I Lost My Dad To Addiction

 Kevin Dooley
Kevin Dooley

There are a lot of things in this life that don’t seem fair. Evil women like Cathy in East of Eden get away with setting their parents on fire and abandoning their three week old babies. Innocent people are sentenced to life in prison, children are sold into human trafficking. It’s the sad truth faced when your pet turtle “runs away” in first grade. In reality and fiction, things aren’t pure or righteous. Justice is more abstract.

We live our whole life building this concept mishap by mishap. Incremental realization. I felt okay coping with and understanding the facts. But nothing could help me understand my dad passing away in July.

He wasn’t well, my family and I knew that for a while. I remember bits and pieces of my parents being loving, kissing. The other parts were loud fights and crying, him disappearing for a few days. It’s either me or the alcohol. My parents separated and he moved out when I was eight.

Our relationship wasn’t solid. I admit I was frustrated that even though I was his daughter, he acted like the child. I started to “hate” him with the more birthdays he missed and lies he told. No matter how many times he broke my heart, I shoved the bruised purples to the corners to make room for his return.

Because he always came back at some point. And as much as I tried to detach myself from the situation, I couldn’t ignore him. What I could ignore were my trust issues, my hurt, my anxieties and fears. I suppressed harsh feelings and secretly thanked God for his return. He was still my dad and I loved him.

I remember when we got the call that night in horrendous detail.

It was late, past midnight. The dimly lit room seemed to cave from the weight of worry as my mom waited for the police to call back. My dad had relapsed, after almost a strong year clean, and had stopped answering all phone calls, messages, texts. She walked out onto the porch, pacing and clutching her cell phone. I sat in the dining room looking down at my hands, weakly carrying conversation with my two younger sisters. We felt uneasy in this shitty moment of anticipation. After about ten minutes my mom opened the door.

“July passed away.”

I’d never experienced death before that night. Of course there were great uncles, distant relatives, cats. But this was a sickening thought that repeated itself over and over and over again against my will. We all kind of just looked at each other in horror. Horror is the only way to describe it. The rest of the night was a blur of crying and puking and hyperventilating and screaming until my throat hurt. I was afraid to wake up in the morning and remember he was gone.

He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone. I used to not be able to think it. Now I write it to myself and begin to understand.

His funeral was the single most depressing yet beautiful day I can remember. We all drove out to the Big Cypress Seminole reservation where he grew up to say our formal goodbyes. On the outskirts of the Everglades, Big Cypress has an almost otherworldly glow to its full, luscious land and distance from urbanity.

The cemetery was humid, mangled with Oak trees that seemed to weep with sagging moss. It was early in the morning and everyone we knew from the community showed. My grandmother, cousins I hadn’t seen in years, his childhood friends. We hung our heads together for our loss and silently rejoiced in the happy memories he gave us. We each grabbed a handful of dirt to cover the hole in the earth that finally took him away. I felt a soft relief and then a whole burden. I cried all day, all week, all month.

When you lose somebody you love, you have to cry. Spend days in bed because you’re just so fucking sad. I was afraid to lose control, to be lost in grief. But I found that the biggest step I’ve taken towards dealing with my dad’s loss is to let myself experience the pain without shame or fear. Only then could I begin to deal with the obstacles that are still to come.

I’ve experienced guilt. There were a lot of unresolved emotions, so many things I wanted him to know, so many things I wish I could have changed. I was ashamed of the way he lived his life, of his suffering and his absence. Of my absence. I was ashamed of the way I reacted to his relapses, how powerless I felt to his addiction. I resented him at times and I was ashamed of that.

At his funeral, I read a speech to celebrate his life and to forgive him. I remembered the times we climbed trees in the park, the American Dad episodes we laughed at, the way he would always try to teach my sisters and I fighting techniques. I remembered the time he visited me during my first semester of my dream school.

If I could talk to him right now, I would remind him of all these moments and tell him that it’s okay, that I forgive him for every mistake or miscommunication, that he can forgive himself. I don’t think you can move forward without forgiving yourself for messing up, or without forgiving others for the same thing.

When you lose somebody you love to addiction, you can’t blame yourself. It was and always will be out of your control, and this is okay. My dad was an intelligent, sensitive, hilarious man with a disease that he struggled with for most of his life. My mom and my sisters and everyone who cared about him tried to reach him. Ultimately, his life was in his hands and he made his choices. I’ve learned to accept him and his past choices because that’s what you do when you love someone.

When you lose somebody you love, it’s unfair. I would be lying if I told you time makes it better. I still find myself crying in the shower, feeling like someone punched me in the stomach. Why why why why why. Why him, why my July? It’s only when I take a step back and realize that there’s no answer to why, that it just is, that I feel sane again.

When you lose somebody you love, you love them forever. You allow them to be a positive presence in your life, whether it’s through memories, motivation, pride. Time hasn’t made losing my dad hurt any less, but it has allowed me to reevaluate what I think is important. And this makes me grateful for the time I got to spend with him as opposed to letting darkness destroy the way I live.

It’s excruciating, but it can be done. I know now more than ever that I have real family and friends who care and who are patient. We carry each other’s lives in our own through unconditional love and support, even after we’re gone. I saw it at my dad’s funeral, and I saw it on my worst days when I cried on others’ shoulders. This was the last lesson my dad taught me. He left a poignant, complicated story that I cherish and interpret into my actions every day.

Rest in peace, Daddy. I love you and I miss you like crazy. It’s hard without you here, it’s hard to know I’ll never get to talk you again. I want to show you every photo I take and tell you about all the weird things that happen to me in New York City. I can go on for pages. But you’re gone and I’ll learn to make the best of it for the both of us. Justice is more abstract.

So big kisses on the cheek, big hugs. Things will only get better from here. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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