Hidden in Plain Sight

When I think back and remember the latter part of my active alcoholism and its impact on my family, more than anything else, I think of the extraordinary amount of time I spent trying to hide my drinking. It felt like I spent almost all my time either hiding the purchase of alcohol, hiding the use of it (and then lying about the use of it), and attempting to hide all evidence—usually by throwing away all of the bottles, cans, etc. I knew, however, that there were times that it was not hidden. But as a binge drinker, I somehow thought those times were relatively rare. After all, I could go months without having a drink. I thought at least while my daughters were young, they could not see as well as my wife could see, the destruction that my alcoholism was wreaking. In part, the insanity and rationalization of that belief allowed me to think that the horror of my own need to drink was not being witnessed nor forced into their young minds. When the Lawyer Assistance Program got involved in my care and “suggested” that I enter rehab, my daughters were eight and twelve.

Five years later my oldest daughter asked me to read an essay she drafted as part of her college and scholarship application process. It read:

When I close my eyes to remember the many birthday parties, dance recitals, and school ceremonies of my childhood, my dad is nowhere to be found. He was not there. Instead he rested in the darkness of a cave only illuminated by the brightness of a television screen, lying on stained sheets. Beyond him lay the resting place of a hundred empty, discarded bottles of liquor. He had been like this for at least two months, and it was not the first time. My dad was trapped, not inside his cave, but inside his own mind. He was depressed; he was an alcoholic.

I lived with his alcoholism for twelve years, suffering from it, only I suffered in a different way than my dad. My dad drank the liquor, and I handled the side effects. The more he drank, the more I wiped tears away from my mother’s face, reassured my younger sister that it was not our fault, and promised myself that, one day, my dad’s problems would disappear and I would have a normal family. I often moved through my dad’s room as if it were a haunted house, hiding my eyes from the horrific scene that sat only a few feet from where I stepped. Other times, I watched my dad. I sat in the corner of the room and listened to his slurred grievances and mumbled sorrows for hours. I prayed each night that something, anything, would happen and take the pain away from my family. Sometimes, on the worst nights, I wished my dad would die; it seemed to be the only way to end our pain.

I became numb to my dad’s situation. I knew that alcoholism was a disease, not a character flaw, and that there was nothing I alone would be able to do to fix my dad. But even though I could not cure him, I could mitigate the pain my family felt. While my dad was sick, I felt a strong responsibility to try and make my family happy, to take away some of the strain of their daily lives. I worked very hard in school, resulting in strong academics. Good grades always brought a smile to my parents’ faces, especially my dad’s. I motivated myself to work hard each day at school, to ignore my home life, and to improve myself. I took control of my own life, to make sure that, despite my situation, I would be alright. So began the development of my sense of inner-strength and independence.

My dad left for rehab on March 21, 2011, the date of my parents’ anniversary. He stayed there for six months, working on his mental and physical health. Those six months made a profound effect on our lives. Since that day, my dad has remained alcohol free, my favorite of his accomplishments. When I call my dad after dance class to ask him, “What’s for dinner?” I am reminded of how lucky I am to have him in my life, sober and happy.

Although alcoholism plays a lesser role in my daily life, characteristics I developed remain. My use of academics transformed into a passion for learning. Once I got out of my house, I found a community in which to serve. Most importantly, my experience has given me faith that I will be alright. When I close my eyes and remember the dark nights when my dad was drunk, I see the silver lining that was invisible to me before. It would be dishonest if I said I was grateful for my dad’s disease, but without alcoholism, I would not be the person I am today.

Obviously my perception during my active alcoholism of the impact of my disease upon my family was very different from my daughter’s perspective. It is a family disease. No matter how much I told myself my drinking was only affecting me, it simply wasn’t true. It was insane to think that I was in any way protecting my daughters from the hell that is alcoholism. As a direct result of LAP involvement and the time away I so desperately needed, I learned how to build a sufficient foundation to begin to live without alcohol. Because I had lied so often about never having another drink, after rehab I knew that the only way to make amends to my family was to make a “living amends” by showing them I could not and would not drink again. My recovery has brought many gifts, including gratitude for my family’s love and forgiveness, as well as the freedom from hiding and lying.

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