Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What's In Your Wallet?

Last week we talked a bit about addictions.  I introduced you to Rich.  This week I want to get a little more personal about how an addiction impacted my life.  Here is my story:

My parents were just out of high school when they first met.  They instantly connected and were married within a year.  My mom was twenty when I was born, my dad was nineteen.  They were the first of their friends to get married and start a family.  Their friends would come to our little apartment in New Jersey to visit them on the weekends.  Sometimes, my parents would take me into New York City with flowers painted on my cheeks.  They were the poster kids for Flower Power.  True hippies.

Times were tough financially and my parents did everything that they could to make ends meet.  They were the superintendents of the apartment building that we lived in and my dad had a job at a paper mill.  By now, my sweet sister had been born and my mom had her hands full on the home front. 

When I was three, my parents decided to move to North Carolina to be close to my dad's side of the family.  My grandfather had just arrived home after serving three tours of war in Vietnam.  It would be the first time in a long time that my dad's whole family would be together.  

I am not sure when my parents starting having problems, but I have memories of them arguing.  I remember waking up on Christmas morning to a huge mess in our living room because our family dog had ripped open our gifts.  He had come into the house through our sliding glass door that had been busted out on Christmas Eve.  One night not long after that mess of a Christmas, I heard my parents having a heated conversation about my dad's "drinking".  I couldn't figure out why drinking was a problem.  I was five and I didn't understand quite yet that my dad was struggling with alcoholism.  

The night that I realized that my dad had a problem, is forever etched in my mind.  My sister and I were  asleep when I was jarred awake by my mom crying.  I got up and tiptoed into the living room.  My dad had been gone for several days (I thought that he was at work, but in reality, my parents had decided to separate) and I saw him standing in the living room.  I went to go hug him, but then I noticed that he was acting very strange and he had something in his hand.  It was a gun.  My mom told me to go back to my bed.  I did, but I remember being terrified that something awful was going to happen.  I can't remember anything else, but life changed dramatically after that night. 

My parents were no longer together.  My mom, sister and I moved out to the country.  We barely saw our dad or the rest of the family.  My mom told us that our dad had a sickness that made him drink too much alcohol.  She said that he was not well enough to take care of us.  I missed my dad, but I knew that my mom was trying to protect us.  

When I was seven my parents got divorced, our mom moved us to Florida to be closer to her mom and siblings.  I missed my dad and often worried about him.  I loved him and I hoped that he loved us too.  Sometimes, my dad would write to us or call us.  I cherished those phone calls.

The year that I turned nine, my mom got remarried to a wonderful man.  He treated my sister and I just like we were his own girls.  He is still our dad all these years later.  A true blessing to all of us kids.

Around that same time, my mom got remarried, my dad started coming down to Florida to visit us.  It was always so much fun to be with him.  He seemed to be doing better all around.  Though I would later learn that he struggled with his addiction to alcohol even during those years.

When I was twelve years old, my dad died. His death was sudden and violent. I was left with so many questions, fears and doubts.  I felt such a void in my life and I became seriously depressed.  I remember being obsessed with the fear of my parents dying.  I would have nightmares about someone harming our family.  My fears turned to compulsions.  I was so afraid of germs that I would wash my hands until they were red and chapped.

I was angry too.  I felt like my dad had abandoned us. I felt like the alcohol was more important to him than us.  Why wasn't he stronger?  I felt like he had been a selfish person.  The anger led to self loathing.  Maybe something was wrong with me?  Did my dad choose alcohol because I was defective somehow?

I want to stop here in my story and just take a second to say that all these thoughts, fears and questions were coming from the mind of a twelve year old child.  I now know that my dad had an addiction that consumed him like a fire.  He didn't love alcohol.  On the contrary, he hated it. His addiction to alcohol wouldn't allow him to pursue what he loved.  He tried so hard, but in the end alcohol had a vice grip on his life.

My dad was a good man.  He was loved by so many people.  I remember all of them in the days that followed his death.  Family and friends came in droves.  Everyone had a funny or sweet story to share about my dad.  He was kind, generous, and fun loving.  He was the life of the party and he made people laugh.  He never met a stranger.

It has been years since our dad died.  I think of him often.  I wonder what he would have thought about  his grandchildren.  I wonder if he would have ever overcome his addiction.  I wonder about a lot of things, but there is something that I do not wonder about anymore.  I don't doubt for a moment that my dad loved my sister, my mom, and I.  That was confirmed for me a few years ago when my sweet aunt, my dad's only sister, pulled me aside at a family gathering.  She had something in her hand and she handed it to me.  It was my dad's wallet.  The hospital staff had given it to my grandparents after his death many years ago.

As I opened the wallet, I felt as if my dad was right there with me.  Looking into that wallet was like looking into my dad's heart.  There were just a few items in there, but among those items were the answers I had been searching for my whole life.  You see, my dad had pictures of the ones he loved in his wallet.  I was there, my mom and sister too.  He loved us until the day he died.  I will never doubt that again.

Addictions can rob a person of so much.  Hopes and dreams lost in every sip or hit.  Families gambled away with the roll of dice.  Love lost to the lust of pornography.  Addictions know no boundaries.  Thankfully, today there is more awareness and help for those who need it.  The question is will they admit they need help and accept it?

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction. Please know that you are not alone.  Reach out, get help.  Do it for yourself and your family.



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