According to Alcoholism Statistics, “An estimated 6.6 million children under 18 live in households with at least one alcoholic parent. About 43% of adults in the US (76 million people) have had a parent, child, sibling or spouse who is or was an alcoholic. Currently, nearly 14 million Americans adults-abuse alcohol or are alcoholic.”
My father was a drunk; his father (my grandpa) was too; so was my father’s eldest and middle sister; his brother-n-law; and his mother (my grandma) in her later years.
Growing up, my father was one of the ‘kids’ himself. He always cracked jokes and laughed, making anyone feel a part of the ‘cool kids club.’ Sundays were also known as “Sugar Sunday,” where my father stocked up on sweets and candies before I was sent home to my mother. He purposely made certain I was all wired and hyped up on junk food, therefore, my mother was responsible to put me to sleep. Not my father.
He thought it was funny. Mom never did.
It is why for many years I looked up to my father. He turned everything into a joke or some sort of game but as I got older, I realized how truly he was unhappy with his own life. For years, he turned my mother into a villain and faked up court documents where it stated false accusations. The bigger problem was when my father and his other drinking buddy, and roommate, jumped my, now deceased, stepdad, Jeff, in front of me when I was thirteen years old. That was the first time I experienced a panic attack, as well as getting dragged into my father’s game of “do not speak of anything I do here.”
The day he relapsed with drinking was about a month after I graduated high school. Although, my father’s drinking was never a secret though. The irony was everyone, including my mother, her sisters, and even members on both my mother’s and father’s side of the families knew of it. Just no one spoke of or addressed it.
So, I will.
A week before my high school graduation, I found out that my father might attend the ceremony. I had not seen him for two weeks. Panicked and confused, I called a few relatives on his side of the family. My uncle (my father’s brother-n-law) later confirmed that my father was not going to be reachable because he was already a few days into rehab/detox. About two to three weeks earlier, apparently my father showed up beyond inebriated to his family’s house, ready to fight. My father’s inner circle family kept telling me how angry and a mess he was. My father allegedly asked for professional help for his drinking addiction. Apparently, what scared him was when my aunt and her daughter (his eldest sister and his niece) told my father if he kept drinking and going on his benders, he would die and never get to be here for important events in my life—his daughter.
It was a secret of my father’s that later became a problem, including for my own life because I held in what was truly going on from both my friends, family, as well as my mother.
My father was ten pounds lighter when I saw him at my high school graduation the following weeks later. He was already a petite man, but he appeared…“normal.” Although he was quiet, it was better than his usual drunken state of mind.
For about a month or so that summer, my father moved back into his childhood home, where his father, eldest sister, brother-n-law, and niece lived. It was now his new lifestyle of adapting to a day-to-day basis of staying sober. It was also a new environment for me to adjust to as well, whenever I visited my father. After all, my father and his side of the family had a tendency of getting into physical fights or arguments, in general, over unresolved matters. That included money, the passing of loved ones, and most of all their game of “who has been sober the longest.”
Everything scared me.
For the first time, I was able to watch a movie or a television show in peace, without being asked, “Who was that” or “What are you watching,” and all the other annoying questions that Drunk Dad usually rambled on about. The sad reality was that my father and I were not as close as I thought. We were actually strangers and always were, at least in my memory. My mother is not happy when I admit how the only time, I recall dad being, well, not an asshole is that short two to three-week span of his sobriety during the summer of 2010.
The truth was I did not know the real him, and my father never knew me. It made sense why he always asked me one too many questions. This included why I was a writer and pursuing the film world, yet he was the first to brag of my dreams and once-time-ago hobbies to everyone. That is not a joke. Sober Dad had zero memory of what my dreams and life goals were; but Drunk Dad was the first to hop on his feet and run around (literally he did because I was often blinded sided and dragged) to all his colleagues, friends, and family, whether they did him wrong or vice versa. To him, I was the results of his socalled great parenting. It was a game that Drunk Dad played and showcased how my dreams and current “condition” was his pride and joy. Basically, it was to rule out that he was the socalled better parent and that my mother was the socalled shitty one.
