Becoming An Alcoholic At 25 Finally Helped Me Understand My Father’s Addiction

Content warning: This article discusses alcoholism, death and addiction in a way that could be distressing to some readers.
When I was eleven years old, my father left me in a carpark for four hours so he could go to the pub. This wasn’t exactly a rare occasion. Despite the fact that I can’t remember much of my childhood, there was one constant threaded through it: alcohol. 
Anyone with an alcoholic parent will be able to relate. We all have troubling memories that stick with us for a lifetime, and it's hard to pick a single memory that was the defining turning point. Was it being forced to visit my alcoholic father in a rehabilitation hospital, not fully understanding what was going on? Perhaps it was the time I accidentally caught him walking down the side of the house with a secret goon sack in his hands, only months after leaving the clinic (he was supposed to be sober). Or maybe it was the time he picked me up from school when I was sick, and I realised that he was drunk as he began swerving into other lanes. 
When you’re exposed to alcoholism at such a young age, it sears itself onto your brain, like an image being burned onto a television screen after having been there too long. Children of alcoholics tend to have some textbook behaviours based on a confusing concoction of fear, anxiety and anger, sprinkled with a touch of self-hatred. We learn the art of self-sufficiency before we even learn the Pythagoras theorem at school. We’re gifted with a heightened awareness of traits within us that are different from our parents — and the haunting things that we wish we could change within us because they remind us of our alcoholic parent. Survival mode becomes our default. 

As I got older, going to a bar wasn’t just a fun pastime; it was a necessity.

So when I became an alcoholic at 25, it wasn’t entirely surprising.
There were many times when I realised that I was slowly transforming into my father. During school, I kept a secret stash of booze (including gems such as Johnny Walker and that silvery, pillowy goon sack many of us know all too well) discreetly hidden in my baby box, along with my birth certificate and a shitty craft hall of fame. At just 15, I bet someone that I could scull half a bottle of straight vodka — and was almost sent to hospital because of it. As I got older, going to a bar wasn’t just a fun pastime; it was a necessity. My need to drink was all-consuming. 
A few years ago, my dad died. But it felt as though he had been reincarnated into me.
I would wake up with a hangover, cry and grieve, go to work, catch the bus to the pub, drink myself into oblivion, then go home and prepare to do it all again the next day. I’d polish off at least a jug of beer each night on my own. I even started drinking the same concoction that used to traumatise me every night as a child (“Just a jug of VB, thanks.”). For me, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy that was finally coming true. I was always destined to be an alcoholic — just look at my bloodline. 
When I first decided to become sober, I must admit that it wasn’t because of my father at all. It was because I was dating a guy who was completely sober. I stopped going anywhere that alcohol would be served. I didn’t see my friends for a year. I lost weight. I drank a fuckload of kombucha. I cried. I contemplated pissing it all away with a bottle of vodka. I thought of my dad. In my battle to stay sober, I thought about him almost every day — and wondered why I had felt the need to chastise and judge him for his failed sobriety attempts.
Today, sobriety is served to us on a silver platter. Walk into any bottle shop and you’re guaranteed to be met with a delicious range of alcohol-free options. Zero alc beer that still tastes like beer? A 0% alcohol bubbly for celebrating, minus the regrets? Easy. And of course — So. Many. Kombucha. Flavours. 

I’ve always viewed my father’s alcoholism as his fatal flaw. I’ve always narrow-mindedly seen it as something he opted into; as if he chose to spend each day hiding under the house with a bottle as his only company.

But it raises the question: am I benchmarking my father’s alcoholism against today’s standards? If my father had been alive to see all the ways in which people could reform their lives sans booze now, would he have managed to beat the damn thing? Even more, would I harbour so much resentment against him for consistently failing to claim that inaccessible ‘sober’ title?
I’ve always viewed my father’s alcoholism as his fatal flaw. I’ve always narrow-mindedly seen it as something he opted into; as if he chose to spend each day hiding under the house with a bottle as his only company. But as I get older, I start to realise that like all people, our alcoholic parents are complex and nuanced, even if our heartstrings are pulled towards resentment. 
I never talked to my dad to really understand what his life was like and why he turned to booze — and now, I never will. But what I do know about him is that his story was soaked in strain and perpetual disadvantage. As an immigrant to Australia and one of twelve children, my father had to deal with a tough, Catholic upbringing. I know that he had to enter survival mode from the moment he set foot on Australian shores. In some ways, I don’t need to have him explicitly tell me what had happened to him — I just know.

I’m the embodiment of my father — both the good and the bad.

But I also know that he used to find joy in keeping chickens as a child — both because they were a reliable and constant food source, but also because he just loved animals. I know that despite his tough exterior, he felt things deeply and took things to heart. I know that he had a complicated relationship with his family. I know that in his last years, he began to explore his softer side, creating art that hangs on my wall today. I know that I only got to see his gentle side posthumously from the grave, after my resentment slowly defrosted.
I’m the embodiment of my father — both the good and the bad. We both feel too much. We cry over animals. We don’t know how to handle our anger because it feels so intense. We isolate ourselves when things get too much. We beat ourselves up about the smallest things. We drink, because we believe we’re self-fulfilling prophecies. I know I was just lucky to be able to break the cycle.
If becoming an alcoholic inexplicably linked me to my father, then becoming sober helped me feel compassion for him, albeit beyond the grave. Yes, he is dead. Yes, he’ll never read these words. And yes, both of us will never be able to apologise to each other for the everythingness of our strained relationship. I always felt like my path was already laid out ahead of me, but in becoming sober, I not only broke the cycle, but I started to finally forgive my dad. 
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the Alcohol & Drug Support line on 1800 198 024 or (08) 9442 5000 for confidential advice. Lines are open 24 hours a day.
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