white girl, I don’t deserve to be as bothered, upset and angry about this. This isn’t about me. This didn’t happen to my family, I have a husband who is alive and well.”
I didn’t read any of the book last Tuesday night. I went to sleep sad, and I woke up the next morning sad. Wednesday morning I wept when my husband asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t find the words.
Everything. I am overwhelmed. What I am overwhelmed with is trivial in comparison to what my friend is dealing with. I should just get over it.
Last Wednesday morning after my husband went to work, I sat in front of the computer and debating writing this. I thought, no, I don’t have time, and there’s other more important things to do. I thought, “I should take a few minutes and read that book.” No, not enough time. I thought about the bottles of alcohol in my fridge, the freezer downstairs, the liquor cabinet, the fridge in the garage, the freezer in the kitchen. I stood up and I started yanking the bottles out and putting them on the counter. With each heavy clank or light thud of glass and plastic bottles, the tears multiplied. I cussed as I remembered where more bottles were. In all reality, compared to a lot of people, there really wasn’t much. Most of the liquor was purchased before we even moved into this house 6 years ago. Several of the bottles were unopened. Then I started opening the bottles and dumping the contents into the sink. As I poured each bottle, it felt like something was being released inside of me. The tears flowed and the anger built. Some bottles dumped out easily. Others I had to shake or squeeze. I took a few empty bottles at a time to the recycling bin in the garage. As they started to clang against one another, glass on glass, I was getting pissed. “I HATE YOU!” I screamed.
When it was done, I looked at the recycling container, and a sense of peace that I haven’t felt since last Saturday washed over me. Those people pleasing thoughts started to come in… I thought about what I had said to my therapist about people wanting to drink at my house could bring their own alcohol. I felt myself fighting with my own thoughts. “If you bring alcohol to my house, you give up your keys. I will not turn the other way to drinking and driving. I don’t care if it is one drink. I can’t decide for you whether you’re still ‘okay to drive’ or if you have had ‘one too may’.” I know that ultimately it is THEIR choice that they make. Maybe this is the bargaining stage… “I’ll do whatever I can to prevent this from happening to someone else, even if it means never having a party at my house again, even if it means people won’t want to hang out with me.”
What kind of f*****y is that?! I actually think that people won’t want to come over to my house, won’t want to attend a party here, won’t want to hang out with me because I won’t have alcohol. Or that they won’t invite me along because I don’t drink, because they think if I see people drinking it will upset me. This drug has become so normalized that people who don’t drink are the weird ones. I know, I know, if you think about it anything can become a drug, right? Well, you let me know the next time someone ate a cookie and decided it was a good idea to drive 90mph down a busy highway and slam into your friend’s husband’s car that was stopped at a red light on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon.
It is now Monday. Almost a week has passed since I started writing this. It has been almost two weeks since the accident. I found out yesterday that my friend’s husband was an organ donor and that three people received the gift of life when he passed away. I don’t know how to describe the feelings I got when I read that… relief almost. That although what happened to him was completely senseless, at least he was able to save someone else. I also found out that the drunk driver plead not guilty, and I can tell you exactly how I felt when I read that – enraged.
My house is alcohol free. I find myself hyper focused on alcohol. When I’m at the store, I am looking at new brands with fleeting thoughts of “I should try that,” followed by, “WHY. What’s the point? There are plenty of delicious drinks and foods without alcohol.” I see pictures of people drinking outside of their homes and can’t help but think, “I hope they had someone sober to drive them home.” It’s not really judgement although it truly sounds like it. It’s desperation for this to not happen to anyone else period, but especially not to anyone I know.
From the CDC: “Every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This is one death every 50 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion.”
Please, don’t drink and drive. Make a plan – take an uber or lyft, take a friend or loved one who isn’t drinking, heck if you know me call me! I decided to eliminate the root cause in my life – I decided to stop drinking alcohol altogether. (I will write more about that in another post.) I don’t expect anyone else to do that, but if I can ask one thing. Please don’t drink and drive. Even if it’s “just a drink or two”, it could mean the difference between you walking through your door again, or a woman losing the loves of her life, or countless other sad things we think will never happen to us because they haven’t… yet. It didn’t happen to me, but it happened to someone I care about. And I don’t care what people think of me saying so, it absolutely changed my life.
Love, peace & understanding to all who are reading this.