WhiteFlag Outreach Coordinator
Growing up, 6 out of 7 days a week we would have family dinner. Unless we were out of town for my brother’s hockey tournaments or my AAU basketball games, we always sat down at our dining room table and enjoyed a meal as a family — and still to this day, this was one of my favorite memories when my parents were still together.
Except on those dreadful Tuesdays.
Tuesdays were my parents’ golf nights. Every spring and summer, they had their own little getaway from all their hard work — duties of taking care of me and my brother — and they got to decompress by golfing with friends.
Tuesday nights, though, after golf was over, always turned into me not knowing the type of dad I was going to see stumble into the house.
Was he going to be hammered? Agitated? Angry? Happy? Emotional? Which one of my dad’s drunk alter egos was I going to see walk through the door?
Was he going to freak out on me again for putting the cups in the cabinet the “incorrect” way? Was he going to yell at me or my brother for laughing too loud? Was he going to bitch and moan about the grass not being cut straight enough? Was he going to chase me up the stairs again full of rage because there were dirty dishes in the sink?
We never knew. And that was terrifying to me. Tuesdays quickly turned into my least favorite day of the week. I dreaded it each and every week.
This was when I first started realizing my dad had a drinking problem.
When I was younger, I never realized the implications of my dad’s drinking. I didn’t realize the all-encompassing impacts it would later have — to everything. A beer, or several after work seemed normal. A six pack on the boat seemed normal. A shot before going to a family party seemed nothing short of the norm. I never once questioned it. It wasn’t until I was in high school, and these distressingly dreadful Tuesdays, that I started noticing the other side of his drinking. I started witnessing the arguments he would have with my mom daily, annoyance that grew within him with my brother and I. I saw the excruciating hangovers, and I started to notice the drinking happen more frequently. It turned into an every night ordeal. An every night situation. Watching hockey on the couch? He had a beer. Sitting down for our infamous family dinners? He had a beer. Going on the boat? The cooler was definitely packed.
Listen, my dad is amazing. I will never, ever deny that. He never neglected his dad duties when I was a child. He came to every single one of my basketball games, picked me up from practice, was friendly to all of my friends, always provided for the family, and always wanted the best for me and my brother.
But, at 30 years old, this is what I know now.
Living with an alcoholic is like a slow-burn novel. You do not realize how intense things are until you look back at situations. And that is where I am now. What I saw as a normal Tuesday afternoon as a kid, turned out to be something that well over a decade later has continued to have an impact. What I thought was normal behavior, turned into something much more serious than I ever expected.
Even today, I question the “dad” I am going to encounter when I call him, even while living 12 hours away. One thing I know with almost certainty…it won’t be my “sober dad.” Will he be overly loving and complimentary? Will he be bothered and annoyed? Will it be the man living in denial? Will he even answer the call? Are his words going to slur and make absolutely no sense? Am I going to hang up the phone in utter confusion as to what the hell he was just talking about? All of those are more common than I’d ever like to admit.
That is the problem with having a parent that is an alcoholic. The uncertainty. The inability to know the true person you are living with or talking to.
What I do know now is that alcohol is my dad’s right-hand-man. Fireball is his kryptonite. Now with me living hundreds of miles away, the only communication I have is through the phone. And I know instantly when my dad is drunk. It’s easy to tell nowadays. More times than not, he’s drunk or on the road to getting there. I know when he’s had beers with a side pint of fireball, and I know when he’s had a bottle of red wine with a side pint of fireball. He’s either emotionally talking to me about things that life has thrown at him, talking in circles that make my head spin, or he’s just repeating his same stories he told me the last time we talked. I never know what to expect or what I’m going to get out of the conversation, other than anger and frustration. I hang up the phone each time scratching my head, shaking my head, exhausted from what I just had to sit and listen to, or my eyes full of tears.
While his drinking is becoming more prominent in his life, it’s now taking a toll on his relationships and friendships. Most importantly, the relationships he has with my brother and me. My brother works with him. Every. Single. Day. My brother sees him sneak a beer on his smoke break. My brother sees him go to the gas station and pick up his pint of fireball. My brother constantly has to question him. My brother sees my dad’s health decline, daily. He, too, has to question the phone call he’s about to receive from my dad. Is it him getting rushed to the hospital again? Is he drunk and pissed off about something at work? Is it back-to-back phone calls or long, slurring voicemails that are extremely hard to understand?
Again, we both never know. It’s the constant fear. The fear of never knowing what phone call we’re about to get.
I learned another thing, now that his addiction has increased over the years. He has an excuse or justification for absolutely everything involving his drinking. He either had a rough week, no one understands what he’s going through, he could easily stop drinking, I’ll never understand what he went through growing up, or it’s just a couple shots — the list of excuses is endless.
The thing that is most heart wrenching is that he simply doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that his relationships with my brother and I have changed dramatically. My dad thinks he’s ultimately invincible. He thinks that he’s Superman and every time he has had a health issue, he has overcome it. It’s never gotten “bad enough” for my dad to want to stop. It’s my and my brother’s fault that we are upset about his drinking because we, too, drink.
“Why can we drink and he can’t?”
“He’s got it under control.”
“He busts his ass 60 hours a week at work.”
“His drinking is not nearly as bad as what he had to witness with his mom’s drinking." (Which, by the way, in a short amount of time, took her life.)
“We don’t get it.”
Again, the patronizing excuses are a never ending list that is added to each time we talk.
I feel utter helplessness. Even though I’m not physically there to witness the demise of my dad through his drinking, it still affects me. I can only assume what he’s doing day in and day out, and 99% of the time, I’m correct. It takes 2 seconds for us to be on the phone for me to determine if he’s drunk or not…at any given time throughout the day. My dad’s drinking affects me every single day. I worry about him every single day. I wait for the unbearable phone call that my dad is back in the hospital every single day.
I have had to question a lot of things. Why can’t my dad stop drinking? Why does he simply not care what his drinking is doing to himself? Why does he not care what it’s doing to my brother and I? Why is he choosing his relationship with alcohol over the relationship he has with his children? I’ll never understand it. I don’t want to understand it because I don’t want to accept it.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to accept, however, is that I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I have had to give up on the fantasy that my dad would ever put the fireball down. I’ve had to give up on the thought he’d be sober. I’ve had to give up on the thought that my dad would actually get help. I’ve had to give up on wanting his sobriety more than him. I’ve had to give up on thinking that I can fix this. I’ve had to let those unrealistic expectations go.
Through all of this, I now have found peace and comfort. I found comfort in knowing that there are thousands of others who have had to deal with a family member who chose alcohol over them. I now know that there are people who have had to let go of their loved one’s disease and heal on their own. I now know that healing is possible. That pain can be eliminated. And understanding can be told.
On the WhiteFlag App, I have found all of that. This app has allowed me to have unyielding conversations about my dad’s addiction. It has allowed me to never feel judged when I talk about the trauma and flashbacks I have from his alcoholism. It has allowed me to speak truthfully, freely, and has empowered me to feel understood. Instead of masking the pain and helplessness I have constantly felt, I can now relate to others and be accepted by others. I have received an abundance of support, all by being completely vulnerable and open.
Healing and acceptance is manageable; one conversation at a time.
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