The reality and this is for anyone who can relate or not to others taking credit for their own self-care and hardwork: I was always my results of self-work and self-dedication, and NOT of anyone else’s.
At the time, back when I was eighteen years old, I also learned how a majority of recovering addicts found other substances to replace the addiction. For my father, it was candy and drinking gallons of coffee. So, his relapse a few weeks later was both inevitable and heartbreaking for me, as well as for many people in his life who wanted my father to maintain a healthier, sober lifestyle. Yet the red flags started just two or so weeks before I got the phone call of my father going off the bandwagon after a brother of mine picked him up and drove them to a drinking buddy of theirs. Before, it was more of my father’s former drinking friend—you know the sort of people who turned the cheek, not addressing the elephant in the room, if my father claimed he was sober but snuck in a sip or more. It is also one of the reasons why I cut ties with a brother of mine and for other reasons, I will hopefully one day be open of. Besides the dead giveaway of something being aloof was my grandfather’s house no longer smelling like caffeine and my father’s inner circle side of the family turning their cheek more often whenever I asked, “Where is dad” or “Why is dad always going for long walks” and “Why is dad going around the city by himself?”
There was always some sort of bullshit excuse.
Besides, my father was more agitated to leave the house whenever I showed up, especially once he saw my brother. Often, my father used me to drive him around for whatever excuse he told me he needed to do. Although I always had a bad instinct with his newer—ironically his old habits—behavior, I was also terrified of losing him as both a parent and as a potential friend. Deep down, I already knew what would inevitably be done by cutting ties with him in the following weeks.
I was also preparing for my first semester of college. I took extra caution whenever my friends and I hung out, especially if there would be any alcohol. There usually was because everyone wanted to party before we went our separate ways for college and aka our own adulthood ventures.
It was a fucked-up time, especially when my father gave me some parental advice just weeks before his relapse on being “careful” when it came to drinking alcohol. He told me that drinking was “hereditary” for his side of the family, therefore, I avoided going to bars for about a year or so. It was my now psychologist who later advised me to go to bars and be out with friends. I later saw my psychologist’s point in encouraging me to do so because of all along, if I drank it was never to escape, and not dealing, with whatever obstacles life threw my way.
At the time, still fresh and raw from his relapse, I was a college freshman and immediately connected my father’s addiction to my own surroundings. I avoided any location where there could possibly be alcohol, including signs ups for the college sororities because, for whatever reason, it left a bad taste. For a while, I convinced myself that if I had a slight interest to drink, then I was an addict myself. So, I threw myself into my studies. That was also the moment when I started re-editing stories of mine, including a manuscript and a soon-to-be feature film I directed and produced last year. If I was not working on homework, writing, or editing, then my nose was buried in a book. All these outlets were great distractions.
Once some of my friends and, ultimately, relatives on both sides of the family found out of my father’s relapse, it was both relieving and painful. Some of them were supportive and, in fact, rooted that I cut all forms of communication with my father unless he got sober. Others, of course, the inevitable and cliché of the elephant in the room or skeletons in the closet, either cut ties with me or even badmouthed me. Most recently, I found out that a cousin on my mother’s side held (or still does) a grudge against me for me not having a relationship with my father.
Yet the sad reality, and again what many people, in general, go through, is that blood does not nor ever will mean shit if love is not involved in the picture. Love goes longer ways, including what I have experienced (and still do). The word ‘family’ has a new meaning. To me, ‘family’ is about people not judging you for your pain, going through a difficult time or patch in life, and especially not calling you a liar for being outspoken on the truth. That is the truth itself—I consider a handful of actual blood-related relatives as ‘close,’ and I can count to ten or so colleagues and friends, who are not blood-related to me but are like family to me. A lot of those colleagues and friends, and yes this is a cliché, but it is the truth, make up for those relatives (again, not all) who are strangers to me because they were not in favor of me addressing my father’s relapse and addiction.
Plus, I learned after reading some passages of AA, that when someone is truly in recovery and taking it seriously, then they will go out of their way to make amends with everyone who they hurt or possibly could have. It is going on nine-years and never once did my father ever apologized, even when I brought it up to him countless times. I was either greeted with an “I have no idea what you are talking about/Natalie, I don’t remember so I have nothing to apologize for.” But I gave my father the benefit of the doubt, even when he accused me of being an ungrateful brat because he has done so much for me.
