Doing the Tough Stuff for Family
It has been 13+ years that I’ve known my wife.
Christmastime 2000 was when I met her Mom and siblings and their families.
My wife is one of 7 siblings with 2 older brothers, 1 younger brother and 3 younger sisters.
All have married at one time or another and the youngest is still married to her high school sweetheart.
When you’ve got that many in your family, there is bound to be at least one who goes astray. Sometimes more, sometimes none, but that’s probably rare.
One of my brother-in-laws, let’s call him Otis, like the character on the old Andy Griffith Show.
Otis was living with his mom until she passed away around 10 years ago and is an alcoholic. We helped him relocate to our city with the hope that he would live in an apartment and find a job. His 1st years rent was paid in advance from his share of the inheritance. Problem was he decided to drink instead of finding a job.
In the past decade, I’ve lost track of how many apartments he has had. He’s stayed with us several times and he’s had jobs. He also has lived on the streets.
Otis has been sober, for weeks, even months at a time. He is not a young man, he is in his 60’s now and receiving Social Security benefits.
That’s the background. Now on to the Tough Stuff story.
Fast forward to this summer. We get a voice mail message from a chaplain at a local hospital that Otis is in bad shape and going to be having surgery. We visit the hospital just as he is being wheeled out of the operating room and wait and talk to the surgeon. The Doctor tells us that the surgery was to repair his jaw that was mangled and broken in two places. His face was swollen and unrecognizable. They ended up wiring his jaw shut to keep the bones in place. We don’t know all the details of what led to this incident, but Otis was drunk and someone beat the crap out of him.
His stay in the hospital was about a week, and during that time, we made the tough decision to allow him back in our home during the 6 weeks of his recovery. Otis was going to be on a liquid diet. My wife is a nurse and we have a room in our home that he has stayed before which was available again.
The first “tough stuff” in this story was taking time each day to visit Otis while he was in the hospital. Emotionally draining and a mixture of anger, disgust, and pity for Otis who continues to make bad choices.
The next “tough stuff” was the decision to have Otis stay with us. No other family members were willing or able to do this and even though we were burnt out due to our repeated efforts to help Otis and other family over the years, my wife and I agreed to offer our home to Otis with a few ground rules.
Otis knows the ground rules. They’re simple. Pick up after yourself, no smoking in the house and no drinking of alcohol either under our roof, or anywhere while Otis was living with us. The 1st couple of rules are just common courtesy, but the alcohol prohibition was the special Otis rule.
I’ve mentioned Otis is an alcoholic who has been sober for extended periods of time. So I know that Otis could stay sober if he wanted to.
Over the past few weeks however, things were going downhill. As my wife and I compared notes, each of us had been picking up and cleaning up after Otis. He would take off on his bike and be gone for 8, 12, 15 hours and claim he was not drinking. He was not following doctors orders to rest and take it easy. The wires holding his jaw shut were coming off repeatedly. My wife was taking him back to the doctor, picking up medicines, and it just wasn’t working.
Finally he admitted to his sister that he had a couple beers while he was out.
The final “tough stuff” chapter came Wednesday night. It was a hot day, temps in the 90’s and shortly after I came home, I noticed that the front door was wide open and Otis and his bike were gone.
It was time to talk with Otis and give him a choice.
When he came home about an hour later, I was waiting for him and we had a private talk.
I told him how I found the front door wide open with the air conditioner fighting a losing battle. I told him how my wife and I have been picking up and cleaning up after him, which would have been okay if he was a 2 year old, but not a 62 year old.
And I told him it was time to enforce the Otis rule. The Otis rule does not apply to everyone, just Otis.
I told him it was his choice. I wanted him to decide if he wanted to continue to stay with us in our home for the last couple of weeks of his recuperation. He would have to decide not to consume alcohol while he was here.
Or he could decide that he wanted to drink and live someplace else. The choice was entirely his. I did not want an answer Wednesday night. I asked him to sleep on it. He told me that he would probably leave. I told him if he did, it was his choice, and he agreed.
Thursday, Otis left. I was at work, my wife was out and when she came home around noon, Otis, his bike and his stuff were gone.
I don’t know where he is. He could be camping, he could be living under a bridge, he could be sleeping in an alley. He’s done it all. He is no longer welcome at the local rescue missions because he repeatedly broke their sobriety rules too .
We have both a sadness and sense of relief.
The sense of relief in that we our home back and no longer have to wonder if the front door or refrigerator door will be left open all day long, or numerous other stresses that were going on due to Otis.
But there is also a profound sadness.
Alcoholism may be a disease, but it’s also controllable. While I’ve been blessed never to have suffered from it, I know plenty of others who are sober alcoholics.
See, I believe in Otis more than he believes in himself. This was part of our talk on Wednesday night. I told him that sobriety is a moment by moment decision. It’s saying no a thousand times a day to temptation. Otis decided to go back to the homeless/active alcoholic lifestyle. And we had to let him go.
That’s part of the tough stuff we sometimes have to do for family.