An Alcoholic's Final Victim

A Second Chance at Life Squandered

Mixed drink and burning cigarette
Ignoring a Second Chance at Life. © Getty Images

Ten years have passed since I first wrote the series of articles, "A Family in Crisis," about how one abusive alcoholic can affect the lives of so many lives around him. When we last visited David and Glenda, they had just repeated the "Cycle of Violence," again and were in the break-up stage, canceling a long-planned family vacation.

At the time, the speculation was they would soon make up again, quickly move to the "honeymoon stage" in their relationship again, but this time, if they got back together and lived together it would affect the life of Glenda's 12-year-old daughter.

As I wrote at the time, if David and Glenda moved back in together there was a good chance that her daughter would get lost in the dynamics of their tumultuous relationship and begin to develop the classic symptoms of a child who grows up in an alcoholic family.

But I was wrong, it didn't happen that way.

Seeking Another Enabler

Instead, they went their separate ways. Glenda found another man, but this time, she chose one who was willing to work side-by-side with her in her business. They were married and from all reports seem to be happy, contented and stable.

After their break-up, David went looking for another enabler. His alcoholism had already progressed to the point where he refused to seek employment because working eight hours a day would interfere with his drinking. With no job and few other options, he needed to find someone who would support his drink-all-day-everyday lifestyle.

He moved in with his elderly mother.

She Obviously Feared Him

When David's father died, he left David's mother Esther with a healthy savings account and some life insurance. At age 69, she wasn't wealthy, but she was financially secure. She also inherited the family business, which she sold, and most of her assets were in the form of money in the bank.

And David knew it.

He had always been able to manipulate his mother and after his father died and was no longer there to protect her, she was an even easier target. He used every manipulative trick in the alcoholic book - guilt, blame and intimidation - to get his mother to do as he wished, which was basically to finance his drug and alcohol addiction.

As we know from his relationship with Glenda, David was an abusive alcoholic. Esther claims that David never got physically violent with her, but she obviously feared him. He may never have actually hit her, but he certainly threatened her with violence and it was clear to her friends that she was intimidated by David.

She Found Al-Anon

The end result was when David moved in with his mother he was able to continue his daily drinking without having to work for a living. Over the next few years, Esther's comfortable nest egg began to dwindle.

Then something unexpected happened. Somehow Esther found her way into an Al-Anon Family Group meeting, where she began to learn about the family disease of alcoholism and the dynamics of addiction. She made Al-Anon friends with whom she would talk on the telephone and she learned how in trying to help David with his problems she had actually been enabling him to continue with his destructive behavior by providing him a place to live and money to feed his addiction.

Somehow, with the encouragement of her Al-Anon friends, she finally found the courage to change the things she could. She got up the nerve to tell David that he either had to get a job and pay rent, or he had to get out of her house.

His Boss Became His Enabler

Of course, his first reaction was to look again for another enabler, but by this time Glenda was already married and Julia, the mother of his son, was involved in a relationship. His options were limited.

In a way, he did find another enabler. Using the skills that he learned in his father's business, he took an entry-level job where he quickly made himself invaluable to his employers, particularly his immediate supervisor.

Because David was better at his job than his boss, his supervisor was more than happy to sit in the office while sending David out to the job site to do the actual work.

For David, this gave him a job in which he was outside most of the day and able to sneak a drink or two when he needed one. For his supervisor, David was the perfect employee, taking most of the work off of him, so he was more than willing to look the other way when he occasionally smelled alcohol on David's breath.

His new boss became his next enabler.

Injured on the Job

This all worked out well for both of them until one day, having had a few too many at lunchtime, David fell on the job and injured himself. When David went to the company doctor to get treatment for the puncture wound that resulted from the fall, the doctor smelled alcohol on his breath.

The doctor reported David's on-the-job drinking to his supervisor's boss, who immediately fired David for drinking on the job and driving a company truck while intoxicated. The result was David ended up without a job and without healthcare coverage.

Being an alcoholic, David's reaction was predictable. He went home and started drinking. He went weeks without getting any treatment for his wound, which became infected. As he continued to drink and stubbornly refused to get help, the infection began to spread.

Doctors Gave Up on Him

By the time a friend stopped by to check on him, the infection had spread to other areas of his body and the effects were visible. The pain was so bad David could not walk. The friend literally picked him up and carried him to the emergency room.

