I just found out a few days ago that my uncle will not be coming to our family's Thanksgiving celebration this year. This is the uncle that I grew up with -- who is my godfather; who lived a block away; who could and did fix anything we needed; who told jokes with punchlines like "I left my harp in Sam Clam's disco" and "Silly rabbi, kicks are for Trids!" and offered milk by asking if we'd like a glass of "Chateau le Meyer." (Mmm, Meyer Dairy ... but that's another story for another post.)
He can't come because he is under house arrest after his second DUI. He has an ankle bracelet and can't leave the house except to go to work, nor can he have any alcohol in the house. The good news is that the punishment seems to be working. He hasn't, as far as anyone can tell, had a drink in a few months and he is seeing a counselor for the first time in his life.
I'm hopeful. I had been very concerned about him. For several years he had been in a downward spiral, existing on little more than coffee and cigarettes during the day and alcohol in the evenings. He lost a part-time job, one he very much enjoyed, when he showed up drunk. In his regular work, he builds houses so I worried about injuries on top of the possibility of car wrecks and disease. His wife tried to help and got nowhere.
Of course there's no one reason why anyone becomes an alcoholic. In his case, I speculate that it was a complicated soup of genetics, unresolved grief at the loss of his parents, perhaps an undiagnosed learning disability that caused him to do poorly in school and lack self-esteem.
I also believe that post-traumatic stress from his time in Viet Nam was involved. His brother (another uncle, whom I barely knew) also served and also suffered in the years that followed: abandoning his family, bouncing from city to city and job to job; eventually dying of cirrhosis and cancer in a VA hospital.
This post was inspired by today's Blog Blast for Peace. Because in the same way that I worried, and still worry, about my uncles, I worry about those soldiers, sailors, and airmen serving today, and about the repercussions that they and their families will experience for decades to come. Just like those commercials that proclaim "Depression hurts everyone," so does war, and in so many hidden ways.
For today, I am thankful that my uncle may be, just may be, healing. I hope he finds peace and comfort, and I hope the same for all victims of war.