“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost
I’ve had many demons throughout my life. None tougher than coming to terms with the fact that my father is an alcoholic. I have never been OK with this fact and never will be. And it’s not so much the drinking I’ve had issues with (which is bad on it’s own) as it is the lies, the manipulation, and blame games that come along with it.
Why write about this?
Ultimately, it comes down to timing. I can either write my story or have it written for me. It is a demon that will haunt me my entire life and unless I summon the courage to fight it now, it will become all consuming. I thought I had dealt with my issues, in truth, I hadn’t. 5 years of work and I find myself exactly where I didn’t want to be.
Relationships are built on openness, trust, and vulnerability. If I can’t allow myself to be open, then my demon will manifest in other forms. Most likely in the forms of rage, sadness, and shame. And perhaps even fear. And I can’t have that. I want to be better.
Why not Journal?
I have, my journal is littered with my thoughts. However, there is a certain liberty in telling others. Over the years I have slowly gotten better at telling my story. It was hard when I truly opened up in private. In fact, I had a bit of a meltdown. It was a little argument over nothing and for no reason at all I brought up my Father. I thought my friends would shun me, but they didn’t.
And if I have so much trouble, even after working through most of my issues, imagine how many are out there who think they are alone, much like I did. It’s not fair and I say enough is enough. Children of Alcoholics deserve better, Families of Alcoholics deserve better… So it might not count for much but I’d like to at least try to provide some comfort for you and myself.
Children of Alcoholics
Perhaps those who suffer the most from a parents drinking. Children aren’t born independent, however, in most families they become independent. In families with alcoholics however, they remain dependent. They try so hard to please a parent who is unresponsive at best and at worst, responsive in all the wrong ways. They begin to blame themselves for problems they can’t control and feel guilty should they try to help the parent who is struggling. They are the ones who have to watch an alcoholic stumble home every night and slowly die. Alcoholism does not kill quickly. More likely than not, an alcoholic can live well into their 70’s or 80’s. And this is a lifetime of torment. What was once love for the parent turns into frustration, then resentment, and then bitterness. And because the alcoholic seemingly does not care, these emotions cause the child to hate themselves. They search for answers and find none.
Why does one become an alcoholic?
There can be numerous reasons as to why one starts drinking and it can be both situational and genetic (aka compulsive and addictive personalities). People drink more during depressions (or recessions), when they lose a job, or simply if they’ve had a stressful week (deadlines to meet, people to please, etc). The reason I believe however, is the simple reason they convince themselves they are unworthy of being loved and in doing so, it becomes prophecy. They believe so much that they don’t deserve love, that they are pitied, that eventually it becomes true even if it was untrue before; it is extremely heartbreaking to see.
It creates a cycle. And instead of receiving help, they play victim. They try to argue the opposite and flip the victim card unto you. Alcoholics have a tough time being vulnerable (don’t we all?) and are often too proud (or afraid) to truly open up. It is them against the world and they will use anything at their disposal to justify their habit.
If you’re wondering what emotion alcoholics feel the most, it’s shame and to the highest degree. Behind the Anger, behind the sadness, behind the fear, there is shame. If there wasn’t, I wouldn’t have seen a pattern in my own Father’s drinking. My Father sought treatment and has been going off and on. And every time I see him I have to wonder if he’s been drinking. However, there are days he is guaranteed to drink. More recently, his birthday. Most recently, Mothers Day. The next day I can almost guarantee will be Father’s Day. Days of celebration turn into days of torment for an alcoholic. Most tend to reflect on these days, whether they realize it or not. And unfortunately, most can’t see past the darkness they create.
The Alcoholism Paradox
It took me years to realize this and as far as I know, this term doesn’t exist. But there is a paradox that comes with drinking and it is this; the more an alcoholic drinks, the less they will remember. So, when one argues with an alcoholic, it becomes almost impossible to reason with them. Why? Because an alcoholic will oftentimes blackout and not remember the evening. And thus creates the paradox. For an alcoholic to truly heal they need to acknowledge and be open with their behavior, however, when confronted, the alcoholic oftentimes thinks the confrontation is an attempt to make them look bad and that they possibly couldn’t have done all the things one claims they have done.
