Drinking To Oblivion
This isn’t a normal blog post that I’d typically write as the subject is something which I’ve rarely spoken about, including with family and friends.
I feel like it’s time to start writing about this because yesterday, (the 25th April 2016) marked 6 months sobriety for my dad who’d been abusing alcohol for approximately 2 years. Yesterday also marked a broadcast of Louis Theroux’s documentary on Drinking To Oblivion which is about survivors of alcohol abuse. It comes at the same time that currently on Eastenders, Phil Mitchell, the recovering alcohol started drinking again. It’s something which I can’t seem to switch off from but I do feel like soaps such as Eastenders are raising awareness of alcohol and its effects on the drinker as well as their relationships.
It seemed like strange timing since my dad was on my mind anyway. Sending him a message congratulating him was the first thing I did when I woke up yesterday morning. Like I said, my dad’s drinking is something I’ve never spoken about - even to friends. I have two close girl friends and I love and trust them both. It was only after I had a few drinks a couple of weeks ago at a wedding for the first time in about 3 years also that it sort of came out and I apologised to my friend that I’d been pretty absent from life in general, really. I was dealing with depression after my dad’s drinking. It’s been about 3 months since I’ve also been weened off anti depressants and in all honesty, my mental health has never been better.
I never thought in a million years that I’d be someone who had a relationship with someone who abuses alcohol. It started suddenly and it came to the point where I was no longer having a sober conversation with my dad. It’s something which you don’t have time to stop and think about. You can’t nip it in the bud and you can’t force someone to stop and get treatment. You can only watch someone you love drink themselves to death and pray you don’t get a phone call saying they’ve hurt themselves and ended up in hospital or worse, they’re dead.
To back this up a bit, it all began when my parents marriage began to fall apart. In essence, it had been falling apart for many years. Arguing, fighting, you know- the usual. My mum eventually left my dad and he had a drink. One drink turned into two, which turned into three, then four, five, six. I soon found out he was drinking two bottles of vodka a day. This is a man with a job, a life, responsibilities and a family- all who love him dearly. I’d only ever seen him drunk once and that was years ago when he had too much whisky at Christmas- but it was funny. My brother and I took the piss out of him and we all laughed. He never drank excessively. So you can imagine what a surprise it was to hear the paramedic down the phone tell me my dad is yelling at the staff trying to treat him in his home because he’s ’so out of it'. I could hear him shouting and being verbally abusive in the background. Slowly after that phone call I walked back to my desk at work and tried to process everything I just heard. This wasn’t a new phone call, but it never, ever gets easier.
By this point, I was in a job I was enjoying and excelling at. I was in a 3 month extended contract so I didn’t have the flexibility to take paid time off or I may have been at risk losing my job. I was living in London with my long-term supportive boyfriend. My dad lived up North, it’s not like I could just go round and see him. It was a constant struggle. It was a constant battle with myself over my guilt for feeling responsible for him. I wish I’d never been so hard on myself. I could only support and encourage him to seek help but I wasn’t responsible for if he did or didn’t get it. And it wasn’t my responsibility to listen to his problems and be his counsellor.
When he first started drinking I would be on the phone to him for hours whilst he went over and over the problems and his failed marriage with my mum. After 2-3 hours, the conversation would finally end and I’d be in tears, having a panic attack. I’d go to bed exhausted and wake up and force myself to work. This would go on perhaps 3-4 nights a week for months. I remember I went to visit him, without my other half Dan. He was so drunk and he was saying horrible things. I started hyper ventilating and before I knew it, I was having my worst panic attack yet. He was so drunk he couldn’t understand what was happening and he continued to shout, which for anyone that’s ever had an attack is probably the worst thing that you can do. My brother and his girlfriend were trying to console me. The attack lasted for over an hour. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus the next day and for about 3 days after. It was exhausting. One time he was so drunk, I hung up and blocked him on my phone. For some reason I still received his voicemails which was him being disgustingly verbally abusive to me. He’d left countless messages and he called me the next day on my boyfriends phone and I played the messages back to him. The silence on the end of the phone was almost haunting. It wasn’t him that left those messages, it was the drink. It was then that I truly realised how destructive it was and I wondered how we’d ever recover from this. I am a loving, giving and kind person. I love generously and passionately. Even in my worst days I never deserved messages like those.
