One of the terrifying things about the disease of drug dependency/alcoholism is that it affects the entire family, not just the individual. Too often, the family is added as an afterthought to treatment, or their pain and woundedness is ignored. One of the most articulate and poignant descriptions of what it feels like to live inside an alcoholic family follows. This is an essay composed by the daughter of one of my patients, whom I will call “Lana” to protect her identity. When I read it I was blown away by her courage, honesty and openness. I believe it says all that needs to be said about what it was like, what happened and what it is like now, for the daughter of an alcoholic who found recovery. To her great credit, Lana gave me permission to reprint her story on my webpage as she wished to share hope with others. Here it is:
Living with a stranger
Not knowing your own father’s true personality is very scary. As I was growing up, my dad was often away from home. My dad is a pilot, and I love that about him, but I was not able to tell him that when I was younger, because he was usually away gliding in the air. I sometimes thought my dad was a stranger; stumbling into the house after a long day’s work, looking very rough. I was very young at the time, not even in school yet. My dad was always a little goofy, probably because his best friend was a beer can. He usually held one close as he laid down on the couch to catch up on some of his favorite Star Trek shows. I loved him to pieces, but I never really knew who he was.
I was sometimes afraid of my father, I do not really know why; I just seemed to cling to my mom as his tall body emerged around the corner. As I grew older, having empty beer cans around the house was just a part of my life. He would occasionally ask me, “Hey Lana, Can you grab Dad a beer from the fridge?” I did as I was told, not knowing I was helping my dad transform into another person. I did not think my mom minded my dad being drunk. He laughed at everything he saw and said, but in reality, my mom did mind. They never argued much, but when they did, you did not want to get in their way. A lot of their arguments ended up in yelling. Sometimes they screamed. On a few occasions, I heard doors slam, or my mom’s voice crack. I just thought they did not get along. I got scared sometimes. I thought they would get a divorce. After one of their “disagreements”, I walked up to my dad, who sat on the table looking down. He whispered, “Dad’s been a bad boy.” I could see it in his swollen eyes that he was ashamed of himself. He did not like the way he was.
The next few months after that are permanently etched into my memory. My dad, my brother and I went fishing a few times. When we drove home I had to yell at my dad not to drive off the road. I was scared we might not have made it home. The last argument I remember my parents having, ended up with my mom slamming the door. I could hear sobbing from the other room. Things had gone too far. Within the next week, my dad called my brother and I downstairs for a chat. “Dad has been a bad boy”, he whimpered once again. I could tell he was not his usual self, and what he was going to tell us was nowhere near to good news.
My father was going to leave for a month to a treatment centre, where he and many other alcoholics would have treatment for their disease. I cried. A lot. My brother was upset too. We could handle his work routine of him going away for about a week or so, but a month seemed forever. That month did fly by though, and my dad came back a new person. He was physically healthier and he behaved normally. I was the happiest I have ever been, seeing my dad again after his transformation.
I can ask to talk to my dad now. He is more serious and fun to be around. We actually have father-daughter moments, something we never experienced before. My brother and my dad have more father-son moments. I feel like we are a complete family now. My dad’s recovery affected my life in every single way. If he had not gotten better, we would all be a wreck. My parents would file for divorce, and my mom would have to get a full-time job. She even told me this. I hope that he stays sober, and our family can live like a regular family.
Alcoholics Anonymous has helped my dad for almost 4 years now. When he comes home from work, I am always glad to see his smiling face and receive a warm alcohol-breath free hug. I would not change a thing about him.
Postscript – Lana’s father has indeed stayed sober and in recovery for more than 15 years now.