I’m sat here writing this piece just over a week after running the London Marathon. And while the aches and pains from the arduous run have almost subsided now, the pride I have from running on behalf of Nacoa remains just as overwhelming as the moment I crossed the finish line.
I’m also writing this just three days removed from the happiest day of my life – marrying my beautiful wife – and it served as a poignant reminder of why I felt compelled to fundraise for this amazing charity.
My dad died back in 2007 of health complications resulting from decades of alcohol dependency. And while I’ve generally always tried to maintain that I’ve never been paralysed by his loss, recent key life events – such as the birth of my wonderful niece and, indeed, my wedding day – have really hammered home the gut-wrenching reality that my Dad won’t be around to witness the most important milestones in mine and my sister’s lives.
I was only thirteen when my Dad died and until this point, I never entirely understood the extent of his alcohol abuse. As far as I was aware, on a day-to-day basis, he would either be ‘normal’ – a charismatic, charming man with a wicked sense of humour – or ‘not-normal’ – usually signified by a hauntingly sullen look across his face, and incoherent, rambling and repetitive dialogue.
‘Not-normal’ Dad was also prone to fairly erratic, careless and, frankly, quite embarrassing behaviour. I still have vivid memories of the distress we felt when he inexplicably wandered off from a family gathering and went missing for hours, the humiliation of being laughed at by friends while they pointed at him as he teetered around picking up cones at my football practice with half his bum crack on show, and the anguish of staring longingly out the window of my primary school, three hours after the bell had rung for the end of the day, as he’d once again forgotten to pick me up.
The times I shared with my ‘normal’ Dad will always be the ones I cherish, but towards the end these became fewer and farther between. Days became plagued with terrifying moments like Dad collapsing and then refusing any medical intervention or shaking uncontrollably from alcohol withdrawals as he attempted to go cold turkey. Incidents like these were the ones that made me really start to understand the gravity of the situation, but by this point it was too late.
On the morning of Sunday 16th December 2007, I went downstairs to wake my Dad up to ask him if he was coming to watch me play football that day. I found him motionless, eyes wide open and unresponsive on the sofa, our young puppy, Roxie, still nuzzled in between his legs. It’s an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
After he died, I always regarded myself as one of the lucky ones in that I never believed I had any long-lasting scars. I buried my grief in dark humour and convinced myself that my life had, in some ways, turned out better as a result of his death, largely because of the potential upheaval that my Mum and Dad’s impending divorce was likely to have on my sister and me.
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to realise the gaping hole his death left in my life and its impact on my ability to build relationships. Having lost that father figure in my life, it’s taken me quite a while to get to a point where I feel I can connect with older male figures as I spent many years harbouring a level of distrust towards them. It also severely damaged my confidence in communicating with people more generally and I often concealed the struggles I had in building rapport with people by apportioning the blame on others for not being ‘my type of person’. It’s only more recently since meeting my wife that I’ve really started to recognise this, which has enabled me to approach social situations with less trepidation and also regain the confidence to feel like my voice is worth hearing.
It’s for reasons like these that running the London Marathon for Nacoa has felt so important to me. I never sought help before and tried to battle through things myself, but I recognise how invaluable the support services offered by Nacoa would have been to my family and I during those darks days.
Running the London Marathon
Without question, the Marathon proved to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My training paid off for the first 19-odd miles, but the final seven felt like I was running on one knee and there were many times where it felt like it might not be possible to reach the finish line. I’m not a particularly superstitious person, but I started wearing my Dad’s wedding band at the back end of last year to feel closer to him and when I was at my lowest ebb during the run, I gave the ring a little rub to try to find some inner strength. I like to think it made a difference.
I’m extremely grateful to all those that donated and feel great pride in having been able to raise money for Nacoa. It has felt like an opportunity to help maintain Nacoa’s vital services and hopefully contribute to a different ending to the story for someone else affected by alcoholism – whether that’s a grandchild getting the chance to meet their grandparent or a parent being able to attend their child’s wedding.
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