I thought no one would understand what it was like for me – but you may find they do.
So I guess I should start by telling you about me. I’m 34 years old, but throughout my childhood and younger adult years I had a difficult relationship with my father. 18 months ago that relationship came to an end, as sadly at the age of 64 my dad passed away – as a result of alcoholism.
My early childhood memories of me and my dad are fun, happy times. I’ve often been told by my mum that my dad was a great father when I was younger; he really helped her in raising me and my sister. I guess I never really noticed alcohol and a problem with my dad until I grew up a bit more, probably around the age of 9 or 10. Just things like noticing dad’s speech going a bit more slurry, or him appearing really tired in the afternoon, or his eyes being more red / yellow.
I remember I used to find empty drink bottles, hidden in the garage, and thinking at the time that it wasn’t normal. I remember the friction it caused in the relationship between my mum and dad. It was obvious that dad was causing problems, and also had money issues, and I was noticing more and more arguments between my mum and dad – especially after I had gone to bed.
My parents divorced when I was about 14. I completely understood my mum’s decision, and agreed it was for the best. So then it became me, my sister and my mum in the family home. My mum did, and still does, a brilliant job on bringing me up and teaching me everything I know – I couldn’t have had a better parent. So I had great stability in my life from that perspective, one which I am very grateful for.
After my dad moved out he lived in and around our home town for a couple of years. I’d see him a few times a month, usually over at his flat, or we might go camping or something. When I was with dad, he generally did not drink too much – I recall – but there was no doubt he drank when I went to bed, or once Id left. I still found drinks hidden away – almost as if he didn’t want me to know he was drinking.
A few years later my dad was in a new relationship, and re-married, but then unfortunately divorced within the year. A sign at the time that he was very difficult to have a relationship with. By this point I was at university, and whenever I did see dad I still noticed he was clearly drinking.
Dad did get into a new relationship around this time and was relatively stable with this partner for a few years. But ultimately the same pattern of events occurred, drinking, money problems, and then hiding his heavy drinking. So that sadly did not end well.
He then had a period of years where his drinking was out of control, he could not hold down a job (or accommodation) and went through a period of time in a hostel and a dry house. Whilst this was a very sad time for my dad, I did hope it may be the ‘rock bottom’ that he needed. He certainly had the warnings from the doctors too.
This was the first real time he openly admitted to me that he had a drink problem, and that he was getting help, and would not drink again. Dad did manage to find some stability in his life again, managed to move into his own shared accommodation, and the occasional bits of work.
A few years later he got together with a new partner and really did seem happy with her – and they moved in together. Dad’s life did become the most stable it had been for some time. I would see dad once or twice during each year, and whilst he was happy, and settled, it was clear he was still drinking though.
I remember my last long weekend that I spent with dad, at his home, the summer the year before he died. It was a lovely 3 days, but also stressful as it was evident he was drinking heavily again – the tell-tale signs of slurred speech, tiredness, red/yellow eyes. The really worrying thing for me though, was that I only saw him have one can of lager that weekend. So wherever he was drinking, he was doing it in hiding.
I saw my dad one last time in the Easter of 2014. He didn’t look great, very tired, drawn and edgy in himself. I’ll never forget the summer of 2014. I’ll never forget the moment my mum came to find me, I could tell by her face that something was wrong, and I knew it was my dad. He was taken ill, suddenly, overnight and within days was in a high dependency ward. Sadly just over 3 weeks later he had passed away, his body had given up on him, and ultimately died from organ failure as a result of alcohol abuse.
Losing my dad was the hardest thing I have ever gone through, and I imagine there won’t be many more things harder than that in the rest of my life. I think I always knew that sadly it was going to end for dad in some way like it did. But there is also that bit of hope in you, where you think they may be able to stop their drinking.
It is difficult understanding the impact of alcohol on my dad. It’s something I have been trying to deal with most of my life, and now he has gone I reflect on it all. Could things have been different? Could I have helped more? Could he have changed? Why did he drink so much? Why did he hide his drinking? Will I become an alcoholic? So many questions and little answers. But I do know that dad had a caring son and daughter, and loving partners, and many friends – he had all the support he could have asked for. I do still have the feelings of guilt over what I could have done, but I find these thoughts more manageable now – when I take a few moments, and think through everything I did do, I know I could not have done more.
Things did not end well for my father, but I do know if he could have been more open, more honest, there was support out there for him. Should you be reading this and looking for help for your parent it is out there. Should you find yourself going through hard times, speak to someone.
Nacoa have a fantastic range of support options to you on the phone and email. Speak to friends, and where possible other family members. I remember when I was younger thinking that no one would understand what it was like for me – but you may find they do. It has only been in recent years, as I have learnt to be more open with my friends, that I have learnt about their struggles with a parent and alcohol – or a friend they had who was in a similar situation.