He was immediately moved to the intensive care unit. They treated the infection as best they could, cutting away large sections of his flesh and removing the infected parts of his internal organs. David slipped into a partially drug-induced coma and remained in that state for several weeks.

The doctors told Esther it was out of their hands, they had done all they could do. The nurses told her they didn't know why David was still holding on, they had never seen anyone in his condition survive that long.

A Second Chance at Life

Everyone had given up on him, but Esther, who loved him through it all, wasn't ready to let him go. She prayed that he would receive healing.

Somehow after six weeks, David came out of the coma and began to show improvement. He remained in the hospital for another three weeks, but he showed rapid improvement and was released to go home.

"I feel like God has given David a second chance at life," Esther said. "God has a purpose for him, something for him to do."

And David, who had just gone the longest time since he was a teenager without a drink, agreed. There was a reason that he was still around, he said.

That was three years ago.

A Choice, Not an Addiction

You would think that if you spend more than two months in the hospital when you walk out you are no longer addicted. It would seem that your body would have long since gone through the detoxification stage and you would be no longer chemically dependent. Your body would not experience cravings.

If you decide to go back to using drugs and alcohol after nine weeks of abstinence, it's not because you are addicted. It's because you made a choice to do so.

And that's the choice David made. Rather than take advantage of the fact that he a second chance to get it right and had been clean and sober for two months, he went back to smoking and drinking as soon as he moved back into Esther's home. It wasn't long before he was back to his previous level of consumption, drinking all day every day.

In his poor health condition, Esther could not bring herself to kick him out again.

Shocking Level of Consumption

A year later, David came for a visit, finally taking by himself that vacation to the mountains that he and Glenda had planned years ago. I was shocked at his appearance. The disease had definitely taken its toll on his body. The teenager I knew from high school and the man I watched live through three marriages was almost unrecognizable.

But what was more astounding was his level of alcohol consumption. During the short four-day visit, he consumed a case of beer and two half-gallon bottles of whiskey. And that's just what I saw him consume, there may have been more. I had seen that level of drinking before and it didn't end well.

Smoking Takes a Toll, Too

Everywhere we went that holiday weekend, he carried a fast food cup in his hand, filled with Scotch and ice. He started drinking from the time he woke up in the morning until he went to bed at night and never once appeared outwardly to be intoxicated - his tolerance level had developed to that point.

The smoking was getting to him also. It would take an hour of coughing after he woke up in the morning to clear his lungs enough to be able to talk. In fact, he couldn't talk long with coughing. I figured he had emphysema at best.

That was 18 months ago.

Back to the Hospital

The call came last week. David was back in the hospital. The wound from his workplace fall had somehow become infected again and when he stubbornly refused to go to the doctor, the infection quickly spread to other parts of his body, including his stomach and his brain.

But there was more. It wasn't just emphysema that was causing his chronic cough, it was lung cancer.

"The doctor says he will never leave the hospital," Esther said through her tears.

Anger and Grief

The end came quickly. The next day Esther called and again with the news that David was gone. She was devastated emotionally. She had been his caretaker throughout ten years of his illness, addiction, and abusive behavior, but she had loved her only child every step of the way.

My first response was anger. I was angry because I knew how incredibly unlikely it was for David to have walked out of the hospital three years ago to get another chance at life. As my anger gave way to tears, I grieved for the loss of my long-time friend and for the pain that he caused all of those close to him.

I grieved because I believe God had given David a second chance at life and he traded that precious gift for a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of booze.

A Family in Crisis

Chapter 1: A Family in Crisis
One Alcoholic Can Effect Many Lives

Chapter 2: An Alcoholic in Denial
Untreated Alcoholism Can Affect the Entire Family

Chapter 3: A Family Disease
There Is a Reason It's Called a Family Disease

Chapter 4: The Cycle of Violence
'Don't Worry, It Will Never Happen Again'

Chapter 5: The Cycle Continues
Repeating Behavior Over and Over

Chapter 6: What Makes Them Stay?
Why Do Victims Stay With the Abuser?

Chapter 7: A Progressive Disease
It Creeps Up on You Insidiously

Chapter 8: Passing It On
Passing Violence Down to the Next Generation

Chapter 9: Another Child Affected
Extreme Behavior Begins to Look 'Normal'

Chapter 10: The Final Chapter?
The List of Victims Grows for the Alcoholic

Chapter 11: The Cycle Repeats
The Violence Is Progressive Too

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