Is Alcoholism a Disease?
In the end, it doesn’t matter so much whether or not alcoholism is classified as a disease. In my personal opinion, it is not. To put alcoholism (also referred to as alcohol abuse) on the same level as someone diagnosed as cancer is less than tasteful. And in the end, it makes no difference. Behavior is behavior. Actions are actions. Alcohol inhibits judgement and simply makes someone more of what they already are (or who they see themselves to be). It is not an excuse for lashing out at others even if it makes it easier to do so.
Is Alcoholism a Moral Failing?
No. Alcoholism is neither good nor evil. It’s easy to paint an alcoholic as a villain, as some being devoid of a soul. However, they are not. If anything alcoholism represents an exaggeration of the human struggle. However, in most cases, most alcoholics never reach redemption. There is no hero’s return and all that could’ve been never was. That’s not to say these statistics can’t change, however, it would take a complete societal overhaul to do so.
Can alcohol abuse be cured?
Yes. The simple answer is yes. How do I know? I’ve seen it and I’ve heard stories. However, it is not how we imagine. Instead of never drinking again, the once alcoholic might have a drink a night (or not at all). They learn to moderate their consumption. It would be great if they never touched a drink again, however, in most cases this is far from realistic.
Ideally, the system would be set up professionally. Instead of going into rehab, an alcoholic should first be diagnosed by a professional (in the field of medicine). Not necessarily for their drinking but rather any underlying conditions they might have, such as depression. Then one might introduce the alcoholic to individual counseling and later on they should gradually reduce the amount they drink through a detox center. Afterwards, they should be introduced to rehab in addition to support groups (groups such as AA, although I wish there were more). The key word being “should”.
Does Rehab work?
No. At least, not in the United States. Rehab in the U.S. has a hefty price tag and does absolutely nothing. It’s a business and everyone suffers for this fact. A lot of programs don’t monitor the patients and try to offer a quick fix for a cure. They take advantage of those who want to get better and it’s a damn shame. Patients get shuffled from clinic to clinic and the only ones who benefit are those who own the clinic. If you’re curious as to how rehab works in the United States, here is some of the limited research I was able to find on the subject:
How long have I known? Since Elementary School, so well over 15 years. The first instance I can remember is when I wandered upstairs one morning, entered the bathroom, and found about 5 empty wine glasses on the counter. And growing up I remember my Father slept a lot. He worked 12 to 16 hour days (5 in the morning till 5 in the evening) and when the evenings rolled around, he would either be sailing or asleep by 6. On the weekends? Yard-work or sleeping. It was exciting when we would go out as a family, however, excitement eventually turned into disappointment and embarrassment…
In Middle School, I was part of a bowling league. Every Saturday I’d go, and while it was fun, I always felt uncomfortable when my Father would place bets on whether or not I could make tricky shots. More uncomfortable was how he could never let anyone else pay for a meal (we always got breakfast before league) as though he was doing the other parents a favor. In Boy Scouts, he was always involved, however, it always felt like he cared more about the other children than his own. He would constantly be helping out and we were left to our own devices (so long as we didn’t wander too far). If we wanted to walk around our neighborhood? We had walkie talkies.
In High School, the economy crashed and while he had always drunk, it was far more noticeable at this point. And while our financial situation had changed, his spending habits did not. He still sailed and he still had a loving family, so there was very little reason to change. At this point in time, I believe my brother had just graduated High School and was enrolled in College. Also during this period, my Father bought a tractor (that was the day my brother and I stopped mowing the lawn) and as if that weren’t bad enough, drove it down the street to offer his help in mowing our neighbors lawns. As much as I wish I could make this up or add spice to the story, this is literally what happened. I chuckle now but it was quite embarrassing at the time. Anyways, fast forward to my senior year and my brother was forced to drop out of College due to “costs”. I was worried but looked past the situation as I had just been accepted to university. My Father had “promised” I would be taken care of and at this point I still trusted him, despite years of broken promises. During this period we had been to family counseling. My High School counselor was able to identify that something was wrong and while I saw the school psychologist for a bit, it was eventually recommended that we see counseling as a family. I was excited to go. And then my Father turned it into a joke… He truly believed he didn’t need counseling, that there was nothing wrong with him. And then I was off to College.
