My father’s Demons became my gift from God to help others like me.
Before deciding whether to keep drinking or when enough is enough, read my story to understand what being the child of an alcoholic parent feels like.
I took the rules from my traumatic childhood of abuse and addiction into Corporate America and became successful climbing the ladder to jobs like President and CEO, Chairman of the Board…all while living in quiet desperation on the inside. I drank, but not like my father.
For my father, it took losing his career, wife, home and family. One sad night he almost became a murderer while driving into a car occupied by a woman and small child. He finally hit his bottom and joined AA. He stopped drinking for the rest of his life. This year would have been his twenty-second year of sobriety.
I wrote a book called The Way of the Quiet Warrior after ten years of self-discovery to figure out the meaning of what happened in my life. It helped me make peace and receive and give forgiveness to my father late last year at a coffee shop near his home. I hadn’t seen him for many years. I said “Dad, while I can’t see you as much as you like, how about we do a coffee monthly right here?” He said, “Son, I am proud of you. I release you and am sorry for all that has happened.” We hugged and I took a selfie, the first one with Dad.
Two months later, he passed away in his home. In my journey to forgive, I saw Dad in a different light. His own father died in front of him when he was a kid, at the dinner table from alcoholism. He was angry with his mom for providing alcohol and enabling his habit. He was raised with violence and never knew a nurturing childhood. For the first time hearing his story was like looking in the mirror, seeing what I could have been had I made the same choices.
Drinking is a choice. Whether you are like me or a drinker, I believe knowing and feeling the story of what life could be in the torture chamber of alcoholism may inspire you to seek a different path. AA was all I knew and wasn’t the best path for my father. There are other ways, I have discovered, through learning from people like Cyndi Turner.
Excerpt from The Way of the Quiet Warrior
His mother was the stalwart canary in the coal mine of their home. The boy looked to her first thing before he did anything else because he could tell by the expression on her face, by the way she held herself, how bad it was going to be.
If she seemed stiff, her face remote and tight as though she were struggling to hold a very heavy weight without complaining, then the boy knew that his father was still in the slow ramping-up process. Maybe he was still only drinking and giving his family long, blistering looks full of loathing. Maybe he was out, in parts unknown with folks unknown. Either way, the pressure was still building and the man had not yet exploded.
It was almost better, those days when she was teary-eyed and cowering, because it meant that the storm had broken. Instead of tight and stiff, her body would sag with a kind of terrible relief. The boy’s father might be hitting the walls or hitting the four of them but at least it was happening outright, no more waiting or imagining or anticipating. Soon enough, he would exhaust himself or saturate himself with booze and fall into that deathlike sleep and, for a little while, they’d have silence.
The worst thing was when the boy came home and found that his mother was not there at all. She wasn’t in the kitchen preparing an after-school snack or in the living room tidying. Instead, he would find her shut up in his parents’ darkened bedroom, lying in the same position in which he’d left her that morning when he went to school.
She wasn’t sleeping. There was a thin crack where the curtains didn’t quite cover the windows and he could see how the light caught on her open eyes, giving them a gleam.
“Are you hurting?” he asked, touching the back of his hand to her forehead, because that was what she did for him when he was sick. Her skin was cool and dry but she nodded all the same.
This sadness was an old wound, like the one in her back. When conditions were just right, it flared into life and kept her confined to her bed. Once, when the boy was very small, it got so bad that she had to go away for a long time, several weeks. The boy and his brother were not allowed to visit her and, when she came back, she looked somehow smaller than they’d remembered.
The boy wanted to ask her to promise him that she wouldn’t go away again but he had a feeling that would upset her and his father was there, watching the reunion with the same evaluating eye he had when teaching the children how to shoot or cut wood or change a tire or any of the other things that made a man a man.
His father had told the both of them once that they were lucky to have a mother like her, a mother who cared for them and looked out for them.
“Not everyone has that,” he’d told them. He never seemed to remember those sentiments when he was calling her stupid, ugly, or useless.
“When your father was young . . .” Their mother spoke of him as a young man so delicately, so differently. It was like she was talking about another person altogether, someone who had perhaps died young and tragically. “. . . he had a hard time. His mother did some things that he . . . finds hard to forgive.” She wouldn’t look at the boys when she said that part.
And so he checked in, every day, to read her face and look for the signs and, if necessary, prepare. His father channeled his rage into the most readily available target but he did have his preferences. The eldest brother was off-limits, the first-born son and a father’s prize, he alone was treated as precious, at least physically. The boy’s little brother was too sprightly, a ham and an entertainer who tried to distract their father by fooling around and making him laugh. He was no good to hurt. Their mother was too passive; she absorbed the stream of harsh words like a kitchen sponge. Sometimes that only seemed to make the boy’s father angrier.
“Why do you just sit there?” he would yell. Sometimes he would throw things at her, just to see her move.
The boy was in between, Goldilocks’s perfect porridge. He wasn’t clever enough to make jokes or confident enough to perform and he couldn’t sink into himself the way his mother could. Every blow, every word, it all showed on him and his father liked that. The boy supposed that everyone likes to see that their work is doing something, changing something in the world, even if it is just a little boy’s expression or the skin on his arms, his chest, his throat.
“Your father’s having people over,” she told him when he got home from school. She was scrubbing dark scratches out of the surface of the sink, one elbow crooked, the motion of her hand, fast and violent.
The boy nodded and went to his room and fell asleep. That was the best time to sleep, if he could manage it. There would be noise when his father came back, even if he came alone, and the boy could never completely rest when he knew his father would soon be arriving. His stomach would wake him, a stab like hunger pangs and a nausea so intense that his mouth filled with sickly saliva.
Now, though, the house was empty and they were all fortifying themselves, the same way someone might board up the windows and fill a bathtub with water when a hurricane was inbound. His mother would scrub and polish their already immaculate home. The boy would sleep as deeply as he could manage, ready to be available but unobtrusive the moment that his father appeared on the doorstep.
His mother didn’t like the parties, never had. She usually tried to vanish into some secluded part of the house and, if it was a good night, the boy’s father would let her.
The boy tried to sleep like he always did, curled tightly in on himself with the blanket wrapped around his face, leaving just the smallest hole for breathing, but there was something restless in him.
“I hate parties,” the boy muttered.
Tom Dutta is the author of the #1 Best Seller The Way of the Quiet Warrior and Founder and CEO of KRE-A®. Tom is the world’s only motive-based leadership expert. He created a proven coaching and mentorship formula called The Way of the Quiet Warrior® which helps leaders manifest success by discovering purpose, taking action and living life their way. Go to www.kreat.ca/to learn more about his coaching services or obtain his book.
Listen to Tom Dutta interview Insight’s Cyndi Turner on October 2, 2018. Subscribe to the Quiet Warrior Show in ITUNES.