Did I mention how my own father told me the only reason why I was (still am) a writer is because of him? Once I cut ties with him, he made sure to throw into his text and even handwritten letters that I would fail without his help. The irony is, and I once wrote this to him just fresh of his relapse, the only “help” he gave me with my work was him blabbing so much that adults and people who genuinely wanted me to achieve my dreams told me to run from my father.
Once my sophomore year of college arrived, I was writing daily whether that was before or after my classes. Also, I hung out more with new and old friends. Best friend movie nights were ritual again. I had also accepted bar/club invites. For the first time, I was able to drink without feeling guilty. That was also the first year I took my first screenwriting course, where one of my professors had my classmates and I write about a personal experience of our choosing. The irony at the time but I found a lot of solace and the beginning stages of closure from doing so. What was also ironic: Drunk Dad came back into the picture, where I ultimately blocked my father everywhere.
As I was trying to recover from a lot of, let me say it, unresolved family matters of the sins of both my parents, brother, and other relatives, I started addressing the elephant in the room because I was tired of no one talking about, well, moments where people like my father put his or other lives in danger. So, it was expected for many of my relatives (again, not all) saying horrible things to me like “Fuck you, Natalie” and whatever curse word some of them called me in order to feel like a bigger person. Sometime during my sophomore year in college, I missed my father and wanted to make amends with him. We texted on and off, however, my instincts kept giving me red flags. So, I hesitated to meet up with my father, especially once I started hearing through the gossips and worries of that my father was still drinking. My confirmation, heightening those red flags for me, was when my brother started drinking and smoking pot more and would often hang out with my father before or after his own addiction. The dead giveaway was when my father started to text, and even call, my mother behind my back, claiming that I had the socalled problem, aka I was holding a grudge. He also called me a brainwashed child by his family, once I started telling my father how I no longer trusted him and encouraged him to go back to rehab.
In those moments, I started to realize how much in deep denial my father was in, especially when he started to blame me for his addiction aka, I needed to either get “over it” or “ignore it” in his eyes. Once I took the steps in addressing the whole, “No, you’re the addict. I’m not,” it got even uglier. The texts and even voicemails of him hurting me or how he was going to make a pit stop at my mother’s house increased. For a while, I was terrified of coming home, thinking my father was often waiting for me. Once, I told my mother—or should I admit how my father I guess screenshot my defense of protecting myself to her—she only took my phone. Her solution was to ignore my father and not play into his games, and for a while, I listened and did what I was told.
But when my grandfather passed away during the second semester of my sophomore year (my father’s dad), shit hit the fan when my father took out his anger for his already falling apart side of his family on me. You know that saying of it cannot get any worse, well it did with my family (again, not all but enough of the immediate circle). By that point, I was about a year into therapy and through my sessions with my psychologist, she guided me to understand how my father was actually in, not only denial, but pain. I understood that my father was angry with himself because he never made amends with his own father. Trust me, that took a lot for me to admit to myself, especially when a part of me wanted to sought revenge on my father. I was not okay nor ever felt I could trust him again, once he sent vile text messages my way, and even tried to call me just hours after my grandpa’s passing.
Days leading up to the funeral, I knew drama was about to hash it. It did. I fell severely ill and was running a fever at my grandfather’s funeral. A lot of one-on-one moments with my grandfather popped up in my mind, both on the way and back home from the funeral. It was memories of my grandfather and how he was not shocked or horrified of my father not attempting to make amends with him. To be honest, I always felt my grandfather was not disappointed with his son but in fact, he was finally coming to terms with his own peace and the realities of the unresolved family matters. I felt my grandfather’s peace was being able to talk to me about all the family chaos, as well as being able to have a bond with me before he passed. At the time, I knew it was okay to break the news repeatedly to my grandfather of dad not wanting to talk nor have anything to do with me as well.
