There’s a rule many bloggers adhere to: If it’s not your story, don’t tell it. This is the case for the majority of the story of my relationship with my dad. There is a small part that is mine alone, though -- one that I will share with you now.
I lost my dad to addiction. He is still alive, but the person I knew as my dad was swallowed whole by addiction years ago and most likely will never be seen or heard from again.
Image: National Archives via Flickr
(This image was used to protect our anonymity)
It’s a strange thing to have a parent who is an addict. So many emotions swirl around your mind. You want to reverse the typical parent/child roles and take care of them, but you resent the denials and obstructions thrown back at you. You want to be angry with them, but at the same time, you know that addiction is as much a disease as cancer; it’s indiscriminate, and without proper treatment it will prove deadly. You’re disappointed in yourself for the choices you are forced to make, none of which appear to have a successful solution. You question God or fate or nature for dumping this in your life, sickening your parent with this.
Somehow, even as early as kindergarten, I knew my dad was an addict. I knew he wasn’t like the other dads. He always seemed to be overcompensating for something. I also recognized his attempts to fight it or rein it in ... for whose sake, I’m not really sure.
I remember the effort it took him to take us to our extracurricular activities, because he was always tired -- but, for the most part, he did do it. I remember a particularly bright period during first and second grade. I remember him allowing me to watch The Little Mermaid several times in a row during a brutal heat wave, and commenting on how it would be awesome to live underwater, where it was always cool.
It was very rare for my dad to interact with my sister and me on our level, and even more so to indulge in such a childish want as watching a movie over and over again. During this bright period, he would pick me up from school. Most days, on the walk home, he’d treat me to something from 7-Eleven, and we would talk with Rose the cashier. It was in these moments that I knew all parents didn’t struggle like my dad, but he did, and these gestures were okay.
This was my dad, and this was enough.
I can also remember the beginning of his slow decline from dad to this person I don’t know. There was yelling about things that, as an adult, I know shouldn’t have been as big a deal as he made them. There was incredible pressure to perform well in school. There was tension in the air any time he was home. I sought escape through friends who would let me spend time at their houses. I remember trying to justify his behavior at first -- that I was capable of more than a B+ in fourth grade geometry, and that maybe I wasn’t the best at doing my chores, and that maybe I shouldn’t have given up the piano, thereby ending a potential scholarship opportunity to a prestigious private high school.
I remember wondering how I ended up with a dad like this, or maybe all parents were like this and it was just kept quiet. As I got older, I came to realize the truth. I remember getting angry at him and then feeling completely apathetic toward him. I was then fooled into thinking my withdrawal from him made a point and brought him back from wherever he was -- because there were times, amidst the chaos, that he seemed to mellow out and was more calm. It was many years before I recognized that this was just a cycle of his disease, that I had very little, if any, influence over his behavior.
It was within the past few years of adulthood that I realized I couldn’t save him, and it may very well be a fact that the person or idea I knew as “dad” is gone. I’ve gone through the stages of grief, save for one: acceptance.
When I was in my early twenties, my then-boyfriend’s brother passed away. Occasionally, I would see a person who resembled him and think “maybe… just maybe…” before reality would come rushing back. After I made my final peace with his passing, I never again had those thoughts. In the case of my dad, I will never come to acceptance. When I hear whisperings of rehab, I still hope this is the time dad finds his way back. On any momentous occasion, I hope that this time, it gives him enough motivation to crawl out from whatever he’s buried under.
When I hear of addicts who pass away and leave children behind, I often feel a pang of sadness that goes right to my heart whether I knew the person or not, such as I did with the recent passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. I often to say to others discussing the person’s death, “I can’t understand how a person can be so desperate for something that they’d willingly risk their family or their life.”
I don’t say this with the judgment that appears to be attached to it. I simply don’t understand it. I’m completely unable to find a similar situation I can compare addiction to. To this day, I have not found something that is stronger for my dad than the pull of addiction. Those two inabilities are frustrating when you’re one of the children that become the debris. You want an answer for why your loved one is this way; you want an answer that will fix it all -- but answers will never come.
I’ve thought about sharing this with you, the readers, for a very long time. I don’t want to seem as if I’m searching for sympathy or as if this affects me more than my dad. In a weird way, I think I’ve accepted that I’ll never receive acceptance, if that makes any sense.
For an amazing read of what it’s like to be an alcoholic you should read "We Don’t Start With a Needle in Our Arm" by Janelle at Renegade Mothering. Her post was the final push it took to publish this piece.
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