I wonder sometimes if I am really remembering the snapshot moment or just in love with the how I feel when I look at the photo. This photo (circa 1967) is a rare picture of my dad and me—alone.
I was number five of six kids so any one-on-one time was appreciated— until it wasn’t. Like most little girls I worshipped my dad and spent most of my life seeking his accolades and at the very least a smile of approval. We had a classic love-hate relationship as I grew. What started as adoration slowly turned to fear. Fear of the unacknowledged, fear of the unknown. Over time I came to learn that my dad was an alcoholic.
I spent hours, months, and years calculating how I would get away from him. I made feign promises to the Universe for my deliverance from his wrath. I swore I would never be like him. I looked down on him. I disrespected him. I blamed him. Getting away from him was my purpose in life. Letting him know he had hurt me was an important task in my day. Eventually I would exercise my right to not speak to him. I engaged in this act with a sense of entitlement. He would miss my sweet voice—eventually. He did not.
My apology, delivered after nine months of silence (during Lent nonetheless), was met with more silence and a refusal to read my request for forgiveness. I cried for two days. My mom intervened on my behalf. The probability of his rage for interfering seemed secondary to my swollen shut eyes and shattered heart. I accepted full blame. I have become my mother too, forever apologizing as if the words would heal him of his alcoholism.
I poured a shot of vodka into my almost empty soda can. Relief! Any true alcoholic resonates with the first sip. I chased this first-sip-feeling … every night I ever drank. It never returned.
This particular Saturday me and the kids were off to the park to play. I wasn’t drunk. At least I didn’t think I was. I’m not even clear, it happened so fast. She was hurt and screaming and I … I had looked away. Her leg was caught on the slide. She was screaming. I blew into her face to get her to take a breath, another curdling scream. I was too scared to ask for help. I was more concerned with the vodka on my breath. I took her home.
I got up Sunday relieved to awaken from the nightmare. I peeked into her room. She is playing happily in her crib. Whew!
Upon seeing my face she reaches for the crib railing, she tries to stand—she falls. She falls for another week. She crawls about the house like a crab. I cannot bear the pain. I drink to escape. I hate that I drink. Why can’t I stop drinking? I am an alcoholic.
Even when I want, I cannot stop. Even when I try, I cannot stop. Even when I bargain with the Universe, I cannot stop.
I will give to her what my dad gave to me—a life of fear.
Fear of the unacknowledged, fear of the unknown. Fear … in a shattered heart.
This can no longer be okay.
It is again Lent.
This time, I will succeed with my apology.
I make a decision, a final decision to get sober.
Dad you gave me a beautiful gift. I would never have known the pain I was about to inflict upon her beautiful life had I not lived it. And for all the moments of drunken horror there are now many more wonderful memories.
I have learned to forgive. I have learned to accept forgiveness. I can heal.
My dad passed during Holy Week of Lent in 2002. He had 15~ years of sobriety. My-never-drunk-a-day-in-her-life mom has decades of recovery in a 12-step program. This is my version of facing my past, without regret. This post is my way of not shutting the door on it.
- Dear Dad (crosshearted.wordpress.com)