As I look back and think about all the people in my life, nearly every relationship has been affected by alcohol and/or drug abuse. I refer to it as the “family disease” without rancor, as it is just keeps popping up over and over through the generations, and through my own choices in partners. Call me a sucker for abuse, but I’m just always attracted to these types. I guess it is familiar.
I can claim equal blame to the pattern, and have often thought or wondered if I, too, am an alcoholic. If I have a glass of wine a day, or maybe two, do I qualify? My friend, an avowed 12-Stepper, assures me that, unless it keeps me from living my life to the fullest, that I’m probably not.
There definitely was a time that my consumption was not limited to the glass or two of wine, though.
And then, my sister the therapist (every struggling family needs one) decided that, at the end of my father’s pretty long life, we needed to have an intervention, to let him know how his drinking was bothering all of us.
Intervention is the term that drug and alcohol counselors use to basically corner the addict with all their family and friends to lovingly (hopefully) address their substance abusing issues. Ideally, the addict will then see how their behavior has run amok and change their destructive and selfish ways.
My father came home from work nearly every day by 5 P. M. , having driven a couple hundred miles a day as a manufacturer’s representative and poured himself two perfect manhattans, at which point he was in good enough cheer to sit down at the dinner table and discuss our day. He neither acted drunk, looked drunk nor spoke with slurred syllables. He wasn’t abusive, never raised his voice, didn’t swear and, as far as I could tell, never suffered from a hangover.
In other words, he was still the same guy that put on a suit and tie and headed off to work every day.
So why, after twelve years of retirement, did it seem a necessity to call him out on his drinking?
Granted, at 77 his health wasn’t the greatest. He required a serious, yet fairly common surgery to replace a heart valve, and could have, by all accounts gotten back to better health, if he wanted to.
A family reunion was planned, all members flew in from our different locations, which my dad had somehow orchestrated, even though my sister and I weren’t on very good terms. I knew of her plan to have this “family meeting” and wasn’t too thrilled, but would go along if that was the consensus of the whole clan. The family doctor was even invited. The grandchildren, ranging in ages from 8-15, were duly dispatched to some fun outing and would not take part in this drama.
Even though I had had several week’s notice to prepare myself for this confrontation, I just couldn’t describe how uncomfortable this whole approach was to me. My father had always been a great provider, a dedicated husband, an involved parent, a well-respected man of his community. And I was Daddy’s girl.
Sure he had his faults. As a parent myself then, I’d had plenty of years as an adult to sort out whatever wrongs my parents had done me, and long since gotten over it.
It all seemed so terribly presumptuous to tell this man how to live a better life, while he was clearly near the end of it. If he wanted to drink out the end of his days, well then, that was his choice. He must have had his own reasons.
On the day of the intervention, with some time to spare, I headed up to my old bedroom to have a meditation and pray for the right words to say. I quieted my mind, focusing on my breath as I have learned to do. In a span of about 20 minutes, I got the answer that I was looking so long and hard for. I felt immense relief.
In a sunlit room with family and doctor (medical expertise not to be over-looked) we sat, and one by one I heard my family discuss their irritations, fears and opinions about my father’s drinking behavior. He sat patiently listening and not saying a word. My revelation would be the last, as I am the youngest of the tribe, before the doctor piped in with his rationale.
My father looked at me, his bright aqua eyes brimming with tears, but stoic to the last, asked me for my take.
I took a deep breath. I could feel a surge of heat throughout my body. I looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “I only have three things to say. First, I love you more than anything. Second, your body is a temple and you should love it and treat it well, and third, I don’t believe that you have out-lived your usefulness. I hope you are around for a long time to come. ”
I could feel a jolt of energy in the heat built up in my body shoot out to him, and watched him wipe away a single tear that had errantly escaped. Then I breathed deeply and it was over. Message received.
Many more words were said by our family, but none by me. Afterwards, we all hugged and that was the end of it.
The intervention was in June, just after my father turned 77. On Labor Day, he died. He had won his battle. He had brought our family together for one last weekend. He tied up every possible loose end, and passed quietly in his own bed.
So much for reconciliations to the inherited family disease. But I do believe that, for me, there had been a Divine Intervention of the highest kind and that is all we can expect: to love, and be loved, no matter what the cost.
Nancy Nylen is a writer and single mother, residing in SOCAL with her two great kids and 3 energetic dogs, which keeps her in plenty of good material. You can visit her at: http://www.causeoflife.com