I will forever cherish those moments with my grandfather. In the end, my grandfather was able to maintain his sobriety for the last fifteen or so years of his life. I give him credit for that, especially not being around, or ate least containing little to zero memory of his ‘bad days.’ For ninety percent of his ‘bad days,’ I was not even born. My grandfather was known as the “asshole” to many people. Whenever a few neighbors or friends who went to high school with my parents, found out I was Nash’s granddaughter, they either apologized or their mood went a complete one-eighty, where they suddenly had to leave. Those who stayed often asked me questions, and the most popular was “Is Nash still a crazy fucker?”
But that was my grandfather and my relationship with him taught me that I was not, nor ever will be, in a place to judge him due to his past, especially not being around the mess. To me, my grandfather was the definition of an adult who knew he was not perfect and made horrible decisions but took ownership in his faults. I would like to think he knew that.
Plus, back at my grandfather’s funeral, I was also sick to my stomach when I saw my father crying and claiming how he had a great relationship with his dad. Regardless of my grandfather admitting to me, just before his passing, how he never heard from his son. I was also shamed by both my father and his middle sister, who was kind and generous to my face. Yet, the minute that particular aunt saw her daughters (cousins I had not seen in years) approach me to say hi and basically catch up, she literally dragged them away and said that was enough. Aka, I was the bad guy for speaking up, and maybe for even showing up to the funeral, clearly there for my grandfather and not for some weird, rival game that my father and his sisters were playing. I refused to pretend we were a socalled happy family. It pissed off my mother, and I know she will not be happy to read this but again, the truth is the truth and I am no longer sugarcoating anything, now going into my sixth year of therapy.
Yet, I was also very ill and burning up a fever and lost a bunch of weight due to stress that I had a relapse with an old coping mechanism of self-harming. For years, I was ashamed of it.
About a week or so after my grandfather’s funeral, I came home, still sick from the sadness and stress. I actually left school early to sleep it off. But the circumstances changed when I saw father parked outside my mother’s house. Once he saw me, the engine shut off and my father got out of the car. He charged at me, ordering for me to shut up. Ironically at the time, it was my brother, who was no longer living with my mother or I, who shoved my father out of the way, away from me. It was just in time to slam the door in my father’s place and be back alone. Instead of being able to confide in my mother, who only called and blamed me for my father’s action, I reached out to a local church. I prayed for my father and until this day, I believe that was the moment I reckoned with the reality of family values and taking care of myself.
Being a child of an addict and coming (clearly) from a family where addiction, abuse, dysfunction, and even ignoring problems that arise IS expected. However, I disagree with that analogy and that does not make me, or anyone who can relate to this thread, a bad person IF they disagree with these socalled set rules or values. To me, addiction, abuse, and people who have the actual problem, like my father and other relatives, should take ownership for their faults. In my opinion, I believe any parent or family member who harms others, especially their own child(ren), should be thrown into prison or ordered by a judge to take parenting classes.
But that is also the reality where I need to accept the other part. It might take months to years for certain people from, now, my past to take fault or responsibility for their actions, or it could also never happen on their end at all.
Six years into therapy, I have been told repeatedly by my psychologist that individuals such as the addicts or abusers in my family are far too deep in denial, or continue their lives on a self-destructive path. For six years, my psychologist’s words of, “Natalie, it is not your fault/Natalie, you are not supposed to take care of people like your dad, his family, or your mother/Natalie, take care of you,” is finally making sense. Today, I do put myself first and that is something I will forever be proud of.
Again, this does not go for everyone whom I am blood-related to or close with. This sole purpose of editing this personal piece, in which I originally wrote two years ago, is to help me through my own recovery with pain, hurt, guilt, and even being ashamed of myself. It is forever an ongoing process in therapy, and I know it is here where I need to take a step back.
Those who come from a family of addiction should know that it is NEVER, or ever was their fault. It is NOT our fault. Addiction is an illness that goes far too long unspoken in many households, sometimes even unreported. There are too many stigmas around it, especially for children of addicts. Although my father, his father, and other relatives are addicts that does not mean I am “next” because no one is ever destined to repeat the cycle.
We can defeat those ongoing stigmas, no matter what, even if our own inner circle does not believe us. Your truth is your truth and by damn, you have EVERY RIGHT to share it or not.