My entire life, I was aware that my dad was an alcoholic, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I felt the full weight of it. My parents were divorced and I lived with my dad.
Living in that house was like walking on eggshells. I tried to be quiet and keep to myself so he wouldn’t notice me or get angry with me. I avoided having friends over.
When he passed out at night, I immediately went to his hiding places and poured the alcohol down the sink. When he left me alone in the car, I would look for the soda bottles filled with vodka. It didn’t occur to me that he was a grown man and would just buy more alcohol, and that all I was doing was pouring money down the drain.
When I wasn’t acting as my dad’s caretaker, I behaved badly—starting fights at home, drinking, and hanging out with the wrong people. I secretly hoped I’d catch his attention and open his eyes. I was desperate for some control in a seemingly hopeless situation.
My mom started to go to Al-Anon meetings to find help and comfort to cope with my dad’s drinking. She urged me to go to a group called Alateen for kids who struggle with alcoholic parents, but I firmly insisted I could handle things on my own.
I didn’t need any help, but playing the babysitter at home affected my schoolwork and my grades quickly suffered for it. The school counselor strongly suggested that I go to Alateen as well.
Soon after, I found the days harder to get through. I found myself breaking down more often. I finally went to my first meeting. Although the meeting felt strange and uncomfortable at first, I quickly found solace in that room, listening to people’s stories, and the way they dealt with the alcoholic in their lives. We all had the same story, just different details.
Knowing that others were going through the same thing as me took my mind off my own problems. For the time I was there, every Monday night, the things going on at home couldn’t touch me. I could breathe for a while.
I learned that the only person I could control was myself. Learning to accept that I couldn’t control my dad’s illness was something that lifted an incredible weight off my shoulders.
Two years and two relapses later, I began to lose hope that the man who had raised me was coming back. Someone had once told me that alcoholics carry their disease as if it were a rabid dog chained to them, following them everywhere they go.
I had spent so much time focusing on how the disease had affected my family that I had never once stopped to think that my dad didn’t want to carry the burden either. It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but when living with an alcoholic, it’s easy to view their actions as selfish desires rather than compulsions with which they struggle.
When I stopped looking at my dad as a disappointment or an enemy, I saw someone who was broken and needed help. I began to feel sympathy for him. He didn’t do these things on purpose, and perhaps he felt just as lost as I did.
It sounds crazy to say that I’m grateful for my dad’s illness, but without it, I know there’s no way I’d be where I am today. I wouldn’t have the relationship I have with my dad today and be able to call him one of my best friends. I wouldn’t have found the support and friends that I found through Alateen. I wouldn’t have learned the lessons that I did or become the person that I am now.
Al-Anon Faces Alcoholism 2016