I dropped my dad off at rehab this weekend, hopefully marking the end of his 42 yearlong rollercoaster ride with alcohol. This is his fourth time going into treatment and will most likely be his last. No, I’m not over-optimistic or delusional. I say this because he’ll either remain sober, or relapse and die. Those are the two options we are all faced with at this point with the progression of his disease. The health of his body has been one of the most important factors in his seeking sobriety, which is why this time around things are different – his motives to get sober are much more meaningful and essential.
As a sober alcoholic and the child of an alcoholic, I’ve gained a wealth of experience and knowledge on alcoholism. No matter the known facts or what I tell myself, I still feel things deep inside that I know are not true. I admit that the following story is an everyday element of my life: If he really loved me, he’d stay sober.
So, with THAT nagging at the core of my existence, it was an interesting drive toward his house to pick him up. The following cycle of emotions seemed to play in my head on repeat:
- Fear – What if he decides to quit rehab halfway through? What if he dies in detox? What if he gets out and loses his job? What if they find out he has cirrhosis of the liver? What if he has a mental breakdown? Is he going to bullshit another recovery plan, or actually make some realistic goals? What if he doesn’t follow through with his recovery plan? What if he falls off the wagon?
- Hurt – He’s ruined his life up until now. What a waste of such a unique and special human being. He must be in so much pain and so broken inside, so isolated and alone. He’s lost so much; so have I, for that matter. I sure have missed out on having a dad who has been present and involved in my life. I have experienced how awesome he is when he’s living sober and I want my dad back. I want my son to know his wonderful Grandpa. Aren’t we important enough? Why hasn’t he made more of an effort to see us? We’ve lost so much time.
- Shame – I’m sure he has enough of this for the both of us, but I still feel pangs of shame here and there. This is the emotion I could really go without and in fact, I hate it. As fleeting as these feelings may be, they’re just absurd enough to bother me. My husband doesn’t “get it” (he’s learning!), so I’m certain his family isn’t educated about alcoholism either, so naturally I assume they a bit judgmental as a result. They all tend to lead with their hearts, so I really don’t think they would react negatively toward me or him, but who knows? What about my mom’s friends? They are real shit-talkers, I wonder what they think? The realization that I have no control over how someone else views me or my family and that it actually doesn’t need to have any effect on my life in the slightest, is what keeps these shameful thoughts at bay, or quickly launches them back there. Then I feel guilty for feeling the shame…
- Anger – children should NEVER have to escort their parents to rehab. Children certainly shouldn’t have to PAY for part of it, nor should they have to clean up shit hole apartments (for a fresh start) that are better off ablaze. Because of how withdrawn my dad has been at times growing up, I ended up dating a bunch of losers (bad boys) who were also withdrawn – ultimately breaking down my self-worth by my feeling like I had to fight for attention and love. Say what?! He has absolutely no idea how much he’s affected me, or anyone else. My husband has been around for almost 8 years and has had little interaction with him, so they really don’t have a relationship to speak of and that pisses me right off. Nutt up, Dad! It’s time to kick some ass, laugh and enjoy life! What’s the point, otherwise?! I want to slap the sad right out of him.
- Hope– he’ll instantly have more self-esteem once he’s been sobered up for a few weeks. His desire to talk to a counselor is a great sign. With his unresolved issues no longer covered up with alcohol, dulling the pain, he needs to learn how to overcome them. I can’t wait to have neat conversations with him again about nature and animals; he knows so much and is so passionate about that stuff. Maybe he’ll find a hot little number in an AA meeting, gaining a sober partner to offer support and love. Maybe his social phobia will dwindle away and his confidence and dreams will soar high above with the eagles.
It was a tearful goodbye as we parted ways, but as I drove away I noticed only one resounding emotion. It was a new one and it was GOOD:
- Relief – There’s nothing but positive stuff going on now. He’s safe, he’s detoxing, he’s in a supportive environment and he chose to go. I no longer have to fear that phone call telling me he’s either in jail or dead. I’m actually glad I had the opportunity and could help him one last time, as it symbolizes the end of this chapter of this co-dependent reality for me. I can now be at peace with the fact that I have done everything I could do to help him.
I fully expect my dad to work his ass off to recreate a life for himself in sobriety. I’ll do my part to learn what I can about how best to support him – by going to some of the lectures and family meetings – but the rest is up to him. If I can do it, I know he can do it. There’s a little gift sobriety has brought me and it’s a strong sense of PRIDE. It’s an amazing feeling and even more amazing to welcome others into this circle. Go Dad!