I was four and it was winter it upstate NY. My mom was at work so my recently fired father was in charge of babysitting me, a chore that he hated. My uncle was in town visiting, the first of three times I’ve ever met him, so my dad decided it would be a good idea to take me to the playground at the end of our street, I could play and they could talk.
He forgot my jacket.
While he zig-zagged back to our house I told my uncle to play with me. “Well, what should we play?” my single, mid-20s, kid-fearing uncle asked me. “Let’s pretend mommy and daddy still love each other!” I told him as I flew down the slide.
My dad never came back with my jacket, he decided it was too cold and we’d be home eventually. That was my uncle’s first memory of me.
That summer I was invited to a birthday party. I was only invited because the whole class was, but nobody really played with me. They were playing house and told me I could be the neighbor since my mommy and daddy weren’t married I wouldn’t know how to play house the right way. I cried until my mom picked me up. Kids were mean, even in the early 90s.
After my parents split up my mom got sole custody, my dad was given every other weekend and a pathetic amount for child support. I remember getting so excited on his weekends, I’d pack my weekend bag and sit on the front steps waiting for him. For hours. If it was raining I sat outside under an umbrella. Just waiting.
He’d call and tell me he was having car trouble or he was helping a friend. Sometimes he wouldn’t call at all and my mom would encourage me to go play with friends, promising to get me as soon as he got there. She never told me the truth: he was too drunk to show up. She never talked poorly about him either. I give her credit for that.
I’ve been struggling recently with my father. He is an addict. He is an alcoholic. His functioning level, his bare minimum, is twice the legal limit. If his BAC drops below that he starts experiencing withdrawals. He has liquor everywhere, secret compartments in his vehicles, stashed around his apartment, he even has bottles hidden in the woods around his home.
I’ve seen my father sober once in my life. It was October 2009, six years ago; he was at Strong Memorial Hospital after having a tumor removed. I touched on that in another post (“Daddy Issues”) so I won’t elaborate fully here, but he is very much not the same person when he drinks. When he was taken out of his coma, 100% sober, it was like he was hollow. He was looking around the room but not really seeing things, he was watching me speak but I don’t know that he was absorbing the things that I was saying. His body was so used to drinking and taking swigs from bottles that he would go through the movements of reaching behind his pillow, unscrewing the lid, putting a bottle to his mouth, throwing his head back to swallow, smacking his lips a certain way that I will always identify as my dad’s “drunk lips,” screwing the lid back on, and stashing the bottle back under his pillow. There was never a bottle, though. He did the same thing with cigarettes. The doctors said that, physically, he was sober and that he could live the rest of his life like a sober man but he would need therapy; he would need treatment that would help him unlearn his motions, basically.
He never got help.
One of the most frustrating parts of his addiction is my support circle. I know with every ounce of me they mean well and I love each one of them more for that, but I don’t think any of them fully realize just how far gone he is. He has been an alcoholic for roughly 38 years. That is longer than I have been alive. He is so far gone that he has “wet brain,” which is medically known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Basically, WKS is brain damage that’s caused by a lack of the B1 vitamin and it’s common in chronic alcoholics. I spoke with some specialists and I was told that, while he’s been suffering from WKS for a good 20 years or so, his hospital stay in 2009 exacerbated it because it got his brain functioning on a “normal” level, like a restart, and there’s glitches because all of the proper components for functioning aren’t there.
He doesn’t remember much; his short term memory is gone and to fill it in he just makes things up. He likes to tell people things about his amazing life that he’s had but he uses bits and pieces from other people’s lives. Many of his stories contain info and accomplishments from his dad’s life, his younger brother’s life (the uncle from the playground), and others. It’s hard to know what is the truth and what isn’t.
I mentioned my support circle before and in that circle is the aforementioned uncle who I have developed a great relationship with. I said before that I’ve only met him three times in my life and the last time I saw him was in 2004 when we went to Costa Rica. After that trip my dad told me all of these horrible things about how much shit my uncle talked about me, how he thought I was scum and trashy, I was a failure to the family, so I never went out of my way to speak with him. Due to my father’s most recent hospital stay I got in touch with him and we talked for almost six hours! Now, I look forward to our phone calls and having that relationship with him that I never would’ve had otherwise. He’s a really cool guy and it sucks that he lives in Arizona, but at least we keep in touch. He’s a great pillar in my sanity when it comes to my father.
A faulty part of my support circle is my grandparents, my dad’s parents. They are noble people, not your typical lovey-dovey grandparents, they don’t BS, and they don’t discuss their problems. Therefore, they don’t believe my father’s addiction actually exists. They give him an allowance still. He’s almost 60! I think their logic, though, is “out of sight, out of mind.” Their allowance enables him to buy all this shit he doesn’t need, including alcohol. I have told them, doctors have told them, their other sons have told them, my dad is an alcoholic. They don’t believe anybody, though, because, “Barry said he stopped drinking!”
I don’t know that there was a specific point to this entry, more of just a way for me to vent and document this frustration. Maybe one day my grandparents will be surfing the web (lol!) and they’ll stumble across it. Why they would read a blog of all things, especially one titled “Yoga Cups and Coffee Pants,” is beyond me, but hey, stranger things have happened.
I guess if you’re going to get anything out of this, please be mindful of alcoholics. Of all addicts, really. There comes a point when the addiction takes over the body and the person loses all control. Alcoholism is the only addiction where the withdrawal can kill you. Sometimes I wonder how his disease hasn’t killed my father. It killed his best friend of 45 years, it’s tried to kill him more than once, but somehow he always makes it out.
Anyway. I’ll share a couple pictures, you can kind of see the deterioration in my father.
This is my dad in February 2011. He’s wearing reading glasses that he found on a bench and he wears them because he thinks they make him look smart. He’s holding a crossword puzzle in his left hand and was using a cotton swab as a pencil in his right.
The picture above is my father in February of 2011 (same trip as the first photo). He is in a wheelchair because the room we had to go to was too far and his lungs couldn’t support that kind of exertion.
The picture above is my father in November of 2010 awkwardly holding my nephew. That right side of his face is where they removed the tumor.
This picture is at my wedding in April 2012. If you look at my dad’s face you can see where half of it is missing. The only reason he made it to my wedding (smelling like booze) is because of the woman on the far left. She’s his ex-girlfriend.
Okay final picture! This one is in June of 2013 – you can see how much my father has withered away just over the few years shown in the pictures. I haven’t seen him since this photo was taken.
Till next time ❤