I had a normal life. Mornings filled with sleepy eyes and getting ready. Days of chaos and learning. Evenings with family time and laughter. Life was good. Until things changed. Mornings and days became filled with anxiety and stress. Family time turned into secrets and lies. My mom would leave the house for hours in the middle of the night with only the explanation – “I’m helping a friend.” What friend needed her help four times a week during the oddest hours? It seemed like an unsolvable mystery. After months of being left in the dark, I received an answer.
My dad is an alcoholic.
Instantly, sympathy and worry consumed me followed by many questions. My mom explained the situation, and I found out that my dad had an alcohol addiction which formed 10 years ago. He got through it and had been sober ever since. However, it resurfaced last March. My dad went to rehab, but he only stayed for a week. When he came out of rehab, he talked with me and explained he felt fine. He assured me it would never happen again and that he would fix it.
I made the mistake of believing him.
The reality of the situation had not hit me yet. After the conversation with my dad, I continued my relationship with him as though nothing had happened. Texts and calls from him were constant and loving. He attended all my band and color guard events as usual. Things seemed normal. I expected a normal life with a normal dad.
So when disappointment hit, it hit hard.
He promised he would come to my solo contest for band. After 30 minutes of being late, I called him to figure out when he would arrive. No answer, so I texted. No reply. My dad always replies. I buried my disappointment and went on with the show. My mom then received a text from my dad’s girlfriend and found out my dad had been admitted to the hospital. My mom drove me over there all dressed up from my contest. We walked through the doors and the moment I saw my dad I became terrified. I felt scared of him, not for him.
He looked like a zombie. Bag surrounded his eyes filled with a mixture of thoughtfulness and numbness. He struggled with every movement as though his limbs weighed 1,000 pounds. He had busted his head open and blood covered half of his face while bruises covered the rest. He fell while drunk.
As he spoke, he slurred his words to the edge of incomprehensible. He mumbled something about how he felt bad and how it would not happen again. Those mumbled words became my breaking point. He said those exact words to me before, and apparently he lied. At that instant, all trust in my dad disappeared.
The next months were filled with disappointments, lies, hospital visits and watching my dad check in and out of rehab unwillingly. I could not go to my dad’s house, not that he ever spent time there anymore, and he almost never texted or called. I no longer expected him to show up to my events, and he did not, but that did not make it hurt any less. I blamed myself for his drinking and no matter what anyone said, I would not change my mind.
The summer of disappointment had come and gone. Hospital visits became less frequent and he became more sober. I had my first day of school outfit picked out, eager for a new beginning. For the past 11 years my dad picked me up for the first day of school, and we would get breakfast before. I called him the evening before and asked if he would still be able to take me, and he said he would. I woke up the next morning and got ready for my first day. I anxiously waited on the porch for my dad. Five minutes went by. Then 15. As each minute passed disappointment replaced my excitement. After 20 minutes my mom called me back inside and told me to eat breakfast and go to school, and I reluctantly obeyed. My dad had abandoned me and anger returned.
I began isolating myself from him. My dad never showed up to any of my events from that point on, and I went through three months of school filled with anger. At the beginning of November, my dad willingly checked himself into rehab for the first time. After countless rehab attempts, I put no thought into this one. I dismissed it and figured he would be out soon enough until I realized my dad would be missing Thanksgiving. And for the first time, he would be missing my birthday. I spent the entire month dreading that day.
On Nov. 13, my life once again changed. This time, for the better.
I found a support group, called Alateen, for teenagers who have alcoholic parents. I went into my first meeting alone and sat there silently listening to the four other people talk.
When asked about my experience, I whispered the short version and returned to my silence. The whole process amazed me. Teenagers led the group, not the adult sponsor. And the teenagers got to pick what they wanted to talk about each meeting. The group welcomed me in and I realized other people were experiencing the same things as me. After the meeting, I told my mom I wanted to go back.
All week I looked forward to next Tuesday. Each meeting I went to I spoke a little more and learned a lot. Now, I am willing to share freely with the group and they became my second family. We love and support each other, and we know we can lean on each other while going through difficult times. Through Alateen, I have learned I am not to blame for my dad’s drinking and that he suffers from a disease.
My dad went through rehab successfully. He stopped drinking and has been sober for more than 150 days. We have begun to repair our relationship and my dad has been more involved in my life. I know things will never return to how they were, but they can get better. An alcoholic will always find an excuse to drink if they really want to, and I cannot do anything about it. I am not responsible for “fixing” the alcoholic; I am responsible for taking care of myself.
I have learned I am allowed to feel anger and disappointment, but I can choose how I deal with that. While I cannot always control things, I can control my response to them. I know that no matter what I am going through I am not alone.