My son told me he’d be honoured if today I’d write about his journey, which I’ve not done so far. My blog readers know not much in my life is private, but the lives of my children are. I’ve had a lot of difficulty with some of the choices both have made, although I realize, with enormous pride, that they’re stellar human beings, generous, kind citizens of this city and this planet.
Sam has struggled with alcohol for a long time — in fact, he confided recently, since his teenaged years, when he and his high school friends consumed a ton of whatever they could get their hands on to party. At 19 he went straight into the restaurant business, where drink is the vital core of commerce, and drugs keep an overloaded staff going. His dad and I have known for a long time that there was a big problem. I was a classic enabler — unwilling to admit the seriousness of the situation and confront him, for fear of driving him away or hurting him.
He was born anxious, took our divorce hard, had learning difficulties in school. In his early twenties, while I was in Europe, he was hit with a catastrophic tragedy: a dear friend of his died of a drug overdose in the night as Sam slept nearby. My son, in shock, went through a grilling by police. He has carried this death like a huge weight, blaming himself. Then a few years ago while he was at work, shots rang out in the street. Sam ran out to find the owner of the bar next door, a man with Mafia connections, had been shot. Sam ran to him, pressed his bar cloth into the man’s wounds, cradled him and tried to keep him alive. The man died in Sam’s arms.
So – trauma, PTSD. His business depended on him being up, cheery, speedy, keeping everyone happy, remembering people’s names and the problems they confided in him. He was very good at his job — winner of a cocktail competition that meant a free trip to Barbados, voted Now magazine’s Second Best Bartender in all Toronto. But at a huge price. And of course the pandemic made everything worse, and at the same time, better. He was out of work but also away from the bars.
Early this year, it all came to a head for both him and his parents. His dad and I had several talks with each other and two long, vital meetings with him on Zoom. He was amazingly honest and open, told us he has wanted for a long time to get out of the business, but was not ready. Working this past St. Patrick’s Day, serving crowds of drunken, loud, aggressive bar-goers, he realized, That’s it, I’ve had it. He walked out and quit the bar and restaurant business.
Today, after twenty years of pretty hard drinking, he hasn’t touched alcohol for a month.
He’s a different man, who wakes early to work out and go for long walks by the lake and in the park. He speaks regularly with a terrific social worker expert in addiction. He cooks healthy food, is more available to help his sister with her beloved boys; he says walking the Parkdale streets, people greet him instead of being surly, and he realizes – he’s not hungover and crabby, he’s wide awake and cheerful. He has wanted for years to have a dog but could not because of his insane hours; we go to get his rescue pup Bandit on Saturday, and all summer he’s taking outside work – landscaping, house painting – to be with the pup. He’s producing Trivia nights and has joined a baseball team and other neighbourhood ventures.
What’s next? He isn’t sure. But he’s liked and respected by a lot of Toronto people in various businesses. Something really interesting will turn up.
In a month, he has effected an astonishing transformation. At the same time, it’s only a month of sobriety; we all realize that. There’s a long road ahead. But right now, he is a wise, grounded, healthy, and contented man. Nothing matters more to a mother than that.
And incidentally, as a result of recent reading about alcohol, I’m limiting my own daily dose of wine. Drinking alone each night, it was easy to keep pouring. Now, on a pretty glass jug I’ve drawn a line at 5 ounces, and at drinks time I pour wine to that limit, which means a small glass before dinner and a small glass with. And that’s it. So my son’s journey to health is also my own.