I’ve been thinking about how to write this for a long time.  Almost a year.

Dad about 12 years ago.
Thumbnail image for Dadrelaxed.jpg

Wasting away – two years ago.
wasting away.jpg
Eleven months ago my Dad died.  He was 63.  Alcoholism killed him.  He killed himself with alcohol.  
I want to be clear that my Dad was a benign drunk.  He was not abusive, maybe neglectful, but not abusive.  He was a kind, sensitive man.  Probably too sensitive.  He was a functioning alcoholic through my teen years and early adulthood.  That means he went to work and made it to social functions.  After early retirement his isolation and drinking increased.  Then after Maddy died, he rarely held onto control.  Only sometimes for the grandkids or a family event.  At the end, he couldn’t even hang on for the grandkids.  He missed several Thanksgivings and a Christmas.  Dad came to help me after my girls were born but was so drunk I couldn’t trust him to hold them.  As the kids got older, they noticed it.  They didn’t know what was going on but they knew Grandpa was strange.  They withdrew and he was hurt.  I don’t want to go on and on but I do want people to realize the impact it has on family.
Since he died I’ve done a lot of reflecting about alcohol and its role in my life.  In his life.  In our society.  I’ve read many books, blogs, forums, websites, and memoirs.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of alcoholism and the differing theories of Alcoholics Anonymous and 12 step programs versus harm reduction.  The variety of theories makes it confusing to figure out what alcoholism is, what causes it, how to treat it and recover from it.
I tried to get my dad to try AA.  He was dead set against it.  AA is too religious, too cult like, too stupid…too desperate.  Well, he was a desperate case but he wouldn’t or couldn’t reach out for the help he needed.  I think he drank to fill a very large void.  Over time his brain rewired itself to NEED the alcohol just to function.  
There are many ways that people come into addiction.  It’s not always trauma, but it often is.  It is also often accompanies mental illnesses such as Depression, BiPolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, etc.  People are very quick to judge alcoholics and addicts, there is a huge stigma.  I was one of the Judgy McJudgerson’s, even when my dad was at the end, although I tried not to be.  It’s really hard to understand that line between choice and addiction and the interplay between them.  Someone does have to choose to stop.  But they can’t do it alone.  They need help from many sources, including a fellowship of fellow sufferers, like AA or other organizations.  They need help from their physicians, many of whom do not really understand addiction or the signs of it (until it is far advanced).  I repeatedly tried to get my dad’s doctor to address his depression and addiction but the doctore ignored those issues.
I now understand that alcoholism is a progressive disease (or condition if you don’t like the disease model).  It gets worse over time.  I watched it in my dad.  I noticed it in myself and now I have quit drinking alcohol.  Because I don’t want my girls to go through what Maddy and I went through watching him kill himself.  Begging him to stop.  For himself (he said he didn’t care), for us (that stumped him but didn’t stop him), for his grandkids.  
I was nowhere near drinking like my dad did, but I didn’t like how much I liked to drink.  How I used alcohol as a social lubricant and as a way to relax.  It wasn’t obviously interfering in my life, yet.  I knew from observing my Dad and other addicts, and from reading, that it would progress if left unchecked.
I didn’t stop on my own.  My husband quit with me.  My friends have been very supportive.  I’ve visited meetings of various types, including AA and Al-Anon.  I’ve asked for help from my doctor.  I interact with people online who have quit drinking (and drugging in some cases, this applies to drug addicts also).  
I feel great most of the time.  I’m happy I did it.  I sometimes miss it when I see people enjoy a lovely glass of wine on a patio or at a party.  But for the most part I’m good without it, great without in fact.  And yes, I’ve had a few here and there but I haven’t enjoyed it, which is really interesting.  
I get a lot out of the self-work I’ve been doing as a result of this decision.  My meditation, reading up on Buddhism and spirituality, connecting with people, accepting myself as I am (still working on that), accepting others as they are, and most of all, trying to live in the moment.    
I don’t think my drinking prevented me from doing all of that (some of it for sure) but my stopping drinking and meeting recovering alcoholics and addicts has taught me a lot about myself, my dad, and honestly living life.
I’m writing this to help remove the stigma so that people will seek help if they need it.  Alcoholics are not just homeless people on the street.  They are regular people with jobs and families.  They are moms overwhelmed with their frantic lives.  
I’m writing this to tell people there is hope.  Help is out there, you just have to reach out your hand for it.  
I wish Dad had reached out.  
This video was created by Stephanie Wilder-Taylor who blogs as Baby on Bored.  I learned of her and her Yahoo group, Booze Free Brigade, in the Toronto Star series on Women and Alcohol.  

Here are links for help: 

Alcoholics Anonymous
Renescent
Homewood
  • Nancy

    Erin- this is so brave and wonderful of you to share. I dont know what to say apart from how impressed I am with you. You are amazing and so strong. xoxox

  • Jaimie

    Erin. Your article is very thoughtful and true. It is hard to watch from the side lines.
    It is difficult for alcoholics to even admit that they are experiencing addiction. Your decision to leave it behind demonstrates to me how much you desire to give the best of yourself to your own life experience, your children and husband. Many years of balance and new found strengths are wished to you my friend.

  • Karen

    Erin this is a very courageous post.
    I’m sure your Dad would be proud of your decisions to be mindful of the affects of alcohol on your family and yourself.

  • Sara

    I can ditto snikks exactly – alcoholism killed my grandmother as well and there are a number of heavy drinkers in my family. I often think I should quit drinking too – I’m a bit of a binger. I can go weeks without a drink but then have 10 in a night. I’m not at the point yet of going that route but huge kudos to you Erin for taking that step.
    I’m so sorry about your Dad and your brother Aileen. It’s an awful disease.
    Thanks so much for sharing Erin – you’re giving us all a lot to think about.
    S

  • Aileen

    I just lost my brother in December. His story is so much like your dad’s, except he was only 52. It’s tragic, and confusing, and anger-inducing and all the things you said. The line between choice and addiction. I’ve been through all those thoughts and struggles. My solace is knowing that whatever demons were tormenting him can’t hurt him any more.
    I was going to post this anonymously and then realized that’s just furthering the stigma and misunderstanding, and that’s not helping anyone. Thank you for this post Erin.

  • Jen

    I can’t even imagine the sadness and confusion watching this happen and thinking, “JUST STOP!” but knowing it was not that easy.
    I loved your dad a lot. He did have a certain sadness about him always. I often wonder why things seemed to impact him so much, little things even, so the big things were overwhelming and impossible.
    You are brave and amazing and inspiring.
    xo

  • Tracey

    Good for you, Erin – for recognising it before heading further down that very slipper slope… I’m watching someone battle this now, and it’s a brutal thing to witness. I’m so sorry about your loss.
    Sounds like you’ve made a really good choice here, and I’m so glad you have the support of your husband and friends nearby – that’s awesome!! xox

  • snikks

    My grandmother was a functioning alcoholic & in the end it killed her too, sadly. I rarely drink alcohol, in fact I seem to have allergic reactions to some of it. I have always put to down to the fact that I have a controlling nature & drinking alcohol would mean I wasn’t truly in control anymore.
    Other members of my family however, are heavy drinkers and at times it makes me sad to see it. Knowing that it does affect your life and you family. I too have tried to help them, but until they truly want to help themselves, it doesn’t work.
    Hugs from someone who totally understands.

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