I got this tattoo in my first year of sobriety in honor of my dad, who passed away in 2006 as a direct result of his alcoholism. I had not seen or spoken to him in years when I received the news that he was gone. And I had spent the majority of my adult life blaming my dad for everything that was wrong in my world, including my own drinking problem.
In my active addiction, I lived my life constantly playing the blame game. I blamed anything and anyone BUT myself for all the things that were tanking in my life. In my self-centered mind, awful things were always happening “to me.” I could not see the part I played in my own misfortune. And trust me, I played the starring role in Alison’s “bad luck.”
And the easiest target for my scapegoating was my dad. My earliest memory of my dad is that of me trying to squirm away from his jugged-wine breath. I never had a great relationship with my dad, but my little sister was a daddy’s girl – she loved him so friggin’ much, even when he was falling-down drunk. But I was just full of rage towards him, towards his alcoholism. I couldn’t separate the disease from the man back then.
The truth is that my dad was a gentle, caring man. He was very intelligent, funny as hell, and super chill. The kind of man who always had to have one special present under the Christmas tree that was just from "Dad" to my sister and me. From what my mother told me, he had always been a heavy drinker. And my mother drank with him. My childhood “normal” was a life that included parents who split a gallon jug of cheap wine each night with dinner. I remember being so weirded out at my first sleepover when the parents poured us all glasses of WATER with dinner.
Alcoholism had my father by the neck long before any of us knew it, and by the time I was in 6th grade, my mother was having the, “your father is an alcoholic,” talk with me. And by the time I was 13 or 14, I was very aware (and terrified) that my father was drunk driving with my little sister and me in the car, so I would convince him to let me drive under the guise of wanting to "practice." By the time I was 15, my mother was dragging me to a support group for teens affected by alcoholism - cuz THAT was definitely how I wanted to be spending my mid-teen evenings (cue the biggest teenager eye roll possible - my poor mother). And by the time I was a senior in high school, my father (a teacher at my school) had a very public, very humiliating drunk-on-the-job incident at my school and was arrested on campus and then fired. It was mortifying. That would be the last time my father held a job. The bottom fell out from under my family after that. Dozens of arrests, several suicide attempts, a handful of death-defying car wrecks, constant near-bankruptcy, and countless more public incidents followed. And I couldn’t stand to even think about my father. His drinking had destroyed our family, and I did not know how to forgive him for that. In my mind, he had chosen alcohol over us, and that was unforgivable. There was nothing my dad could do in my eyes to unring that bell. I was SO. FUCKING. ANGRY.
But then I turned into my dad, against my will. It happened slowly, over a period of years, but it definitely happened. I did the exact same awful things that my dad had done. I had the same defects of character that BLEW UP when I was drinking. I became a round-the-clock drinker. I was a lying, stealing, cheating, nasty alcoholic. I was my dad. Yet I excused myself because it was easier to blame him. For years, I played the "if you had my life and my dad, you would drink, too" card, as if it were my personal ace of spades. And if you had a problem with that, see ya never.
When I first got sober, a man with a lot of sobriety heard my story and told me that the statute of limitations for blaming mommy and daddy for my drinking and my shitty life was long gone. I hated him for it because the truth stings.
But because I wanted to stay sober more than I wanted to hate that man, I threw myself into working on my emotional sobriety – basically how to be less selfish, more honest, less of an ahole, more grateful, less resentful, more forgiving, less judging, more empathetic. It took a long time. And it was uncomfortable as hell, and even painful at times. But through this work, I was finally able to view my dad as a sick man, not a bad man. A man with the same exact malady that I have. A man who tried his damnedest to lick this disease but just couldn’t, and in the end, paid for it with his life. A man who hated himself more than I could ever hate him. A man who knew he threw it all away, yet had no control to make it stop. And it made me really, really fucking sad.
But that sadness eventually softened my heart towards him, and through my recovery work, I was finally able to find forgiveness, and even love, for my dad. And now I don’t blame him (or anyone) for my life or for my alcoholism. In fact, today I am grateful as hell to my parents for making me who I am today. And somedays I wish so, so badly that he had been able to get sober. And I wish that I could sit down with him face-to-face to make amends with him. And tell him I forgive him. But I can’t. Alcoholism stole him from me, from us. And part of my recovery is coming to accept this and find peace with it.
So, I got this tattoo. Dad, wherever you are, I hope that you found the peace that you always sought but could never find. I love you, I'm sorry, I forgive you, I thank you, and I don’t blame you.