As a Freshman it was extremely difficult. I tried coming home on the weekends, however, my Father would always be drinking. And once my dog died, I stopped going home altogether. I was angry, ashamed, afraid, and sad. So many times I wanted to give up, yet I kept going. Eventually, after another argument at home over finances, I knew student loans were my only option. My Father made enough to support his family, however, due to his drinking and gambling addictions, we barely had enough money to buy bread. People would see our 3 car garage and think my family was well off when in reality we barely had enough money to keep the electricity going (and not even). When I started taking control of my finances, a miracle happened. I no longer had to join a class 2 or 3 weeks late (classes were 10 weeks for perspective) and when I got a job, I had just enough to get by. And my roommates? They were beyond understanding even if they didn’t know the details. I would not have graduated if it weren’t for great roommates, plain and simple. And my Mom. She worked while I was in College and that extra bit made all the difference. My Father would sporadically help, however, that would only be after arguing with my Mom for God knows how many hours. And I went into extreme budgeting, literally surviving off of eggs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Rent was as cheap as it could get and I never bought textbooks unless I absolutely had to.
Then my Father totaled our jeep… Another drunken escapade. He was forced into rehab and that was the only time I had ever truly seen (actually, more like heard) him sober. He wasn’t happy that his drinking had finally caught up to him and that, after all those years, his license was finally suspended. I took this chance to severe my relationship with my Father. At this point he was an obsession and I knew for myself to survive, I could only focus on myself. The conversation was less than pretty but I said what I needed to say. And from there I began to thrive. I became the person that no one would believe had trust issues and I was happy that I was finally able to break free from co-dependence. I had no one to blame for my actions but myself and I was finally free. If I’m not mistaken, it was around this time I stopped playing victim with my life and began to truly live it.
So come graduation, I decided to be the better man. I invited my Father to graduation and decided to give him one last chance. It was awkward but I felt it was the right thing to do. I wanted to see if we could reconcile, so after graduation I took a break. And for a while my Father was sober. He was going to AA meetings (I had always wanted him to go growing up) and we were having family dinners! It was wonderful and everything I could’ve ever wanted. And given a few more years, we might’ve resembled a family. However, nothing gold can stay. As soon as my Father got his license back, it was like a switch. He was mobile again and went for the nearest bar or liquor store… Did he resist the temptation? I can’t really say. Regardless of his thought process, the outcome remains the same; he is drinking again and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
Where does our relationship stand?
There is no relationship left, there hasn’t been in years. I am proud of myself for giving my Father another chance and while it is my hope that he does stop drinking, I won’t be around to witness the day. I hope he learns to open up about his past and learn to truly trust others, even if they might hurt him. I hope he can be vulnerable, to allow himself to cry and not think himself weak. And I hope he continues to seek help and it saddens me that this is the bridge I must cross, but cross it I must.
A relationship cannot exist without trust. And after a lifetime of broken promises, lies told, and feeling like I didn’t matter, the trust is gone. I can run from reality or I can face it. This is not easy to say let alone hear. However, it is important that I acknowledge the fact.
I will be fine. The goals I’ve set for myself I’ve accomplished and the pain has become bearable. I am independent and it’s time to step forward into the world once more…
And with that, my mental health awareness series comes to a close. A month of writing and many hours spent researching the various topics as well as reflecting on my own life. It feels as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders; I’m glad I was finally able to talk about this difficult subject after so many years. When I wrote my “Journey’s End” series on vulnerability, I mentioned one demon I could not yet tackle and I thought I never would… However, today and here on after I can proudly say I have. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve found some benefit from my mental health series.