On Not Being Drunk

On August 20th, the one-year anniversary of my getting sober, I did some things I'd never done before, and one I haven't done in a long time. 

I went to say goodbye to my Grandpa Lewis who by Friday evening had asked the doctors and nurses to stop giving him water. The cancer had advanced, his body was weakening rapidly and he was ready to go. What exactly he was ready to go to I couldn't name, but I was told he was ready. Grandpa Lewis is my stepdad George's father, so technically he's my step-grandpa though I never thought of him that way. The curious and defining thing about our (my two brothers and I) entry into their family was its warm simplicity: we were their grandchildren and we were loved. Having a grandpa was a big deal as I was very attached to my mom's parents and their sudden deaths were dramatic fissures in the space-time of my childhood; like a big rip or black hole was formed in the fabric at 7 and 8 years old.

I was told that he might be gone by the time I'd fly home but I flew home anyway. I fussed around at the Shopper's Drug Mart buying skin creams and wrinkle erasers and tweezers and foundation sticks and gels that feel cool on the skin and scrubs that scrub it away and Chapstick and all the life-affirming cosmetics I could find before I got on the road en route to say goodbye. 

Grandpa Lewis is a man from a different time, or at least that's how he always seemed to me. He's elegant in his speech, gentle in his manner. He's a man of his word, kind. His memory is sharp and his person is present and engaged. He tells rich, layered stories with lots of context, technical, historical or personal -- you listen and you learn things. He's a good writer, an excellent wood worker, can build or fix whatever you need, cars to computers. He lived on farms, raised animals, built bridges. He is a loving and devoted father his children still call "Daddy". He went to church, he did tai chi once, he loved his wife from the moment he laid eyes on her until his final breath. He is flawed and he is good. He is loved dearly.

I don't think I ever felt the grief I felt in imagining a world without a man like Grandpa Lewis. It was the clear, acute sensation of loss, that something beautiful would be leaving the material plane. I was sober in this feeling. I got to his room to see him shrunken and frail; just 6 breaths a minute. His life was a breath every ten seconds. He had been up and speaking the evening before but struggled to speak now. I leaned over to tell him I was there. He opened his eyes and smiled. I cried and he struggled through one of those breaths to say, "Don't cry". A few hours later I stroked his hair, kissed him on the forehead and said goodbye. 


I rushed down the highway after our visit and drove straight to a doctor's office to get Botox. On the way, I thought about surprising a former lover, just dropping in and shocking him. Maybe crying and asking questions. Asking why he'd ghosted me. None of this felt sober, it felt clingy and frightened but directive and results-oriented. Time-defeating. As the doctor carefully measured the units of botulism he would be pushing into the tissue of my forehead, we chatted about the day. The young doctor told me about the woman he'd just broken up with who has two children. I told him about having grown up with a loving stepdad who helped raised three of us. He admitted he wasn't sure he could ever really love that woman's kids even though he thought she was perfect, "I'd already be married to her if she didn't have kids, but I want my own..." He said other things too that made me feel bad inside and grateful for my stepdad and all the words kept my brain busy while he pushed anti-aging poison into my forehead. 

My mom and stepdad were calm and stoic at grandfather's bedside, pragmatic. My stepdad had also been asked not to cry and he was keeping his word. In moments of drunken overflows, I used to resent the stoicism of my family but suddenly it looked very dignified and peaceful. The transition from life to not-life was a duty just like any other asked of a man: father, stepfather, grandpa, husband, good man, kind. 

On my one-year sobriety anniversary, I was sober for the final goodbye but later that night, after watching and dancing and singing along to The Tragically Hip show with my brother, sister-in-law and little nieces, I played in the arena of an altered state and got stoned. At first this felt nice. This was the separation from self I used to long for, getting out, getting away, getting tingly, putting a big cushion between my brain and my self. But later it got dark. I am always right on the edge of my wounds, I'm still scared of everything and substances just shrink the space between me and my fears as opposed to pushing me further away. There's sobriety or obliteration and nothing between. There's no distancing yourself from yourself in the end. You will always be right there. This was perhaps the most life-affirming part of the day: longing to be close to my clear and present self again. 

At 9 a.m. the following morning my grandfather Carl Lewis passed. I spent the day cuddling my nieces, playing in the park, going on a "nature adventure", telling jokes, laying under the sun staring at that big Alberta sky very much alive.