My father and alcohol

“Growing up, my childhood was idyllic. Mum was a stay-at-home housewife, whilst Dad was a regional manager for a well-known courier company. He often travelled abroad for business, but when he was home we spent good quality time together.

When I was a teenager, a host of health issues began to catch up on him. Due to the pain he would experience, as well as stress from his high pressured job, I noticed that his drinking at home increased. I still never thought anything of it, as he seemed so capable and busy. But looking back, I now recognise that he was a high functioning alcoholic – a term that I wasn’t familiar with until adulthood.

Functioning alcoholics may seem “normal” to others, even whilst under the influence, and may appear to have a higher tolerance for alcohol.  Despite severe alcohol usage, they are able to function well in their day-to-day lives. They are also able to maintain a semblance of normal life and succeed in their careers/daily tasks. With my father, there was definitely an element of luck at play, because looking back now I truly don’t know how he managed to make it past 70.

My first hint of an issue was the growing cracks in my parents’ relationship. The arguments became so severe that I would often cry to friends, worried about a possible divorce. His social drinking became far too regular, and my mother’s worry was continuously dismissed as nagging or interference. By the time I was 18, they began to lead fairly separate lives, albeit still under one roof. She would often confide in me, but sadly I just assumed she was overreacting – which I can now see was me being in denial.

Just before my father’s 70th birthday, he began experiencing seizures and collapsing, due to hypoglycaemia. It was only then that the severity of his drinking hit me. Our relationship began to suffer too, as he thought I was interfering just like my mother. There were definite periods of tension between us, which was difficult to deal with because in every other way, our relationship was fantastic. But talking about his drinking was strictly off limits, as he would just immediately shut off. I began to see my father in a very different light; with being an adult, I could now process what he was doing and how he was negatively affecting the people closest to him.

By the end of 2017, he was simply clinging on. I was not able to spend Christmas with him due to work, so visited a few weeks later. Alcohol robbed my father of so much; he was a shell of his former self, relying on a cane to walk short distances. Ironically, at this point, alcohol was keeping him alive; the doctors said that quitting cold turkey would be too much for his body to handle. I could tell that he desperately wanted to attend my upcoming wedding, but he began to give up as he knew that his alcohol addiction had won. I was such a mixture of emotions, as hindsight played a part in me thinking of all the what-ifs. I also felt anger, assuming that he purposely chose a love of drink over his relationships with his wife and children. After educating myself on addiction, I now know this wasn’t the case.

A few weeks after I left my parents to return home, my father passed away on February 18th 2018. He was 75 and I was 33. He succumbed to liver cirrhosis and oesophageal cancer – both a direct result of his drinking. I prefer to remember the good times, which was the majority of our relationship. But I am also acutely aware of how alcohol played a role in his demise, and this has ultimately shaped my own relationship with drinking. Losing him to something which can start off as such an innocent and fun pastime is tough. Alcoholism can have such a devastating impact on so many relationships, both with loved ones and your own self. I always wonder what life would be like now, if my father hadn’t been addicted to drink. Sadly, we will never know and I will forever mourn the loss of an amazing man and the brilliant relationship we had.”