Grown-up words and redemption
I am sharing this excerpt from a 40-year-old journal; I was in college.
On one hand, it is too personal and dredges up old unresolved anger and hurt. On the other hand, maybe there is another 11-year-old boy out there living with a parent that is an alcoholic or has an addiction of another sort.
I look to the past to understand, not to blame. I do not blame my parents for who I am; they loved me and did the best they knew how. I too have made good and bad decisions in my life; they were my choices and mine alone.
December 21, 1981. I am excited for Christmas; presents, snow, my mom’s cooking, going home for the holidays.
I remember the peace and hope I feel when I read about how a babe born in a stable is going to bring light to the world and change things, make things right, fix what is broken, and bring redemption to the world.
But holidays make me anxious because in my world, holidays gave my dad an excuse to drink.
Today they brought my dad up to Provo and put him in the Alcohol Rehabilitation Center. He started drinking on November 26.
Holidays were always stressful, the best of times and the worst of times. He had been drinking for a month solid. He once went six months straight, drinking, not working, not eating, barely sleeping.
How can his body endure this? There were many similar incidents, too many to catalogue, just a blur of ups and downs, pain and joy.
It was a hard realization; my father was an alcoholic. There was a time when it was embarrassing to me to say that. But as I learned more about addiction, I learned it is a sickness and there is help.
I also learned about grown-up words like facilitator, trigger, withdrawal symptoms, and detox.
An 11-year-old boy should not have to be reading the “Addiction Checklist” trying to understand why his life was so screwed up.
“Had alcohol negatively impacted my dad’s relationships? Does he drink alone? Does he justify or rationalize his actions? What are his triggers? Has drinking impacted his employment?”
A young boy should be playing games and enjoying friends not looking up three syllable words in the dictionary.
Much later in life, I learned that the alcoholic was not the only causality. They claim their addiction is their choice and only hurts them, but that is a lie. Everybody near them is impacted.
My dad always found an excuse to start drinking, the deer hunt, my uncles coming to town, boredom, or the holidays. They call them triggers. I know that now; back then it was confusing to a young boy.
He was fighting demons he didn’t understand. He was in a prison with invisible bars. He was angry; he just didn’t know it.
I was so young, but I wanted to understand him. I wanted to help him, fix him if I could.
I don’t know if I sat at the kitchen table listening to him because I was trying desperately to understand my reality or if I was captive.
At 11, if your dad tells you to sit down, you generally obey. So, I would sit and listen. He would babble and rant about how unfair life was – confusing me more – and then he would say something that allowed me a peek into his world.
I was looking for any way to escape, hoping another sibling would walk by and divert his attention or my mother would come by and deflect him so I could go.
Dad once told me of a dream he had when he had been drinking hard liquor for several weeks. The dream was very lifelike and disturbed him very much.
In his dreams, he was tied down and there were five big black and red vultures that were picking and tearing him up, and he screamed but no one would help.
He wanted to understand the dream but couldn’t. He knew that it was more than just a bad dream but couldn’t say what.
It scared me; I didn’t dare fall asleep that night wondering if those same vultures were going to visit me.
When you live with an alcoholic, I suppose with anyone struggling with an addiction we become “facilitators.” That was another one of those grown-up words that an 11-year-old should not know.
When he was sober, we were just so happy to have him back that we never talked about how awful he had been.
It is amazing how much his family ignores him when he is drinking; we tip-toed around not wanting to anger him. We didn’t want to trip the trigger.
We had to ignore him. We couldn’t listen to him all the time because most of what he says while he was drinking is very harsh and incoherent.
So, the family chooses to just ignore it. We become experts at pretending this is normal.
When you walk around numb, time passes too quickly. I had seen my dad the day he started drinking and suddenly a month had gone by, and we hadn’t even noticed. An entire month, and we hadn’t done anything to help him.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. We cried, we yelled back, we prayed, we would find his hidden bottles and drain them onto the ground. We all got tired of trying to help him.
