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February 10th, 2008

My Name is Shanna, and My Father’s An Alcoholic

It's no secret; in fact, everyone that knows me knows it. So I'm certainly not stepping out of the family-member-of-an-alcoholic closet or anything here. The reason I'm even writing about it at all is to help others who might be in a similar situation and feel alone, distraught, and confused.

I learned, from the handful of Al-Anon meetings that I've attended, that one of the greatest healers is the knowledge that you are not alone in your suffering; that, in fact, others are going through almost the exact same thing. Sitting in those meetings, listening to the stories of others whose loved ones were alcoholics and what it had done to them, was like listening to myself. I had always known that others suffered at the hands of their alcoholic loved ones; I had no idea the suffering was, however, so very similar.

Knowing is one thing; experiencing it is quite another. And it was the experiencing - hearing other peoples' similar tales - that gave me comfort and put me on the path to healing, acceptance, and forgiveness.

It is my hope, then, that sharing my story will help others in the same fashion; that reading about another's struggles with the same problem will aid my readers in coming to terms with, and beginning to heal from, their own broken hearts and homes.

For as long and as far back as I can remember, my father drank to excess. Drinking was the most important thing in his life; it came, without exception, before his wife and children.

It was many years before I realized there was anything wrong with this setup; I simply had known no other way. My earliest memories are of my father not coming home from work or being where he'd say he was going to be, my mother sick to her stomach with worry, and him eventually strolling in very late and very drunk; at which point my parents would fight for hours with much screaming and many bitter tears.

A running "joke" between my sister and I - when seeing a loving or doting (or even slightly interested) father on television - was to say, "Daddy's don't do that!" We would laugh, but not without a bit of irony. The fact was, our daddy didn't, and it was something - as we grew older - we were all too well aware of.

You can't truly miss that which you've never had, so I cannot say we were ever sad that our father wasn't a father, and obviously didn't care to be. We joked about it and noted it with sardonic observation, but to say we mourned our lack of a father figure would be incorrect. It was simply the way it was - it was the way he was - and we, as children and even teenagers, never truly realized that we were being cheated or that our lives were lacking in any way.

After all, he was there physically, most of the time, and he provided for our family without fail. We knew he worked hard and that the hard work was done for us to provide for us, and by that, we knew he loved us; it seemed to be enough - it had to be, for it was all there was. Even with the knowledge that all of the hard work and sacrifice was enormously resented by him, that it was all done more out of a sense of moral duty than any notions of familial love, still, it sufficed.

We knew, in that way that I suppose you just inherently know things about your own blood, that he loved us, in his way, as much as he was capable of loving anyone or anything other than beer; maybe not enough and maybe not right, but he did love us.

Regardless of that knowledge, the heart - especially the heart of a child - wants more, and with that wanting, we fell into the trap that millions of others that have relationships with alcoholics always fall into: We walked on egg shells and bent over backwards in countless, futile attempts to gain his notice, approval, and love.

In doing everything you can to place your importance ahead of the alcohol's, you set yourself up for continual disappoint and a lifetime of exercises in futility. The worst part is, it takes years before you realize the continual cycle of disappointment and hurt you are putting yourself through, if you're lucky enough to come to your senses at all; some never do.

The sad truth is, nothing anyone can do will make the relationship work if the alcoholic doesn't face his or her problems and begin to fix themselves. We love them, and we want to help and we believe we can fix them; we cannot.

...to be continued... 

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