Three years after her passing, just after I turned eighteen, I was sent her journals from her ex-husband. Although Vicky never directly addresses her disease throughout them, you can compare and contrast her entries while sober and intoxicated which will show how alcohol infected her thoughts and emotions. Her trials and tribulations are captivating and it easy to admire her despite her addiction. My Aunt Vicky’s journals have given me insight into her disease and who she was as a person; I cherish them because they inspire me to lead a better life.
In 2003, 12,360 deaths were reported as a result of cirrhosis of the liver in United States. My Aunt Vicky became one death added to that statistic the following year when she died of cirrhosis of the liver caused by her chronic alcoholism. While many people believe that alcohol abuse only occurs within young adults and a low class of people, they do not understand that alcoholism is a disease that does not discriminate. Cirrhosis is one of the most tragic and painful consequences caused by the abuse of alcohol.
According to medicinenet.com, "cirrhosis is a complication of many liver diseases". Cirrhosis causes "abnormal structure and function of the liver". While some effects of cirrhosis are considered minor such as the yellowing of the skin, loss of energy, and itching, in advanced cases the effects include liver cancer, edema, (an accumulation of fluids beneath the skin of the ankles and legs), ascites (an accumulation of fluids in the abdominal area causing severe swelling), and even death. Learning about cirrhosis has led me to better understand what caused the terrible death of my beloved aunt.
In the summer of 2003, approximately one year before her death, Vicky and my Grandmother came along with my mother and her boyfriend, my brother and sister, and me on vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I was fourteen years old and I never noticed that my aunt Vicky had what would become a fatal addiction. Yet when I saw my Aunt Vicky’s swelling abdomen I was puzzled. "Aunt Vicky, are you pregnant?" I questioned. "No baby, I’m sick," she revealed, "But I will be just fine. I’m just so glad to see you!"
Throughout our vacation, Vicky’s spirits remained high as far as we could see, yet her disease was becoming more obvious. She couldn’t control her body any longer. Aunt Vicky got violently sick a few times in the evenings, but during the day she sat out on the beach seeming relaxed and calm. My grandmother, sister, and I had to take her to the hospital at one point during the vacation because the fluids in her abdomen caused such severe swelling and pain. Upon our arrival to the hospital she was surprisingly calm and acted as if this was nothing to be upset about. When we returned to the rental house a few hours later, she searched frantically for the bottles of Vodka my grandmother and mother had hidden from her.
As I witnessed Vicky rummaging throughout the cupboards and shelves of the refrigerator, I began to realize what was making her sick. After all the years of seeing her at holiday get-togethers I had always been so ecstatic to see her, that I never paid any extra notice to how much alcohol she drank. Despite her nonchalant attitude, I wondered to myself whether I had ever really known Vicky or not. After years of writing letters in between holidays, and spending every minute together when Vicky visited, I had never thought that she could be an alcoholic.
I was always under the assumption that alcoholics were terrible, irresponsible, and reckless people who had no decency or respect for themselves. To me, Vicky was my dear aunt, whom I was named after, that was generous, humorous, and so very sweet. I couldn’t understand what had been the driving force behind her addiction that led to her deterioration. After her death her journals provided me with the opportunity I longed for to find out more about her life and her experiences that I was once too young to understand.
I waited three years for my Aunt Vicky’s diaries. Her ex-husband, Jack, had misplaced them and I had grown impatient until one day I received an e-mail from Jack that read:
"Great news. I found Vicky’s diaries and I will send them off to you soon."
Even though at fifteen years old I thought I was ready to read her explicit displays of emotion, I know now that I wouldn’t have been mentally mature enough to handle it. The timing was perfect and I was overwhelmed with joy when I opened the package Jack sent me that included one of her shirts, Mardi Gras beads, and four diaries shortly after my eighteenth birthday.
At first, I tried to pace myself when it came to reading them. I wanted the element of surprise and suspense to last forever. Nevertheless, as soon as I read one page, I could not pull myself away. I hadn’t before seen such scrambled yet beautiful thoughts, quotes, and feelings written in any story, autobiography, or diary. What I found even more intriguing, was the fact that this was my own aunt that I was reading about. With every page, I better understood who my Aunt Vicky was and what she lived for. As I read, I felt her ups and downs. I felt her desires to be loved, her desires to be alone, and all of her times recorded, both in desperation and in happiness.
