My alcoholic Dad
Some of you may not have a clue what ‘recovery’ means. It has so many definitions, not just those found in your dusty copy of the Oxford Dictionary, but to anyone who has recovered from something.
In layman’s terms (the terms I often rely on to understand something), it’s the journey or process someone goes on to get better. So, with that in mind, haven’t we all been through some sort of recovery?
Each week, we will post someone’s recovery story. They might be members of our Kennedy Street team, our network of friends in recovery, or maybe even you.
This is my Recovery Story.
‘Recovery’ has been a word I have grown up with, woven into the tapestry of my past and etched into my psyche. I know it, I understand it, and for a long time I thought all parents lived ‘in it’.
While my primary school friends were visiting amusement parks and grandparents at the weekends, our family outings were attending AA conventions. Not every weekend, but enough for it to feel like the norm.
We’d attend parties and BBQ’s hosted by other families affected by the disease, where the only drinks served were cans of Coke and fancy sparkling grape juice.
While dad was attending AA, my mum was immersed in Al-Anon, the support group for families of alcoholics. Years later, when I asked how she coped for all those years, she just replied ‘Al-Anon saved me’.
Before dad’s recovery began, when I was about seven years old, we had existed in a cycle of his binges. Chaos and the inconsistent had become frighteningly consistent. Dad would be brilliant and fun for weeks, months, then one day simply disappear into his room and mum would set up camp on the sofa. Instructing us not to go into her room, as dad was ‘poorly’ again. The bedroom carpet drowning in a sea of empty vodka bottles, the stale air filled with his sick, strained voice pleading for more ‘booze’ (a word that still fills me with discomfort and sadness, when I hear it). Family members would arrive and whisper incoherently in the kitchen. Finally, the day would come when dad would be wheeled out of the house on a stretcher, neighbours’ curtains twitching. Mum’s head hung in shame, following him into the ambulance. An aunty placing an empathetic hand on my shoulder. Weeks would pass and dad would return home. Always presenting us with a ‘guilt gift’, the tightest hug and the remorseful promise that he was so sorry for putting us through this latest episode and would never drink again. Life resumed, until the next time.
But for about seven years dad was in recovery. This new and improved Superdad was just that, Super. Our home was no longer consumed with the stench, or sound, of ‘booze’. He was our funny, consistent, sober dad.
I can see now that he finally, after many years, tears and thousands of pounds spent on treatment, had managed to commit himself to his recovery. Something suddenly worked for him. Was it the imminent threat of losing his family? His drinking had destroyed two previous marriages. Or was he finally taking the Twelve Steps seriously? Who knows. Attending meetings, conventions, socialising with people he had shared experiences with, had all become his life-saving support network. He was finally in recovery, we were all finally in recovery.
Life was good and my parents decided to relocate us from the Midlands to Torquay, the palm tree-lined utopia we’d spent many a family holiday in.
Dad continued attending meetings and was even running a helpline for alcoholics, as well as visiting prisons, supporting the convicted addicts.
Our new norm was great. Unfortunately, this perfectly normal life was short-lived and the bubble soon burst. I’m not sure what happened to my dad. His new support network was solid, but clearly, something was missing. Within a few years of moving to ‘The Bay of Dreams’, his new business had failed, we were forced to move from our spacious four bedroom detached house, to a pokey first floor flat. It clearly had a profound impact on him. He’d been raised in wealth, was privately educated, owned large homes, drove fast cars and led a fast life. Mum used to compare him to Georgie Best. Sadly, their demise was also all too similar.
One day, something just snapped in his mind. He wanted to drink again, he could ‘handle it’, or so he said. Six years of sobriety washed away with a pint. Five years, multiple visits to the local ICU and a psychiatric sectioning later, he was dead. Years of liquid abuse had taken their toll on his weak, yellow body. His stubborn organs had finally surrendered, too battered, bruised and inflamed to continue fighting him. His mind was his body’s worst enemy. He had spent the final years of his life pleading with me and my brothers to kill him. We’d launch a counter plea, begging he try recovery one last time. Life could be good, he had all of us. But he’d given up. His mind was gone, his body and soul trying so hard to follow. Life became a struggle and chore, his zest and enthusiasm were gone.
This was life living with my dad and his addiction in a very tiny nutshell. What I have written really doesn’t do justice to his illness, or what we went through as a family. Perhaps I’ll write more in a future blog.
But it gives you an idea of what addiction recovery is, and the profound importance it has on addicts and their loved ones. The reason I’m so passionate about Kennedy Street, and I’m working so hard with the KS team to make this dream become a reality, is because I am painfully aware of the importance of creating positive, safe settings for people in recovery. A place to focus on something other than their addiction. This will be an opportunity for them to nurture talents, as well as self-belief, that have been overshadowed. Perhaps if my dad had found something he was passionate enough about, something that lit a fire inside him, he might still be here. Watching his children grow, fall in love and have kids of their own.
So next time you are faced with someone either in the depths of their addiction or trying to recover, consider what they might be going through. What has happened in their life to reach that point and how could you help them?
Thanks for reading,