The thing about being the child of an alcoholic is that there are just so many strange, conflicting emotions that don’t ever make much sense. One minute you love the person with the addiction intensely and want nothing more than to have their love and acceptance in return.
Two seconds later, you find yourself filled with utter and complete rage and realize that you could not possibly care less if you ever see them again.
From the time of my conception, I was a loved and wanted child. My mother was, and continues to be, a loyal and rock-solid mom that was hell-bent on raising me in as normal of an environment as possible given the fact that our environment was anything but normal.
I often shudder to think that there are so, so many children out there that have horribly addicted parents with no advocate. No one to really look out much for their well-being. No one to put their pictures on the fridge or to tuck them into bed at night. They are alone and feel unloved.
Because of my mother and the family that surrounded me, this was not me. But don’t think for one second I don’t realize how easily it could have been.
When I was three years old, my father, whose family owned a local hardware store in which he managed, decided to build our family a new home.
It dwarfed our first home.
I distinctly remember that my mother spent time getting my beautiful princess-like room together and although I was upset that she did not honor my wish for a purple room (thank GOD), the yellow one that did ensue was out of the pages of a fairy tale. Canopy bed and all. I felt like a cherished and loved little girl. I was.
When we moved into this new home, I ran around the living room while exclaiming, “We live in a castle, we live in a castle!” because to someone who is about three feet tall, it was a castle.
I was thrilled. I think we all were thrilled. It was a new beginning and another piece of the family puzzle that my mother had so wanted to put together. She was certain they would have more children to fill up this new house.
Life Lesson Number One: THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM.
But unfortunately, soon after we moved into the new house, things began to get strange instead of better. I could always smell a medicine-like smell in our formal living room. Sometimes I would find plastic tumblers of drinks behind floor plants or the couch. As a curious child, I would smell these drinks and I remember thinking that they smelled funny.
It should have smelled funny to a three year old because it was alcohol.
My father, who had been quite the life-of-the-party for most of his life, was now more than just a social drinker. He had a very serious problem and it began to impact us all. Mostly, it affected my mother who slowly began to see that her family puzzle just might not come together as she had planned.
She was correct.
Fights were commonplace. Unstable behavior was evident. Anger was a constant though it was never directed towards me and always towards my mother.
He was a very typical addict.
After so many treatment centers and therapies and programs, my mother had no choice. She was going to have to leave my father.
When she made this choice, it was the bravest, most selfless thing she could have ever done for me. She saved me from a childhood of constant confusion, sadness, and heartbreak that so often becomes the fate of children of alcoholics. She loved me that much.
That being said, confusion, sadness, and heartbreak still were emotions I felt as a child, just not constantly. My father, who bounced on and off the wagon, also bounced in and out of my life. When he returned, he was the hero – he would take me shopping and buy lavish gifts, we would go to fun places to eat, see movies I would not have been allowed to see with my mom. I loved him.
But at the time, I was too young to understand that he didn’t pay a penny of child support. My mother was too graceful to ever tell me this – she just would grin and bear it when I returned home with my loot and listened as I gushed about how much I loved my father. Sometimes I thought she wore a weird look on her face but being all of seven or eight and completely consumed in my own world, I didn’t think anything of it.
I was coming off of a few years of trauma and she was still in it. But I just didn’t know.
He often didn’t show up when he was supposed to. I was never really sure if I would actually be spending the day with him or not until I saw his car in our driveway.
For a young girl who hungered for a father, this was devastating.
And so it went. Pretty much for twenty years.
Now that I am an adult, I view alcoholism as I would any other disease because it is exactly just that – a very horrible and powerful illness. It often makes the user feel so out of control, so ashamed, so overwhelmed that the only solution is to well…drink. And drink some more. And some more.
I remember watching my Gramsey, my father’s mother, wear such expressions of sadness and worry but it wasn’t until I became a mother that I fully understood the scope of her anguish. She had sung him lullabies. Bandaged his scraped knees. Wiped a tear out of his eye when his feelings were hurt.
And she was watching her baby ruin himself physically, emotionally, spiritually – humanly. It was complete destruction.
My father was the kindest, most loving and generous person. He was loved by so many and respected by even more. When he was sober.
He held a business degree from an honorable university. He provided well for his family. He was in rotary club.
THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM.
He was not immune. Proving again that addiction knows no boundaries. Regardless of gender, race, socio-economic status, education level, it’s there. It works its glorious power over those most vulnerable and sits on them until they say “uncle”.
Which is often when they are lowered into the ground.
I often have people ask me if I am ever frightened over the fact that I might have inherited the alcoholism gene. Since he is not my biological father, this is obviously not a worry.
But while DNA may not be a worry to me, the tracks on my heart left by this disease are enough. Enough to make me aware. Enough to watch myself and others I love.
There is so much more to my father’s story. It will come later because it won’t make sense to share it out of chronological order. I’m sorry for the loose strings kind of ending but it will make sense when the story is complete.