I’m writing this in a fairly emotional time as I want to accurately portray the hurt, the frustration and the sadness of being a child with an alcoholic parent.
My alcoholic father witnessed his alcoholic father tying a rope around his neck in the basement when he was little. He was successfully able to talk his father out of suicide. All of his siblings initially hated their father for being an alcoholic. But after life’s troubles stepped in, they all succumbed to alcoholism. When I was in high school, my dad’s mother, sister, and brother all died from either lung cancer or alcoholism. My dad was the one that held it together, the one that was in charge. He tried so hard to get each one into rehab, but they would always sign themselves out. Without the will to change, there was nothing that could be done. My dad was a generous man who was always helping others.
My dad was incredibly strong until my sister and I discovered he was having an affair with a much younger woman. I only discovered this because around the time my grandmother died, some lady in Brazil consistently added me on Facebook to try to send her well wishes. After the third time of rejecting her, it became quite clear that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t the usual weird Facebook random add. My sister and I eventually found messages informing us that she was planning to move into our cottage. She also was under the false impression that my dad had divorced my mom.
After my parents divorced, my dad lost everything to alcohol. He lost his job from what I presume was being consistently drunk in the workplace. He lost his family from his abusive words. He eventually lost his friends. I would sometimes wake up to 60 voicemails informing me how stupid I am, how incompetent, what a bitch I am, etc. Those weren’t easy words to hear from your own father.
I barely kept contact with him over the last ten years. He only had my email from past circumstances. It started to feel with as nice as I was, there would be no change in behavior. I would always receive abusive messages after he attempted to be kind. However, I always felt this obligation toward him. He would spend Christmas alone because he alienated everyone, and it tore my heart to shreds even thinking about it. It’s not that I didn’t try; I tried to make visits but he’d reject the offer. He wanted to isolate himself.
Three weeks ago I received an email notifying me that he had broken his leg and needed help. I responded back with “Dad, you must call an ambulance,” but I received no follow-up. My boyfriend convinced me to call the police for a wellness check. Had it not been for my boyfriend, there was a part of me thinking that my dad was lying and doing this for attention. How could he not be able to call an ambulance? Turns out it was the truth.
The police came and notified me that they were unable to go in through the front door so they went in from the backyard door. The house was deemed a clutter house. They were unable to get a stretcher into the house because there was no clean path. I heard this but didn’t understand how bad it was until I was standing in the middle of it.
I eventually went to see him in the hospital when my exams were over. When the nurse told me he was in a specific bed, I walked in and walked right out. There was no way that could be him. It was a man with a long white beard and long white hair. A man that looked spaced out. He stared at me with no reaction. Eventually he acknowledged me. My heart was pounding the entire time. I had to put on a facade that everything was perfectly fine because I was worried that by acting the way I felt—scared and guilty—it would only harm him more.
The medical professionals had warned me he was a bit all over the place but he constantly told me how he hears my sister making fun of his house through the walls and how my sister screamed nonstop at him at her wedding last week (she isn’t getting married for months). He wasn’t mad anymore. He wasn’t vengeful or hateful. He was broken. He was hearing things that aligned with his regret and confirming that everyone hated him. Also, he had a look of confusion when I informed him none of these things had happened, they were all so real to him.
I always thought my dad was an alcoholic. I thought there was no question. I even phoned multiple nurses and social workers to let them know, but my dad didn’t show any signs of alcohol withdrawal. Nothing in his labs indicated he was continuously drunk. He made an excellent point when I sat next to him on his hospital bed as he spoke with the social worker. The social worker asked him if he’s an alcoholic and what his family would say if he was asked that question. He responded by telling her that he knows he thinks his family would think he is an alcoholic but he doesn’t believe it’s that black and white. He drinks because everyone left him to be by himself. His heart was broken. He even had to ask his former boss to be his medical power of attorney because he had no one else.
I stood in front of my dad, a prior vice president of a international corporation, and watched how humiliated and broken he was. He didn’t even want to be in a meeting with me where they go over his condition and possible discharge. He didn’t want to hear again how his mental capacity had declined. He then admitted the reason he stopped working was because he’d forget things constantly or mix things up. Everyone attributed this to severe alcoholism and didn’t give him a chance to show it may be loneliness or other conditions which he self-medicated to get over his loneliness.
The word “loneliness” wasn’t easy to hear; I could have helped but didn’t.
It’s easy to put a label on something but I do agree with my dad that it’s not as black and white as it seems. I also think it’s important to understand that when hurtful things are said, it’s not your mother/father/brother/sister, it’s usually the disease talking, whether that is bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. You’re not stupid. You’re not incompetent. It’s just an angry, broken person who needs help and doesn’t know how to ask for it.
We went back to his house. My dad had no will to live. There were 3,000 beer cans just thrown in piles that I took to recycling. There were boxes of old food. There were dead mice and feet of rubbish piled up. He lived on a couch that was collapsing. The smell was so horrible that my sister and I wore respirators that made no difference. It just was a visible representation of how he felt inside.
It took all of this to realize that I wish I never turned my back on him, that there was more to the story that I wasn’t willing to hear out. They say you should remove toxic relationships, but sometimes people do need you. Had I been around, I probably could have stopped this early on. Easier said that done, I know that. A therapist once told me that many people regret not being in contact with family members once they die; they wish they had done something differently. This probably wouldn’t have been as bad if I knew that I could have gone to his place once every few months to check in. I’m feeling guilt now because the dad I grew up with is dead. He’s no longer there. I lost my chance to turn things around.
I suppose my main point is for those suffering with a family member who has an addiction, think long and hard if you want to cut them out of your life. Don’t do it out of anger. You’ll eventually regret it. Try to do what you can do; sometimes it’s nothing. And please, I beg, know that the mean and hurtful things they say aren’t them. It’s the medical condition speaking out.