Ever since I could write, I, myself have kept a record of my life’s experiences and emotions in diaries and journals. I valued this connection with her that I discovered while reading her journals. I could identify with her on so many more levels than I ever had thought before, and sometimes I’d even find myself thinking, "that sounds like something I’ve written!" As if I was on an adventure, I unraveled mysteries involving my family that were typically not openly discussed. One such mystery was that surrounding the baby she gave up for adoption when she was just sixteen.
"I remember being pregnant, almost nine months, living in a hotel room Mom and Dad got for me because the family and neighbors could not know," she recalls in one entry.
In other entries Vicky talked about how she felt years after the adoption.
"I know I have a daughter somewhere. I pray she doesn’t hate me. I still to this day cannot forgive myself, so how can she forgive me?"
Vicky wrote about how she missed her fiance David after his fatal heart attack and how she believed that he was one of the few that truly understood her. Since Vicky lived in California, she wrote about how she missed all of us family in Ohio and how it simply wasn't the same after my grandfather passed away. All these revelations helped to answer many of my personal unanswered questions, and played a major role in helping to heal my family.
My mother and Vicky always had a rocky relationship, but now I understand why. They are alike in many ways, and the two sisters just wanted to protect and help one another. However, I learned that Vicky was too ashamed to accept help from my mother or anyone else in my family for that matter once her addiction had progressed into a disease. Vicky loved my mother, her youngest sister, and they had a deep connection.
There was not peace between the two, however, because Vicky desperately didn't want her youngest sister following her footsteps and felt guilty for any mistake my mother had made. I also learned about my Aunt Vicky’s compassion and her love of people. She wrote to always be grateful for friends and family, and I now remember to send a letter or e-mail to a family member just to tell them that I love them.
In February of 2007, upon my visit with my Aunt Jan in Florida, I shared the journals with her too and she found much needed comfort as well. Many of Vicky’s entries are addressed individually to her brother and sisters and to her mother and father. I began to share such entries through e-mails and letters and I know this is what she would have wanted. Vicky intentionally left the journals to me because she knew that I would take care of them and that I would appreciate and love them dearly. Not only that, but Vicky knew that I could relate to many of her stories and that I would even find advice within them. Vicky’s intent was to have these journals read, not only by family, but by whoever is interested. I know this by what I found written inside on of the journal’s covers.
"These are my thoughts through many years. Some good, some bad. I just hope that I have been a good person and have at one time or other made someone happy, or even better, made someone feel better about themselves." -Victoria VanNort
My Aunt Vicky’s journals have inspired me to make more people aware of how tragic alcoholism can really be whenever I get the chance. I re-read them on a regular basis, and I am reminded of my own struggle with alcohol and drugs and how I overcame it.
When life gets tough I push away the tempting thoughts of going to a party, or getting a six pack because I think of the entries Vicky wrote of regrets and mistakes. Alcohol abuse destroys lives, it hurts everyone around that cares, and it isn't worth risking the chance of addiction just because I had a bad day. The way my Aunt Vicky talked of her youth in entries of reminiscing has taught me to better appreciate my days because years can fly by so quickly, and one day you will look back and wonder if they were all well spent. I am also reminded to continue my own journaling every time I see her journals proudly displayed upon my bookshelf because one day my own writing may help heal and inspire someone else in the future.
While reading her stories of love, regret, happiness and melancholy, I feel close to my adorable Aunt Vicky again. I feel as if Vicky is right in the room with me, and after I finish reading, she watches over me. Her memory stays in my heart day to day, and whenever I am faced with a difficult decision or a time of hardship, I look back on her entries in a time of weakness, and I remember to be strong. Vicky’s journals have helped me to see a side of her that I never once knew. I was not disappointed in finding out about her addictions, her desperation, or any other embarrassing thing that she recorded in her diary. However revealing the entry may be, no matter how weak she felt, or how lonely she was, I am never saddened by it. I know now that Vicky is no longer in pain, and she is free from the spell alcohol put her under.
Although Vicky’s death sent waves of shock through me, her journals brought me much needed comfort, and my experience upon receiving her journals was truly magical. I developed a sense of closure that I had not received following her death, yet at the very same time I produced a dedication to remembering and honoring her life. I now know some of the factors that contributed her addiction to alcohol, and I understand why such a beautiful person’s life ended in such tragedy. Vicky’s journals are her legacy, and a truly wonderful one at that. I cherish them, and I intend on sharing them with the rest of the world one day. My aunt Vicky’s journals bring forth healing in a way that I never thought possible and I would be selfish to keep them to myself.
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