When I last wrote about Dan’s misuse of alcohol and his family’s travails in early September last year, everyone in his family and their children’s grandparents were more hopeful than ever for Dan’s turn-around. I was also hopeful but uncertain because relapses can occur many times for some alcoholics.
Everything went well for the family for eight months after Dan’s last drunken episode. To celebrate, Dan and Darla planned a private dinner at a fine restaurant in a nearby city for her birthday in mid-January.
Their children, ages 7 and 10, were capable of taking care of themselves while their parents dined; they were happy their parents were going out together. Darla and Dan expected to return home by 9:30 p.m., and everyone had their cell phones to use in case of an emergency.
Dan held the passenger-side car door open for Darla as their children waved goodbye at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday evening. Dan drove several miles down farm roads to reach the four-lane highway to the city when it became apparent to Darla that Dan was driving erratically.
Dan crossed the center line on their side of the interstate highway several times and seemed bleary-eyed. Darla asked Dan if he was too tired to drive, which he denied.
When Dan swerved several feet onto the shoulder of the freeway, Darla insisted he park their car on the side of the highway. She asked him if he had been drinking. In an irritated voice, Dan answered, “No.”
They didn’t have a breathalyzer to verify Dan’s claim. Feeling abject, Darla said they might as well return home, but Dan insisted they “eat out.”
Darla demanded that she drive the car. She turned around at the first available freeway exit to return to their home. When Dan noticed a highway sign for an upcoming restaurant at a truck-stop, he insisted they pull off for dinner so he could treat Darla for her birthday.
Darla reluctantly pulled into the truck-stop where the finely-dressed couple looked out-of-place among the truck drivers gobbling down food. Neither Dan nor Darla said much as they fingered their food, and Darla drove their vehicle back to their farmstead.
When they arrived home earlier than expected, their children were dismayed that their parents were tense and didn’t have a “fun” event to report. Darla asked Dan to use the most recent breathalyzer they had purchased, for he had destroyed four of the devices previously.
Dan went to the master bedroom to retrieve the instrument, but when he didn’t return after a few minutes, the kids checked the bedroom door and found it was locked. Despite knocking loudly, there was no answer.
Panic set in among the rest of the family and didn’t subside until Darla found a small screwdriver to push into the lock to disengage it. When everyone entered the room, they found Dan sprawled across the bed asleep.
Darla slept on the living room couch that night. She and the kids had finished breakfast when Dan emerged from the master bedroom around 10 a.m. The children had fed and watered the horses and chickens they kept as pets and for eggs.
Dan’s first words were “I’m sorry.”
He got no further, because his daughter shouted, “No, you’re not. You’re a drunk.” Darla cried as she proclaimed how disappointed she was that they could not enjoy a night out, which would have been the first birthday she had celebrated without a drunken husband for three years.
When asked if he had been attending AA meetings each Tuesday and Thursday when he left home during the evening, Dan admitted he attended the sessions regularly until the past month, when he began visiting a coffee shop at first and more recently a bar.
The family asked Dan for a plan, but he had none. Darla and the children stipulated that Dan would have to sleep in the basement by himself, see his counselor every week (which had also tapered off, and which Darla didn’t know about because she didn’t want to check on her husband like a probation officer), and attend every scheduled AA meeting, showing them a signed note afterwards. If he didn’t comply, Dan would have to live elsewhere.
Darla told me of these events a couple weeks ago. I mulled over the circumstances and still have uncertainties about whether Dan will straighten up.
Dan’s family is giving him ultimatums. He is responsible for his drinking. Will he choose his family over alcohol? He has been sober for the past six weeks.
I thanked “Darla” for sharing her story honestly and promised that I would keep the family’s identity confidential. I also mentioned that others are benefiting from her candid reports, to which she said she wants anyone dealing with alcoholism to learn from what is transpiring in their family. Stay tuned for further updates.