He died 3 years ago.
Grief is a funny thing and not so much in the haha funny sort of way but more so the oh, isn’t that just so ironic and sad sort of way.
3 years and 4 months ago my life started to spiral out of control, but of course I didn’t know that then. It’s unfortunate that we can’t quite piece together everything until much later when we look back, but it is what it is.
This is when my drinking started to become less fun and more coping mechanism. Each newly discovered tumor, each new doctor’s appointment with more bad news, each day watching him shrink and lose more energy and life became another reason to drink just one more.
My grandparents died before I was born. I had never really experienced a major loss in my life. But there I was, 31 years old with two young babies, a full-time job and the weight of the world on my shoulders as I watched my father die a little each day.
There are many types of men in this world. My father was an independent spirit, far from perfect as he battled his own alcoholic demons long ago, but nevertheless, a good man. He prided himself on his ability to take care of and provide for himself and his family after growing up with his own alcoholic, dirt poor parents who divorced during a time when divorce was frowned upon.
Yet here he was, at first angry and frustrated as daily he lost his ability to take care of himself let alone anyone else. He died with a grace and acceptance that I can only dream of having when my time comes, but watching the man who picked you up with you fell and tried to give you the world he was never given need his diaper changed and his mouth swabbed with a wet sponge for comfort could break a person. It surely broke me.
Imbibing a beer or three each night as I returned home from helping my mom and family care for him seemed a small price to pay at the time. Relief came in the way my muscles relaxed and senses dulled as the alcohol worked it’s magic the way it’s known to do. My mind stopped racing with the “What if’s” and “when he dies” and anxiety over the unknown for just that short time as I drank my feelings away.
This became more of a habit as the end approached. It was easier to drink and forget than feel. The problem was, I would remember in the morning.
Then one morning, he didn’t wake up. I thanked God because by this time he was simply a skeleton in that hospital bed in the living room who no long spoke or laughed or hugged me.
So I drank. I didn’t know how else to handle feelings of that magnitude. Ignoring them and numbing them with alcohol when they became too much to ignore (which was nearly always) was easier and hurt less than acknowledging them and sitting in them. Until it didn’t.
2 and a half years I spent in a fog. The first few months I didn’t think too much of the drinking, but by the first anniversary of his death, I knew I was getting in too deep. That didn’t stop me though. Nothing could convince me that truly feeling his absence was worth it. So I kept drinking.
I wasn’t drinking before or during work. I was high-functioning. From the outside I’m sure it looked as though I’d dealt with my loss fairly quickly and without much destruction. In fact, someone recently told me just that – “You always seemed so okay.” I was anything but okay but I wouldn’t risk my job so I supplemented my avoidance with men. If I could distract myself with alcohol and male attention, I didn’t have to deal with my truth.
The next year passed and I knew I’d crossed a point of no return. My brokenness was manifesting itself in every way possible so that others would begin to notice except for the one person who needed to – me. By the end of this year, blacking out was becoming a normal part of my drinking sessions. Drink until you can’t remember. Drink until you can’t feel.
I had attempted the typical relief tactics by this point – moderation, short bouts of sobriety, therapy with a counselor who spent more time judging me than listening to me. Nothing helped. On top of the grief I never dealt with I was filled with shame, guilt and humiliation on a daily basis. So I kept drinking so I could numb it all. It was too much.
Relationships with friends and relatives had been destroyed. My marriage, while in jeopardy long before this period of my life, was so clearly over. While drunk I lashed out at anyone who was within 50 feet of me. If I had to hurt, I wanted everyone to hurt.
When the second anniversary of his death rolled around, I knew something had to give and soon. I laid low through the summer but by fall I was back at it. I was tired of blacking out and feeling like shit all the time so I started having longer periods of sobriety and I found a therapist I actually connected with, one who gets me. I found other ways to avoid my feelings but in the end, for one reason or another, I would end up back with the booze.
On December 17, 2016 I blacked out for the final time. My recovery journey began on December 18. I could no longer deny or ignore the fact that my life had become unmanageable.
So here I am. Sober for the 153rd day, on the third anniversary of his death and for the first time, finally feeling this grief. Oh, how it hurts. It’s a pain I would wish upon no one, not even an enemy. I understand now though. This pain is so deep, so raw, that I understand why I drank and chased attention to avoid feeling it. Because it hurts like no other pain I’ve ever experienced. I see now that I did the best I could at that time and for today at least, I forgive myself, because I get it now. I get how much it hurts.
My heart is broken in a way that it’s never been broken before. There is an emptiness that I suspect will never fully be filled but that I must somehow learn to accept and live with. So I take this life, this grief, one day at a time. I pause and breathe and read and write and practice yoga and ask for what I need because I don’t ever want to go back. For as much as this pain is breaking me, it’s not destroying me the way alcohol did.
I miss you Dad.