This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things. This is the story of 'Anna,' her childhood, and her father's struggle with alcoholism.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in beautiful San Diego, CA. I am 30-year-old goof ball who tries not to take herself too seriously and I love art and bead embroidery. I am a quirky nerd lady who enjoys watching movies and singing songs to my dog after a long day of work as a Project Manager for a large travel and entertainment company.
How old were you when you realized that your father had a drinking problem?
I always knew my dad was a drinker, but I didn't actually admit out loud that he was an alcoholic until I was in my late 20s. It was just something I had grown up with and I didn't know anything was amiss when I was a child.
When he was at his worst I was so young that I couldn't connect the dots when I'd see him passed out in his own vomit on the kitchen floor after a night of drinking and when I was old enough to realize I would make excuses for him because I myself was drinking heavily.
How did his alcoholism affect your life?
Memories of my childhood are probably the most troubling to me. When he was drinking and taking drugs he would get very aggressive and verbally abusive towards my mother. I would sit in front of my bedroom door with my ear pressed against the wall and phone in hand ready to dial 911. My mom would pull me out of bed in the middle of the night to go sleep in the car and I would sit there holding her hand while she cried herself to sleep. Later in life I found out that my dad would take what little money they had in their bank account and spend it on all night benders leaving my mom struggling to pay the bills.
When I was in high school, he was no longer taking drugs but was still drinking heavily at times. He had become verbally abusive toward me like the time he said, "nobody is ever going to marry you. You're such a little bitch," and physically abusive like the time he held me down by the throat until I was gasping for air.
As good as I've been about forgiving him and becoming a successful and well-adjusted adult, I do have deep-seated insecurities and have struggled with romantic relationships. Often, I unconsciously choose men who are verbally or physically abusive toward me because in some ways I think I deserve it, or feel that this is the norm.
Did he ever seek treatment?
When I was younger my dad went into a rehab program after my mother gave him an ultimatum. He was gone for 90 days and attended counseling and other forms of treatment while there.
I remember visiting my dad and playing basketball with him. All my mother would tell me was that daddy was sick and he had to stay there to get better. In the beginning of his treatment he had a really hard time. At one point after a visit with him my dad was begging my mom to take him with us. He said he couldn't take it there anymore and wanted to come home. When my mom refused, he reached into the car and grabbed my mother's throat, until the counselors came over and pulled him away. It was the first time I had actually witnessed his abuse. I was terrified.
After my dad was released he was no longer staying out all night and my parents were fighting less often. I don't remember seeing him drink after that until I was in high school. He would say things like "as long as I stay away from the hard alcohol I will be fine". Now he drinks beer and wine nightly and though I do see that he is no longer violent and much less verbally abusive these days, he is much more pleasant to be around when he's not drinking at all.
Did his alcoholism affect your own drinking habits?
I have definitely struggled with alcohol in my life. I started drinking with friends when I was 13. I started drinking so often that by the time I was 17 I was bringing alcohol to school with me to drink through the day. After that the nightly drinking was under the guise of "the college life" and was easy to hide from friends and family.
When I started my career I was drinking alone almost daily until I realized that it was doing nothing positive for my life. I was having pains in my stomach and believed it was a direct result of the drinking. I still drink on occasion, but not to the excess that I was five years ago. As the daughter and granddaughter of alcoholics, I know that I need to constantly remind myself how alcohol can affect the people around you, your relationships, people's perceptions of you and your health. The occasional glass of wine with dinner is fine, but like most things in life, in excess can be very harmful.
How's your father doing now?
Within the past few months, my dad has slowed his drinking drastically. He still drinks too much, but I have seen an improvement in his health, his attitude, and his mood. I am worried about losing him too soon and I know that 30 years of abuse will likely make my mother a widow before either of us is ready, but this is the reality of the situation.
What advice would you give to someone else who's close to an alcoholic?
I have not handled my father's alcoholism in the right ways so I feel like a hypocrite giving advice. I know it's difficult to help someone who is unwilling to receive the help and my mom and I have been enablers rather than the supporters he really needed. I've never been one to talk about my feelings so I ignored the problem rather than attacking it head on. My father would go on a tirade and the next day we would both act like nothing ever happened.
Tough love is easier said than done sometimes, but my mom gave him an ultimatum at one point and it got him into rehab. While it didn't solve the problem, it did help.
I would also have to say that you have to be a little understanding. Don't completely right them off like some people have told me to do. My dad is a good man deep down. He loves me and supports me and is the least judgmental person I know. When he is sober he's funny and thoughtful and is the easiest person to talk to. When he is under the influence he is not himself. The next day he won't even remember the things he's said or done to me. Instead of letting it slide because he didn't remember I should have confronted him with it. Sometimes if you are honest with people and let them know how badly their behavior has hurt you it may open their eyes and initiate change.
Thanks so much for sharing, Anna. Do any of you have alcoholism in your family? Any questions for Anna?
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