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I have always been a little strange or so my Grandma always told me. She said she understood because she was a little strange too. We were two peas in our very own special pod, where we laughed and cried at the same things. Things other people didn’t understand always. At family cookouts, we would be side to side listening to our music and I would be mesmerized by her knowledge of every song, its composer, performer and meaning. Country music was her church. She said for every emotion there is a country song to match that will help you process any emotion or situation possible. Of course she was right! We would sit out under the stars on summer nights from the time I was a baby until she passed away five years ago at the age of ninety-eight. Her death brought with it life-changing upheaval for me and so began my journey with addiction and autism.

The loss of Grandma

Grandma watched me from the sidelines as I tried to navigate the world. My mom didn’t understand why I didn’t want to go on playdates or mix with other kids. My Grandma understood though. I loved my own company and the company of animals and my Grandma of course. I always felt disconnected from everything except from her and my dog. I’ve always had to have dogs. There is a need in me to connect with animals that is unfathomable for many but completely natural for me. I never had friends really. I was and still am on the periphery, just like my Grandma. It was me and her, our dogs and our music. Until she died and left a gaping, deep, dark hole in my world like I’ve never felt. Everything was hard for me including work and relationships, but I got through life in my own way. I didn’t understand then why I wasn’t like other people, but I didn’t care because I had her. After her passing, I had to start to understand if I was going to survive. I was forty-two when she died, but in many ways, because I was content with my routine and sheltered life, I was naive, maybe a little childlike in ways.

New Chapter

I lived in the same town I grew up in. Still do. I had the same job as a checkout girl for ten years and I loved it. I’d moved in with my Grandma around the same time I started my job. She was getting unsteady on her feet and it was better for her to have someone around. Naturally, my extended family suggested I be the one to keep her company. I was thrilled of course, and we lived happily in our own bubble. I’d been on a few dates with different guys in my time, but all that just wasn’t for me. Simplicity is what made me happy and I never felt the need to have deep connections with people outside my family. It felt like more of a chore and anyway, I was rejected quite a bit. Life is easier for me with less people in my life. When the most important person of all passed away, I couldn’t cope at all and I spiraled out of control.

Alcoholism, grief, and autism

The shock of losing her led me to a complete breakdown. I started drinking in the hope it would bring me some peace. It did, for about six months, and then the alcohol became the problem. I started being late for work or missing work altogether. My family was desperately worried and my mom wanted me to move back home with her. My level of despair was so deep I didn’t want to feel anything anymore. I drank every night and woke every day shaking. I got through my days numb and unphased by anything. My boss was sympathetic but sympathy runs out when you turn up still drunk or not turn up at all. He eventually told me to go get some help and when I’m better my job would be there. So I did, with the help of my family. I got into therapy and went to AA meetings. Meetings terrified me and after three months of terror sitting there, I stopped going. I hadn’t stopped drinking anyway, so I’m not sure anything sunk in.

New revelation

I continued going to therapy which was easier for me being one to one conversation. I started to open up and while I cut back the amount I was drinking I didn’t stop completely. I spent eighteen months going to weekly sessions where I dealt with my loss, and also discussed my difficulties with everything in the modern world. The more I talked and opened up, the more I revealed what was hidden my entire life. My therapist suggested that I might be neurodivergent, specifically autistic. She felt I had many characteristics and it may be helpful if I had an assessment with a specialist. I did lots of reading about the condition before I agreed and a lot of what I read was extremely familiar. It sure sounded like me, and it also sounded like my Grandma.

The me I didn’t know

The results of my assessment arrived in the mail about a week later. By that time it was no surprise that it showed on was on the autism spectrum. It takes a while to adjust to that information. You are still the same person, but it feels like you are just being introduced to yourself. Lots of things started to make sense as I thought about my life growing up. Being happy in familiar places, not needing or wanting friends, not fitting in anyway, my connection with animals etc. There was a lot more that made sense but its too much to write here. I then had specialist therapy which helped so much to understand myself and after about three years, I was able to let go of the bottle for good. Alcohol filled the hole that the loss of my beloved Grandmother had left and as I got to know myself better and matured finally, I could fill the hole myself.

I live now with new eyes and new understanding. Sometimes I get angry that I didn’t know all my life, but then I realize that I was really happy so what does it matter? My diagnosis and the support I have received have helped me explore a little further in the world but my lifestyle hasn’t changed much. Simplicity is the key and that keeps me content. I still sit out under the stars on summer nights listening to music with my dogs by my side and the awesome memories of similar times with Grandma. And of course I’m sober now.




  1. Thank you. I was diagnosed with autism 17 years after being in treatment and AA. It was a paradigm shift. I I’ll do AA but recognise that alcoholism is offer Alcohol Addiction and Autism and the dire to change needs to be tempered with the knowledge that some change is impossible. Divergence is not a character defect and can never be removed

    • I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear grandma, but I wanted to thank you for your article. Having been recently diagnosed with mild-to-moderate Autism Spectrum Disorder, I too am trying to negotiate my path through an often confusing (and at times, alarming) world. My NA sponsor was the one who picked up on it, and thought I should consider being evaluated, and I followed up on her suggestion. I have just started therapy with professionals whose specialty is ASD. There are a few good articles on the internet on the subject of addiction and autism, although some are fishing for new clients.

      As traumatic as it was for you when your grandmother died, you were so fortunate to have had her in your life for as long as you did. I was alone and either living in my own head or in books for most of my life. I guess the fascinating world of books and the resultant love of learning was to me what your grandma was to you, because I don’t think I was very aware of feeling “lonely.” But addiction claimed me, too, and relapse followed relapse. Your story has given me great hope for the future, so again, I thank you!

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