When he visited me since his first time since drinking, he was visiting a drinking specialist in London, so he asked if he could stay with us. He brought his puppy which he was encouraged to get which would help with his loneliness after my mum left who also took her dog. He drank the night before my first day of my contracting job. The morning was spent consoling my crying drunken dad and stepping in puppy shit. I went to work an absolute mess.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because drink doesn’t just affect the drinker. It affects everyone they love too and I was on the first-hand receiving end of it all. I didn’t tell anyone. I was so ashamed. I was ashamed of my dad, of his health, of the position and job he previously held. He was a vicar. But it goes to show that alcohol doesn’t care who it chooses to destroy. It could be anyone. And it could come so quickly you wonder how the hell you got there. It’s genuinely frightening.
Of course my brother, myself and my dad’s side of the family tried out best to support him. He visited numerous detox centres and failed them all. I’m not sure at what point my dad decided to go privately and sort himself out. I don’t know his state of mind at the time because I wasn’t speaking to him. He’s abused our relationship for so long, I no longer cared to speak to him. I still loved him, of course. But did I care if he was drunk? No. Did I care if he failed detox again? No. For the 1.5 years before I was turning myself inside out. I was mentally ill, exhausted and depressed. I was having sleepless nights, when I wasn’t at work I was miserable and crying. I could no longer care. I didn’t have it in me anyone. I’d been too hurt and let down. I cut loose the ties that held my dad and I in this shitty hanging relationship that we had.
I soon received a text saying he was admitting himself into hospital. I didn’t respond. A part of me was happy he was seeking help, but I’d also been let down many, many times before so I couldn’t get excited about it. About 2 months later I sent him a letter. He was staying at a hospital which took care of him, slowly weening him off the drink and giving him extended support and care. He would be sober now. He would have a clear mind for the first time in almost 2 years. It was time to write out everything I was thinking- some of it very truthful, borderline hurtful. I didn’t write it intended to hurt him, but sometimes the truth hurts. I sent it, hesitantly. I awaited a response. He responded quickly. He apologised. He was really pleased to hear from me. It was a relief. He eventually had privileges where he was able to have his phone to text and make calls. My brother, my dad and I spoke in a Facebook chat and arrange to meet before Christmas 2015. Although he did bring up my mum and his drink, it was pleasant seeing him. Sober. Alive.
To this day our relationship is getting back on track again. It’s not easy. It only takes a strange mis-spelt text for me to flit back to months previous where he’d send me drunken texts. I’d wonder if he’d been drinking again. Seeing him the way he did put me off drinking. I’m not a big drinker anyway and I don’t get drunk and haven’t done in years. I enjoy a glass of wine occasionally, and maybe a cocktail if I’m out with friends but when you see someone you love destroying themselves with drink, you can’t help but see alcohol as a destructive liquid poison.
I watched Louis Theroux’s documentary with a heavy heart. But yesterday marked 6 months sobriety for my dad. For the rest of his life, he will be challenged constantly with life’s mishaps and situations where temptation will come knocking at the back door. Our relationship will never be the same but in a sense, it’s also stronger. If you ever have to peel your parent off the floor emotionally, there’s always a part where you’re never the same again. The world seems slightly different somehow.
My dad has got his life back on track. He’s moving to a new job next month, in a new town with new people and I wish him all the best. For anyone who is in a situation like me where you’re watching a loved one destroy themselves - don’t be ashamed. Don't be embarrassed and certainly don’t apologise for how you feel. Have hope.