Standing next to him at the time, comforting him during his last few breaths, I loved him just as many a son loves their father.
He had been my hero and I had idolised him, right up to the age of 13 years old. He had given me a passion for life, for sport, music and fun and with it, a belief that I could do anything I wanted to do. I recall feeling immensely proud of him and all that he stood for.
Then out of the blue “the light was turned off”……
My hero vanished, seemingly overnight, to be replaced by an imposter who looked the same and sounded the same, but who had lost any inkling of interest in me (his son). His interest now was solely in drowning his sorrows in endless bottles of whisky, which he would devour from the minute he returned from work through to the point of black-out every night, sitting in his armchair in front of the TV. At that time, in the 1980’s, I was typically woken up by the noise of the channel being closed and a grey-fuzzy screen.
My feelings of pride for him were quickly replaced with overpowering emotions of fear, of shame, of guilt, of humiliation, of pain, of loneliness – although I can only really identify this now, in later life. I knew in my young, immature mind that it was time to grow up and in that wonderful Great British way, “stiffen the upper-lip” and get on with it – a family trait from my father’s side which I had thoroughly understood and taken on-board at an early age.
So I chose to reinvent myself, although how consciously this was done, I would now question. I became an adult and left my childhood behind, in favour of taking responsibility. I started to lose interest in all the passions I had had before, in favour of less healthy past-times. I went into “protection mode” – to protect myself from any further hurt or pain, and to protect the unrecognisable, alcoholic man who lived in our house from the outside world. Living in a small English village, this was easier said than done and I was convinced and paranoid that the whole world were all gossiping about him, and worse still, about me…….as what was happening was obviously my fault after all.
I had well and truly started on my journey to learning unhealthy behaviours……learning not to talk, not to trust and not to feel.
Dad’s alcoholism progressed without hesitation into my adulthood and despite a very short period of sobriety, continued on its downward spiral. On many occasions, having distanced myself from him and his shameful alcoholism, and in turn lost communication, I would visit just to check whether he was still alive or not. He always was.
In 2015, as a shadow of his former, healthy self, he was diagnosed with soft palate cancer (the “drinkers” cancer) and passed away.
I myself, had grown up to be very independent, to have a beautiful wife, a wonderful young family of my own, a good job, a lovely home and to all outward appearances, a reasonably successful life.
The truth was however, that at the age of 42 years old, as my Dad was finally losing his fight to alcoholism (and his cancer), I’d realised that I had become someone who I did not like or recognise anymore. I had well and truly lost my true-self and I wanted to get “me” back.
During my earlier years following Dad’s demise into the bottle, and in my determination to protect myself from further hurt and pain, I believed that I had to control everything to cope with life. This would include both things within my power to control and things I had no right or power to control. I would ignore my true feelings (possibly not even allowing myself to recognise them at all) in favour of trying to make everything alright for everyone else, because in my own mind, that was what I had to do to make people like me and that’s how I found myself able to cope, diverting my attention from my own unrecognisable (painful) feelings onto something much more worthy, much more tangible, but belonging to someone else.
My life had become unmanageable. I had started to drop all of the balls I was juggling. My “metaphorical back-pack of hidden emotions” that I had stuffed away for over 30 years was well and truly overflowing. And in the process, I had completely forgotten myself and my self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem had hit rock-bottom. I was in need of help.
During the past 12 months, with some wonderful therapy and the discovery of NACOA and 12-Step Fellowships, such as Adult Children of Alcoholics (“ACA”) & Co-Dependents Anonymous (“CoDA”), I have regained my identity, found myself and started to re-connect with my inner-child. I had no idea until recently that there were other people in the same (or a similar) position to me, who were willing to talk about it so openly and honestly, and best of all, to support each other without judgement.
My life is now unrecognisable from where I was a year ago.
I am gradually learning new and healthy behaviours, which I often liken to learning a new language. With three small children of my own, I am really excited to use what I learn to help empower them to talk, trust and feel in their own honest ways, hopefully with the added benefit that this will allow them to cope healthily with the challenges which life will throw at them in future.
It’s challenging, but at the same time, is providing a sense of self-worth and self-love which I can honestly say that I have not felt before (certainly during my adult life).
For this reason, I will be eternally grateful to NACOA, ACA and CoDA in particular for giving my life a meaning and for allowing me to re-invent myself, in a much more positive way, for the second time!