By Wolf Baer
The very last thing I expected to see that morning was my father sitting at the kitchen table when I came down to fix myself a quick breakfast before school. I’d become very used to him not being at home. I’d assumed he was still in rehab, yet there he was, in the flesh. He must have come home late last night.
He was drinking black coffee and looked up at me with a forced smile. I could tell he was nervous to be out, yet trying hard to make a stable impression for my sake. I remembered from his previous attempts at sobriety that this was when it usually collapsed, right after he got released.
My dad, a grown-up man sitting uncomfortably in his own kitchen, fighting the unbearable cravings. It scared the shit out of me.
I felt a pang of guilt that I’d not gone and visited him at the detox facility where he’d been for the last twelve weeks. Those rehab places gave me the creeps.
It seemed to me that over the last two years, Dad had spent more time in treatment than at home with us. And for what? Every time he got out, he had reached for the damn bottle the very first chance he got.
Although he clearly tried to portray confidence, he looked shaky, and I was pretty sure he would go for a drink before long. I really couldn’t stand to see him like this. For some reason, he reminded me of a deer, pierced by an arrow through the neck, roaming the woods until it bled to death.
That is how I saw my dad, damaged and defeated by the blows that life had dealt him. Not quite the role model I needed to deal with my own challenges.
As it happened, I was struggling with some of the same issues myself. I’d gotten in trouble lately due to an unhealthy mix of weed and beer in my daily routine. I wondered often whether I was genetically predisposed to be like my dad. Every time I tried to restrain myself when it came to drugs or booze, it was as if a voice inside me told me there was no point resisting, because I was just like my old man, really, an apple from the same tree, an addict in the making.
“Hey, Dad,” I said as I reached for the refrigerator door.
“Hi, Son. How are you?”
“Mm, Okay, I guess. You out?”
“Yeah, they let me go yesterday evening late. I didn’t want to wake you up.”
I had an urge to tell him to be strong this time, but I could not. I felt it wasn’t my place, given my own history with substance abuse. He saw that I was at a loss for words. “Listen, I want you to know I am done for good. I will stay clean this time.”
I winced at this. I’d heard this many times before, and yet he sounded different now. I hesitated and said, almost in a whisper. “Sure, Dad.”
“I know this is hard to believe, and I’ve let this family down in the past, more times than I care to remember. But I need you to give me another chance.”
I felt anger well up inside of me. How many more chances did he expect us to give him?
“What is it that is going to make it different this time?”
My words came out harsher than I had wanted them to. But Dad had expected something like this, and he took my accusatory question in stride.
“You have every right to be angry. I’ve been a bad example to you. I know you have troubles of your own, and it kills me that you don’t trust me to help you. Let me prove to you I can do this.”
I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t used to seeing him in such a humble state. Usually he was remorseless and domineering. Or completely indifferent.
“I can’t just take you on your word again. Too much has happened.”
“I can understand that, Wolf. Alcohol had me in its grip for a very long time. But now I’m back. Or at least I’m working very hard to get back.”
“Remember that night last year when I drove my car off the road and ended up upside down in a ditch?”
“Yes, of course I do. The crash could very well have killed you and your friend Kevin. You kids came close to drowning in just a couple of inches of water. It’s a miracle that you got out without so much as a scratch, both of you.”
“Yeah, well. When you showed up before the police did, I was so relieved.” I almost could not say the words. “Until I saw you had been drinking, that is. Your breath smelled of booze, and you were slurring your words. You couldn’t even walk straight. It was horrible. I was shaken by the accident, but even more so, I instantly felt ashamed because Kevin could now see that my dad was a drunk.” I had to look away. I could not face him. I looked out the window while I spoke. “You save me, and I was grateful for that. But I was mortified that I was on a slippery slope, well on my way to becoming you. I too had been drinking when I had the accident.”
My dad kept his silence. He had clearly not expected this. I wasn’t even sure he had realized till now that he had shown up wasted at the scene of the accident. Maybe he thought all this time that I just had been happy that he came to my rescue. It’s true that I never confronted him with how I felt about him showing up drunk, because I had been drinking as well.
Partners in crime, covering for each other. That felt really bad.
But then my father looked me straight in the eye and spoke with a determination that all but convinced me: “I’m done drinking, Wolf. No more, I promise.”
Excerpted from 'Mind on Fire: A Case of Successful Addiction Recovery'
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