I have learned that alcoholics can’t be forced into sobriety and addicts can’t be stopped from the outside. The problem is the demon they fight is on the inside, and those on the outside don’t believe in their demons. They just don’t see the monster.
The addiction is master that demands everything – family, friends, jobs, even their life.
Every part of our lives had been impacted. It is embarrassing. I feel an ache in my heart when I say those words because he is my father, and I should be proud of him; I am proud of him.
But then this other man shows up that smells like alcohol, with blood shot eyes and slurred speech and I am scared and embarrassed.
How do I process that? How do I make sure I don’t turn out like him? Yet there are parts of me that know the good man inside and wish that I could be just like him.
I remember my brother took his Junior Prom date over to my aunt’s house so she could meet my mother. He didn’t want his date to see my dad drunk passed out on the floor or ranting about incoherently angry and dark.
The whole town had seen him drunk most of his life; my brother was only hiding it from himself.
I remember that I didn’t ever like to bring friends over to my house after practice or school because I never knew when I might find my father drunk and yelling and complaining or passed out on the floor.
I preferred the latter because at least there was quiet.
No one knows the hurt it caused me once when I came home with some friends and my dad was passed out on the floor and I had to say, “Just step over him and be quiet until we get to my room.”
I remember my mother crying.
I remember an 11-year-old kid with brown eyes and a flood of tears held back by anger. I remember praying to God and in the same breath cursing God for not answering my prayers and fixing my world.
I wondered if I was a bad person and why God didn’t listen to me; I prayed, I went to church. What more could an 11-year-old do?
I heard the sermons about patience and long suffering. But to an 11-year-old it seemed long enough. Any improvement in my patience was lost by my declining faith that God cared.
I remember how much I loved my dad and how I looked up to my father, more than any other man.
I remember when he was “himself” how hard he worked, how much he enjoyed life, how much he gave, how proud he was, how patient, how kind, and how fun he was.
He had a twinkle in his eyes, a laugh, a smile all made just for the purpose of making others feel easy and welcome. I remember running out to get his lunch box as he came home from the mines, and I couldn’t wait to look into his silver lunch box.
I would always find some small thing he had saved for me or brought home for me; half a cookie or a peach my mother had put in his lunch.
He had done so much good for his family, friends, and neighbors. Perhaps that is why they all tolerated his drunkenness so well; they know the “real him.”
I weep when I think of all the more he could have got out of life if he could have broken the chains of addiction. I want the real dad, not the drunk. I want his smile and his happiness. I want him to be free.
So on December 23 I went down to the Alcohol Rehabilitation Center and saw my dad.
The part of me that was calloused over thought, “Ha. Another fine Christmas. The best of times and the worst of times.”
For 35 days he had been stoned out of his mind. He was detoxing and looked white and sickly and fragile.
In his eyes I could see the embarrassment he felt that his kid had to see him under these circumstances. I could see the disappointment that he had let us down again.
I could see the fear in his eyes that the beast in the bottle might awaken; we talked quietly.
He was nervous and shaky and not totally well. His nausea came in waves. But, tried to put us at ease and he made me and my sister laugh.
She said, “He cheered us up more than we cheered him up.”
His attitude and resolve toward changing was good, but he and I both knew the beast was caged but would soon awaken to prowl about.
He knows he has a problem and there is no one that curses the bottle more than my dad. And he told us how we must carry on and he told us many things.
But the most important thing is that he talked to us, he told us his problems he let us share his load, which is more than he has ever done before. His strength is truly his weakness.
But he finally found that you can bend without breaking and stretch without giving an inch, and he shared with us his thoughts and I was ever so glad I could be there, that I hadn’t given up but had reached out one more time to see if that babe born in a manger could really bring me hope and peace.
Here it is 40 years later, and I am excited for Christmas. More than anything I wish I could taste my mother’s cooking; I wish I could hold my dad.
All this time I thought it was my dad that needed fixing, but now I know that it was me that needed the hope and peace and fixing.
It is not just a story about a baby born in manger; it is more, much more. He did bring light to the world and changed things; He is making things right, fixing what is broken, bringing redemption to the world one person at a time.