I love the American Cancer Society's theme: More Birthdays! It connotes so many positive things and it gives everyone a goal to fight for.
Today, I feel compelled to talk about the opposite. I hope that means that this will reach someone who needs to read it, or needs to think about it, or needs to know they are not alone.
My Dad would have been 76 tomorrow. These days, absent a tragedy, 76 is not old. 76 is a time to relax, spend time with grandchildren (and then send them back to their parents so one can relax) and take as many naps as one wants. Naps are great. I mean, I am not saying it's worth getting older just for the naps, but it doesn't hurt.
My Dad never had those times because he was an alcoholic. Even before he died, we watched him fade away into the bottle. That may sound like a metaphor, but if you ask anyone who has an addict in their family, they will tell you it is true. Except, sometimes, for the fading part. There is nothing gentle about it. Addiction is one demanding bitch of a mistress. Once in her throes, you follow or you become monstrous - and many times, with increasing frequency as the addiction continues, the monster stays even when its mistress is sated.
We have addiction in our family, and the propensity is genetic. I worry about my kids. Hell, I worry about everyone I know. I started going to ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) in my 20s, and it helped save my sanity, if not my life. There are sister organizations for family members of addicts of all kinds. If you, for one second, think it's somehow your fault, or - and here is the big one for control freaks - that there is something YOU can do to make the addict stop, get your ass to a meeting somewhere, stat. Because that kind of thinking will make you batshit crazy.
Conversely, there ARE things you can do for yourself and learning about co-dependent behavior is a massive one. Some of us, especially those with addicted parents, learn co-dependency from day one. It comes naturally to us, and leads to really destructive relationships, depression, and a generally crappy life. Re-learning and changing co-dependent behavior is a lifetime challenge, so don't kid yourself - a couple of meetings is not going to do it. But at least it is something we can do for ourselves, and there is power in that acknowledgement.
I miss my Dad. I miss having a Dad. But - and it actually causes me physical pain to say this out loud - I don't miss the man who died last year. That sounds heartless, doesn't it? I mean, it's a Commandment and everything - one of the Big Ten! I loved him, and especially at the end, I tried to honor him by following his wishes. But it broke my heart, because I watched a good man die too soon. The death certificate is immaterial - the booze killed him. And there was a good man in there, even though not everyone viewed him that way. Nothing to be done about that, except to know in my deepest soul that he and I both believe in a divine and merciful God whose love for all his children exceeds human understanding. There is a prayer that includes this about people who die: "Gone before us, marked with the sign of faith." The Priest at Dad's funeral reminded us of that several times, and I rely on it.
And I have great memories to sustain my thoughts of my Dad before - and after- his addiction started taking him from us in increments both big and small. That's the other thing about it - it's not just watching the physical body deteriorate - it's watching the person do the same. Addicts behave in ways that horrify their sober selves. I am NOT making excuses for anyone's behavior - but I hope I am helping at least one other person begin to understand the power of addiction.
There are lots of places for people to get help - addicts and family members too - start with one of the AA groups, or talk to someone at a respected rehab center. There are many, many people who do nothing but try to stop the runaway train of addiction before it crashes - because when it does, more people than just the addict are damaged.
At one of my first ACOA meetings, the discussion leader said: "There are only two endings for an addict's story - get sober or die. Addiction won't settle for anything in between."
My Dad never got sober. It cost him, and all of us, too many birthdays.