My Dad, The “Alcoholic”, and Me
Slightly eye-catching title? I thought so. But hopefully by the end of this blog-post that won’t be the only reason you’re reading – and that maybe you’ll take your time to read any future instalments I may write. But for now, let’s just focus on the problems with said title. Am I not supposed to use the word alcoholic anymore? Using more literal terms – alcohol-dependent or simply an alcohol addict are suffice, and I understand why. But I’m not using the term alcoholic here in the way most students tell their friends, “you’re SUCH an alcoholic” because they love a few nights out a week. This isn’t a love of alcohol. This is a dangerous, love-hate relationship in which alcohol is only loved when it numbs feelings, imprisons thoughts or removes pain. And the second question raised by the title: is there three people described here? Now that’s difficult to answer – yes and no. Three human beings are not being discussed (my mum is not the “alcoholic”), but rather my own personal differentiation between the two embodiments of my Father.
In writing this I will probably shock even my closest friends and family members. I’m a closed book and like to keep all cards very close to my chest – but as part of a healing and grieving process, I am attempting to alleviate personal guilt and potentially make a difference. Or at least educate and open the eyes of a few. Without making this my detailed life story, I want to spread an insight into the reality of alcohol-dependence. I aim to highlight exactly how family and friends of a suffering loved one are affected. And I also want to continue breaking stigmas associated with alcohol addiction.
Writing this on Father’s Day 2018, I sit here as a 21-year-old girl, almost reaching three years grieving my Dad’s death. Alcohol-related liver disease. I’d just finished my A-level exams and was preparing to start my University adventure. When the slow killer with a sudden death struck. It’s honestly a feeling I don’t know if I’d ever be able to explain – a mixture of obvious heartache, with guilt, despair and surprising relief. Relief? Am I a horrible person? Or had I just slowly watched my Dad kill himself whilst I was way too young to save him. My parents split when I was very young, to which I then saw my Dad on weekends (along with my little sister from a subsequent failed marriage). This is where I saw the man I love, the man I label my Dad, the man who treated me as his princess. Running in the park, meals out, sleepovers, laughing as the three of us. This is where all of my happy memories were made, with a man that I would never get to know as an adult. The figure that loved and cared for me, but that I’d never be able to know as a friend. The man who will never meet my future husband, walk me down the aisle, or meet his grandchildren. In addition to his failure with romantic relationships, my Dad also experienced redundancy, financial difficulty and a strained family dynamic. This is the point at which I begin to guess the exact downfall in my Dad’s affiliation with alcohol. All you have to do is scroll down his Facebook page to see endless amounts of love from a multitude of his friends. Many depicted his large, loveable and crazy personality: detailing stories of late night karaoke and dancing to Madness. But when does alcohol-fuelled behaviour stop being fun? When you’re alone at home and drinking straight spirits in the morning? Every single day.
As a child I have a warped view of my Dad in this way – he wasn’t the “fun drunk” that his friends saw. I was terrified of this being – this drunk being, that wasn’t my Dad. There was no control, no filter for his words, no amount of toothpaste that could ever cover the smell. I would cower behind my mum and beg not to see him that week – or the next. And as the shy child I was, it took a while for me to warm up to my Dad again, even when he was sober the next time I’d see him. I’d cry if we were going for lunch anywhere that served alcohol. I’d pray we didn’t bump into any of his friends in case they invited him to the pub that night. I’d hope that every single time I saw him as my Dad that he would stay that way, forever this time. But the addiction won, and I lost. It was at this point, I informed my Dad that I needed some time to focus on myself and to sit my GCSE and A-level exams without emotional distraction. He fully appreciated my sentiment and promised me he would have time to work on himself. He was so proud of me, so proud of my decision to focus. And his forever lasting words to me were “Reach for the moon Gem, you will always land amongst the stars. I will always be your Dad”.
And as if his life was holding out for me to reach the goal of finishing exams, two weeks after my final exam I got the call. The call that I’d been expecting to be “I’m coming around to see you, I have good news and I’m ready to celebrate!”. But instead, it was of his death. Alcohol-related liver disease.
Alcohol-related liver disease.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully alleviate my guilt. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop wishing that I was the young woman I am today, back then when he was suffering. And that is why I’m sitting here telling this ‘story’ – because to you, the reader, that is probably all this is. And that is why all I ask of you is to spread this. As far as you can. I imagine that the majority of my friends never knew this information about me, and in turn there may be many unknown loved-ones experiencing similar situations. If I can help just one person with alcohol-dependence open their heart to the people around them who want to help them, then I have succeeded. If I can help just one person reach out to somebody they know is suffering, then I have succeeded. If I can help just one person realise that alcohol abuse effects people from all walks of life, then I have succeeded.
A funny, caring, smart, loving, passionate, hard-working man has been lost. A man who didn’t need alcohol. But for some there are no limits, just excessive and dangerous ones. The loss I’ve experienced is something I will forever hold in my heart. Please be kind, compassionate and understanding. Help others not lose anyone else in this heart-breaking circumstance.
Gemma Leah White
(21 years of age and is working on a process of healing and grief, with an aim to help others https://mydadthealcoholicandme.wordpress.com)